May 2014: A View from the Bridge, Titus Andronicus, and Sunny Afternoon

Families dominate our picks for this month, with tragic incestuous longing at the Young Vic, a spiralling gory feud on the South Bank, and clashing musical siblings in Hampstead.


A View from the Bridge – Young Vic, 4.5-star average


A majority of five-star reviews greeted Mark Strong’s return in what Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage)called “this stark, rumbling, hothouse production” of the Miller classic.


Henry Hitchings (ES) explained: “On a naked thrust stage hemmed in by a perspex wall, the drama’s raw magnificence speaks with an unusual directness. The design…creates a forceful, potent impression of the characters being trapped,” while Tom Gibbons’ sound is “discreetly ominous throughout, hinting at everyone’s immersion in the rituals of Catholicism”. Van Hove, says Ian Shuttleworth (FT) “has stripped Miller’s play of virtually all naturalism and presented it as the essence of inevitable tragedy”.


Hitchings said Strong, elsewhere hailed as “astonishingly good” and “a genuine leading actor”, “evokes the crazed single-mindedness of a man locked inside a fatally flawed system of beliefs” with “a remarkable mix of weight and poise”. Charles Spencer (Telegraph), calling Eddie “one of the greatest roles in modern drama” elaborated: “Strong captures his terrible disintegration with raw pain, inarticulate passion, and emotional and physical violence” presenting “a thousand mile stare of loss, dread and sexual confusion”.


Coveney’s enjoyment of “the fantastic heart-broken heaviness of Nicola Walker’s helpless Beatrice and the spry, not-too-girlish fierceness of Phoebe Fox’s Catherine” was typical of most reviewers, as was his praise of a ‘superb’ Michael Gould. Spencer described “outstanding work” from actors Emun Elliott and Luke Norris.


Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) concluded: “Free of distracting clutter, Strong’s performance is titanic.” Spencer declared “It breaks the surly bonds of naturalism… to create a work of seething intensity and savage beauty” and Hitchings called the whole “magnificent, electrifying”.


Runs to May 24



Titus Andronicus – Shakespeare’s Globe, 4-star average


The return of Lucy Bailey’s 2006 production, hailed by Dominic Maxwell (Times) as “the best [Titus] I’ve seen”, gained fours even from reviewers admitting to fainting or queasiness.


Sarah Hemming (FT) praised the “eerie, exciting, claustrophobic, unnerving” effects of the black-swathed set, incense, sound and “Django Bates’s haunting score”. Lyn Gardner (Guardian) appreciated staging which “wraps the action around the audience” so “there is no getting away from our complicity … as heads roll, blood spurts and hearts crack.”


She found the revival “funnier than ever”, while Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) complained the “far-fetched gore” robbed it of “true tragedy”. Andrzej Lukowski, who felt the revengers’ “camp relish…underscores how fundamentally stupid their actions are”, pointed out “there’s nothing funny about the civilian collateral”. Hemming described a “queasy mix of black comedy, increasing savagery and saturating grief”.


Charles Spencer felt William Houston “discovers both the agony and the mad euphoria of Titus” and Lukowski found him “wonderfully weird and unpredictable”. Among what Hemming  called “a vigorous, fleet-footed and versatile ensemble”, she joined Gardner in highlighting “sadistically charming” Matthew Needham and Indira Varma, “slinky and dangerous as a poisonous snake”. Spencer enjoyed Obi Abili’s “insolent wit” and “ingenious viciousness”. As Lavinia, Flora Spencer-Longhurst was variously praised as “terrific”, “astonishing” and “almost unbearably affecting”.


Gardner judge the whole “not just a splatter fest. Its savagery is always disturbing, and the wild laughter it evokes sticks in the throat”. Lukowski found it “far from heartless” and Spencer left “both harrowed to the marrow and disconcertingly elated.”


Runs to Jul 13



Sunny Afternoon – Hampstead Theatre, 4-star average


Mixed reviews met playwright Joe Penhall’s musical Kinks biography, with fours dominating.


Consensus on what Henry Hitchings called “the sheer quality of the songs” didn’t extend to Ray Davies’ concept. Lyn Gardner compared it to “Jersey Boys, a show for people who’d prefer to be watching a tribute band” but Sarah Hemming felt the “wry, plaintive, narrative quality” of songs “so closely allied to Ray’s experience” meant they naturally told his story. Michael Coveney thought it Davies’ “best [theatrical] show so far, paradoxically because it tries to do so little”.


Charles Spencer enjoyed music “immaculately played and sung” with Patrick Marmion (Time Out)finding the band “just like the real Kinks, with Adam Sopp practically punching holes in his drum kit…and George Maguire making an Alice Cooperish, sex-crazed, cross-dressing solo guitarist.” Coveney noted “terrific” musical direction and the supporting cast’s “unsuspected instrumental talents”.


Only Marmion thought John Dagleish “a vocal dead ringer for Ray”, but most agreed with Hitchings who judged him “immense… capturing his quirkiness and charisma”. Enthusiastic Quentin Letts was typical: “exceptionally good… He cuts a peculiarly English figure and has stage magnetism which outweighs any vocal shortcomings.” Spencer detected Ray’s “wry, witty grin, and underlying sadness”, then described a “very funny” Maguire, “genuinely poignant” Lillie Flynn and “lovely comic performances” from Dominic Tighe and Tam Williams.


The whole was variously judged “quite fun”, “exhilarating”, “a belter” and “surely destined for the West End”. Hemming summed up: “Dagleish is mesmerising as a talented, troubled, truculent artist. And it is, deliberately, the music that is the star of this joyous, touching show.”


Runs to May 24