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.

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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

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