StageScan Pick: Groundhog Day

Groundhog Day at the Old Vic garnered six five-star reviews from pro critics. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) found “extraordinary” the “triumphant theatrical rebirth” of what Paul Taylor (Independent) called a “well-nigh flawless” film, suggesting it “perhaps better”. Henry Hitchings (ES) described “a genuinely fresh take” with “its own dizzying brand of joy”. Mark Shenton (The Stage) hailed composer Tim Minchin and director Matthew Warchus’s “most mature and striking work yet” and Cavendish also found it “sophisticated, smart” and “in a different league” from their Matilda.

Taylor felt original screenwriter Danny Rubin’s book “retunes our sense of the black hilarity and emotional depth of the central conceit”. Hitchings noted “the same nerveless mix of fantasy and misanthropy” and Cavendish enjoyed “theatrical departure points… as clear as they are exciting”. Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) praised “bravura confidence”.

Taylor saw Andy Karl “totally scotching the idea that Bill Murray is indispensable to this material”. Hitchings agreed he “oozes star quality… charismatic even in moments of melancholy”. Taylor praised “hilarious… jerk-you-can’t-help-but-like charm” and “devilish rhythmic cunning” and Crompton called him “a revelation”. Shenton thought this “captivating” Phil “surely his calling card to stardom”. Hitchings enjoyed Carlyss Peer’s “satisfyingly forthright” Rita, Crompton found her “gorgeously feisty and vulnerable at one and the same moment” and Cavendish judged her “sensational”. Shenton praised a “wonderful ensemble”.

Crompton enjoyed Warchus’s “deftly inspired” and “seamless” direction and Hitchings described “wit… fluency and ingenuity… superb illusions” and “nimble choreography”. Taylor hailed “a miracle of stage-craft and technical coordination”. Shenton enjoyed an “electrifying and energising parade of movement” and “amazing… sleight-of-hand” and Crompton hailed the creative team’s “brilliance” detecting “pure pleasure in the mechanisms of theatre itself”.

Shenton found Minchin’s “evocative and exhilarating” score “attention-grabbing and delightful… supremely melodic, magical, haunting and hilarious”. Cavendish saw the music “deepening the levels of irony” with “repetition and sustained notes” and Hitchings observed “half a dozen different idioms”. Taylor appreciated “a glimpse into the inner life” of Rita and found the “beautiful climactic duet… uplifting and magical”. He enjoyed “wonderful oddball humour” and Crompton found the lyrics “a constantly surprising delight” suggesting Minchin “might just be a genius”.

Hitchings praised a show which “wears its profundity lightly” and Shenton found it “adorable and funny… affecting and disturbing”. Crompton hailed “an outstanding performance at the centre of a magnificent work… a cast-iron triumph, both joyful and profound, incredibly funny and seriously moving” and Cavendish said: “It lands with the confidence of an instant classic” declaring it a “beacon of hope for new musical theatre”.

StageScan Pick: Yerma

The Young Vic‘s Yerma received almost all four and five-star pro reviews. Henry Hitchings (ES) described Simon Stone’s “bold.. radical reimagining of Lorca’s poetic tragedy” and Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) saw “The distance between the strict morality of rural Spain in the 1930s and cosmopolitan, contemporary London… bridged in a blink”, admiring how it suggests “you don’t need societal pressures to become maddened by a longing for a baby”. Susannah Clapp (Observer) saw the central character “neither satirised nor indulged”. Paul Taylor (The Independent) felt Stone “bravely… complicates our sense of victimhood” and Crompton, who appreciated that “Yerma is not portrayed as some kind of doomed saint” nevertheless found it “impossible not to share her agony”. Hitchings also found the characters’ “anxieties … wholly plausible” and Clapp thought them “utterly contemporary”.

Most attention was paid to a “fearless” Billie Piper, whom Hitchings found “raw, ferocious, spellbinding”. Taylor reported the “gutting brilliance” and “devastating emotional force” of her depiction of a “descent from witty charmer into crazed obsessive” while repeatedly “offering aching reminders of the luminously winning young woman she once was”. Crompton praised Piper’s “immediate…access to feeling” finding her “superb” at conveying the character’s agony as she “moves from the laughingly flirtatious to the absolutely distraught in incremental and beautifully described steps” while “the light seems to die from her eyes”. Clapp found the performance “earth-quaking”.

She thought the partner’s “mixture of innocent affection and casual incomprehension… wonderfully played” by Brendan Cowell, and Taylor judged him “excellent”. Crompton hailed “terrific support” and Clapp found the “great” Maureen Beattie “perfectly acerbic”, praised “subtle and wan” Charlotte Randle and “beguiling” John McMillan and said Thalissa Teixeira “dazzles”.

She praised “extraordinary design” and Taylor reported “action… trapped within a glass box” which “increasingly makes us feel like the anguished voyeurs of some suffocating and doomed process”. Hitchings also observed “unsettling visual and acoustic effects”. Taylor described a production “both meticulous and merciless” with “grimly droll mid-sentence black-outs” and a “soundtrack of female voices whose harmonies begin to slither into dissonance” and praised “the hallucinatory panache” of rapid scene changes others called “breathless” or “miraculous”. Clapp saw “Lorca’s watery fertility images” suggested by moves from “bare house” to a “garden… first verdant, then shrivelled” and later a “mud-clogged Glastonbury”. She felt the “crucial… manoeuvres in and out of naturalism” also “loyal to Lorca” detecting “a liturgical movement” making it a “requiem for lost hope”.

Crompton felt the production “blows the dust off” Lorca’s original turning it into “a challenging play for today”. Hitchings found “the quality of the performances” rendered the whole “riveting” and Taylor found it “compelling… shatteringly powerful” and “provocative”, judging it “triumphant”.