Rogues & Vagabonds

theatre, film & tv past and present 2001-2008 & 2013…

Archive Review • OUR FRIENDS IN THE NORTH • Northern Stage @ Oxford Playhouse [tour] • 2008

ourfriendsOur Friends In The North [DVD] [1996]

When the lights go up on Our Friends in the North they illuminate an assorted cast – young men and old, the wealthy and the jobless. The play opens with a Shakespearean soliloquy by Roy Johnson, police officer and self-appointed moralist, recalling a minor incident involving a black Rover and a broken bicycle. The four young men implicated are all young and naïve to begin with, but by the end of the play they are forced to confront their radically different courses in life.

Throughout the evening characters negotiate with the power given to them and the power they desire. Some are violent in their desires, some are disillusioned and others are tragic, pathetic and bigoted in turn. Writer Peter Flannery must be praised for the diversity of his characters and a fine sense of individuation. The characters rarely descend into stereotypes, though a few avoid stereotyping by just a hair’s breadth.

The cast deserve particular praise for unanimously strong performances. Matthew Flynn as Benny is commanding in his too-sharp suit, an exploitative and aggressive pimp. Austin Donohue, a pivotal figure in the play, is played superbly by Neil Phillips, an actor who is able to capture moments of violent, deeply felt passion and of specious self-justification equally well. His performance manages to elicit sympathy right to the end, an admirable feat for a character whose actions are often cowardly and self-deceiving.

Sonia Beinroth plays perhaps the most sympathetic character of the night in Rusty, a dancer turned crack whore who evokes sympathy as the hapless victim of the power struggles around her. At times she exudes a tough charm, pulling chewing gum out of her mouth, little concerned with politeness (Eliza Doolittle for the 1970s), and at others she is like a blind, stricken animal, stumbling miserably across the stage with tatty hair and broken body. Beinroth is utterly convincing throughout and her performance alone is reason to reserve a seat.

Our Friends in the North moves quickly through the years, despite its length, and the rotating steel box which dominates the stage captures the play’s conflicted sense of change and progress. Although the years roll on and the location varies, the cancer of corruption has spread malignantly to every part of public and private life, from the parliament antechamber to The Met, from strip bar to Rhodesian farm. Erica Whyman’s intelligent decision to double, treble and quadruple roles reinforces the pervasive pessimism of the play. By using the same actors (Rod Arthur, Rod Culbertson) to play corrupt characters, the audience has a strong sense that the only thing to have changed is the cut of their suits.

But although the performances are strong, the play itself has some weaknesses which limit it. It explores the question of justice and paints a dramatic picture of injustice but it is a fundamentally unshocking play whose conclusion doesn’t cover up the fact that it expresses nothing deeper than frustrated utopianism turning to jaded pragmatism. If the intention is to somehow shock and educate an audience about corruption in British society, it seems a bit passé, alternating between the mundane and the sensationalist. However, Northern Stage still have an exceptional dramatic achievement of which to be proud.

Jason Millar © 2008

Originally published on R&V on 13-03-08


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s

Life with an Illness

*Tips and tricks on how to get through life when you have a chronic illness*

The poor side of life


For the Love of Art

Create, Explore, and Discover, Every Day.

Politics and Insights

Public interest issues, policy, equality, human rights, social science


Supporting the rich amateur theatre scene on the Isle of Wight

Robin Hoskyns Nature Photography - Blog

Images and stories of nature, science and conservation.

Sarah Ditum

Writing, etc.

The Müscleheaded Blog

"Nothing Exceeds Like Superfluous Jejunity "

Jots from a Small Apt.

Largely @ Liberty

Rethinking Life

Art and the philosophy of life

Croatia, the War, and the Future

Ina Vukic - Croatia: people, politics, history, economy, transition from communism to democracy

lynz real cooking

lynz real life

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Pride's Purge

an irreverent look at UK politics

Tropical Affair

Observations of the illusion through the eyes of wonder...

The home of writer Barney Hoskyns' books, poems, photos and more.

Smorgasbord - Variety is the spice of life

Blog magazine for lovers of health, food, books, music, humour and life in general

I didn't have my glasses on....

A trip through life with fingers crossed and eternal optimism.

Left Handed Lottie

Drawing and painting on an ipad

Atelier 88

More than just rooms

The Sleeping Hare

Art by Lottie Nevin

Pacific Paratrooper

This site is Pacific War era information


The musings of a Londoner, now living in Norfolk

Vegan Books For Children

books from Little Chicken, Honestly Books and Violet's Vegan Comics

Catherine Meyrick

Historical Fiction with a touch of Romance

Silver Screenings

an irreverent blog of old movies

My Life as an Artist (2)

Smile! You’re at the best site ever

Violet's Vegan Comics

Virtual Vegan Comics for Children

Two Rooms Plus Utilities

Written from the heart, this is the unadulterated truth of live with multiple chronic illnesses and being housebound. My life open for you to follow. Please join me


How current policy is little more than kicking the cat....

Matt's History Blog

Hopefully interesting snippets and thoughts

David Hencke

Westminster and Whitehall news investigations

Notes from the U.K.

Exploring the spidery corners of a culture and the weird stuff that tourist brochures ignore.


August is archive month. Posts from the past

P.A. Moed

Creative Exploration in Words and Pictures


collage/mixed media artist

My Dad Is A Goldfish

Caring for a demented dad

Scope's Blog

Scope exists to make this country a place where disabled people have the same opportunities as everyone else. Until then, we'll be here.

Art Farm of a Country Woman

Painting My World with My Heart


Literature, books , sport and whatever intrigues me

AT A GENTLE PACE - Bridget Whelan's lifestyle travel blog

for people who would try anything except whitewater rafting (probably)


My personal opinions about.......stuff (as if you care!)

A Teacher's Reflections

Thirty Years of Wonder

The Theatre Guild Newsletter

Celebrating 98 years on Broadway!

Pen and Pension

Immerse yourself in Georgian and Regency England

%d bloggers like this: