Theatre Reviews Roundup: Alma Mater

Almeida Theatre

Justine Mitchell in Alma Mater at the Almeida Theatre. Photo: Marc Brenner

Kendall Feaver‘s drama covers the many ramifications of a sexual assault at a top university. Justine Mitchell only replaced Lia Williams in the lead role at the last minute but received excellent reviews. Some critics found the many complications of the plot satisfying, others simply confusing.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Claire Allfree of the Telegraph (5★) declared, ‘Directed with pincer-like sharpness by Polly Findlay and beautifully performed, Feaver’s drama is one of the best yet to grapple with today’s culture wars’. She said Justine Mitchell brought to the lead role ‘magnificent, acid-tongued, arrogant flamboyance’.

The Financial Times‘ Sarah Hemming (4★) declared, ‘It’s not a perfect play — it is too schematic in places — but it’s a compelling, sharply resonant ethical workout.’ Sarah Crompton at WhatsOnStage (4★) found it ‘utterly absorbing and very powerful’. The characters, she said, ‘are always fully alive in their humanity and their shifting positions.’

Matt Wolf at London Theatre (4★) praised the new lead, ‘Is there a more quietly essential actress these days than Justine Mitchell…who illuminates every production in which she appears’? He liked the director too, ‘(Deborah) Findlay steers it with a cool, keen eye for the heated rhetoric it contains’. He pointed out, ‘Like any good play of this sort, you find yourself nodding in assent to one point of view only to soon be taken by another perspective altogether’, he continued.

What Matt found ‘satisfyingly labyrinthine’, others found confusing. Cindy Marcolina at Broadway World (3★) thought, ‘Alma Mater gets a lot right, but also puts too many irons on the fire’. Ryan Gilbey for The Guardian (3★) found ‘so many skeletons tumbling out of closets that the stage resembles a crypt rather than a college.’ Nick Curtis in the Standard (2★) was notably put off: ‘it’s undermined by Feaver’s desire to constantly wrong-foot the audience and cover every base. Think this is about assault? No, it’s about race. No, privilege. No, the power-dynamics of student-teacher relationships. No, the internal fault-lines of feminism.’

Two critics looked rather than loved it. Holly O’Mahony writing for The Stage (3★) felt the play was ‘guilty of intellectualising its subject matter instead of making us feel for it.’ Dominic Maxwell of the Times (3★) gave this advice: ‘You may not surrender entirely to the fiction, but you’ll have plenty to talk about afterwards.’

Critics’ Average Rating 3.4★

Alma Mater is at the Almeida until 20 July 2024. Buy tickets direct from almeida.co.uk

If you’ve seen Alam Mater at the Almeida Theatre, please add your review and rating below

Theatre Reviews Roundup: Grud

Hampstead Theatre Downstairs

Catherine Ashdown and Kadiesha Belgrave in Grud. Photo: Alex Brenner

Sarah Power‘s second play sees a teenage woman balancing home life with an alcoholic father and sixth form with a new friend. Jaz Woodcock-Stewart directs. Not many critics took the journey to Hampstead but those that did enjoyed it.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Chris Wiegand in The Guardian (3) called it an ‘emotionally acute drama’ but said it ‘would benefit from a stronger arc and a more richly detailed social backdrop’.

Katie Kirkpatrick at Broadway World (3) commented, ‘Power’s writing demonstrates a knack for realistic dialogue and humour, as well as compelling interpersonal dynamics. The issue with this particular project is that it fails to say anything new.’

Dave Fargnoli at The Stage (3) found ‘the play is lifted by the deep empathy, touching tenderness and charmingly offbeat humour’. Helen Hawkins for The Arts Desk (3) called it ‘an oddly refreshing evening’.

Critics’ Average Rating 3.0★

Grud can be seen at Hampstead Theatre until 3 August 2024. Click here to buy tickets direct from Hampstead Theatre

If you’ve seen Grud at Hampstead Theatre, please add your review and rating below

Ben Whishaw in Bluets – Royal Court Theatre

Bluets is a dream of a show

Ben Whishaw in Bluets at the Royal Court. Photo: Camilla Greenwood

Bluets is not a theatre show, it’s an unusual hybrid of stage and screen. It certainly won’t appeal to everyone, particularly those who love pure theatre. On the plus side, it’s not like far too many recent gimmicky stage productions where video is used to provide close-ups or scenes of what’s happening off-stage. Normally I would avoid that sort of thing, but this is something special.

It’s the making of a film, live, with the actors reciting words from Maggie Nelson’s book Bluets, while carrying out actions that are projected on a large screen. I admit this sounds more like something you might see at Tate Modern, and without the presence of Ben Whishaw, maybe it wouldn’t have made it to the stage of the Jerwood Downstairs theatre at the Royal Court. Having said that, director Katie Mitchell does have a long and distinguished record of creating what she calls ‘live cinema’. But, if it does sound strange, or even off-putting to you, I can only say I found Bluets both fascinating and deeply moving.

Let’s start with the words. After all, it is based on a book of what could be called short prose-poems, in which Maggie Nelson describes and meditates on three recurring themes- the effect of and gradual recovery from the breakup of a relationship, a close friend’s reaction to becoming a quadriplegic, and her fascination with the colour blue, which is genuinely interesting.
Kayla Meikle in Bluets. Photo: Camilla Greenwood

The language- its rhythms and metaphors- is poetic and moving. It’s also quite funny in a self-deprecating way. For example, she is excited to come across a book called Deepest Blue (I think) in a bookshop, only to find it’s about depression. She hastily puts it back, only to tell us she bought it six months later – pause- ‘online’.

Ben Whishaw will have sold many of the tickets and he does deliver, with a sad voice and a twinkling eye, but so do the other two actors Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle. The trio sit in a row, sharing the lines, so that the words are delivered almost staccato by their alternating voices. The effect is to make you concentrate and hear every word. I found that the varied voices and personas made the author and her highly personal subject matter seem more universal.
Emma D’Arcy in Bluets at the Royal Court Theatre. Photo: Camilla Greenwood

Then there is the videoing. Each actor has a table next to them, a camera in front of them, and a monitor behind them. The film, shown on a big screen above them, illustrates what is being said. The actors sometimes stand in front of the monitors, as if they are green screens, and this, thanks to superb lighting by Anthony Doran, converts onto the large screen as them seeming to walk down a street, drive a car, or dry their hair in a changing room. Often, the actors’ heads or hands are viewed in close-up as they rest on a pillow, or touch each other, or handle blue objects. It is an extraordinary experience to watch them talk and move, sometimes in synch, and then see this, combined with some pre-recorded moments, become a movie before one’s eyes.

Cinema, which is usually immutable, becomes a live performance. The way it can change in small ways from night to night suggested to me the way our mental lives -feelings, memories, dreams- change with each circumstance and in each moment. The live video is a masterpiece in coordination, designed by Ellie Thompson and directed by Grant Gee.
The adaptation of Maggie Nelson’s book by Margaret Perry is a fine work in itself, and the soundtrack by Paul Clark, which mixes music, nature and street sounds, is as disturbing and reflective as the language.
Bluets is only 70 minutes long but it has the timeless quality of a dream or a memory.
This is the opening production of the first season by the Royal Court’s new artistic director David Byrne. After a lacklustre period under Vicky Featherstone, when I all but stopped going to the Royal Court, I am now looking forward to some exciting times ahead.
Bluets can be seen at the Royal Court until 29 June 2024
Paul was given a review ticket.

Reviews Roundup: Punchdrunk’s Viola’s Room

One Cartridge Place, Woolwich

Punchdrunk’s Viola’s Room. Photo: Julian Abrams

After the scale and complexity of The Burnt City, Punchdrunk are back with a more intimate immersion piece in which the audience are led six at a time through a series of rooms listening to a story narrated by Helena Bonham-Carter, and there are no live actors. Co-directed by Felix Barrett and Hector Harkness, it tells of a search for a doomed teenage princess.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

The Guardian‘s Arifa Akbar (5★) loved it: ‘it inspires so much puzzling wonder that you want to go straight back in to find other undisturbed paths in the search for Viola.’ She explained that it ‘hovers delicately between bedtime story, fairytale, children’s game and nightmare…The story does not follow rational logic but turns into a weird kind of liminal babble dealing in unnameable fear, and you feel it as you travel through ever darker, narrower spaces.’

Andrjez Lukowski at Time Out (4★) was impressed: By its climax I felt like a character in a horror film, not least because of the tremendous soundtrack relayed by Gareth Fry’s extraordinary sound design…It might be short, but in those 45 minutes you’ll live a haunted lifetime.’

For Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph (4★), ‘it cast a simple, singular spell. Like Viola, I couldn’t quite bear to tear myself away; and in surrendering to feeling lost there lies an intoxicating sense of self-discovery.’ The Stage‘s Sam Marlowe (4★) said, ‘this is a beautifully wrought enchantment that skilfully blends the exquisite and the sinister.’

Anna James at WhatsOnStage (4★) praised ‘Impeccable design, labyrinths both literal and figurative, and a deep fascination with storytelling, intimacy and ritual maintain that ineffable Punchdrunk feel.’ The Observer‘s Susannah Clapp (4★) concluded: ‘Though often exquisite, sometimes apparently folkloric, Viola’s Room is sophisticated in its paradoxes. Its story is about compulsion and loss of control, yet this is the show in which Punchdrunk has most evidently controlled its own audience.’

Franco Milazzo reviewing for BroadwayWorld (3★) decided that, compared with The Burnt City, ‘Viola’s Room is overall a tighter work which offers a far more cohesive theatrical experience but, unlike many of the Punchdrunk productions before it, does not have enough wow factor to justify a second viewing.’

Nick Curtis in The Standard (3★) was underwhelmed. ‘Visually and atmospherically, it’s a work of rich detail, executed with elan…Unfortunately the story itself, by Booker-shortlisted novelist Daisy Johnson, is a thin, by-the-numbers assemblage of darkly symbolic fairytale tropes with a sensual modern topspin.’

The Times‘ Clive Davis (3★) was blunt in his response: ‘It’s pointless, I suppose, expecting much in the way of substance: Punchdrunk, you see, are masters of visual muzak. Viola’s Room resembles a fairground ghost train for hipsters, only there’s no train.’ Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times  summed up, ‘Fabulous trimmings, needs more meat.’

George Simpson for The Express (3★) said, ‘Punchdrunk certainly lean into the sensory aspects of this piece over the substance of the narrative…It’s not for everyone, but if this is your bag you’ll get lost in wonder for 45 minutes.’

Fiona Mountford in the i (2★) was disappointed, ‘So underwhelmed was I by the whole set-up that I increasingly found myself longing to be frightened: anything for an enlivening dash of excitement…It’s an experience so evanescent as to leave barely any trace in our memory.’

Critics’ Average Rating 3.4★

Viola’s Room can be seen at One Cartridge Place, Woolwich, until 20 August 2024. Buy tickets direct from punchdrunk.com

If you’ve seen Viola’s Room, please add your review and rating below

 

 

Izzard Hamlet 2★

Riverside Studios

Izzard Hamlet at Riverside Studios. Photo: Amanda Searle

Is this the worse show in London? The Izzard Hamlet, in which the stand-up comedian and actor (now using the pronoun ‘she’) plays every role, has been greeted by extraordinarily bad reviews, including two 1 star ratings. The theme seemed to be that she failed to provide any depth to the characters.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

The Telegraph‘s Dominic Cavendish (3★) was one of the few critics to award more than two stars, and he was far from complimentary- ‘The dividends…in a daunting test of stamina, textual focus and gender-flipping, seem pretty minima,’ he said. He continued that the acting was ‘efficiently and lucidly executed, but lacking much interiority and passion’. Cheryl Markosky at Broadway World (3★) enjoyed her evening, ‘You’re right there with Izzard, a lone figure on stage who makes Hamlet real and vital.’

Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (2★) commented, ‘any reading of Hamlet is hard to fathom. There is little interiority, little sense of the agony or gravity of his predicament nor the huge issues at stake.’ Dominic Maxwell at The Times (2★) had the same thought: ‘what Izzard doesn’t do is bring inner life to these ricocheting ruminations…Without more solidity, the performance is only as good as its last well-spoken line.’ He didn’t hold back: ‘this is indulgent nonsense’.

Fiona Mountford at inews (2★) hitout: ‘Izzard’s take is simply too frenetic, little more than a glossy vanity project, an impressive feat of line-learning.’ ‘What is entirely lacking,’ she said, ‘is any sense of Hamlet’s grief, soul-searching and existential angst.’ Georgia Luckhurst in The Stage (2★) was also unimpressed, ‘after landing heavy hitters like “to be, or not to be”…she adopts a hasty delivery that suggests an insecurity about the play’s supporting characters.’ She concluded, ‘if you like your Hamlet less harried, this may not be for you’

The Guardina’s Arifa Akbar gave what for her is a rare 1★, saying, ‘Izzard diligently channelling words rather than any meaningful interpretation of the role.’ ‘Most frustratingly,’ she vented, “Izzard uses the same tone for every character’. Nick Curtis gave a no-holds-barred critique in The Standard (1★), calling it ‘risible’ and ‘an act of colossal vanity and hubris, hung on the skimpiest artistic justification’. He complained, ‘Izzard musters barely any characterisation, emotion or grandeur’. He ended with a heartfelt: ‘Why? That’s the question you ask yourself throughout.’

Critics’ Average Rating 2★

Izzard Hamlet can be seen at the Riverside Studios in Hammersmith, London, until 30 June 2024. Buy tickets direct from riversidestudios.co.uk

If you’ve seen Izzard Hamlet, please add your review and rating below

Bluets (Royal Court) – Reviews Roundup 3.1★

Royal Court- Jerwood Theatre Downstairs

Ben Whishaw in Bluets at Royal Court theatre. Photo: Camilla Greenwood

In her book, Maggie Nelson writes numerous short pieces that explore pleasure, pain, and her love of the colour blue. In Margaret Perry’s stage adaptation, three actors create small moments for ‘live cinema’ as the director Katie Mitchell calls it. The drama might have been marginalised as an art installation, except the actors in question are Ben Whishaw, Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle, and this is the first production at the Royal Court under its new artistic director David Byrne.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Sarah Crompton at WhatsOnStage (4★) was the most enthusiastic reviewer: ‘Both in live action and screen picture, the actors have a sense of intent purpose. However complex the technical demands made of them, they give a performance that is utterly unified and entirely believable.’ She summed up, ‘it is stylish, and full of wonder, a compelling portrait of sadness that somehow finds its way to acceptance and even hope.’ Dave Fargnoli in The Stage (4★) was also impressed, ‘Incisively adapted for the stage by Margaret Perry, the elusive text feels like an ideal match for director Katie Mitchell’s signature cinematic style, which blends performance, live video and pre-recorded footage to extraordinary effect.’ He concluded, ‘it’s a challenging, yet deeply rewarding watch, suffused with wistful beauty.’

Like many of the reviewers, Dominic Cavendish of the Telegraph (3★) seemed more impressed by the way it was done than the effect: ‘As a technical feat, it’s impressive: how do Whishaw, along with Emma D’Arcy and Kayla Meikle, each focused yet frenetic amid an obscuring array of equipment, get so much done, without slipping up?’ Andrzej Lukowski at Time Out (3★) was of a similar mind: ‘As ever with Mitchell, the text is interesting, but the real action lies in admiring her virtuosic staging – the cast are good, but they’re skilled cogs in Mitchell’s prodigious machine.’ The Observer’s Susannah Clapp (3★) thought it was ‘cool and accomplished. More intriguing than disturbing.’

Arifa Akbar of The Guardian (3★) was stirred but not shaken: ‘there is still a sense of morsels of thought being offered which never metabolise into anything bigger…Ultimately, it is an odd night at the theatre, but not an uninteresting one.’ She said of the actors, ‘D’Arcy, Meikle and Whishaw perform with smooth, speedy synchronicity.’ Fiona Mountford at i-news (3★) thought the same but was more blunt, ‘It’s all very technically impressive, of course, but quite what this incessant faffing about adds to the text itself is another question entirely. My overriding feeling at the end of the 80 minutes was that Bluets is not a quarter as profound as Mitchell thinks it is.’

Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times (3★) said, ‘I’m so glad I saw Bluets. Without more story to sustain its 80 minutes, though, I was also so glad when it ended.

Aliya Al-Hassan at LondonTheatre (3★) felt ‘the overall look and feel is often more art installation than theatrical performance’  but ‘the cast work incredibly well together, moving deftly as they convey the stream of consciousness‘. Tim Bano in The Independent (3★) thought ‘Perry’s adaptation…keeps many of its most beautiful lines, and having the added textures of the film…creates…a theatrical piece unlike much else in London at the moment.’ He concluded with a backhanded compliment, ‘it’s a slog, even at 80 minutes. But my goodness it’s a beautiful slog.’

Not so beautiful for The Times’ Clive Davis (2★), who was having none of it: ’80 minutes begins to feel like eight hours. Whishaw and his colleagues are reduced to the level of well-drilled marionettes’.

Average critics’ rating 3.1★

Bluets can be seen at the Royal CourtTheatre until 29 June 2024. Buy tickets direct from royalcourttheatre.com

Read Paul Seven Lewis’s 5 star review of Bluets
If you’ve seen Bluets, please add your review and rating below

Reviews Roundup: Passing Strange 3.6★

Young Vic

Actor Marc Brenner stands upstage with a microphone in front musicians and bideo screens in scene from the Young Vic production of Passing Strange
Giles Terera in Passing Strange. Photo: Marc Brenner

A middle-aged African American played by Giles Terera looks back on his life and how, as a young musician, he went on a musical odyssey to find himself and his place in the world. It’s a semi-autobiographical work by Mark Lamar Stewart, co-composed with Heidi Rodewald.

Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Adam Bloodworth at CityAM (5 ★) loved it: ‘this rock musical about a young man who leaves his religious upbringing to devour the 1970s punk scenes of Berlin and Amsterdam stirs the soul.’ He continued , ‘It does so in a way I haven’t quite seen before: the story of the unnamed ‘Youth’ is delivered by a live rock band’s fourth-wall-breaking singer-narrator, played with a velvety confidence and almost frustrating suaveness by Giles Terera’ ‘There are some astonishing pieces of choreography.’ His conclusion was, ‘There’s nothing quite like this on the London stage right now.’
Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (4★) was enthusiastic: The show was ‘so wildly, and often loudly, offbeat that there’s never a dull moment.’ He ended, ‘Not revelatory, perhaps, but invigoratingly strange, and bittersweet.’

Fiona Mountford in the i (4★) declared, ‘Passing Strange is most definitely a musical, but it’s not like any musical I have ever seen before – and what a thrill it is.’ She continued ‘Passing Strange delights in toying with our expectations and casually breaking the fourth wall when it fancies, and Liesl Tommy’s tremendously self-assured production pulls it all off with conviction and panache.’

Dominic Cooke of the Sunday Times (4★) said ‘it is a vivid tale of a young man’s search for authenticity that knows authenticity is both liberation and bunkum. Pitched between rock gig and musical, memoir and performance art, it’s musical theatre that even those who don’t like musical theatre can love. It’s satirical, stirring, tuneful, tender, awkward, alive.’

Marianka Swain writing for LondonTheatre discovered (4★), ‘this form-busting show is still a distinctly singular experience, but surrender to its idiosyncratic rhythms and it’s a soulful, rich, witty wonder.’ She praised its star: ‘Terera is a total rock star in a role that could have been tailor-made for him.’ Kate Wyver in The Guardian (4★) offered a paean to the lead: ‘You can’t take your eyes off him. The script for this autobiography of an artist isn’t always nuanced but Giles Terera as its narrator is sublime, filling every line with the weight of time passed, every move with the knowledge of mistakes made. And he has a cracking turn on the electric guitar….He holds the years in his gaze, the longing, the loss, the what-could-have-been. He doesn’t just play the part, he lives it.’

Tom Wicker at Time Out (3★) found ‘Liesl Tommy’s staging of the show has charisma to spare…Terera is the lynchpin here, tying emotional loose ends together with effortless dexterity.’ His reservation was: ‘This production wants to have its cake and eat it, expecting us to laugh at everything in, but to take its own brand of earnestness seriously.’ For Sarah Crompton at WhatsOnStage (3★), ‘It is so exhilarating and Giles Terera so charismatic’. She liked the way it is ‘powered by a rich score (co-written by Stew and Heidi Rodewald) that mixes musical styles’. Where it fell down for her is that the ‘second act and the energy vanishes like air from a balloon…the lessons learnt by a young man on his life’s journey are replaced by platitudes about life and art’.

The Observer’s Susannah Clapp (3★) said Giles Terera gave ‘a beautifully relaxed, melodious performance.’ But, ‘the production never quite lands its art vs life message, while insistently making it‘. Nick Curtis in The Standard (3★) said it’s ‘simultaneously familiar, sketchy, self-indulgent and pretentious, but it’s told in Liesl Tommy’s new production with undeniable verve and brio.’

Anya Ryan in The Stage (3★) said, It’s a messy voyage of self-discovery…it feels somewhat self-indulgent.’ However the star did not disappoint:  ‘Terera once again proves himself to be one of Britain’s most versatile actors working today, with charismatic confidence and a voice as sumptuous as ever.’
For Clive Davis in The Times (3★), ‘Some of the numbers, co-written with Heidi Rodewald, have a genuinely anthemic quality. It helps that the cast are quite capable of crashing through the fourth wall and joshing with the audience. And Stewart’s script contains zingers…It’s just a shame that the show runs out of ideas in the second half and turns mawkish at the end. Until then, it’s a blast.’

Critics’ Average Rating 3.6★

Passing Strange can be seen at Young Vic until 6 July 2024. Buy tickets directly from youngvic.org

If you’ve seen Richard III, please add your review and rating below

Reviews Roundup- Richard III

Shakespeare’s Globe

Actor Michelle Terry playing Richard III sits on a throne
Michelle Terry as Richard III. Photo: Marc Brenner

The Globe’s Richard III arrives on a wave of controversy because of the frequently misogynistic criticism of its non-disabled artistic director Michelle Terry taking the lead role. As it turns out, references to the murderous king’s disability have been excised and attention is on his toxic masculinity in Elle While’s nearly all-female production.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Tim Bano in The Independent (4★) described how ‘Michelle Terry takes Richard III and turns him into the kind of swaggering, entitled, entirely self-regarding mop-haired misogynist man that we’ve seen way too much of in positions of power in recent years.’ Claire Allfree in the Telegraph (4★) called her interpretation ‘a textbook reading in imaginative authenticity’. The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar (4★) pointed out, ‘Elle While’s direction turns it into a play about toxic masculinity of the highest order.’ ‘the play’s shocks hit in all the right places,’ she said, ‘Ultimately, it is a fast-paced, energised and entertaining production, the humour sometimes overplayed and hammy, but nevertheless a hugely compelling picture of corrupted male power.’

The Observer’s Susannah Clapp (3★) said, ‘Terry’s king is a lethal child. She outshines everyone else in a stimulating, patchy evening.’ Anya Ryan in Time Out (3★) declared, ‘As a Shakespearean actor, Terry really is as good as it gets.’ Her reservation was that ‘There is solid thought behind this production that pushes The Bard’s classic into the modern day. But, this is Terry’s show and hers only.’
The Standard’s Nick Curtis (3★) found her ‘horrifyingly compelling in the lead’ but thought ‘Elle While’s production is shouty and unfocused. It also strains too hard for contemporary relevance.’

Isaac Ouro-Gnao writing for LondonTheatre (3★) said, ‘for the most part, Richard III offers up stinging comedy at the hands of a talented and diverse cast, guaranteeing a laugh even during its darkest moments.’
Dave Fargnoli in The Stage (3★) called the production ‘bold, uneven’. On the whole, he was impressed: ‘Although While’s strikingly modern style feels chaotic at times, this ambitious production offers an intriguing, under-explored angle on Richard’s familiar story.’

According to Alexander Cohen at BroadwayWorld (3★), ‘Richard is the all too human anti-hero of Shakespearean canon. Here he is more concept in a wider societal conversation about gender roles post #MeToo.’

Sarah Hemming at WhatsOnStage (2★) wasn’t impressed: ‘There is some richness to be found in exploring the ways in which misogyny and tyranny almost always walk hand-in-hand, boosted by the use of an almost all-female or gender-fluid cast, but it often has all the subtlety and nuance of a bejewelled codpiece.’
The Times’ Dominic Maxwell (2★) felt the same: ‘Not for the first time here [at The Globe] the bright ideas are ahead of the production’s ability to sell them…It’s a strategically shallow reading that makes one of Shakespeare’s most fascinating villains into a 2D commentary on a certain kind of male.’

Critics’ Average Rating 3

Richard III can be seen at Shakespeare’s Globe until 3 August 2024. Buy tickets directly from shakespearesglobe.com

If you’ve seen Richard III, please add your review and rating below

Reviews Roundup: Between Riverside and Crazy 3.4★

Hampstead Theatre

Danny Sapani in Between Riverside and Crazy

Following his triumph as King Lear, Danny Sapani is back as another fading patriarch, this time he’s a retired New York cop who had previously been badly injured by a white colleague. As the occupant of a Manhattan apartment, he takes in a variety of misfits while resisting eviction in Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Pulitzer Prize-winning play.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (4★) was full of praise: ‘Director Michael Longhurst revels in the text’s rollercoaster, tragicomic structure and draws rich, believable performances from the cast as a bunch of messy, messed-up people trying to keep their lives on track. Sapani is excellent, switching from warmth to wrath in an instant: infuriating one moment and endearing the next.’ Marianka Swain in the Telegraph (4★) said Danny Sapani is ‘titanic here as this sly, savagely funny, belligerent patriarch whose authority is ebbing away.’

Alun Hood at WhatsOnStage (4★) was impressed by ‘Michael Longhurst’s sizzling, thrillingly acted production’. It was, he said, ‘a warm, intriguing play, as wise as it is outrageous, as funny as it is grim, and in this UK premiere, it looks like a modern American classic.’ Franco Milazzo At BroadwayWorld (4★) described it as an ‘intelligent, intimate and ultimately optimistic study’

Andrzej Lukowski at Time Out (3★) experienced ‘a meaty watch, a pungent, spikey mix of laughs, tears and doomed defiance that centres on a multiracial group of misfits.’ Matt Wolf writing for LondonTheatre (3★) said, ‘Michael Longhurst’s production courses with the empathy found in the writing, not to mention a characteristic alertness to the storytelling swerves.’ For Arifa Albar in The Guardian (3★) it didn’t deliver as much as it promised, ‘In a production snappily directed by Michael Longhurst, there is much half said about institutionalised racism’ Nevertheless, ‘The performances are so strong, especially Sapani’s, that they propel the drama with lively, jibing humour’

The Times’ Clive Davis (3★) was another who felt the play fell short. While describing Danny Sapani as ‘a brooding central presence’, he also observed ‘too many underdeveloped characters’ are jostling for attention’ and ‘a nagging sense of implausibility.’ He said, ‘There are two or three plays crammed in here; for all the jokes, Guirgis never makes us care enough about any of them.’
Nick Curtis in The Standard (3★) had many reservations but came through the evening feeling positive: ‘This is a tricksy, rigged piece of drama, with a distended denouement. It’s still headily enjoyable, though.’ Dave Fargnoli writing for The Stage (3★) said the ‘knotty dramedy is overstuffed and tonally inconsistent – yet still gripping.’

Critics’ Average Rating 3.4★

Between Riverside and Crazy can be seen at Hampstead Theatre until 15 June 2024. Buy tickets from hampsteadtheatre.com

If you’ve seen Between Riverside and Crazy, please add your review and rating below

Reviews Roundup- The Cherry Orchard 3.7★

Donmar Warehouse

The Cherry Orchard at The Donmar. Photo: Johan Persson

Benedict Andrews has pulled apart Chekhov’s story of an aristocratic family blind to change and reassembled it as a modern take on resistance to climate change, with the production spilling over into the audience. The excitement of three 5-star and three 4-star reviews of The Cherry Orchard was offset by a couple of 3-star reviews and one 2-star. It seems one critic’s modern interpretation is another’s gimmick. All were agreed on the quality of the cast, in particular Nina Hoss and Adeel Akthar.

[Links to full reviews are included but a number are behind paywalls and therefore may not be accessible]

Arifa Akbar in The Guardian (5★) explained the update: ‘It is still a story about masters, peasants and the legacy of serfdom, but the anxiety over wealth, class and dispossession is powerfully felt to be ours too.’ She loved the acting, ‘Hoss and Akhtar, both better known for their screen work, are tremendous’ as well as the interpretation, ‘It is not so much tragicomic as comedy and then absolute tragedy.’ The Standard‘s Nick Curtis (5★) was similarly enraptured, calling the production ‘revelatory’. It ‘hits the play’s poles of tragedy and comedy with devastating accuracy,’ he said, ‘Yet it all feels entirely true to the spirit of the original.’  He too was impressed by the acting: ‘German stage star Nina Hoss is heartbreaking and exasperating…Adeel Akhtar, so often cast in downtrodden roles, is astonishing.’ He continued: ‘I’ve never seen an audience laugh so hard at this play, nor seen the closing scene with servant Firs performed as movingly’.

Andrzej Lukowski of Time Out (5★) described the design: ‘Magda Willa has created something equally memorable. In an in-the-round configuration in which cast members sit amongst the audience when not performing, every inch of floor and the entire back hall is covered in geometrically patterned rugs, a mix of ‘70s palette and ‘80s design that feels curiously out of time.’  He explained: ‘What Andrews is just plain astonishing at is character and casting…it’s a wonder to spend time with these people’ He concluded: ‘It builds to a queasily brilliant climax, But it’s the journey that’s the joy.’

Dave Fargnoli The Stage (4★) appeared relieved to be confronted by a modern take: ‘this lively, irreverent version brings tremendous immediacy to the piece. Replacing Chekhov’s stultifying tension with raw, feverish anxiety.’ He too praised the cast:  ‘In an appealingly playful ensemble, Adeel Akhtar stands out.’ For Greg Stewart at Theatre Weekly (4★) it was ‘a captivating and visionary take on the Russian playwright’s final work…Benedict Andrews’ The Cherry Orchard transposes the societal upheaval of early 20th century Russia to modern day societal shifts, and amplifies Chekhov’s themes of change and progress in a profound way.’

Claire Allfree in the Telegraph (4★) said the production ‘ratchets up the characters’ psychological fracturing to such an extent the play fizzes from the get-go with a dangerous off-kilter threat.’  She  described how ‘Andrews’ production is ultimately almost entirely an exercise in tonal dissonance. The mood can switch from comedy to horror in a second. He has the ability to turn a moment inside out so that feeling is revealed by its opposite emotion.’ But she ended with a reservation: ‘You miss, despite everything, the ineffable music of Chekhov; that keening inner poetry that can pounce just as bitterly as any directorial gimmick.’

Susannah Clapp in The Observer (4★) was particularly impressed by the performance of June Watson as the old servant Firs which she said, ‘takes your breath away’. She described the production as ‘choppy and fierce’ and concluded, ‘There are plenty of gleams and flares here: they do not add up to a revelation.’

Sarah Crompton at WhatsOnStage 3 had mixed feelings. ‘It’s like hearing a Puccini aria played by Slipknot. The melody survives but struggles to be heard,’ she said. ‘What makes the production shine, in fact, is the performances.’ She concluded, ‘It’s an enjoyable evening, but Chekhov is barely left standing at the close.’ Tim Bano in The Independent (3★) was struck by the appearance of the production: ‘the most obvious thing is the rug (Magda Willi’s design). It’s massive. All over the stage, covering the back wall, the coppery colour of dried blood or cherry stains.’ He found ‘it’s a production that’s made by particular moments, rather than working as a whole’. In fact, for him, it was ‘ alienating and a bit confusing. The way Andrews keeps pulling us toward the contemporary has worked in his previous shows. It gets us closer to the heart of the play. Here it gets in the way.’

For Dominic Maxwell at The Sunday Times (2★), ‘the clever details hig the attention and impede the dramatic flow.’ For him, ‘the almost three hours moved painfully slowly.’ Clive Davis in The Times (2★) was another who couldn’t get on with it at all. ‘What adds to the frustration is that this modern adaptation contains decent performances….(Andrews) is so determined to scatter directorial flourishes in all directions that it’s impossible to focus on the human tragedy unfurling in front of us.’ It ‘dissolves into confusion,’ he said. ‘…as the orchard faces destruction, the actors tear up the rugs. If only they could have done the same to the script.’ Ouch!

The Cherry Orchard is playing at the Donmar Warehouse until 22 June 2024. Buy tickets direct from the theatre

Average critics’ rating 3.7★
Value Rating 67 (Value rating is the Average Critic Rating divided by the typical ticket price. In theory, this means the higher the score the better value but, because of price variations, a West End show could be excellent value if it scores above 30 while an off-West End show may need to score above 60.)

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