Southwark Playhouse's programming has been somewhat up and down recently. Hits for the Large space (notably In The Heights) have been swiftly followed by misses (the messy Enduring Song), while the Little space seems to be flying somewhat under the radar, despite strong productions like Our Ajax and East of Berlin.
And so it's with trepidation that one might approach its latest offering, In Lambeth, the main conceit of which is that English-American revolutionary Thomas Paine takes shelter in the garden of poet William Blake and his wife. Debate, as you might imagine, ensues.
Set against a backdrop of baying mobs with flaming torches, there is so much more that playwright Jack Shepherd could have done with these two interesting characters (it was first produced in 1989, so it's probably a bit late to query plot); something more akin to Shakespeare Globe's fiery, funny 2009 biopic A New World: A Life Of Thomas Paine.
However, we are instead left without a sense of dramatic purpose, peril or movement, as the two debate their way through the night, while Blake's dutiful wife Catherine (apparently, she was really this submissive in real life), hovers in the background, only engaging when swords are briefly uncrossed, revealing all too little of her own traumas.
It's obvious that Shepherd wanted to indulge his wont to see the two ideological opposites set off against one another, which is interesting, but a tad repetitive and difficult for those who might not have a strong understanding of the men in question (it pretty much throws you in at the deep end).
This is a real shame, as there's strong acting in Michael Kingsbury's production from both Tom Mothersdale (Blake) and Christopher Hunter (Paine). The standout performance though belongs to Melody Grove's thoughtful, sensitive Catherine, who is fantastic reactively as well as in the rare moments she is allowed to hit full throttle.