Edinburgh fringe preview (review): Dog Play Dead, Theatre503 and TheSpace on the Mile
Production photos: Ben Whishaw, Bertie Carvel and company in Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre

Review: Sinead Cusack and Michelle Fairley in Splendour, Donmar Warehouse

The Donmar's stage has been transformed into an opulent sitting room complete with chandelier and grand windows looking out into the darkness - the no doubt equally opulent gardens beyond left to our imagination.

A circle of ornate flooring is fringed with broken glass and there is only one entrance and exit onto the stage. Splendour can be summarised right there: extravagance, privilege, claustrophobia, danger.

Sinead Cusack is Micheleine, the wife of a dictator in an unnamed country. Together with her best friend Genevieve (Michelle Fairley), a photo journalist Kathryn (Genevieve O'Reilly) and translator Gilma (Zawe Ashton) they are waiting for her husband to return, drinking chilli vodka and eating snacks to pass the time.

All is not well outside the room. Genevieve had to use the back road to get to the presidential palace because of unrest in the streets, the dictator can't be reached by phone and the maid has disappeared. But it is the women inside the room that the camera lense has firmly in its focus. Civil tensions are played out in the room. Gilda has tried to disguise her regional accent and is dating a soldier. Genevieve's artist husband drowned in a swimming pool in dubious circumstances and Micheleine is trying to maintain an air of composure, a sense of normality - is it denial in order to deal with her growing fear?

Kathryn is running out of patience and eager to get to where the action is. Gilda is practical and manipulative mis-interpreting conversations and filching as much as she can get her hands on. Micheleine turns a blind eye. Genevieve is mousey, quietly supportive but is hiding something deeper and more intense.

Prejudices and historic hurts bristle to the surface. Fear, resignation and impatience expose truths and secrets are revealed.

It is the depth of the characters and the performances that give this piece its strength. The repeating scenes lack a clarity of device to add substance, instead it feels like they hold things back. An interesting comparison can be drawn with Constellations which has its last two performances at the Trafalgar Studios today. It has a similar narrative device but it works so much better in the context of that story.

The result is some splendid performances but a production that at times falters and stutters and never fully realises the tension and dynamic of the piece. It may fall into place with more performances under the actors belts - I saw an early preview - but Splendour is a play that I've got more out of in hindsight than in watching.

It is 95 minutes straight through and you can catch it at the Donmar Warehouse until 26 September.


Michelle Fairley is in the yet to be released In The Heart of the Sea in which Mr W plays Herman Melville. Now from what I've gleaned of the film Mr W may just be a narrator and not actually appear so may have recorded in a sound studio. So as a back up, Michelle Fairley was also in Philomena with Dame Judi who's worked with Mr W on stage in Peter and Alice and in Skyfall.