Arts, London WC2
No wonder Dr Johnson slept badly ? he drank enough tea to sink a galleon: "The fragrant leaf, I drink it at all times and at all hours. I have been known to drink up to 14 cups at one sitting." His mind was a tireless forge, new opinions turning in the fire. This delightful evening takes the form of a conversation between the great 18th-century lexicographer, essayist and poet and his friend James Boswell. Johnson's life is sketched in an adaptation of Boswell's biography and his journal of their tour to the Hebrides. It is a most invigorating brew, devised by Russell Barr and Ian Redford and nicely stirred by director Max Stafford Clark.
Ian Redford's excellent Dr Johnson is a robust figure in wig and a battered coat. He has a Brummie accent, huge hands and a tendency to shout when provoked. Luke Griffin, taking over from Russell Barr (who is ill), acquits himself serviceably as a dour yet animated Boswell. And Trudie Styler intrigues as Mrs Thrale the doctor's love interest ? an ambiguously merry widow. The evening lacks a clear sense of direction but this scarcely matters. There is such penetrating wit (can there be a more beautiful definition of melancholy than "a lazy frost"?) And Tim Shortall's set is, as is only fitting, a brown study.