Reviews Roundup: The Divine Mrs S 2.9★

Hampstead Theatre

Photo: Johan Persson

Despite the Arts Council withdrawing its grant, Hampstead Theatre continues to present new work. The Divine Mrs S is a new comedy written by April De Angelis, directed by Anna Mackmin, and starring Rachael Stirling. It tells the story of the great 18th century actress Sarah Siddons as she tries to break free from the control and exploitation of the men around her. Stirling’s performance went down well with the critics. However the play itself was at one extreme an ‘absolute hoot’ and at the other ‘unfunny’; the direction was ‘fleet footed’ or ‘without pacing’; and it was a ‘drama that makes you burn at the injustice’ or else it was ‘pointless’. Unusually, it was a night on which the female reviewers outnumbered the men, and it would be neat to say the women liked it and the men didn’t, except the harshest critic was a woman.

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

For Claire Allfree in the Telegraph (4★), ‘A pitch-perfect Rachael Stirling brings an air of fruity exasperation to Siddons.’ She described the play as ‘beautifully skewering the entrenched hypocrisies surrounding female roles both on stage and in real life, The Divine Mrs S is an absolute hoot.’ As for the production, ‘Anna Mackmin’s fleet-footed production keeps the play’s light and dark tones and anachronistic sensibilities in fluent balance.’ Anya Ryan at Time Out (4★) was another enthusiast.: ‘To merge sharp comedy with drama that makes you burn at the injustice is no mean feat, but De Angelis has done it marvellously.’

Frey Kwa Hawking of Whats On Stage (3★) awarded one less star but still enjoyed her evening: ‘Anna Mackmin keeps things moving at a great clap, and harnesses the fun De Angelis is having with her language.’ She was also impressed by the way ‘Siddons, her life and enduring, existential questions about what to play and how to play it are done loving justice.’

The Guardian’s Arifa Akbar (3★) was more reserved in her praise: ‘ the larky comedy is good-natured and clever, but it does not deepen enough… and might have benefited from sharper pacing.’ ‘Rachael Stirling as Siddons puts fire into Anna Mackmin’s fitful production,’ said Susannah Clapp in The Observer (3★)

Cindy Marcolina of Broadway World (2★) didn’t like it at all, describing it as ‘a load of… silliness.’ ‘Very little happens,’ she complained. She went on, ‘It’s aimless and confused as well as riddled with static figurines who avoid going on any kind of personal journey.’ It is, she concluded, ‘a tired, unfunny comedy that doesn’t have a point.’

And so to the male critics. For The Standard’s Nick Curtis (2★), it was ‘Disappointing.’  ‘Rachael Stirling’s imperious, high-comic performance as Sarah Siddons is the saving grace of this aimless and tiresomely in-jokey play,’ he said. He didn’t like the direction, saying the play was ‘left to meander without pacing or purpose’. He conceded, ‘Many of the jokes are very funny but they rob the story of weight.’

Dominic Maxwell in The Times (2★) also found a redeeming feature in the ‘highly watchable’ Rachael Stirling. Thank goodness, because, ‘Beyond that, the feminist satire, the handsome staging and the forcible fun of the playing add up to less than the sum of their playfully mock-Georgian parts.’

The divine Mrs S can be seen at Hamostead Theatre until 27 April 2024. Buy tickets direct from Hampstead Theatre

Average critic rating (out of 5) 2.9★

Value rating  52 (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.)

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