November 2012: The Effect, This House, The Dark Earth and the Light Sky

It’s been a busy few months for the team at StageScan, what with the Olympics, some travel for our other jobs, and a June wedding. This newsletter marks our return to publishing a regular review roundup, though we’re planning on a monthly rhythm rather than a weekly one.


This newsletter also concludes with a reminder of the shows on your personal Playlist (which you can create yourself, to keep track of shows you want to see) and your Recommendations (which we create, by searching the current listings for people you like).


Let’s get right to it then:


Best of the Month


This week alone, there are 109 different plays or musicals being performed in London; in these roundups, we try to alert you to some of the best-received ones. On our website, you can filter down by things like genre, review score, ticket price, date and postcode to find the perfect show for you.


A theme worth noting is that it’s becoming increasingly common for initial runs of shows to be fairly short. Then, if it’s successful, the run may be extended, or moved to a bigger stage. This approach helps theatres stay flexible so they can give more space to hits, while minimising their exposure if they’ve got a dud on their hands – but it can be disheartening for theatregoers who find the first runs of good shows selling out more quickly than usual.


For example: the most popular new play this month is The Effect at the National Theatre. It’s the latest in a crop of popular plays about love and neuroscience, following this spring’s Constellations at the Royal Court and Going Dark at the Young Vic. Initial runs of all three did very well; both The Effect and Constellations sold out before they had even opened, and Going Dark was a short run but one of the year’s top 20 shows in terms of review strength.


But this is not just a list of shows you might have missed: all three of them are now back for second stints. The Effect has already extended its run, on the strength of a 4.1-star average from nine reviewers, including five-stars from Charles Spencer (Telegraph) and Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard). The play was written by Lucy Prebble and directed by Rupert Goold, the duo behind 2009’s popular Enron: The Musical. In The Effect, Hitchings says,” Goold’s thoughtful production is lit up by scintillating performances,” and Prebble has written a”profound and stirring” play. “The material is complex but always accessible,” he continues, “the drama serious and informative yet deeply human, with the odd jolt of piercing humour. The Effect confirms her as one of the most intelligent voices in British theatre.” It runs to 23 Feb 2013.


(Meanwhile, Constellations will be at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 5 Jan 2013, and Going Dark returns to the Young Vic from 4-22 December.)


The two other most popular recent openings are This House, about Parliament in the 1970s and also at the National Theatre, and The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, about the poet Edward Thomas, and at the Almeida.


This House opened in September and pulled a four-star average from eight pro reviewers, and on the strength of that, has extended to April 2013 and will move onto a larger stage at the National. Sarah Hemmings (FT) called the behind-the-scenes look at the minority Labour government of 1974 an “astute, funny and hugely enjoyable new play” which, though “hampered in places by stereotype,” remains entertaining “and becomes, as 1979 approaches, increasingly moving.”


The Dark Earth and the Light Sky, at the Almeida, also garnered universally strong four-star reviews. Written by Nick Dear, who most recently adapted Frankenstein for the National, this is the story of a Hampshire poet who decides, in 1916, that if he loves the English countryside as much as he says he does in his poetry, he should be willing to fight to defend it. He then joins up to fight in the Great War, with tragic results. Paul Taylor (Independent) calls it a “sensitive, insightful new play”; it runs until 12 Jan 2013.


The Ads have it


Heavy advertising has a way of sparking curiosity, so here we provide the public service of highlighting the review scores of plays you might be tempted to look into given their omnipresence.


A Chorus of Disapproval, by Alan Ayckbourn, directed by Trevor Nunn and starring Rob Brydon at the Pinter Theatre: 3.25 stars

Uncle Vanya, starring Anna Friel and directed by Lindsay Posner: 3 stars

Loserville, a new musical at the Garrick: 2.5 stars

Book of Mormon, TBD, but seems a safer bet, given its 9 Tony Awards in 2011. (Those seeking a less-advertised Tony winner need not despair: Once, which won 8 Tony Awards in 2012, also opens here in March 2013, within a week of Mormon.)


Looking ahead: This issue’s early bet for next season


We’ve taken a chance and booked in already for Chimerica, at the Almeida Theatre, which runs 17 May – 29 June 2013. Writer Lucy Kirkwood (NSFW at the Royal Court) and director Lyndsey Turner (Philadelphia, Here I Come! at the Donmar; Posh at the Royal Court; My Romantic History at the Bush) make their Almeida debuts with a new play which examines the changing fortunes of two countries whose futures will come to define our own. In collaboration with Headlong.