Reviews Roundup: London Tide at The National 2.8★

  • Lyttelton Theatre
Bella Mclean in London Tide. Photo: Marc Brenner

An adaptation by Ben Power (The Lehman Trilogy) of Charles Dickens’ last completed novel Our Mutual Friend, with songs by P J Harvey, must have seemed like a surefire winner. Running through the typically Dickensian larger-than-life characters and complex plot about money, poverty, death and resurrection is the River Thames itself. Sadly for the National Theatre, the critics were not swept away. On thecwhole, they found the script shalloe but Bunny Christie’s set which evoked the river went down well. PJ Harvey’s song proved a sticking for most critics. So, Ian Rickson’s production was greeted with three and two star reviews with just one critic enthusiastic enough to award four stars.

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

That was Andrzej Lukowski in Time Out (4★). ‘The performance space becomes the Thames – the effect is majestic and disconcerting (I felt a bit seasick in places),’ he shared. It was, he said, ‘Dickens’s late class drama turned into a work both elemental and righteous.’

Arifa Akbar in The Guardian (3★) found it ‘light on the satire and heavy on mood, strikingly staged as a kind of 19th-century noir.’ She concluded: ‘The play winds up to a melodramatic end, with its potboiler elements exposed, but it still retains a curious power, and performances shine.’

Sarah Hemming at the Financial Times (3★) admired the ‘restless, intelligent, absorbing production’ but thought, ‘as drama it is held back by sheer narrative bulk.’ Susannah Clapp in The Observer (3★) decided: ‘Ian Rickson’s production aims to be more than episodically charged, to explore the life of the city that is not contained by character. It is not sufficiently wraparound-vibrant to achieve this.’

For Sam Marlowe in The Stage (3★) ‘emotional impact is a casualty’ and  ‘its characters don’t quite come to life, drowning in the politics and plot mechanics’ but she did appreciate ‘The performances are sinewy and direct, with Ellie-May Sheridan scene-stealing.’ Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph  (3★) agreed: ‘the laurels go to the transfixing stage debutante Ellie-May Sheridan, who seems to have stepped out of Dickens’s imagination.’ Otherwise, for him, it was a ‘five-star wow bobbing in a three-star show.’

Fiona Mountford in the i (3★), like many others couldn’t resist a watery metaphor: ‘we emerge from this theatrical river feeling slightly soggy and mildly bewildered.’ Sarah Crompton at Whats On Stage (3★) also took a dip: ‘it feels bogged down in the shallows, never quite plunging into the depths of the story’s meaning or fulfilling its own intelligent and honest intentions. It’s full of integrity, but lacks drama.’

And so to the ones who really took against it. Alexander Cohen at Broadway World (2★)  said: ‘reduced to its naked mechanics, the exposition laden writing lacks the lustrous life blood that so warmly flows through the veins of Dickens’s literary worlds.’

Clive Davis in The Times (2★) came out fighting, calling it ‘this weirdly misconceived adaptation’. He didn’t pull his punches: ‘Ian Rickson’s lumbering production is anything but a page-turner.’ And a final kick at the ‘crowded, undernourished melodrama.’

For David Benedict at The Standard (2★) it was ‘a leaden three-and-a-quarter hours.’ His analysis of the failings of the adaptation included this comment: ‘where Dickens’ contextualised writing allows coincidence to thrive, in dialogue as bald as this, the coincidences just feel contrived.’ He concluded, ‘Near the end, Rokesmith sings “Why, why, why, why, why…” Indeed.’

PJ Harvey’s songs

It seems you either like PJ Harvey or you don’t, and the critics didn’t, except for the Time Out reviewer who is clearly a fan: ‘Harvey’s songs are integral…the poised drama they provide feels vital to a show which is bigger on storytelling than emotions and might have felt flat without its spine-tingling tunes.’ The Guardian had a foot in both camps, describing the songs as ‘anti-ballads’ whose ‘seriousness gives the story a lugubrious depth but also undercuts Dickens’ satire and levity.’

No-one else had a good thing to say about them. Tim Bano in The Independent (3★) noted ‘as the story gets more interesting and the characters richer, the songs remain the same – each character stands centre stage and sings out at the audience – until you can’t help sighing a little when another one strikes up, knowing another dirge is on its way.’ The i had a similar thought: ‘It’s a fine idea, but one that plays to decidedly diminishing returns as the mournful, almost identical-sounding numbers mount up.’

The Financial Times said the songs ‘add to the ballast and, often in a gloomily low register, are challenging to deliver.’ For WhatsOnStage, ‘the songs, which are dark and relentless as well as impressive, have a tendency to stop the action rather than move it on.’ The Telegraph agreed: ‘those ditties often impede the action, without adding much ambience.‘ ‘It sounds as if Harvey is constantly recycling the same two slender, indie-flavoured themes,’ said The Times.

For The Observer, ‘They supply a dark, rough undertow but they don’t push on the drama. Rather, like a tide, they simply recur.’ To the ears of The Standard: ‘Harvey’s ceaselessly repetitive, deadeningly slow rhythms and mostly stolidly unchanging harmonies – unhelped by Powers’ flat, earnest lyrics – never make a case for songs being in the show whatsoever.’ Broadway World too could have done without them and didn’t let politeness stand in the way of a good insult. The ‘sludgy dirge’ was a ‘bloated concoction of subdued power ballads paired with painfully superficial lyrics are such a tagged-on afterthought that the production couldn’t just go on happily without it, but would actively improve if it were abandoned.’

Thank goodness for Bunny Christie’s set

Time Out gave a vivid description: ‘At first the performance space looks virtually unadorned. Soon though, the entire ceiling – or rather a series of poles the lights are attached to – starts to undulate, rising and falling like the tide. Eventually it’s joined by the very surface of the stage, which ripples and heaves.’

The Independent recorded: ’50 spotlights hanging over the stage in receding strips, each undulating slowly, giving the queasy impression of the river somehow reflected in the sky, rather than the other way around.’ The Observer said: ‘Christie’s set – with iron lighting rigs that rise and fall – is evocatively adamantine, when not looking like decor for a 21st-century loft.’

The Stage referred to ‘a flinty, hard-edged staging‘ and the i called it ‘striking’.

London Tide can be seen at the National’s Lyttelton Theatre until 22 June 2024

Average critics’ rating 2.8★

Value Rating 41 (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. This rating is based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

If you’ve seen London Tide, please add your review and rating below

 

Underdog: The Other Other Brontë – National Theatre- Review

Gemma Whelan is a winner in this romp through the lives of the Brontes

★★★

Three actors Adele James, Gemma Whelan and Rhiannon Clements gather round to read a letter in a scene from Underdog: The Othe Other Bronte at the National Theatre
Adele James, Gemma Whelan, Rhiannon Clements in Underdog_ The Other Other Brontë. Photo: Isha Shah

It might be better if you know nothing about the Brontës and simply watch Sarah Gordon’s play Underdog as a portrait of the competition and mutual support that often co-exist among sisters, and of the challenges of being a female novelist in early Victorian times. If you do know a bit about them, you may be annoyed at the liberties taken by this interpretation of their relationship. On the other hand, like me, you may find it jolly good fun. It certainly gains from having the mightily talented Gemma Whelan as Charlotte Brontë.

Let’s start with Ms Whelan.  It’s only right, since she begins the play. She enters through the auditorium, chatting to audience members about the Brontë novels. Unexpectedly, for the author of one of those ‘dour’ books, she’s wearing a bright red dress. She goes up on stage and explains that we are going to hear her story.

As promised, Gemma Whelan and her character dominate the whole evening. She is cocky and nervous, knowing and naive, likeable and unpleasant, and very funny. Supported by Natalie Ibu’s sharp and speedy direction, she holds us- and her sisters- in her grip throughout the evening.

This is a good point to tell you about the set. I know we don’t buy tickets to see the design but Grace Smart’s is impressive. At the beginning, there is a thick carpet of moorland gorse and heather. Almost as soon as Charlotte has mounted the stage, this flies upwards until all we can see is the mass of brown roots underneath. Three black walls are revealed that, combined with the ceiling, represent wonderfully the claustrophobia and earthiness so often associated with the Brontë sisters.

One nice touch is the use of a revolve to indicate more frantic activity, or at the start of act two the long slow coach journey to London, complete with theatrical coconut shells clip-clopping. The set has one more surprise at the end of the play when the back opens up to indicate that Charlotte and the other Brontes are nowadays known to the whole world.

The Other Other Brontë of the title is not the middle sister Emily, who wrote Wuthering Heights. Emily’s character isn’t explored so deeply as the other two but then she was the most keen to preserve her anonymity and she died young. So less is known about her. That doesn’t stop Adele James making a good fist of playing a middle sister who challenges the elder and defends the younger.

No, the other other Brontë is the youngest sister Anne who wrote the less well known Agnes Grey and The Tenant Of Wildfell Hall. Anne is played by Rhiannon Clements with an excellent combination of inner strength and outer submissiveness.

The play suggests Charlotte was jealous of Anne’s talent, that she stole the premise of Agnes Grey for her own novel Jane Eyre, and that Anne let her eldest sister walk all over her. Charlotte waivers between undermining her youngest sister and giving her love and support. In fact, this is the greatest joy of Underdog, the way in which many sisters close in age are both competitive and supportive. (This subject has become almost a theme at the National lately, with the great Till The Stars Come Down, The House of Bernarda Alba and Dancing At Lughnasa all featuring sisterly rivalry and solidarity.)

There is a scene, where Charlotte confident of her work but not of her looks, is welcomed into London’s literary grandees’ club (shown as a kind of disco- just one of many amusing anachronisms). On a high because her talent has been recognised, she shrugs off Anne’s concerns. But when she is insulted for her lack of femininity, she turns desperately to her sisters for reassurance.
By the way, the sisters’ ‘coarseness’, which at that time was how many perceived their writing and therefore the women themselves, is given substance in the play by their use of modern expressions and a huge amount of swearing, all to great comic effect.

Liberty-taking, laughter-inducing

Gemma Whelan in Underdog. Photo: Isha Shah

Here’s some of the historical background.  Back in the first half of the 19th century, women novelists were expected to write romances set in polite society. It was unacceptable to many critics that novels that involved class discrimination, male violence, substance abuse and more, as the Brontes’ did, could be written, or read, by women. Therefore, all three sisters submitted their first novels to publishers under male pseudonyms, something Charlotte and Anne were keen to give up, but which Emily clung to.
Charlotte outlived her younger sisters. After their deaths, she did stop a reprint of Anne’s The Tenant of Wildfell Hall, despite its success. She also seems to have been the most determined among the three to gain respect in literary society, and worked with Elizabeth Gaskell to this end.

Sarah Gordon uses these facts to support a thesis that Charlotte was ambitious and competitive, while the other two were not, and that Charlotte pushed her own work at their expense. The reality may be different, but let’s not let the facts get in the way of a good story. And it is a good story, full of comedy and a little pathos, and some interesting ideas.

The many other parts are played by a small group of men, including Nick Blakeley as a snooty Elizabeth Gaskell, Julian Moore-Cook as the slimy publisher George Smith and James Phoon as the the Brontes’ troubled alcoholic brother Branwell.

Underdog is primarily about three sisters, and 19th century attitudes to women, but there is an undertow that questions how what we know or think we know about artists influences our appreciation of their art. However, apart from the boisterous relationship of the sisters, everything else is touched on lightly, and the main emphasis is on fun. Which it is.

Underdog can be seen at the National Theatre’s Dorfman studio until 25 May 2024.
Paul was given a review ticket by the theatre

Watch this review on the YouTube channel Theatre Reviews With Paul Seven

Reviews Roundup: Underdog: The Other Other Brontë 3.1★

National Theatre

Adele James, Gemma Whelan and Rhiannon Clements in Underdog. Photo:: Isha Shah

The Brontë sisters are re-examined in Sarah Gordon’s comedy Underdog: The Other Other Brontë, which won the Nick Darke Award in 2020 and is now given an outing at the National’s small Dorfman Theatre. Most critics occupied the middle ground, finding it funny but shallow, but the i gave it a rare 5 stars while The Stage could only find a curmudgeonly two. Gemma Whelan from Game of Thrones and Upstart Crow stands out as Charlotte in a story of sibling rivalry also featuring Rhiannon Clements as put-upon Anne, and Adele James as marginalised Emily.

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

Let’s start with Fiona Mountford in inews (5★). Describing it as ‘ebullient’, she said it was ‘as joyously invigorating as a brisk walk over the Yorkshire Moors’. She liked the ‘robustly 21st-century critique of sisterhood, ambition, reputation and gatekeeping’ and said, ‘Whelan is in her element as the uncompromising Charlotte, witty, selfish and magnificent with it.’

Neil Norman in the Mail (4★) liked the sisters: ‘Arresting performances from Whelan as the deeply unsympathetic Charlotte, Clements as the independent-but-withdrawn Anne and James as the stoical Emily keep Gordon’s spirited play alight.’

And so to the three star reviews. Here’s Arifa Akbar in The Guardian (3★): ‘Directed with pace by Natalie Ibu…Gordon’s script bounces along, albeit with some glaring modern-day lessons on masculinity and inequality tacked on. It is quick-witted and amusing’, then comes the iron fist in the velvet glove, ‘though it never deepens enough for the emotional punches to land.’ She praised the look of it: ‘the exposure of envy and competition beneath the Brontës’ sisterliness is mirrored in the visual metaphor of Grace Smart’s set which consists of a verdant floral mound uprooted at the start to reveal dark matter beneath.’

Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (3★) talked of a ‘canny, but in my view overly perky, portrait of the siblings’. He expanded, ‘It’s as if in fearing to make the past dull, it must be brought alive in primary colours. In avoiding the clichés of the Gothic…she errs towards the goonish.’ His final comment suggested he was judging the show by the standard of an imaginary play in which ‘the novels, in all their richness, … speak for themselves.’ On the plus side: ‘It’s very stylishly designed by Grace Smart, pacily staged by Natalie Ibu, and winningly played across the board.’

For Sarah Crompton at Whats On Stage (3★), ‘Natalie Ibu’s direction (is) confident and fleet…Whelan…is commanding as she turns Charlotte into a monster…Adele James brings deep emotion to the under-written part of Emily, author of Wuthering Height.’ However, she seems to be having the same thought as the Telegraph critic: ‘what goes missing amidst the humour and the sisterly squabbling, is the sense that the Brontës did actually deserve their place in the literary canon.’Nick Curtis used plenty of complimentary adjectives in his review in the Standard (3★)- ‘rumbunctious’ ‘playful and visually witty’ but he also damned it as ‘slender’.

Heather Neill at The Arts Desk (3★)felt ‘Natalie Ibu’s speedy direction fits the light-hearted, often caricatured storytelling, the audience always knowingly acknowledged…Whelan is a fire-cracker, rarely still, very funny.’

Clive Davis in The Times (3★) described it as ‘hyperactive burlesque’, and ‘a short story posing as a novel.’ In compensation, he found ‘Gemma Whelan’s salty performance always holds your attention’ and he appreciated ‘All the salty language, not to mention the unashamedly anachronistic jokes’.

Andrzej Lukowski in Time Out (3★) also liked Gordon’s script and Gemma Whelan’s performance: ‘(the) dialogue is blunt, funny and wilfully anachronistic..the supremely watchable Whelan devours her part whole’. Although he liked ‘Natalie Ibu‘s larky, visually inventive production’ and thought ‘Underdog is a very funny play,’ he felt, ‘That funniness doesn’t always work to its advantage. It has nuanced points about authorship, legacy and family that are obscured by the sound of laughter.’

Lucy Kenningham at CityAM (3★) took it quite personally. Having told us she has a sister, she ended her review: ‘Short and ambitious, it hurls ideas into the Yorkshire air, many of which land flat. But examinations of sisterhood are depressingly rare, so when those ideas are explored, they hit hard.’ (She clearly missed Till The Stars Come Down, The House of Bernarda Alba and Dancing At Lughnasa, all recently at the National, and all exploring sisterly relationships.)

While Sam Marlowe in The Stage (2★) made many of the same points as her fellow critics, she was less forgiving. She referred to it as being ‘reductive to the point of becoming glib and cartoonish’. ‘There’s nothing deeply felt and scant sense of character, in a play more invested in winning easy laughs,’ she said. ‘The actors are game and hard-working, and at best it’s mildly entertaining. But as an exploration of women who left us such sinewy, sexy, courageous writing, it feels like a sadly wasted opportunity.’

The Observer’s Susannah Clapp (2★) had little time for the show: ‘where in this mechanical modernisation is the imaginative power that makes the sisters worth attending to?’ although she did concede: ‘Natalie Ibu’s strenuously comic production gets lively perfs from Rhiannon Clements as Anne…Adele James as vibrant Emily, and Gemma Whelan as domineering Charlotte.’

Underdog can be seen at the National Theatre until 25 May 2024. Buy tickets direct from nationaltheatre.org.uk

Average Critic Rating 3.1★

Value Rating 48 (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. This rating is based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

Read Paul Seven Lewis’s review of Underdog

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

Reviews Roundup: Long Day’s Journey Into Night 3.5★

Wyndham’s

Brian Cox & Patricia Clarkson in Long Day’s Journey Into Night. Photo: Johan Persson

Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night is one of the great American plays of the twentieth century, some say the greatest. The latest West end production, directed by Jeremy Herrin, brings together Succession star Brian Cox as the paterfamilias James Tyrone, and Patricia Clarkson as his morphine-addicted wife Mary. It is she, even more than he, who got the critics excited. This is a long play, as most of the reviews reminded us. ‘For three and a half hours, the four members of the Tyrone family – a morphine addict, two alcoholics and a consumptive – shout and mope and recriminate’ (to quote The Independent).  The supporting cast of Laurie KynastonDaryl McCormack and Louisa Harland (recently seen in Ulster American) were all well received.

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

Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (4★) praised both stars. About Brian Cox he said: ‘this verbose, confined epic calls for vocal clout and physical heft. Which he has.’ Then: ‘the terrific American actress Patricia Clarkson as the stricken matriarch generates an increasingly hypnotic force of unstable energy.’ The play is, he said, ‘a heart-rending mirror of forsaken souls in which we may all glimpse our own familial griefs.’ He ended with one word: ‘Recommended.’

Sarah Crompton at Whats On Stage (4★) had  this to say about the duo: ‘Cox, all bark and ferocity, plays up the character’s fury, his sense of betrayal, his anger at the world and himself’ and ‘In Patricia Clarkson’s eagle-sharp interpretation, Mary (is) a dominant force, whose evasions, untruths and occasional moments of absolute knowledge prevent her family from confronting their own demons.’ She was impressed by ‘The clarity and directness of Herrin’s production and the way that the cast both speak and listen with absolute intent brings it to vivid life once more.’

For Nick Curtis in The Standard (4★) ‘Cox is magnetic as Tyrone, volcanic one moment, maudlin the next. He’s well-matched by Clarkson whose prim body language and sly evasions betray the wariness of the secret addict.’ The rest of the cast hold their own: ‘Jeremy Herrin’s production is full of pathos and ruined grandeur, with superb performances all round.’ He noted ‘Kynaston…brings great delicacy and watchfulness to Edmund: he also resembles Clarkson in profile. McCormack…brings a malign, defeated charisma to Jamie. Derry Girls’ Louisa Harland turns the caricatured Oirish servant Kathleen into a gust of light relief.’ He had praise too for the look of the production: ‘Designer Lizzie Clachan emphasises the oppressive, inescapable nature of their tragedy with a cramped box of a set.’

Louise Penn at Broadway World (4★) didn’t find it too long: ‘not a second is wasted in Jeremy Herrin’s fine production, which features a delicate showcase of addiction, longing, and despair from Patricia Clarkson.’ She also thought Brian Cox gave ‘a mesmerising performance’. She shared with other critics an admiration for the way ‘Lizzie Clachan’s set and costumes capture the sense of a prosperous past while providing muted hues which fit well with Jack Knowles’s lighting.’ She clearly loved the play: ‘Long Day’s Journey Into Night is the mirror into which we can see our souls.’

Sam Marlowe in The Stage (4★) thought it was ‘faultlessly performed’, but reserved her highest praise for the two stars:  ‘A serene smile battling with tiny nervous gestures, her eyes increasingly somnolent and vague as the drug kicks in, Clarkson is shattering. Cox’s James combines an ox-like bulk and power with the silver-haired, self-conscious elegance of an old stager.’ She concluded: ‘It’s a demanding experience, which Herrin allows to accumulate its force slowly, but the acting here is dauntless: a monumental testament to domestic agony.’ Matt Wolf at The Arts Desk (4★) centred his review around Patricia Clarkson: ‘Jeremy Herrin’s slow-aborning if properly sorrowful production confirms a sense confirmed by experience that this text really does belong to Mary’. (‘Aborning’ is an American word for being born.)

Susannah Clapp in The Observer (3★) thought not only was it long but also didn’t half the impact it should: ‘Jeremy Herrin’s production is careful, slowly gathering – and three-and-a-half hours long. The opening scenes are muted, not so much anguished as anxious.’ She continued, ‘Solo confessions are the motor of the play but they gain in intensity with a greater sense of family…than there is here. The wounds look grave, not – as they should – fatal.’ However, she was impressed by ‘the sheer force of writing and of acting’.

Tim Bano in The Independent (3★) described how ‘Herrin turns this into a showcase for Big Acting, with no distractions.  The stripped-back approach is really exposing, and there are moments when it doesn’t bear up to the scrutiny.’  Even though he found ‘some scenes in the second half feel really bum-numbingly long,’ the play is, he said, ‘very impressive, often mesmerising and – when it hits right – really profoundly moving.’ About Patricia Clarkson, he said she ‘has an extraordinary ability to flitter in and out of reality, sometimes just with her eyes.’

For Arifa Akbar in The Guardian (3★), while ‘Cox is, as always, thrilling to watch’…’it is Patricia Clarkson…who steals the show…hers feels like a true, infuriating, compassionate portrait of an addict.’  She was not entirely won over by O’Neill’s play: ‘Some scenes glitter with dark energy, and are truly tragic. Others feel protracted, the play’s old-fashioned exposition exposed, and the over-used device of characters narrating memories feeling like lengthy confessions.’

While all the critics loved Patricia Clarkson, some were less sure about Brian Cox. Fiona Mountford in inews (3★) said: ‘Clarkson is magnificent, giving the performance of the evening, shaping Mary into a figure of almost ethereal radiance, present but also absent’ but ‘Cox struggles to shift register sufficiently and convinces us a little less of the weight of the wounds he bears, especially in comparison to Clarkson’s deep mining of truth.’ She found ‘The almost three-and-a-half hours of Jeremy Herrin’s production do weigh heavily.’ Andrezej Lukowski in Time Out (3★), while praising ‘a superlative turn from …Patricia Clarkson’, opined, ‘Cox doesn’t quite nail the role of James Tyrone’. He also had reservations about the direction: ‘mostly this is a very straight production… It’s a daunting play, yes, but it shouldn’t be a museum piece.’

Least convinced was Clive Davis in  The Times  (2★): ‘O’Neill grinds us into submission with dialogue which turns in achingly slow circles,‘ he said. ‘Cox is always watchable,’ he admitted, ‘but he’s still not able to prevent long-winded confrontations and confessions from slipping into melodrama.’ He didn’t like the production either: ‘Herrin’s prosaic approach doesn’t supply much in the way of light and shade. Lizzie Clachan’s austere set design offers little to please the eye, either.

Long Day’s Journey Into Night can be seen at Wyndham’s Theatre until 8 June 2024. Buy tickets directly from delfontmackintosh.co.uk

Average critic rating (out of 5) 3.4★

Value rating  23 (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. This rating is usually based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

If you’ve seen Long Day’s Journey Into Night, please add your review and rating below

Reviews Roundup: MJ The Musical

Prince Edward Theatre

Myles Frost in MJ The Musical. Photo: Johan Persson

MJ The Musical has been a money-spinning success on Broadway, now it hopes to repeat the magic in London’s West End before conquering the rest of the world. The book is by double Pulitzer Prize winner Lynn Nottage who wrote Sweat. She covers Michael Jackson‘s life and career up until the eve of the Dangerous tour. This has the advantage that no mention need be made of the allegations of child abuse which were first publicised during that tour. That doesn’t stop all the critics mentioning the ‘elephant in the room’. But how did it affect their reviews? They were largely divided between those who can put the allegations aside and those who can’t. If you belong to the former, there is clearly much to enjoy in Christopher Wheeldon‘s choreography and of course Michael Jackson’s music, brought to life by the original Broadway star Myles Frost.

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

Neil Norman in The Express (4★) had a nifty way of justifying his concentration on the show: ‘Any attempt to cancel a man who has already been cancelled by God is a redundant exercise. The music stands. The songs are amazing. Let that be enough.’ And, pre-empting the criticism that this is just another jukebox musical: ‘Some may consider this a hollow, vacuous enterprise but this is show business, folks, and it is his artistic, not personal, legacy that is being celebrated.’

Dominic Maxwell in The Sunday Times (4★) was similarly accommodating. He accepted that it’s ‘a partial account’. ‘As drama it only goes so far. As spectacle, as a celebration of what he achieved in song and dance, it’s pretty much sensational.’ Earlier in his review, he praised it as ‘a jaw-droppingly well staged, fabulously sung and fluidly choreographed act of necromancy.’

The Independent‘s Alice Saville (4★) felt there was ‘enough darkness’ in the story up to that point. She was impressed by the way Lynn Nottage’s script ‘exposes Jackson through his songs, showing how he increasingly danced to the rhythms of past traumas’ (referring to his childhood). She liked the way Myles Frost ‘moves with a dreamy, fantastically eerie lightness’ and she praised ‘Derek McLane’s impossibly lavish scenic design and a universally strong cast.’

Sarah Crompton at Whats On Stage (4★) found that ‘it not only swerves the controversies surrounding him, but also never begins to reach the mystery that made his music so magical and yet the man so opaque.’ The quality of the production and its star seemed to compensate: ‘staged by Wheeldon with such energy and panache that the trajectory is breathtaking.’ (Frost’s) impersonation of Jackson’s choreography is razor sharp..but even more impressively he does manage to conjure something of the tortured soul behind the image.’

Nick Curtis in The Standard (4★) concluded: ‘You leave ravished by the spectacle of it all, with countless earworms lodged in your head, and then the moral dubiousness of the enterprise sinks back in.’  He explained why it is possible to get carried away and temporarily ignore what he calls ‘the elephant in the room’: ‘That the show still works is largely down to the half-quicksilver, half-machine performance of Frost…Christopher Wheeldon’s production is a superlatively directed and choreographed piece of absolute pizzaz…writer Lynn Nottage gets to deftly intertwine Jackson’s life and his art.’

For Andrzej Lukowski in Time Out (3★), ‘the omission of any allusion to his friendships with children feels… noticeable’, but concluded ‘A big commercial musical is probably never going to be the medium for the great Michael Jackson drama.’ He loved the ‘jaw-droppingly talented original Broadway star Myles Frost.. Jackson’s arsenal of moves were so singular – and so technically dazzling – that it doesn’t feel dated at all.’

While acknowledging that the show is ‘impossible to view today entirely outside the prism of the allegations’, The Telegraph‘s Claire Allfree (3★) was another critic who focussed on enjoying the show: ‘it’s arguably guilty of magical thinking in casting him exclusively as a victim. But does this make his art – as so beautifully honoured here – any less intoxicating? I’m not sure in the end it does.’  What intoxicated her most was Frost ‘capturing precisely Jackson’s sublime, peculiarly agitated grace, his limbs seemingly made from tensile liquid as he thrusts and coils, shimmers and spins, like a man made from air and light, dancing on water. Blending a pop-video aesthetic with simply superb choreography’.

In The Times (3★), Clive Davis was more cynical about the standard of the production: ‘If the day comes when musicals are created by artificial intelligence they may well resemble this jukebox show. It’s proficient, but oddly soulless.’ In a classic praise sandwich, he said: ‘Christopher Wheeldon’s production offers an immaculately choreographed evening of 24-carat karaoke anchored by the sleek dance moves of..Myles Frost.’

Anya Ryan in The Guardian (2★) was not seduced. She admitted ‘the stage becomes a hub of neon and gravity-defying dance moves’ and that Myles Frost is ‘a shapeshifting force’, however ‘Some might be able to separate Jackson’s art from the artist. But…I felt queasy – bad, even.’

Sam Marlowe in The Stage (2★) was another who felt ‘the glaring omission of any confrontation of the allegations against Jackson of child sexual abuse…makes its smooth, glossy, hagiographic tone feel hollow, if not plain dishonest.’ She was also more critical than some reviewers of the main elements of the show: ‘Lynn Nottage’s book is, at best, workaday and, at worst, excruciatingly contrived…dramatically, it’s all very bland.’ For her, in a statement that will shock Michael Jackson fans, ‘even the groundbreaking music..becomes a little monotonous.’ Taking an opposite view to The Standard (see above), she said it was ‘sounding strikingly dated’.

Alexander Cohen at Broadway World (2★) says it all in his opening paragraph: ‘At its best MJ: the Musical is a tribute act populated by a mixtape of Michael Jackson’s greatest hits and the signature silky angularity of his choreography. At its worst this slathered-in-schmaltz hagiography is like watching the Zone of Interest: you know the disturbing stuff is always just out of view.’

Ludovic Hunter-Tilney in the Financial Times (2★) chose a more sarcastic approach: ‘not since Jesus Christ Superstar has the West End hosted such a saintly protagonist as the hero of MJ the Musical.’ He had no illusions: ‘the production’s main rationale is to get as many songs on the jukebox as possible.’

MJ The Musical can be seen at the Prince Edward Theatre until 7 December 2024. Buy tickets direct from london.mjthemusical.com

Average critic rating (out of 5) 3.1★

Value rating  31 (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. This rating is based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

If you’ve seen MJ The Musical, you are welcome to add your review and rating below (but please keep it relevant and polite)

Reviews Roundup: Sheridan Smith in Opening Night by Ivo van Hove and Rufus Wainwright

Gielgud Theatre

Sheridan Smith in Opening Night

After her success in Shirley Valentine and Funny Girl, the much-loved Sheridan Smith‘s latest stage appearance was much anticipated. Whether her fans got what they were expecting is doubtful or, as The Independent put it, anyone hoping for ‘thespy, Funny Girl-style razzle dazzle is in for a serious shock’. Ivo van Hove‘s adaptation of a classic John Cassavetes movie focuses on a fading star rehearsing a play, and features his trademark live video centre stage.  The critics were split between those who thought it was unique and special,  and those who found it baffling, with very few taking the middle ground. There were also mixed opinions about Rufus Wainwright’s music. Word of mouth has been poor and the production will be closing over two months early, on 18 May.

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

Let’s start with the positive reviews. For Time Out‘s (4★) Andrzej Lukowski, ‘There is truly nothing else like ‘Opening Night’ in Theatreland at the moment – not even close.’ He meant that as a compliment. He went on to say that the live video screen ‘display is at least as important as watching the actors directly’.  ‘It unquestionably has a heart – a buoyancy and belief in humanity that’s lacking in the original film.’ He was full of praise for Sheridan Smith, saying her ‘performance is heartfelt but also surprisingly wry and mischievous’.

Arifa Akbar in The Guardian (4★) was another fan, echoing Lukowski’s view that ‘It may be the most unusual thing on the London stage right now and is captivating in its glittering strangeness’ while calling it ‘every bit as eccentric as the film but … more vivacious in this musical incarnation.’ She liked the use of live video, noting that in a scene when Smith’s character ‘turns up drunk at the stage door on opening night, the screen shows her staggering at the back of the Gielgud theatre itself, a thrilling coup de hi-tech theatre.’ She had praise for the look of the production: ‘Jan Versweyveld’s set has a central sheer red curtain that captures the razzle of the theatre but also implicates our culture of celebrity voyeurism’, and for ‘Wainwright’s slowly gorgeous music’.

Alice Saville in The Independent (4★) was not quite so enthusiastic. She said it was ‘flawed, but intermittently haunting’. She was critical of Van Hove’s production, saying it ‘isn’t sturdily built enough to contain all this emotion: it flattens and muddles where it could heighten.’ She liked Wainwright’s music which  ‘reaches new heights here’ but reserved her greatest praise for Sherdian Smith whom, she said, ‘radiates a raw hunger for love, attention and meaning’ before adding ‘her own part here is pitifully underthought’.

Patrick Marmion for the Mail (4★) didn’t much like Ivo Van Hove’s production but said ‘it’s thanks to the emotional wattage of Smith’s voice that the show really soars’, and he was ‘simply in awe of her acting’.  He also gave thanks for Rufus Wainwright’s music: ‘True, it sometimes dwindles into semi-tonal burbling. But it also explodes with the singer-songwriter’s gift for doomed glory.’

The Times‘ Clive Davis (3★) occupied the middle ground, explaining: ‘The songs and the script are occasionally inspired, but more often maddeningly opaque.’ ‘Van Hove’s book piles confusion upon confusion,’ he continued, mentioning in passing ‘Jan Versweyveld’s untidy set’. However, he did think ‘Van Hove’s trademark use of video screens makes sense’, and he thought, ‘Some of Wainwright’s songs weave a haunting, chamber opera ambience,’ even if ‘too many are derailed by overly dense lyrics.’ Despite his criticism, he declared, ‘I’m still glad I saw this show.’

And so to the negative reviews. Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (2★) started by identifying Sheridan Smith’s qualities of ‘adorability, fragility and fighting-spirit’ before putting the boot into Van Hove’s production, criticising ‘his rough-and-ready mise en scène, which sets the action in a rudimentary back-stage environment’ and saying: ‘Although he pioneered the use of live video on stage, here he barely bothers to justify, dramatically, his use of a roving film crew.’ Wainwright’s score is, he said, ‘stylistically all over the place and many lyrics lacking rhyme or reason.’

Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (2★) was happy with the star: ‘Sheridan Smith…gives a terrific performance at its heart…she brings great wit, infectious warmth and aching vulnerability’. As for the production, ‘The multi-layering becomes confusing and alienating…and seems to swamp the characters who remain one-note.’

For Sarah Crompton at Whats On Stage (2★), it was ‘a confusing mess… (it) seems to fail from the moment it begins. Other aspects of the production left her cold: she referred to ‘Jan Versweyveld’s cluttered set’ and said Rufus Wainwright ‘never provides is a truly memorable melody or a song that carries the meaning of the show.’ Even Sheridan Smith, she said, ‘struggles to make a mark with the dislocations in script and character.’ She concluded it was ‘one of the most baffling wastes of talent’.

Aliya Al-Hassan over at Broadway World (2★) said: ‘I’ve rarely seen a production more determined to confuse and frustrate an audience.’ It was, she explained, ‘disjointed, lacking clarity and losing all the spontaneity of Cassavetes’ signature style.’ Honing in on Sheridan Smith’s character, she said, ‘van Hove gives her no narrative arc and has written a woman who fails to convince as a real person on pretty much every level. It’s perhaps not surprising to note that the director, bookwriter, lyricist, composer and designer of this show are all men.’ Ouch! In Rufus Wainwright’s music, she noted, ‘There are meandering, downbeat, directionless songs, no particularly captivating melodies and there isn’t a single refrain or memorable piece of music to be found.’ As for the video screens, ‘they add little but a visual overload.’

You might think that was as bad as a review could be but… Stefan Kyriazis in the Express (1★) only found the show worth one star. How’s this for an opening paragraph? ‘This show actually opens with a car crash. Oh, the irony. The production is more like a multi-lane pile-up, complete with overturned leaking oil tanker, giant sinkholes and possibly an earthquake, asteroid or charging rhino or two.’ He drew attention to the live video relay that The Guardian so loved, calling it Smith’s ‘tiresomely attention-seeking Act 2 stunt of collapsing on the pavement outside…If only she’d stayed there.’ Was there anything he liked? Seemingly not: ‘Rufus Wainwright’s tuneless tunes, endless pointless and intrusive camerawork (enough, already), some atrocious acting and frustratingly bad staging.’

Fiona Mountford in The i (1★) delivered another damning verdict, calling it ‘bewilderingly terrible’ and ‘self-indulgent twaddle…through which a nasty vein of misogyny pumps insistently, and sections of which are devoid of even basic narrative sense.’ She also found ‘This overused video conceit appears increasingly tired now and adds nothing.’ Rufus Wainwright’s efforts didn’t impress her either: ‘the music remains awkwardly unembedded in the action and fails to add any depth to the woeful script.’ At least she liked Sheridan Smith’s ‘effervescent and full-hearted performance’.

A couple of American heavyweights weighed in but neither award stars. Nevertheless, it’s clear they were not fans. Houman Barekat in the New York Times said: ‘Van Hove has transformed a taut, subtly observed character study into a sludgy melodrama.’ He thought ‘Smith is miscast …Her onstage bearing exudes a homely approachability rather than high-strung poise or inscrutable aloofness.’   Add to which, ‘The songs, by Rufus Wainwright, are algorithmically bland.’  David Benedict for Variety called it ‘a mess’.

Opening Night can be seen at the Gielgud Theatre until 18 May 2024. Buy tickets directly from openingnightmusical.com/

Average critic rating (out of 5) 2.6★

Value rating  28 (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. This rating is based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

If you’ve seen Opening Night, you are welcome to add your review and rating below (but please keep it relevant and polite)

 

 

 

 

 

Reviews Roundup: Red Pitch (@sohoplace) 4★

@sohoplace

Francis Lovehall, Kedar Williams-Stirling and Emeka Sesay in Red Pitch. Photo: Helen Murray

Having sold out at the Bush Theatre (twice), Tyrell Williams‘ debut full-length play moved to @sohoplace, the confusingly named new in-the-round theatre situated in London’s West End, where it continued to receive rave reviews. The play looks at three young black men’s lives and attitudes through the prism of their love of football. It’s directed by Daniel Bailey and stars Kedar Williams-Stirling, Emeka Sesay and Francis Lovehall.

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

Dominic Cavendish in the Telegraph (4★) said that it details ‘the lives of black British male youth with a streetwise confidence and winning grasp of comic value.’ He liked its new venue: ‘Daniel Bailey’s pulsing production fits snugly in the venue’s in-the-round configuration’ and concluded by saying it’s ‘a feel-good, emotionally impactful and richly contemporary triumph.’

For Tim Bano at Time Out (4★), ‘it’s a brilliant bit of writing about gentrification, friendship, masculinity and aspiration, without ever being heavy-handed …   there’s some kind of alchemy between writer, director and actors.’ He observed: ‘The play’s at its best when we’re simply in the company of the boys, sharing their anxiety for the future and living their joy in the present.’ Fiona Mountford in the i (4) declared: ‘Daniel Bailey’s production fizzes and bounces with kinetic energy.’

Sam Marlowe in The Stage (4) talked about ‘Tyrell Williams’ touching, hilarious and joyous drama about male friendship’ and how ‘we become completely absorbed, hanging on every pulse and breath of its three youngsters.’ She praised the cast who: ‘all reprising their roles – never put a foot wrong.’ She finished: ‘This is a play that leaves you with an endorphin high: thoughtful, tender and exuberant.’

‘Everything about this play rings true,’ said Heather Neil at The Arts Desk (4★). ‘All three play off each other brilliantly…A study of enduring friendship in difficult circumstances could be sentimental, but the writing and performances ensure that is not the case here.’ For Alexander Cohen at Broadway World (4★), ‘Daniel Bailey’s production glistens with the spectacle of the teenagers’ dreams.’ His only caveat is that ‘Williams plays a safe game when it comes to the drama’s trajectory which unravels in a neatly predictable pattern.’

Here are two reviews from the previous run at the Bush Theatre. Miriam Gillinson in The Guardian (4★) said it was a ‘feel-good, emotionally impactful and richly contemporary triumph.’ She continued: ‘Meticulously mined details hold his script together (the structure isn’t perfect) and create a convincing bond between these friends.’ Theo Bosanquet at Whats On Stage (4★) talked about ‘Tyrell Williams’ sharp, funny and deeply poignant debut full-length play‘ and said: ‘Director Daniel Bailey ensures the entire 90 minutes (naturally) fizzes with energy.’

Nick Curtis in The Standard (4★) commented: ‘It’s still rare to see a play about young, black, working-class youths on our stages: rarer still to see one in which they are celebrated like this’ and complimented ‘Bailey’s energetic, artfully staged production.’

Susannah Clapp in The Observer (4★) name-checks the young stars: ‘Francis Lovehall, Emeka Sesay and Kedar Williams-Stirling act with 3D expressiveness.’

Average critic rating (out of 5) 4★

Value rating  73 (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. This rating is based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

Red Pitch can be seen at @sohoplace until 4 May 2024. Click here to buy tickets directly from the theatre

If you’ve seen Red Pitch, you are welcome to add your review and rating below (but please keep it relevant and polite)

Reviews Roundup: The Faith Healer 4★

Lyric Hammersmith

Declan Conlon in Faith Healer. Photo: Marc Brenner

It was 4 stars across the board for Rachel O’Riordan’s revival of Brian Friel’s  Faith Healer. The now classic play from 1979 features three characters in four monologues: the ‘faith healer’ (Declan Conlon) at the beginning and end, his wife (Justine Mitchell), and his manager (Nick Holder) in the middle sections. Each partly contradicts what is said previously in a ‘complex interplay of faith, doubt, and every shade of love and hope’ (Whats On Stage).

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

‘Three riveting performances anchor this revival of Brian Friel’s eloquent 1979 exploration of memory, love and belief,’ began Nick Curtis in his review in The Standard (4★). Calling it ‘perfectly pitched’, he said, ‘Rachel O’Riordan’s aching, unadorned production is drenched in regret and foreboding.’ Sarah Hemming in The Financial Times (4★) described how ‘In Rachel O’Riordan’s quietly spellbinding, beautifully acted staging, Friel’s artistry draws you in….Our encounter with this dog-eared trio is about the human need for meaning — and the role of theatre in that search.’ Sarah Crompton at Whats On Stage (4★) also praised the production: ‘O’Riordan opts to play up its humour and its social observations…The poetry is allowed to emerge quietly, landing its devastating blows, its uncomfortable truths.’

Kate Kellaway in The Observer (4★) observed: ‘It is wonderful, in Rachel O’Riordan’s attentive, level and serious-minded production, to be reminded of the sheer nerve and brilliance of Friel’s monologues from three actors.’ Dave Fargnoli in The Stage (4★) said ‘O’Riordan allows nothing to distract from the cast’s focused performances, methodically building an atmosphere of deep melancholy lightened by wry humour and intricately constructed wordplay.’ Like all the reviewers, he had praise for the cast: ‘Conlon’s truthful, humane performance captures the exhaustion and self-doubt…Justine Mitchell gives a profoundly powerful performance…(Nick Holder) ends up … hollowed out by loss.’ Mark Lawson  in The Guardian (4★) found the three actors ‘wholly convincing’. He trawls through 300 years of European culture searching for a comparison: ‘the show, in its emotional and narrative intensity, most resembles a spoken version of a Bach Passion.’

Writing for The Arts Desk (4★), Helen Hawkins’ only reservation was ‘the production’s comparative lightness of spirit sells it slightly short.’ She praised Justine Mitchell, saying she ‘gives the most pitch-perfect interpretation of this role I have seen…She is sadness incarnate.’

Dominic Cavendish in his Telegraph review (4★) took the opportunity to express a desire for more new work to be presented on stage, and expressed concern that ‘Faith Healer risks becoming something of a comfort-blanket classic’. Antithetically he went on, ‘Each retelling yields riches for the initiated and an opportunity for newcomers to be drawn into its protracted, lexically potent spell.’ He approved of the production: ‘You feel O’Riordan has the thoughtful measure of every line: it’s an unostentatiously stupendous production’.

For Franco Milazzo at Broadway World (4★), O’Riordan directs ‘superbly’.Andrzej Lukowski in Time Out (4★) stated: ‘O’Riordan’s take feels pristine and ageless.’

Average critic rating (out of 5) 4★

Value rating  118 (Value rating is the Average critic rating divided by the most common Stalls 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. This rating is based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

Faith Healer can be seen at the Lyric Hammersmith until 13 April 2024. Click here to buy tickets directly from the theatre

If you’ve seen Faith Healer, you are welcome to add your review and rating below (but please keep it relevant and polite).

Reviews Roundup: Sarah Jessica Parker in Plaza Suite

Savoy Theatre

Sarah Jessica Parker & Matthew Broderick in Plaza Suite. Photo: Marc Brenner

There was much excitement among fans of Sex And The City’s Sarah Jessica Parker when it was announced that she and her husband Matthew Broderick were coming to London to star in Neil Simon‘s two-hander Plaza Suite. For the fandom, the play probably didn’t matter, but most critics were divided between those who liked the comedy and those who really didn’t. Written in 1968, it has Simon’s trademark one liners but can seem old fashioned. Its three acts each tell a story about a different married couple staying in the eponymous hotel room. The ticket prices seemed to weigh on almost everyone’s mind, and whether the star names justified paying £300 or more. Some of the critics were not impressed by the SJP but, for many, she was a ‘revelation’. On the whole, it seems supporters of Sarah Jessica Parker will not be disappointed, even at the eye-watering prices, but for someone simply looking for a good night out, there are better value choices.

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

It’s ‘a celebrity circus’ moaned Arifa Akbar in The Guardian (2★), lamenting the way the audience members were cheering before the performance even began. As for the show: ‘the production is flat and forgettable…(it) seems effectively to coast on the fame of its two stars.’ Not that they impressed her either: ‘Under the direction of John Benjamin Hickey, it feels strangely like Parker and Broderick are saying lines rather than assuming roles.’ As to the ticket price, ‘What a low, lazy bar to set at such a high price’.

Fiona Mountford in the i (2★) had a similarly low opinion of the show calling it ‘an inert production’. Describing the play, she said`: ‘The dialogue is repetitive and the emotional veracity of the script minimal,’ As for the stars, ‘they manifest almost zero chemistry together on stage’ (but see Adam Bloodworth at CityAM later). The Stage’s (2★) Sam Marlowe described the play as ‘a theatrical museum piece’ and the stars as ‘competent’. For Alice Saville in The Independent (2★) was on the same wavelength, describing the play as ‘creaky’ and Parker and Broderick as ‘just about good enough’.

Even the three star reviews had little good to say about the play. Sarah Hemming in the Financial Times (3★) referred to ‘its creakily dated depiction of the sexes. More than 50 years on, the comedy has aged.’ She concedes ‘It’s Neil Simon: there are zingers and classic bits of funny business’ before concluding ‘But old is not always gold.’ What redeemed the evening for her, as for so many, was SJP: ‘Parker… is a joy, bringing zest, precise detail and sharp comic timing to her characters.’

Andrzej Lukowski in Time Out (3★) had a similar view: ‘there’s definitely no reason you need to see Plaza Suite’ he said, unless ‘you’ve come for the leads’. For him it’s a ‘fusty, stilted production’ but he did praise the stars: ‘Broderick labours some of his parts, but he’s always trying to do something interesting. Parker, meanwhile, may not be the actress to find depth in this script, but she has an effervescent lightness of touch that leavens the stodginess of the writing.’ Sarah Crompton at Whats On Stage (3★) was another who was not keen on the play but was bowled away by the Sex And the City star: ‘yet Parker’s honesty, her vigour, and her pure gift for comedy both physical and verbal, disguise some of their obvious shortcomings. She’s a revelation.’

The same word cropped up in Debbie Gilpin’s review at Broadway World (3★): ‘Sarah Jessica Parker is a revelation…expertly judging the tone required and effortlessly balancing the humour and the drama involved. In addition, Parker’s comic timing is excellent’. For Stefan Kyriazis in The Express (3★), the shine was taken off the evening by Neil Simon’s writing. While acknowledging that ‘Simon excels at repartee and snappy one-liners’, he was concerned that ‘the playwright’s women from this era are relentlessly ridiculous, foolish and insubstantial.’

Not everyone was critical of Neil Simon’s play. Clive Davis in The Times (4★) was ‘glad to see Simon’s name back in lights in the West End.’ He described the playwright as ‘a craftsman who knew all about the underrated art of making people laugh.’ As for the star, ‘Parker delivers ditziness throughout the evening.’ John Nathan at the Jewish Chronicle (4★) loved everything about it (except the prices). He described it as ‘a perfectly formed play’ in a ‘terrific production’. Like others, he found SJP a ‘revelation’. ‘It is her range that stands out,’ he said. Matt Wolf reviewing for The Arts Desk (4★) is another critic who said: ‘I confess to not being prepared for the range Parker displays here, and her gift for walking a tightrope between wise-cracking wit and wistfulness.’

Nick Curtis in The Standard (4★) enthused: ‘John Benjamin Hickey’s Broadway production is like a vintage Rolls Royce: stately, old-fashioned, expensive. But it’s carrying two stars who can actually act.’ He was taken by SJP ‘showing off considerable comic chops and an easy onstage rapport with her husband Matthew Broderick.’ Adam Bloodworth at CityAM (4★) thought it was ‘darn good fun’ and, taking a contrary view to Fiona Mountford, ‘these two explode with chemistry’. He concedes: ‘it would have been more interesting to put these two talented actors in something more up to date’.  Prtice was no obstacle for The Telegraph‘s (4★) Dominic Cavendish who thought it was ‘a wallet busting treat’.

Average critic rating (out of 5) 3.1★

Value rating  16 (Value rating is the Average critic rating divided by the most common Stalls 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. This rating is based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

Plaza Suite can be seen at the Savoy Theatre until 13 April 2024. Click here to buy tickets directly from the theatre

If you’ve seen Plaza Suite, you are welcome to add your review and rating below (but please keep it relevant and polite)

Reviews roundup: Sarah Snook in The Picture of Dorian Gray

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Sarah Snook in The Picture of Dorian Gray. Photo: Marc Brenner

High praise for Sarah Snook and The Picture of Dorian Gray but the high prices brought down the Value Rating. The Succession star’s virtuoso performance as 26 different characters was matched by a dazzling production from Kip Williams featuring live and recorded video on screens.

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

Describing it as ‘tinglingly virtuoso and startlingly dangerous’ in her Guardian (5★) review, Arifa Akbar said it is ‘a true high-wire act, not only because of Snook’s fleet and fabulous performance but also because of the accompaniment of screens, pre-recorded footage, live film crew, and orchestration of technology that is as dazzling as it is complicated, heightening theatricality rather than distracting from it.’ She concluded: ‘It is all beautiful, brilliant, maniacally unmissable.’ Dominic Cavendish in The Telegraph (5★) was impressed by the production and the star: ‘Snook doesn’t shortchange us on a chameleonic tour de force that flips genders as fast as pancakes,’ he said. She ‘holds us in thrall, inhabiting all 26 characters in Kip Williams’ adaptation, narrating as she goes. Her shape-shifting is magnified by the live-filming of her every move.’

Sarah Hemming in The Financial Times (5★) called the show ‘a virtuoso performance in an astonishing piece of theatre.’

Fiona Mountford in the i (5★) said Sarah Snook gives ‘two hours of unceasing acting dynamite.’ The reviewer was impressed when, ‘At one point, she chats at a lunch party to six other versions of herself. This impeccable technological feat, so fraught with potential peril, unfolds without a single glitch.’  Stefan Kyriazis in The Express (5★) said Ms Snook gave ‘a fiercely fearless, full-throttle, utterly exposed display’.  Top marks for Ms Snook from Helen Hawkins at The Arts Desk (5★) too: ‘She is a hugely engaging stage presence, not merely a versatile trouper but a subtle, funny actress who conspiratorially draws you into the piece’. The production, she said, is ‘a dazzling display of virtuoso acting and technical wizardry.’

Time Out‘s (4★)   said it was ‘a dizzying technical masterpiece, boasting a tour-de-force performance from Sarah ‘Shiv Roy’ Snook.’ His reservation is that it’s ‘exhilarating but shallow’. ‘Snook shows us sweat, snot and desperation in unforgiving close-up’ said Nick Curtis in The Standard (4★) in what he called ‘a technically adroit and complex production.’  ‘Her extreme, carnivalesque performance here is like nothing else I’ve ever seen.’  Sarah Crompton over at Whats On Stage (4★) is just as enthusiastic about Ms Snook: ‘Her confidence on stage is breathtaking; she owns the space, elegantly playing with all the technology, never being drowned by it. Given how big the effects around her sometimes are, how broad the comedy and sweeping the melodrama, she acts with remarkable subtlety and sensitivity.’

Alice Saville in The Independent (4★) found the production ‘full of magical transformations, sensory splendour and technical ingenuity.’ For her, Ms Snook conveys ‘raw, human misery, only heightened by the artifice that surrounds it.’ Alice Saville Sam Marlowe in The Stage (4★) described it as ‘a riot of language, images and ideas, a full-on sensual assault’. ‘Snook’s phenomenal turn,’ she said, ‘involves her portraying not just Dorian, but all the other characters too, often simultaneously – a split-second technical feat achieved with a kaleidoscopic use of live and recorded video, designed by David Bergman.’

After all of the above, Clive Davis seems almost miserly with his 3 star review in The Times (3★). While admitting that he ‘can’t help marvelling at the energy and concentration she (Sarah Snook) displays’, he told us: The production is ‘wallowing in camp’…’with next to no variation in tone: for all the bravura camerawork, we might as well be watching the Victorian equivalent of Acorn Antiques.’ He concluded: ‘This show may be a glimpse of the technological future of theatre, but as storytelling, it’s old hat.’

Average rating 4.4★

Value Rating 36 (Value rating is the Average critic rating divided by the most common Stalls 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 40 while an off-West End show may need to score above 60. This rating is based on opening night prices- theatres may raise or lower prices during the run.)

The Picture of Dorian Gray is at the Theatre Royal Haymarket until 11 May 2024. Buy tickets direct here

If you’ve seen The Picture of Dorian Gray you are welcome to add your review and rating below (but we ask that you keep it relevant and polite)