StageScan Pick: One Night in Miami

One Night in Miami at the Donmar Warehouse scored an average 4 stars from pro reviewers.  Libby Purves (TheatreCat) gave it five, finding this play, set at “a key moment in America’s struggle towards racial justice… startling, powerful” and “moving”.

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) praised Sope Dirisu’s “athletic” Cassius Clay and Purves saw him “scampering, dancing… merrily bumptious”. Daisy Bowie-Sell (What’s On Stage), admitting the character “feels underwritten” nevertheless enjoyed “beautiful, believable, vibrant and naïve energy”.

Purves praised Arinzé Kene’s “conflicted, angry… creative” Sam Cooke, Hitchings detecting “hidden depths” while Bowie-Sell thought him “superb”. She described “a voice that channels the old master uncannily” and Michael Billington (Guardian) heard him sing “with real joy”. Purves hailed show-stopping of “startling brilliance” including “a tremendous a capella rendering” of A Change is Gonna Come.

Billington saw Francois Battiste “subtly” capture Malcolm X’s “mix of assertive self-righteousness and fear for his future”. Bowie-Sell found “palpable conflict” in his “very strong depiction”. Hitchings admired “angry clarity” and Purves found the performance “striking, contained” and finally “moving” .

Bowie-Sell thought David Ajala’s “wise and likeable everyman” Jim Brown “great” and others found him “solid, thoughtful” and “impressive”. Billington saw it “outstandingly acted”, with Bowie-Sell judging all four “uniformly excellent” in “meaty roles” declaring it “worth seeing… for their performances alone”.

Hitchings acknowledged “a risk of their seeming simply to be mouthpieces” but Bowie-Sell described a “kind of boxing match” between Malcolm X and Sam Cooke in which Kemp Powers’ “funny, agile dialogue keeps things moving”. Billington detected “obvious dramatic weaknesses”, most typically that Powers “never fully develops the character” of Clay. He thought it “heavily” relaint on “retrospective irony”, although Bowie-Sell felt this created “several witty moments”.

Purves saw it “directed with heart” while Bowie-Sell found Kwame Kwei-Armah’s “taut” direction manages to “keep the thread of argument dynamic” and Hitchings praised his sensitivity. Purves saw the four “leap, joke and fight, lithe as panthers” as their “laddishness and earnest idealism, thoughtless energy and political extremism clash and mix”.

Bowie-Sell described “a fascinating portrait of four fascinating men” and Billington found it “stirring to hear the path to racial progress… argued with such passion and presented with such fervour”. Hitchings hailed “soulful”, and “sharply topical” writing which “packs a substantial punch”. Purves said it “throbs with life and soul and the complexity of the road to justice” judging the whole “Terrific”.

Runs to 3 Dec 2016, with tickets still available from the Donmar box office. And for more superlatively acted inter-male dynamics, why not also check out No Man’s Land, or The Dresser?

StageScan Pick: Travesties

The pro critics gave Travesties at Menier Chocolate Factory an average 4.3 stars, with four awarding five. Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) hailed Tom Stoppard’s “thrilling mix of fact and fiction” in which, Kate Kellaway (Observer) explained, “forgetful nonentity Henry Carr, a former British consul… swanks about having known James Joyce, Lenin and Dadaist artist Tristan Tzara”. Dominic Cavendish (The Telegraph) hailed a “cryptic-crossword of a modern classic” in which “the erratic Carr mind becomes a postmodern playground”. He described “high-wire feats of linguistic daring” including “an entire scene in the limerick form… exchanges in Russian, outbreaks of nonsense, a super-abundance of allusions, word-play and parodies” and “a running pastiche of The Importance of Being Earnest”. Crompton enjoyed “Wildean aphorisms” and “really good – and often quite silly – jokes”. Kellaway described “a literary Babel… with no plot and no brakes” and Cavendish admitted: “In lesser hands, such overload could be insufferable”.

Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) agreed, but found Patrick Marber “really makes it work… it rattles along”. Cavendish said: “The artifice is fleet, funny and hooks you in even as you pant to keep up.” Crompton heard “the emotional notes sound deep beneath the frenetic farce” and Kellaway detected “the sense of a playwright intoxicated by his own brilliance” in a production both found “scintillating”.

In a cast variously called “spry”, “excellent”, “first-rate” or “top-notch”, Cavendish observed “the finesse of accomplished farceurs”. He saw Tom Hollander play Carr “to the comic hilt, absent of gaze, laughably conscious of couture, almost the philistine-fool”, yet eventually reveal “a Great War survivor struggling to assert some semblance of belief in order in the face of engulfing meaninglessness”. Crompton found him “superb… bemused and charming” yet betraying “melancholy terror” and Kellaway found the performance “sensational… compulsively watchable”.

Cavendish said Freddie Fox “shines as the insolent Tzara” and Kellaway found the performance “dapper” and “gloriously over-the-top”. She praised Peter McDonald’s “comically understated” James Joyce, and Cavendish thought him “spot-on”. Letts found Clare Foster “particularly comical” and Kellaway enjoyed her “rivalrous tea for two” with Amy Morgan.

She found this “impeccably constructed – or deconstructed – literary romp… teeming with playful ideas… a tonic from start to finish”. Crompton found “the crackling intelligence… infectious” and summed up “a moment to treasure… like vintage champagne, rich and effervescent… with a mellow, lingering aftertaste”. Letts reported “a cracker” and Cavendish echoed many in suggesting “anything less” than “a West End transfer… would be a travesty.”

We now have tickets for the much-predicted West End transfer, so visit StageScan now to make sure you don’t miss out.