June 2013: Professionals in personal crisis: Mockingbird, Chimerica, and Disgraced

The sun is out, so any one of us could be forgiven for skipping the theatre this weekend (although of course the outdoor theatre in Regent’s Park gives the opportunity to combine the two pleasures). However, if the rain comes again, there are plenty of strongly-reviewed shows on this month to help you wait it out.

 

Best of the Month

 

This month, we take a look at three very different depictions of professionals thrown into personal crisis by the impact of prevailing political tensions on their working lives.

 

First up is Timothy Sheader’s production of To Kill A Mockingbird, at the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, which received a 4-star average for its playful and economical recreation of a child’s world in segregated ‘30s Alabama.

 

The cast reads Scout’s familiar narrative in turns, from various editions of Harper Lee’s novel, and in their own accents. The town is created by chalking outlines of houses on tarmac. As Charles Spencer (Telegraph) explains: “[T]he audience is invited, indeed required, to bring its own imagination to the production”. Although there’s no consensus on those accents, most felt they invoke – as Lyn Gardner (Guardian) put it – “the way this novel has been woven into the fabric of our lives…helping to make a virtue of Christopher Sergel’s authorised but now old-fashioned 1991 adaptation.”

 

Michael Coveney (What’s On Stage)’s appreciation for the adult lead was typical: “Sean Leonard’s Atticus Finch, bespectacled and summer-suited, like Gregory Peck in the movie, cuts a figure of desolation rather than exemplary probity…a quiet, still and enigmatic performance.” Libby Purves (Times), who gave 5 stars, agreed: “His courtroom summing-up, despite the great words, is played hesitant and almost broken. You shiver for him.”

 

Three rotating teams share the child roles. Charles Spencer admitted that “on press night the lovable Scout was played with a simplicity and emotional truth by Izzy Lee that moved me to tears”, while Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) approved her “rangy, tomboyish charisma”. Like all our pro reviewers, he was enthusiastic about the children’s ensemble playing: “These three are the perfect child gang, and it is rare that we feel we’re seeing events through anything other than their eyes.” Runs to June 15 – click here to add To Kill a Mockingbird to your personal Playlist.

 

Back in the 21st century, Lucy Kirkwood’s Chimerica at the Almeida presents a world gripped by two economic giants. While the pros awarded it a respectable 4.1-star average, with 5 stars each from the Evening Standard, Telegraph, and Guardian, some aired reservations about the writing.

 

ES Devlin’s giant rotating cube of sets, projected with crop-marked photographs, was variously described as “brilliant” and “dazzling”. Among others, Michael Billington (Guardian) praised “Lyndsey Turner’s astonishingly filmic production”, while Charles Spencer (Telegraph) called it “a cracking thriller”, “staged with great panache” which “hurtles along with a mixture of humour, dramatic tension and terrific visual ingenuity.”

 

The acting was broadly appreciated. Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) was representative in his praise, saying “Stephen Campbell Moore captures Joe’s complexities, in a performance of bruised authenticity. Benedict Wong is immense as his friend Zhang Lin, to whom he imparts both tenderness and real bite.” Even a dismissive Quentin Letts (Mail) (“that clever cube is more three-dimensional than some of the people depicted here”) couldn’t resist complimenting Wong, while Spencer particularly praised Wong’s “memory-haunted Chinese man risking the wrath of the repressive authorities in a performance that lends the play a harrowing emotional depth.”

 

Some found the play flawed. Ian Shuttleworth (FT) approved its intentions, but thought it ultimately “too much” and Michael Coveney (Independent), while enthusiastic, admitted “The play’s not impossible to follow…but nor is it impeccably constructed”. Hitchings, however, pronounced it “a tremendously bold piece of writing” which “manages to be topical without being gimmicky and well-informed without being showily so.” Billington praised its extravagance and scale, concluding: “If we see a better new play this year, we’ll be extremely lucky.” Runs to July 6 – click here to add Chimerica to your personal Playlist.

 

Nadia Fall’s UK premiere of Ayad Akhtar’s 2013-Pulitzer-winning American drama of religious and cultural tensions Disgraced, on at the Bush Theatre, garnered 4 stars from all but one of nine pros.

 

Most agreed with Sarah Hemming (FT)’s reserved praise. She found the play “overly diagrammatic”, saying “the assembled dinner guests too conveniently form mouthpieces for the lines of argument – and several plot twists don’t ring true. But even so, the candour and passion of the exchanges are breathtaking as Akhtar engages head-on with the most incendiary and fractious issues of our time.”

 

Main dissenter Patrick Marmion (Mail), who gave only two stars, complained the playwright “tries to shock us” but Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) – who laid out assimilated lawyer Amir’s dilemma as he’s “goaded from the epitome of moderate reasonableness to the cliche of unrestrained violence” – insisted “you can’t quarrel with the intelligent, thought-provoking thrust of this crisply entertaining evening.” Henry Hitchings recalled “David Mamet at his most rivetingly ruthless.”

 

Michael Billington felt that playwright Akhtar ultimately overplayed his hand, but appreciated how he “plots his hero’s downfall with a remorseless logic and shows, with ironic cunning, how a liberal action in the cause of justice leads to Amir’s undoing.”

 

There was no shortage of praise for the cast. Hari Dhillon as Amir was variously celebrated as “riveting” and “thrillingly good” as he “disintegrates with utter conviction”. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) summed up the general response well: “Powerful and uncomfortable, ‘Disgraced’ is also deft, witty and horribly plausible.” Runs to June 29 – click here to add Disgraced to your personal Playlist.