StageScan Pick: Blue/Orange

Blue/Orange at the Young Vic received mixed positive reviews from the pros, with a 4.0-star average. Aleks Sierz (Arts Desk), among the five-star reviewers, typically declared Joe Penhall’s play “a contemporary classic” which “fizzes with ideas as well as emotions”.

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard),  among those admittingsome of the references have dated” nevertheless praised a “fierce and timely revival” retaining its “psychological acuity”.  Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out)  thought a “canny decision to amplify and exaggerate” had made it feel “less era-specific” and agreed: “It hasn’t lost its bite”. Hitchings praised “a blandly institutional set” reached by the audience via “grim corridors” which Sierz found “Kafkaesque… disorienting, and slightly dismal”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) was among those hailing “faultless” design.

Most found all performances “tremendous” or  ”impressive”. Cavendish said: “In all the stagings I’ve seen, I haven’t encountered a better trio.”

Sierz enjoyed David Haig’s “study in power” and felt “he really comes into his own in the more passionate passages”.  Cavendish judged him needle-sharp” as a senior medic. Lukowski found the fact “he makes no effort to play Robert with a straight face” both “really funny” and “political” explaining: “Where the character originally felt like a manifestation of New Labour’s propensity for ethical doublethink, now he feels like an embodiment of Cameron’s Conservatives – paying lip service to compassion for the vulnerable while brazenly doing the opposite.”

Sierz felt Luke Norris played his junior with “quietly convincing sincerity” and Lukowski saw him become “magnificently frazzled”.  Hitchings called their “gladiatorial struggle… electrifying” and Lukowski found the “spats… often indecently entertaining.”

There was unanimous high praise for Daniel Kaluuya’s Christopher, whom Hitchings found “bracingly charismatic”. Sierz said he “buzzes” conveying “distress, but also… exasperation, and… vulnerability”. Lukowski thought him “superb”, at first “manic bordering on euphoric” then “swerving into despair with hairpin precision”.  Cavendish found him “by turns slouching, casual, charismatic, erratic, vulnerable, fierce” as “he dances on the border between bloke next door and psycho you’d cross the street to avoid,” declaring the character “a mind-game played on our own perceptions and prejudices”.

Sierz found the whole “compelling”, a “mesmerising play… here both intellectually inflammatory and emotionally satisfying”. Lukowski agreed Xia and cast had made a “sardonic comment on another time and place feel horribly and exuberantly timeless” and Cavendish judged the production “Unmissable”.

StageScan Pick: Show Boat

Show Boat arrived at the New London Theatre to a 5-star majority from pro critics.  Typically, Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) saluted Kern and Hammerstein’s “1927 masterpiece” which pioneered “a unified combination of plotting, lyrics and score”. Mark Shenton (The Stage) hailed “operatic melodies of romantic yearning, gorgeous folk ballads and exhilarating ensemble numbers” while Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) said: “Even today the sheer breadth of its concerns and the ambition and range of its score… take the breath away.”

Shenton hailed Sheffield Crucible’s “mighty new production” as “compressed and fleet of foot,” maintaining “the epic sweep of the show” yet “bringing its tender, poignant love stories into heartbreaking focus”. Crompton enjoyed an “impassioned, supple staging” that “seems to me to get everything right”. Shenton praised, as among innumerable other virtues, “Vibrant choreography” which “makes the entire stage pulse with movement” and Crompton observed “The overall grip never slackens”.

Of the boat itself, Cavendish described “opulent detail… with bunting, lighting and, upon its applauded arrival, shimmering chorus-girls” and Shenton saw it “spectacularly advancing towards the audience”. Crompton admired a setting which also “carries the action effortlessly to Chicago with the help of a flickering film and a balloon seller” and forward via “a hugely effective slide show”.

Crompton declared all actors “uniformly superb” and Shenton found the show “musically… entirely honoured” by “stunning vocal performances”. Cavendish agreed: “Song after song has a depth of feeling that surprises, delights and moves.” Emmanuel Kojo’s Ol’ Man River was generally highlighted as “exquisitely sung,” and “resonant” with, said Crompton, “just the right bite of disgust”. Shenton found Sandra Marvin’s Mis’ry’s Comin’ Aroun’ “haunting” and Crompton reported “shivers down the spine”.

Shenton found Rebecca Trehearn “thrilling” and Crompton said she “breaks your heart” performing “the glorious Bill”. Cavendish couldn’t imagine “a more heart-rending interpretation”. Crompton enjoyed watching Gina Beck, “with her soaring lyric soprano” grow “beautifully from idealistic girl to dignified woman” while Shenton declared her voice “luscious” and “perfectly matched by the liquid warmth of Chris Peluso’s”.

Shenton hailed an “exhilarating update of a true classic” in a “magnificent staging” that “makes it feel both revolutionary and timeless”. Crompton also found it “as relevant and powerful as ever” declaring it: “Glorious”. Cavendish described a “superb revival” that “radiates not only immense talent across the board but also supreme confidence in its material” concluding: “All aboard! You won’t regret it”.