May 13, 2012 – The Browning Version and South Downs; Love, Love, Love; Long Day’s Journey Into Night; Babel

We’ve been away for several weeks – sorry for going silent on you for a moment there. Here, a quick recap of the best-reviewed shows that premiered while we were out:

 

The best-reviewed show of the month was the pair of one-acts at the Pinter Theatre: Terrence Rattigan’s The Browning Version (written in 1948) and David Hare’s South Downs, newly written as a companion piece to the first. Six reviewers gave an average of 4.5 stars. Both plays are set in a school and “cleverly revolve around unexpected acts of kindness, one seen from the perspective of a pupil and the other from that of a teacher, says Fiona Mountford (Evening Standard) in her five-star review. Hare’s “dryly witty” story of a pupil who doesn’t fit in “perfectly captures the posturing, questioning and awkwardness of adolescence, and we only wish the piece could go on longer.” Like most reviewers, she praised the young actor who played the student, Alex Lawther. After the interval, Harrigan’s play tells the story of a wronged professor, and “packs more truths about the human condition into 70 minutes than most other dramas could manage in a month.” Runs to 21 July.

 

More recently, Mike Bartlett (13; Cock)’s Love Love Love opened at the Royal Court and pulled a 4.25-star average from 8 reviewers, including a relatively rare five-star from Michael Coveney (What’s On Stage) as well as one from Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) which was slightly predictable given the subject matter, but no less heartfelt. The play indicts the Baby Boomer generation by spending each of its three acts on the same couple, visiting them in the flower of youth in the 60s, the me decade of the 80s, and early retirement in the present day. Sarah Hemming (FT), in her four-star review, called it a “scorching comedy”, both”ambitious and hugely amusing”. Whether or not you come to loathe or chuckle at the couple, “they are sensationally well played in [Director] James Grieve’s acerbically funny production.” All reviewers called out Victoria Hamilton, as the female half, as exceptional. (Coveney’s review included a line that made me laugh, calling the script “an act of revenge by one generation on another. As such, it’s a classic Court play.”) Runs to 2 June.

 

A third strong showing came from Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, which averaged at just over four stars while garnering three five-stars (and a two-star from Quentin Letts, showing his range). O’Neill wrote the play, which tells the story of addiction’s impact on a family, in 1940, but requested that it not be performed until after his death. Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) said in his four-star review that even though “it’s about as far away as you can imagine from a perky night out in the West End”, “anyone who admires great acting will savour the performances of David Suchet and Laurie Metcalf in this potent revival” of O’Neill’s “shattering tragedy.” Caroline McGinn (Time Out) gave a very rare five-star, saying O’Neill’s “scorchingly honest portrait of [the family] seems compelled by love as much as despair, which is why the experience of watching it is never depressing”, but rather “sends you into the night elated, with the sense of something understood.” Runs to 18 August.

 

Finally, Noises Off was not a truly new opening, moving the hit production from the Old Vic to the Novello (as the Old Vic’s first ever West End transfer.) Only four reviewers went to re-review it in its new home, and pronounced the transplant a success, giving it a 4.5 star average. Runs to 30 June.

 

At the other end of the spectrum, the worst show of the month (and the year to date) is Babel, which garnered a straight two-star average from six reviewers (getting two stars from every single one). The site-specific outdoor production involves hundreds of volunteers in Caledonia Park, and was organised by WildWorks, the theatre company which wrangled over a thousand volunteers and Michael Sheen in staging the Passion in Port Talbot, which received huge critical acclaim. Unfortunately, says Lyn Gardner (Guardian), in this case “all those people, all that effort and all that talent” is “squandered on an evening that is too thin on a narrative level, never giving its audience characters to care about or despise. It is lacking in both spectacle and mythic resonance.” Despite its aspirations “It is too politically naive, too lacking in complexity and texture; it never connects the stories of the city in a meaningful way. Runs to 20 May.