Theatre Review: Mandrake at the Brockley Jack

Photo by Kemey Lafond

Adapting Machiavelli’s Mandrake (from ancient Florentine no less) for a modern English speaking audience came across on the stage as effortless second nature for Howard Coyler. However, a brief chat with the playwright after I caught last night’s performance of the play suggested that Coyler actually did need to put some midnight oil along with plenty of head scratching into his London revival of this classic piece of Italian Renaissance entertainment. Whatever he had to do, the result was some great fringe theatre well worth checking out.

Much of what made Mandrake such an enjoyable show might well have been the nimble work of director Scott Le Crass, who appeared to have not only taken Coyler’s adaptation and run with it but to have skipped giddily about with it. Le Crass direction extracted and enhanced the script expertly without relying solely on zany antics yet still allowing an ample amount of slapstick if only for the sheer joy of it. I guffawed and even laughed in spite of myself a few times but never once groaned at any overplayed or inevitable crack.

Of course, the actors must have had something to do with pulling off such a fun staging as well. A small ensemble cast – with each member giving an equally fine performance – started off on shaky ground but snapped out of whatever was causing the trouble almost immediately and carried on at a steady clip without missing a beat. They looked like they were having a blast up there on the stage. And judging by all the laughs, the audience was too.

Resourceful set design was the epitome of doing-a-lot-with-a-little (and to great effect!), and the sound design was noteworthily spot-on and at times extremely funny.

I’m not sure what liberties were applied in bringing a hit from the 1520s to the 21st century stage, but Mandrake had a timeless yet timely vibe about it – like a smart Shakespearean production. It was fresh and contemporary brimming with universal and relevant themes and a humour that’s stood the test of time.

Mandrake runs until 15 June at Jack Studio Theatre, 410 Brockley Road, SE4 2DH. Located inside the attractive Brockley Jack pub, grabbing a meal and catching a performance there would make a great night out, whether you’re local or not – but local folks should be especially well chuffed to have such a nice pub and fantastic slice of the performing arts right at their doorstep.

The show stars Jean Apps (Sostrata), Piers Hunt (Nicia), Annie Lees-Jones (Siro), John McInnes (Ligurio), Andy McLeod (Timoteo), Ruth E Mortimer (Lucrezia) and Will Parrott (Callimaco). Associate Director is Rachel Illingworth with Alex Mitchell as Assistant Director. Set and costume design is by Kemey Lafond with sound design by Neil McKeown and lighting by Tom Boucher. Jade Gooch is Stage Manager/Operator and Jo Clisby is Assistant Stage Manager.

Tickets cost £13 (£10 for concessions). Find out more and book ahead at

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Chris Osburn is the founder, administrator and editor of tikichris. In addition to blogging, he works as a freelance journalist, photographer, consultant and curator.
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