30 March 2012: The King’s Speech, The Duchess of Malfi, The Girl in the Yellow Dress, Vera Vera Vera, Filumena

Weekly review roundup: 30 March 2012

 

Bit of an odd one this week, with the best-reviewed shows only attracting a handful of reviews, and the most-reviewed shows generally hovering around a three-star average.

 

The King’s Speech at Wyndham’s Theatre has only collected three reviews so far – but with two four-stars and a five-star, its 4.3 average wins the week. All three reviewers said essentially “it’s much better than it could have been”, with strong praise for Charles Edwards in the title role. Two reviewers even said they preferred Edwards to Colin Firth, feeling that Edwards was a more credible flawed stammerer where Firth had been too robust to be believed. David Seidler’s script, which predated and inspired the film, also gives more space to Lionel Logue as a character independent of his relationship with the future monarch, and Jonathan Hyde uses the time well to create a richer impression.

 

The five-star was from Quentin Letts, who concluded by saying “I cannot say I liked this more than the film. But I liked it equally. Result.” Runs to 21 July.

 

The Duchess of Malfi at the Old Vic had six reviews, ranging from two stars (Quentin Letts, showing his range) to Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) giving the full five. The average was about 3.7; while everyone said Eve Best was wonderful in the title role, for some reviewers, the production felt stately rather than smouldering, a traditional remounting rather than a reinvention. The play itself, like so many this season, is a centuries-old story of a woman pursuing an inappropriate relationship and suffering the consequences of society’s approbation; in this case, a 17-century play about a widow in love with a man below her station.

 

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) said Best “combines serenity with great power and passion,” in a “warm performance” which is “lucid and moving.” However, “moments of gravity are signaled a little clumsily” both by the script and by director Jamie Lloyd, who, “in getting his cast to pay so much attention to the density of Webster’s language, loses a sense of intrigue.” (full reviewRuns to 9 June.

 

Finally, The Girl in the Yellow Dress, at Battersea gem Theatre503, got a 3.5-star average for its two-hander about a cross-cultural attraction blossoming during language lessons. Runs to 14 April.

 

Falling much closer to a 3-star average were Vera Vera Vera at the Royal Court – the debut of playwright Hayley Squires, about a fallen soldier’s family squabbling over his funeral in Kent – and Filumena at the Almeida, starring Samantha Spiro as a prostitute-turned-mistress-turned wife in a new English translation of an Italian comedy. With 13 reviews between them, and 11 of them three-stars, these should probably be approached with caution or at least low expectations.

 

For our part, we are off to Collaborators at the National in a few hours, to catch its last day in the Cottlesloe before it moves over to the Olivier next month; otherwise, a quiet week this week after the hugely engrossing Can We Talk About This? last weekend.

23 March 2012: Sweeney Todd, The Master and Margarita, After Miss Julie

Weekly review roundup: 23 March 2012

it was the second week in a row with three openings at close to four stars, which gives us a full six new shows at the top of the rankings and available this month (with some running much longer).

 

The overall winner was another macabre revival, though of more recent vintage than the last. Just a few weeks after the bloody ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore dazzled at the Barbican, Sweeney Todd, the dark Sondheim musical comedy about a Victorian barber-turned-serial-killer, opened with the strongest reviews since Matilda back in December.

 

The show pulled a straight 4.5-star average from eight reviewers, including five-stars from Michael Billington (Guardian, review), Sarah Hemming (FT, review), Dominic Maxwell (Times, review), as well as our hard-to-please reps from the blogging side of things, the West End Whingers (review).

 

Everyone began their reviews by stating that Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton in the lead roles give career performances, making this a Sweeney Todd for the ages. Almost everyone agreed that the direction, by Jonathan Kent, was superb, getting the tricky balance of comedy and horror just right – except for Quentin Letts (Daily Mail), who may have been more queasy about the script itself than about any of Kent’s choices. Those who only gave four stars consistently flagged the same imperfections – a dropoff in pace in the second act, and a lack of depth in secondary characters who are given too much stage time (this is a cast of 30). But even those reviewers came down on the side of saying this version needed to be seen, thanks to Ball and Staunton. Runs to 22 Sept.

 

The Master and Margarita comes to the Barbican courtesy of Complicite and Simon McBurney – the team behind such powerhouse productions as A Disappearing Number, Shun-kin and A Dog’s Heart – as another projection-heavy, magical-realism-tinged show. This has pulled a straight four-star average so far, with five stars from the fairly cerebral Michael Coveney, but also fours from Libby Purves (Times) and Charles Spencer (Telegraph), and a three from Ian Shuttleworth (FT).

 

Using striking projections from their own in-house team, the adaptation of the Mikhail Bulgakov novel transforms the Barbican first into 1920s or 30s Moscow, then into a host of other worldly and otherworldly settings. Purves gave four stars, in what feels like a surprisingly unique formulation of ‘I loved it, but many might not’, saying “This is a wild, strange evening. I can imagine some losing patience with its first 100-minute section: starkly monochrome, philosophically and theologically unattuned to the 21st-century Western mind, and frankly confusing to anyone turning up with no idea of Mikhail Bulgakov’s novel. Yet as the kaleidoscope of ideas, dreams and emotions resolves, it yields great riches.” (full review, Times sub required)

 

Shuttleworth, though, was impressed but not convinced, saying the production “cogently persuades you of the novel’s peculiar, compelling power, but ultimately does not convey it.” (full reviewRuns to April 17.

 

Finally, the Young Vic’s After Miss Julie pulled very close to a four-star average, with several heavy hitters giving four stars, including Lyn Gardner (Guardian) from whom it is a rare accolade. The 1888 Strindberg script Miss Julie, about a sexual power play perpetrated by a rich man’s daughter upon the family chauffeur, has been updated by writer Patrick Marber to the night of Labour’s election landslide in 1945, in an adaptation that premiered at the Donmar nine years ago. Gardner called this production “compulsively watchable”; “class war played out in the bedroom with “just the right balance of voyeurism and dissection.” Acting by the full cast of three – Kieran Bew (Reasons to be Pretty), Natalie Dormer as Julie and Polly Frame as the chauffeur’s cast-aside girlfriend – was “spot-on”. (full reviewRuns to April 7.

16 March 2012: One Man Two Guv’nors, Going Dark, Moon on a Rainbow Shawl

Weekly review roundup: 16 March 2012

One Man, Two Guv’nors gave a resounding Yes to the question of “will it still be as remarkably funny with a new cast?”, with a 4.7-star average from the five pro critics who have reviewed it so far. Though the original cast has gone to Broadway, the new production at the Theatre Royal Haymarket is built around several understudies who’ve had months to perfect their efforts, and apparently the chemistry was there right from opening night.

 

Fiona Mountford (Evening Standard) said “Nicholas Hytner’s impeccable production fizzes along on waves of joy and slapstick,” and as for Owain Arthur, the new big man in the big plaid suit, “Whisper it softly, but I found the show even better this time around, without Corden’s occasionally distracting presence. The laughs come more easily courtesy of a wonderfully calibrated ensemble” – and “[Richard] Bean’s writing reaches that rare and dizzying pinnacle where we can’t tell if the script is smart enough to include its own ‘impromptu’ gags or whether these actors are simply the best ad-libbers ever.” (full reviewRuns to 15 Sept

 

Going Dark at the Young Vic also picked up two five-star reviews, and a 4.3-star average overall. The immersive show, from company Sound&Fury and part of the Fuel festival, concerns an astronomer who is going blind – a conceit which worried Paul Taylor (Independent) as “all too susceptible to cliche.” But not here, in this “quite wonderful piece of theatre,” which “manages to marry the best aspects of such dazzling text-based plays as Stoppard’s Arcadia and Frayn’s Copenhagen – which make profound use of science as metaphor – with state-of-the art deployment of theatre-as-atmosphere techniques.”

 

The immersiveness comes from a combination of projections and soundscapes, which take place “in a spectral environment where the lighting ranges from semi-darkness to black so dense it is like being wrapped in weightless fur.” These physical aspects are combined with a script which poses questions on the nature of reality and the future of the universe, which “turn this magnificent evening into a pulse-quickening poem.” (full reviewRuns to 24 March

 

Finally, two shows at the National Theatre came through with straight four-star averages, but with different distributions. Can We Talk About This?, in which dance company DV8 explores attitudes towards radical Islam, was reviewed very broadly and got two 3-stars, four 4-stars, and two 5-stars: where some saw didactic lecturing from the Ministry of Silly Walks, others saw bold questions and creative physicality. Still, strong reactions and a four-star average make it an intriguing choice for anyone who likes to take a risk in their theatregoing. Sarah Hemming (FT) said the piece takes on “a huge, significant and real problem and does so in a style that is in itself restless and challenging. It is also beautiful and occasionally surprisingly droll” – in all, “a daring, serious piece of theatre.” (full reviewRuns to 28 Mar

 

Moon on a Rainbow Shawl took the safer route to a four-star average, simply getting four stars from everyone who saw it. Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) called the 1958 play about tangled relationships in a Trinidad neighbourhood “an intriguing mix of kitchen sink drama and tragicomedy – poignant, yet dense with slang and warm humanity,” and Michael Billington (Guardian) said the play “amply justifies revival since, in its vivid portrait of life in a Trinidadian backyard in the immediate postwar period, it explains much about Caribbean history.” (full HH review) (full MB review). Runs to Mar 27

 

9 March 2012: Abigail’s Party, Can We Talk About This?, We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?)

Weekly review roundup: 9 March 2012

This week’s best-reviewed show was Abigail’s Party, written by Mike Leigh and directed by Lindsay Posner at the Menier. So far, it has pulled reviews from five top critics, and all of them four stars.

 

In addition to the wealth of Jacobean drama this year, another kind of historical drama is now taking over the scene: like Absent Friends and In Basildon, Abigail’s Party is a meditation on the fragility of human relationships, class, and the 1970s. The reviews all have a tone of relief to them, both for the deft handling of a play which people have such a strong notion of (due to its BBC broadcast decades ago), and for the Menier being back on form after a string of poorly-received shows.

 

Matt Trueman (What’s On Stage; full review) says “Leigh’s best-loved play shows the undercurrents of misogyny and material aspiration swirling beneath the era’s gauche surface,” with strong performances from the entire cast. Trueman credits this in part to Posner, who “controls fraying tempers and momentary outbursts with a conductor’s sensitivity.” (Posner is busy this month, with his heralded production of Noises Off also moving from the Old Vic to the West End.) Runs to 21 April.

 

There weren’t any other big new winners this week; the median review score was three stars.

 

A potential strong performer to watch for next week is Can We Talk About This?, which got a five-star from Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) late last year in Coventry, and starts a three-week run at the National tonight. In the show, dance company DV8 interprets snippets of interviews about Islamic extremism; Cavendish found it “commendable”, “compelling” and “brave” (full review).

 

Also, We Hope That You’re Happy (Why Would We Lie?), an edgy two-hander about passivity in the face of bad things happening to good people, got an early four-star from What’s On Stage (read review). It’s on at Battersea Arts Centre and runs to 24 March.

 

It’s been a busy week for your StageScan reviewer, who saw The King’s Speech (3.5 stars) on the eve of its West End opening, and The Summer House (4 stars) at the Gate earlier this week, and has got In Basildon tonight and Snookered tomorrow. He will not rest until we find you another five-star. (If you find one first, please come back and post a review to let the rest of us know.)

3 March 2012: Goodbye to All That, Patience, Snookered, All New People

Weekly review roundup: 3 March 2012 
Most reviewers saw the debut play by 26-year-old actor-turned-playwright Luke Norris, Goodbye to All That at the Royal Court Upstairs, as a sign of a rising talent. His 3.7-star average (from six reviewers) was enough to get best new opening of the week, and he got four-stars from big names such as Michael Billington (Guardian), who said Norris wrote “with rare perception” about his chosen subject: “not just the right of old folk to an emotional life, but also the fact that love can take contradictory forms.” 

In the play, a grandson discovers his grandfather has fallen in love with another woman, and tries to get him to go back to being the grandfather he always imagined. Beyond the script, Billington also called the production “beautifully acted” and said Simon Godwin directed “with deft economy.” (full Guardian reviewRuns to 17 March.

 

The Gilbert and Sullivan comic operetta Patience, on at the much-loved Union Theatre, also pulled a 3.7-star average from four reviewers. The G&S satire of Oscar-Wildean frippery is delivered by an all-male cast, who “infuse the nonsensical story with camp flourish,” says Sam Marlowe in her four-star Time Out review. “The falsetto singing soars effortlessly, and every performance is endowed with idiosyncratic detail.”(full Time Out reviewRuns to 10 March.

 

The Bush Theatre hosts a touring production by Ishy Din, inevitably described by reviewers as an “Oldham cab-driver-turned-playwright,” called Snookered. The play tells the story of five Muslim men who come together on the anniversary of their friend’s death for a bit of pool and lots of drinking. It garnered only three stars from everyone who saw it, and while none of the five reviewers expressed any real vitriol, neither were they terribly engaged, unfortunately for those of us who love to see everything the Bush puts on do well. Michael Coveney (What’s On Stage) said “In many ways it’s a fairly conventional dramatic construct, and not all of the dialogue is consistently sharp.” (full What’s On Stage reviewRuns to 24 March.

 

The heavily-advertised Zach Braff play, All New People, is apparently dreadful, pulling a two-star average from seven reviewers. Libby Purves (Times) pulled no punches in her one-star review, calling it “the most aimless, pointless, immature play I have ever seen” while Ian Shuttleworth (FT) also gave one star to a “spectacularly misjudged drama” marked by “extreme lackadaisicality, as if on the assumption that critics and punters alike will jump through hoops to accommodate Braff” – and advises we do no such thing. (Full Times reviewFull FT review). Booked to 28 April, but watch this space.

24 Feb 2012: Tis Pity She’s a Whore, The Bomb: A Partial History, In Basildon, Bingo

Weekly review roundup: 24 February 2012

This week’s 44 reviews saw yet another play from hundreds of years ago top the list. It’s an odd season so far, with knowing, modern-minded revivals of She Stoops to Conquer (1773, National); The Changeling (1622, Young Vic), and The Recruiting Officer(1706, Donmar) all opening within weeks of each other, and all among the best-reviewed plays of the young year. (The Recruiting Officer, which we wrote about last week, is so far the best opening of 2012.) 

The next in this parade is this week’s winner, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (Barbican, until 10 March). This 1633 play, about a doomed incestuous affair and given a modern-dress take by widely-respected company Cheek by Jowl, got a straight four-star average from five reviewers, with a five-star by Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) balancing a three-star by Michael Billington (Guardian). Coveney called the play “sordid, modern, upsetting and totally compelling” and said “the bravery, and headlong intensity of the performances, is remarkable,” especially calling out the young lead Lydia Wilson (last seen in The Acid Test at the Royal Court). Billington, on the other hand, respected elements of the effort, but felt it compared poorly to a production he saw in 2005.

 

Just edging up to four stars is The Bomb – A Partial History, a set of ten short plays which runs in two halves at the Tricycle Theatre. Commissioned by the Tricycle as the closing act of Nicolas Kent, who is departing as Artistic Director after 28 years, the vignettes trace the history of the nuclear bomb, from its development to the present day. Sarah Hemming (FT) said the decision to commission many short plays is “a great way of coming at such taxing material: the range of voices, styles and subjects injects energy and pace. And while each of the plays is very different in tone, common themes ripple through them, as the characters struggle to find a moral footing in this strange new world. This is not so much a history of the bomb as a history of our relationship with the implications of its existence.” Taken together, the plays are about five hours long; they can be seen as independent halves on consecutive nights, or in one long sitting on the weekends. Runs to 1 April.

 

In Basildon is the first major opening of 2012 at the Royal Court, which had a string of more intimate hits over the past few months in the upstairs space and through its Theatre Local programme. This play about working-class life Essex, by David Eldridge and directed by the theatre’s Artistic Director Dominic Cooke, is given an in-the-round performance, unusual for the main house there. The reviews suggest it has fallen short of greatness but is still a worthwhile evening, with a 3.75-star average (eight reviews but no five-stars, and two three-stars).

 

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) said that in contrast to Essex’s portrayal in TOWIE and its ilk, “Eldridge serves up something closer to Chekhov”: a play about “inheritance and domestic disharmony, at times deeply poignant yet replete with references to West Ham and Walthamstow’s defunct dog track.” Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) called it “like Ayckbourn, with jellied eels and F-words.” In conclusion, Hitchings voiced a common mix of praise and complaint, saying that in “a tepid final act,” the drama “loses some of its momentum and fizz. Still, In Basildon is scrupulously observed, and the acting is first-rate.”

 

Finally, a word to the wise regarding an especially low score for Bingo, at the Young Vic, starring Patrick Stewart. The play, written by Edward Bond (Saved) in 1974, has so far averaged two stars (though from only two reviewers). Libby Purves (The Times) said “Here are huge moral and philosophical themes: pity and terror, which Stewart is supremely capable of expressing and Jackson of directing. The problem is that Bond utterly lacks the human depth those themes require. In the prolonged final scene, where the mad wife and distraught daughter scrabble at the locked bedchamber door while our hero opts for suicide and a malicious will, you get an uncomfortable sense of a lesser spirit trying to claw down a greater one.”

 

Let’s end on a more positive note: We notice that two of the ten most-Playlisted plays on StageScan open next week: Snookered at the Bush and The Summer House at the Gate. Overall, your most anticipated play (as measured by Playlist adds) is Love Love Love at the Royal Court, by Mike Bartlett (13) which opens 27 April.

17 Feb 2012: The Recruiting Officer, Singin’ in the Rain

Weekly review roundup: 17 February

 

This week saw two openings get a raft of four-stars and 1-2 five-stars. Winning the week was The Recruiting Officer, a 1706 drama which marks the start of Josie Rourke’s tenure as artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse. It averaged in at 4.25 stars, with five-star reviews from Sarah Hemming (FT), who only gives them rarely, and Charles Spencer (Telegraph), who is a softer touch; he gave two this week.

 

Spencer said Rourke’s new role “gets off to a tremendous start with George Farquhar’s wonderful English play about soldiers and townsfolk in early 18th century Shrewsbury.” In contrast to the “heartless hermetic plays of the period set in high society London,” he continues, “there is a whiff of clean country air and a sense of new horizons about it, and though the comedy is often bawdy and robust, there is a generosity of spirit, and lack of viciousness about The Recruiting Officer that proves hugely attractive.”

 

Of the acting, with leads played by Tobias Menzies and Mackenzie Crook, he says “This is one of those rare evenings when one wants to go through almost the entire cast merrily sprinkling praise and approval. The performances are almost all blessed with freshness and revealing comic detail, even in the smallest roles, and the whole show goes with a tremendous swing.”

 

Donmar tickets are always tough to come by, and the show is sold out (though with some limited availability tonight), but they do offer same-day seats to every show – ten per day, put on sale Mon-Fri at 10:30 a.m. at their box office. Runs to 14 April.

 

The other opening of note and success was Singin’ in the Rain, a 1983 stage musical based on the 1952 movie musical. This also topped a four-star average, based on another five-star from Charles Spencer. While the other reviews were all positive, it must be noted that this same production pulled several five-star reviews when it premiered last year in Chichester, and that some of the chemistry of that production may be yet to rematerialise in the capital.

 

Paul Taylor (Independent) said “the four stars on the top of this notice might look a tad curmudgeonly. So let me be clear from the outset that I think the production contains sequences as rapturously enjoyable as any I have seen in a stage musical. What mars the show, for me, is that there are places where the desire to do nothing if not knock the audience dead again and again brings in a faintly metallic and driven feel to the proceedings.”

 

The theatre is booked for a long run, and hopefully the show will settle in to something that feels more organic, and gets the unmitigated raves it did last year. In the meantime, good-but-not-great reviews have the benefit of increasing the odds you can get tickets on a discount, either same day from the TKTS booth in Leicester Square or on one of the many discount sites. Runs to Sept 29th.

10 Feb 2012: Absent Friends, The Changeling, The Night of January 16th

Weekly review roundup: 10 February 2012

 

We’ve been burning the midnight oil on our redesign of StageScan (well, the 3pm Friday oil, at least), so this week’s review roundup is a quick one. We did, as usual, add over fifty reviews to our site this week – 55, to be exact – so even though it’s quick, we can still point you to the best of the new bunch.The safest bet is probably Absent Friends, a 1970s comedy by Alan Ayckbourn at the Harold Pinter Theatre. The reviews are still coming in for this, but the three big critics who have weighed in have all given it four stars.

 

Ayckbourn gives us three couples, each unhappily married in their own way, who come together for tea one afternoon to console an old friend whose fiancee has passed away, but who still revels in the memory of the time he had with her. Michael Billington(Guardian) said “Any budding dramatist could learn a vast amount from the economy and skill with which Ayckbourn sets up the situation. But his craftsmanship and the laughter it generates almost camouflage the acute social observation…the fact that [the man who has lost his fiancee] is clearly the happiest man in the room makes his friends’ tongue-tied awkwardness in his presence all the funnier.”

 

(The StageScan take on this one – we only gave 3.5 stars – is that you have to sit through a lot of awkwardness for not that many funny moments, but the acting is wonderful.) Runs to April 14

 

The most widely-reviewed opening of the week was The Changeling, a dark comedy about lust and murder written in 1622 and given a wild production at the Young Vic. This got several four-star reviews, and a five-star from Michael Coveney (What’s On Stage) who almost never gives them, but who loved this new interpretation of a show he knew very well. Charles Spencer(Telegraph) also knew the play well, and said he always likes citing it as evidence that old drama could be edgy – and that here the script’s darker aspects were “gleefully captured in [Director] Joe Hill-Gibbins’s creepy, sexy, and at times downright bonkers modern-dress production.”

 

The show comes in at under just four stars on average, though, due to Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) splitting from the pack and only giving two stars, saying “About 20 per cent of the production strikes me as dementedly brilliant. The rest is a mess.” Runs to 25 Feb.

 

The last four-star average of the week (of shows with two reviews or more) was The Night of January 16th, a… wait for it… interactive murder mystery written in the 1930s by Ayn Rand. This curio is on the White Bear Theatre; of it, Matt Trueman (Time Out) said that, while it’s “intended as a serious illustration of objectivist ethics (Rand’s system of self-interest), it’s essentially a schlocky murder mystery: mediocre, but also great fun.” Runs to 25 Feb.

3 Feb 2012: She Stoops to Conquer, The Bee, The House of Bernarda Alba

Weekly review roundup: 3 February 2012

 

London’s best-reviewed opening this week was She Stoops to Conquer at the National. All the great and good professional print critics reviewed it, as you’d expect with a premiere in the largest theatre at the National, with seven giving it a solid four stars.Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) dissented with a three-star, but Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) brought the average back with a full five-star – relatively rare for Hitchings, who has only given out six in the past twelve months.

 

In his four-star review, Michael Billington called the 240-year-old play “one of the great period comedies,” and said that despite its potential for mustiness, Director Jamie Lloyd’s production “is a collective success which leaves the theatre echoing with the sound of the audience’s happiness.”

 

The plot is typical period comedy stuff: Toffs and plebs suffer a vast misunderstanding, which has been engineered for devious social-climbing and/or romantic ends; hilarity ensues. Surely this can rub the right way or the wrong way, but the reviewers seem to almost all agree it has been pitched perfectly by an expert director and cast.

 

Billington implies there is some fourth-wall-breaking which helps us enjoy rather than take it too seriously, saying the production “shrewdly keeps the 18th century setting while encouraging the actors to tip us the wink that the work is an artful contrivance,” through a method which includes “exaggeration, falling just the right side of over-acting.” This sounds to us like a treacherous line to walk, but several reviewers mention specifically that the cast gets the balance right. Runs to 28 March, and given the massive 1,100-seat Olivier, there are still plenty of tickets available.

 

In other openings, The Bee has been heavily marketed by the Soho Theatre, and has gotten five-star reviews around the world (more in Japan than in the US), but so far only pulled a 3.3-star average here. In it, a Japanese businessman whose family have been taken hostage tracks down the hostage-taker’s family and takes *them* hostage; it is meant to be both funny and grim.

 

Lyn Gardner (Guardian) wrote in her three-star review that “the chief glory in an evening that is simultaneously weirdly watchable and curiously alienating is the performance of Kathryn Hunter as Ido, a little man against the world who initially wins your sympathy but who is eventually revealed in his full ruthlessness. Hunter is small and fragile and yet exudes the mesmerising, pent-up energy of a championship boxer.” And, Gardner concluded, “even if the production fails to make the shift from high comedy to grim tragedy, it’s still a visually arresting and unsettling 75 minutes.” Runs to 11 Feb.

 

In the last big opening of the week, The House of Bernarda Alba at the Almeida also pulled only a 3.3-star average from a passel of nine reviewers. Many felt, like Charles Spencer (Telegraph), that the production, “which relocates Lorca’s 1936 drama about a Spanish matriarch brutally repressing her five unmarried daughters to present-day Iran,” was a stretch: “I would far rather have seen an illuminating new play about the lives of women in Iran today than this misguided hijacking of Lorca’s punishing Spanish classic.”

 

In an update on plays we looked at last week, The Madness of George III is still the best-reviewed opening of 2012, and Pajama Men remains the highest-rated (non-period) comedy. However, Constellations at the Royal Court has seen an upswing in its reviews, including a five-star from Paul Taylor (Independent), bringing its average up to right around four stars. It remains sold out for this run, but in the increasingly likely situation that it transfers, it’s worth keeping an eye out for. (Which we will do for you.)

 

Finally, Noises Off will extend its 4.2-star success by transferring from the Old Vic to start a new run at the Novello on 24 March, and the 4.9-star-average One Man, Two Guvnors moves over to the Theatre Royal Haymarket later this month, where it will take on a new cast as the original cast transfers to Broadway. It may be hard to imagine OM2G without James Corden in the title role, but the actor taking over has been understudying Corden in the role for over a year and may well know what he’s doing. Might be worth a flier on preview tickets if you’ve stayed away so far.

23 Jan 2012: The Madness of George III, Pajama Men, Mary Stuart, Constellations, Our New Girl, Travelling Light, Huid Clos, Loveson, Fog

Weekly review roundup: 23 January 2012
Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III has finally broken the four-star barrier for 2012, with an average of 4.1 and two five-star reviews (Libby Purves, Times and Quentin Letts, Daily Mail). A (somewhat obviously) historical drama, TMOKG3 premiered at the National in 1991 and was made into a film in 1994. Of this incarnation, Libby Purves said “it is rare to meet a production so flawless,” and (of David Haig in the title role) that this is “one of those treasurable moments when a familiar, well-liked actor rises to a new level of real greatness.” Runs to 31 March at the Apollo Theatre; click the show title to see all seven pro print reviews to date.

 

Continuing down the star list, Pajama Men (sketch comedy, Charing Cross, to 3 March) and Mary Stuart (historical drama, New Diorama, to 18 Feb) each got three reviews, and all of them four stars, making them safe bets if you’re in the mood for the genre. Having seen Pajama Men myself last summer, I’d personally recommend this one; the amount of laughter and wonder they generate in an hour is barely plausible.

 

Constellations (musings on love and physics, Royal Court) got a varied reception, with an average of about 3.8 stars – two five-star reviews (Charles Spencer, Telegraph and Paul Taylor, Independent), but also three three-stars. Spencer said “I know it’s only January, but if I see a more ingenious, touching and intellectually searching play than Constellations this year, I will count myself very lucky,” and forecast a life for it beyond the small upstairs theatre at the RC. It will be interesting to see what they do with it; the run sold out months ago, but the three three-star reviews suggest some remain unconvinced. (Incidentally, based on the surfeit of these at Fringe last year, we predict that 2012 will be a big year for love and physics plays.)

 

Our New Girl (nanny-driven drama about The Way We Live Now, Bush Theatre) was widely reviewed, but only ended with a 3.6 star average.

 

Several other openings (Travelling Light at the National, Huis Clos at Trafalgar Studios, Lovesong at the Lyric Hammersmith, and Fog at the Finborough) all averaged in at about three stars, despite strong pedigrees. This suggests either that it’s hard to rehearse a show over the holiday break, or that the critics are in a darker mood than usual having not gotten what they wanted for Christmas. Hopefully, whatever the reason, the London theatre machine will be revved back up to midseason form soon.

 

(Note also that it’s always possible that with a few weeks of a run under their belt, these shows may now be in better shape than when they were reviewed. Personally, we are seeing Lovesong tomorrow, optimistically – but returned our tickets for Travelling Light.)

 

Finally, the very well-reviewed musical Crazy for You, and the decently-reviewed Legally Blonde, have both announced they are closing; Crazy for You on 17 March and Legally Blonde on 7 April. Having caught Betty Blue Eyes in its last week, we know that sometimes an early closing can be a sign that a show is more perfectly pitched than a big West End show can afford to be; we’ll be scrambling to see Crazy for You on that basis before it goes.