StageScan Pick: The Flick

Pulitzer winner The Flick received three- to five-star pro reviews on arrival at the National Theatre, with a 4-star average.

Sarah Crompton (What’s on Stage) suggested of its 3 ½-hours “those who ignore the acclaim and leave half-way are missing a treat”.  Stewart Pringle (The Stage) agreed Annie Baker’s depiction of “three lost souls” at work in one of the last ever pre-digital cinemas has been “rightfully vaunted” for its “simple, human truths captured in a complex interplay of nuances”. Crompton also saw, within “apparent artlessness”, themes “of performance and reality, of dream and illusion”.

She praised Sam Gold’s “clear-eyed direction” admitting “Nothing much happens” yet through its “series of short scenes, both funny and sad, we learn the story of these lives”. Even Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) who thought the production sometimes “maddeningly self-indulgent” also found “the ripening of melancholy… well served by the silences” describing a “slowness” which “becomes hypnotic” Pringle agreed” “By the second act it’s as mesmerising as it is hilarious”.

Crompton thought it “original and captivating” particularly because “form really does match content.” Pringle explained how celluloid film works by a “translation of life into a strobing of light and shadow”, creating “something beyond simple verisimilitude”,  observing a similarity in how “a rough love-triangle, carved as much out of monotony and familiarity as passion, is glimpsed in the gaps between tedious broom-work and the mopping of spilled colas”. Crompton reported “a stillness that is almost like a painting, rewarding patience, forcing you to pay attention”, judging it “A mighty achievement”.  At the same time Pringle saw “Cinematic cliché” become a “subtle stand-in for the world’s expectations… of happy marriages, sexual fluency and the sincerity of friendship”.

All hailed performances which Crompton called “staggering”. Pringle thought Louisa Krause “the stand-out” adding “with the least to say but the most to describe, she emotes considerable, gnawing depths”. Letts declared Matthew Maher “spectacularly good” and Crompton was impressed by the “apparently unselfconscious naturalism” of both.  She found “the nuance and subtlety of every glance… breathtakingly revealing” but also suggested newcomer Jaygann Ayeh “pretty much matches them”.

Pringle hailed an “Understated epic of dreams, disappointment and tenacity” and Letts enjoyed “a touching, memorable evening” with “a lovely elegiac tone”. Crompton spoke for most in describing “A play rich in humour and insight that reveals its purpose slowly but to devastating and memorable effect”.

StageScan Pick: The Man in the Woman’s Shoes

A four-star pro majority greeted The Man in the Woman’s Shoes, which Fiona Mountford (ES) found a “delightful one-man show” on its arrival at the Tricycle Theatre. Dave Fargnoli (The Stage) found writer/performer Mikel Murfi “a masterful storyteller”.

He described “a compendium of anecdotes, adages and argot, much of it collected through conversations with people around Murfi’s native Sligo”. Dave Calhoun (Time Out) said: “It’s not verbatim theatre, but it carries something of its spirit. Murfi’s vocal dexterity and physical nimbleness allow him to bear an entire town on his back.” Mountford explained of his character, Pat “the narrative he shares is playing only in his head. But what an abundantly well-stocked head it turns out to be”.

Fargnoli observed a “rare ability to switch between voices and mannerisms at speed while keeping several characters distinct”. Jane Shilling (Telegraph) saw him embody “everything from a bee to Kitsey Rainey – the ferocious football coach with a heart of marshmallow – with a supple energy” she found “entirely captivating”. As Calhoun explained “We even hear him faultlessly imitating chickens. And pigs. And dogs. And seagulls.” Mountford said he “embodies them all… with distinction” describing “an intensely vivacious face, capped by cherishably mobile eyebrows”.

She was among those observing “playful echoes” of All That Fall “in the long walk and eccentric characters”, although Shilling detected “only hints of the darkness and complexity of Beckett’s drama”. Fargnoli found this piece “both perceptive and mischievous… by turns silly, surreal and sentimental” and set in a “nostalgic, rural Ireland… full of luminous details”. He acknowledged “an ambling and somewhat aimless tale” but enjoyed “a vivid – and unmistakably Irish – turn of phrase” suggesting “it is the warmth and skill of the telling which makes it so enjoyable”.  Calhoun agreed: “the words, language and rhythms of everyday speech all carry a sharp ring of truth” adding “it helps that so much of this is very funny”.

Shilling summed up “a work of great charm and affection for rural Ireland and its people, performed with astonishing versatility”. Fargnoli described “an uplifting celebration of eccentricity” and Calhoun found it “enormously big-hearted, ridiculously energetic” with “endless compassion and verve”. Mountford said “Murfi magics up wonders from a bare stage” and hailed “A modern classic in the making”.

StageScan Pick: Les Blancs

Les Blancs at the National Theatre achieved a 4-star average rating from pro reviewers, with almost unanimous fours. Tim Bano (The Stage), giving it full marks, hailed the “breathtaking scope, clarity and insight” of Lorraine Hansberry’s unfinished play in a “tightly wrought version”.  Michael Billington (The Guardian) praised “a text that explores both the divided individual soul and the bitterness of the colonial legacy”. Bano enjoyed “poetry that soars” and “lines that cut to the bone” and described “precise lyricism” combined with “flights of expressionism”. Patrick Marmion (Daily Mail), acknowledging its “bleak… assessment of African history” found in Yael Farber’s “ritualistic production”, a “parable of post-colonial malaise” which “teems with semi-mythological characters”. Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) thought “some of the arguments still remain unclear” and Billington suggested the play was “a product of its time” but found “intellectual doubts… overcome by the sensuous sweep” of Farber’s “epic production”.

Bano described a “skeletal set, like the bare bones of a country ravaged” and scenes which “begin and end with threatening tableaux, lit like faded photographs” while Billington noted a “minatory hum”. Bano felt “Farber allows the play to hit resounding notes of anger and pain, but excels in minute details too” and Marmion saw the lives of indigenous Africans “vividly and harrowingly brought to life”.

From many of what Billington called “impressive performances”, all singled out Danny Sapani’s “superbly played” lead. Henry Hitchings (ES) found this “mighty performance… anchors the production” adding “At first he has a pensive dignity, but gradually his underlying anger is exposed.” Coveney felt he “provides a centrifugal force of feeling that irradiates the whole evening”.

Most also highlighted several supporting actors. Coveney enjoyed a “wonderfully dyspeptic” Clive Francis, Hitchings praised his “snarling precision” and Bano hailed a character of “chilling, unrelenting callousness” who is “still recognisably and believably human”. Among the other “fine, alert contributions” praised by Coveney (among others) were “razor-edged” Gary Beadle and “glorious” Sian Phillips. Bano was among those hailing Sheila Atim as “its most potent character” a gaunt, silent, almost naked woman who “haunts the stage”.

Bano declared the whole a “stunning piece of theatre” and Billington felt, “An imperfect play… has been given a near-perfect production”. Hitchings agreed “Farber’s skilful revival makes a powerful case for its importance” and Coveney felt “the brilliant South African director … has unleashed its tragic power”.