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  • Writer's pictureRosie Sharman-Ward


🎭 Piece of Work  

📍 The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth, Royal Parade, Plymouth, Devon, PL1 2TR

🗓 Tuesday 30th April 2024



That James Rowland is a consummate storyteller is evident long before the show starts. As the audience arrives, he can be seen off stage accompanying himself on a piano whilst onstage there is only a small table, chair and a rucksack. My story loving brain immediately recognises that we are going on a journey with an intriguing person. 

Follow this by James preparing for the show by unpacking pyjamas from the rucksack, changing into to them then and there (amid whoops of appreciation from some audience members) as well as placing a well-thumbed folder of papers on the table. All done to Human League’s Electric Dreams. “This is not the show!” quips James smiling engagingly at us. The engaging smile works, we are ready for the off. The start is delayed by content warnings, however. This show contains traces of Shakespeare, “though all theatre should have this warning, after all they are baked in the same factory!” As the show title is directly lifted from Hamlet, this is not the biggest surprise of the evening. Still keen, we wait in anticipation until the thistledown hits the floor. 

Starting with an unexpected letter, the hilarious, poignant journey James takes us on is a personal one through his relationships with the males in his life. His father, his brother, his nephew and a richly drawn, larger-than-life Falstaff-like gentleman who revels in the name of Dick. This, sometimes difficult, story is liberally interspersed with quotes from Hamlet, illustrating beautifully the painful humanity along the way. 

It is also illustrated by a sequence of dog eared, much used maps leading us through James’ formative years to today with many stops of joy on the way. Maybe a swim, a pub, a chicken burger or three, preferably from a now disappearing brand. 

Intricate but not easy, despite James’ personable style, the narrative stares the hard topics such as complex relationships and suicidal feelings right in the eye. We have been given permission to leave and take a moment if overwhelmed, an element of care and confidence in his audience which is heartwarming. The show is so filled with obvious love and a beaming humour which shines from the stage that we cope. Rowland has a deft touch with tuning in to the mood of his audience, he takes us to the edge of discomfort but whisks us back with a clever aside. As a person who is thrilled by wide, exciting vocabulary and the still present relevance of Shakespeare I was enthralled. The description of suicidal feelings, “ my heart there was a kind of fighting, that would not let me sleep.” seemed so apt as did the quote used in response, “Refrain tonight, and that shall lend a kind of easiness” and yes, we know the latter was not about suicide! 

For me this golden show loses its shine a little at the end. It was almost as if James has not resolved some of the issues and withdraws from us. It feels chilly after the intimacy built up. It also has an unfortunate technical issue in that the speech section at the end is too quiet for audiences in the back to hear fully. Overall, however, it is a great piece of theatre full of charm and wit. I look forward to hearing another tale from James Rowland very soon. If you too are a lover of stories told in glorious language, go and see it. 

Trigger Warnings: Contains distressing or potentially triggering themes

PIECE OF WORK runs in The Drum, Theatre Royal Plymouth until Saturday 4th May before heading off for the rest of the tour. Head to for tickets 

Rosie Sharman-Ward


All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest, fair and free from influence. Theatre is subjective and it is important to remember that all views expressed are just those of one reviewer. 

My ticket for this performance of Piece of Work was gifted by the Theatre Royal Plymouth who invited me to watch the show in exchange for my honest review. The fact that my ticket was gifted played no part in the content of my review or the star rating given. 

The Theatre Royal Plymouth is the principle home of the performing arts in the South West and is the largest and most attended regional producing theatre in the country. Their mission is to develop and deepen people's engagement with pioneering creativity in Plymouth and the South West, delivering experiences that spark delight, expression and fulfilment. The venue offers three performance spaces of various sizes, the largest being The Lyric which accommodates the big touring productions. The Drum and The Lab are smaller, intimate spaces and often offer pioneering productions.


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