THEATRE REVIEW: The Understudy starring Russell Tovey, Sheila Atim, Sarah Hadland, Mina Anwar, Layton Williams and Stephen Fry

WORTH A LOOK?: ***1/2

OUT: now

Covid-19 may have closed theatres in March but technology means social distancing can still be observed if audiobooks are recorded.

  • Read on for reasons including how to buy a ticket to listen to this online play

Welcome to this online play which is raising funds for the UK’s theatre industry with beneficiaries including Acting For Others, the Equity Charitable Trust, Equity’s Benevolent Fund and The Theatre Development Trust, run by the Society of London Theatre and UK Theatre.

£5 grants the listener to a two-hour story of Stephen McQueen (Russell Tovey sounding every inch well-meaning under-achiever) who has been cast as understudy to an actor voted 12th Sexiest Man In The World.

Familiar voices include Stephen Fry as the narrator, Sarah Hadland as McQueen’s ex-wife, Sheila Atim as the star actor’s wife, Mina Anwar as a put-upon but clear-thinking stage manager and Layton Williams as a shallow journalist.

The Understudy was written by Henry Filloux-Bennett and is based on the novel by David Nicholls. It’s a story of a father unsuccessfully pursuing his dream career and refusing to be put off by the obstacles he continuously finds in his way.

Tovey does a fine job in winning sympathy and it is Atim, whose unexpected friendship drives the story, who enchants, persuading us why her character might tire of what appears on the surface to be a dream life.

It’s occasionally funny and mildly engaging and, give it time, and we think you’ll be won over by the first part and keen to give the second a listen soon after.

Hadland is likeable despite exposing the inadequacies of her former marriage and Anwar and Williams make the most of supporting roles. Fry contributes little more than a cameo but elevates all those around him with his presence.

We appreciate the causes this audio book or online play is raising money for more than the material itself but, at a time when theatregoing is impossible, we’d recommend The Understudy as a fun way to fill the gap between shows.

  • Picture via Facebook courtesy The Understudy. Tickets
  • Have you seen this show? Let us know what you thought in the comments below
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