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The Last Will and Testament of Henry Van Dyke at the Tabard Theatre

The Last Will and Testament of Henry Van Dyke
The Last Will and Testament of Henry Van Dyke

When a play’s title is almost longer than the play itself, warning bells start to chime. Often it augurs an evening of tedious, hollow, pretentious pomposity in the name of “Art”.

The Last Will and Testament of Henry Van Dyke (henceforth to be known as Henry Van Dyke to save my fingers) is certainly about “Art”. Thankfully, though, there is nothing pompous or pretentious about it; it’s actually rather a humble little play.

Person 1 and Person 2 both have artistic aspirations. Person 1 writes, and Person 2 is a musician. At the moment, however, they are doing neither; their careers have stalled, and they are sitting on a sofa setting the world to rights, prior to making an intrepid trek to the corner shop. As they chat, Person 1 has a Eureka moment; he is going to write a play! Person 2 tries to discourage him, on the valid grounds that Person 1 knows nothing about playwriting, but his concerns are summarily dismissed and the two set themselves to the task.

It’s an original and interesting concept, and so utterly meta it almost makes your head explode. It also offers the opportunity for some lovely, wry in-jokes about theatrical tropes and conventions. The dialogue is witty, and it flows smoothly between the two characters. Nathan Wright’s Person 1 is mercurial, energetic and brimming with optimism. In contrast, Niall Murphy’s Person 2 is gentle, laid-back and a little melancholic. Both characters feel authentic and natural, although they appear to be struggling against some rather clunky direction – particularly in the first scene, which lacked movement in general.

Nevertheless, they are nice people, and they are having an interesting chat. The problem is that I’m not entirely sure why we were there with them. Nothing that happened, none of their revelations were big enough to constitute a climax. The characters didn’t go on a journey; they were, at the end, exactly as they were at the beginning. As were we. What were we supposed to feel? What conclusions were we supposed to draw? It is unclear.

Person 2 makes a reference to the Colin Farrell film Seven Psychopaths, about a struggling writer. He thinks the fact that the film makes a self-referential point about the lead character’s inability to draw strong female characters does not excuse the lack of strong female characters in the film itself. In short, being aware that you are doing something does not excuse you doing it.

Ironically, I think that author Karrim Jalali is trying to make the point that a play does not have to have a plot. Which is why Henry Van Dyke doesn’t have a plot. And that’s fine, but the audience still needs something to take away with them once it’s over. This play has a solid premise, intelligent writing and good actors, but it is lacking a certain, indefinable something that will take it further.

3 Star Review

Review by Genni Trickett

The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.
What do men talk about when left to their own devices? Men who aren’t particularly interested in football or cars, aren’t into gaming, and aren’t very successful with women…

In amongst exchanging anecdotes and insults, they might get around to discussing and planning a play. The play might even be good. If only they could agree on what story to tell and how to tell it. After all, why not? The woods would be very silent if no birds sang except those that sang best.

The play speaks of that yearning so many of us feel to create and imagine, and the accompanying, crippling self-doubt that bridles us. Men are typically terrible at making themselves vulnerable. This play allows them to reveal their anxieties, express their fears and find solace and comfort in the fact that they are not alone. Regardless of gender, this exciting play from Karrim Jalali is for anyone who has ever yearned to create or imagine.

The Last Will and Testament of Henry Van Dyke
by Karrim Jalali
3 April – 27 April 2019
http://tabardtheatre.co.uk

Author

  • Genni Trickett

    Genni is one of the senior reviewers for LondonTheatre1.com, contributing regularly with reviews for London and regional shows. Genni has been passionate about theatre from an early age, performing in various productions throughout school and university. She is currently an enthusiastic member of an amateur dramatic society in South West London. Her favourite thing about living in London is the breath-taking variety of shows and theatrical talent. https://www.facebook.com/genevieve.trickett

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