With very basic staging, Ian Redford and Russell Barr manage to bring life to A Dish of Tea With Dr. Johnson. Basically it is a witty mix of extracts from Boswell’s Life of Samuel Johnson and Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides that go to make up this 80 minute play.
Barr plays many characters, but sadly none of them makes any real impact, in fact his dog (by the way it watched his every move there was no doubting who its owner was) steals the show. The animal is on stage for almost the entire play, secured by a leader to a chair and after initially eating its dinner, settles itself under a chair, occasionally trying to get the attention of its owner.
For the South Shields leg of the tour only, the two actors and dog are joined by Trudie Styler, who plays the role of Mrs Thrale, a society hostess who was Johnson’s final unrequited love. While her role is only a brief one at the end of the play, she certainly makes the most of it. Although why this normally two hander piece has briefly changed to a three hander I am not certain. The added “name” to the cast did not seem to have enticed a larger audience. However it would have been nice to see Styler also portray the other female role, rather than leave it to Barr.
As usual director Max Stafford –Clark has brought us an interesting and inventive piece of theatre.