A Dish of Tea with Dr Johnson

I’d have loved to have seen this likeable Out of Joint production when it was staged earlier this year in the garret of Johnson’s House, the very place where this literary colossus spent 9 years compiling his famous dictionary.

Since then, it’s been on tour and to Edinburgh before settling in for the current short season at the small (though not as cosy) Arts theatre.

There have been more changes since that opening night as, unfortunately, Russell Barr ( who not only co-wrote the script with director Max Stafford-Clark and fellow performer Ian Redford, but also took on the parts of his friend and biographer James Boswell, Sir Joshua Reynolds, George III and a host of others) has had to withdraw due to illness, taking with him the (sadly unreplaced) Katie, his rescued Jack Russell who suffered the canine indignity of playing Johnson’s beloved oyster-eating cat, Hodge.

Never mind, there’s still much to enjoy in the current staging (seen at the final preview) in which Luke Griffin bravely steps into Barr’s shoes, donning a wig and period costume – and a pinny, too – and, at short notice, copes admirably with the variety of characters who featured in Johnson’s life.

Adapted from Boswell’s “The Life of Samuel Johnson” and “The Journal of a Tour to the Hebrides”, this 80 minute show portrays a man of great intelligence and wit, prone to fits of “melancholy,” kindly, yet with a quick temper.

Redford relishes the role, delivering the lexicographer’s aphorisms in a Staffordshire accent.

At some performances, Trudie Styler, dolled up to the nines in her 18th century dress, makes a late appearance as his last unrequited love, but the addition of a third actor feels somewhat superfluous as Griffin takes on all the other female roles – including Johnson’s blind housekeeper, an intelligent but increasingly tetchy Welshwoman who served as both intellectual companion and tea-maker for this distinguished man of letters.

– Louise Kingsley

Arts Theatre, Great Newport Street, WC2H 7JB
020 7907 7092
Tube: Leicester Square
Until September 24