StageScan Pick: Oslo

Oslo arrives at the Harold Pinter Theatre this week trailing an average 4.1 pro stars for its initial run at the NT. One of two awarding fives, Libby Purves (TheatreCat) found J T Rogers’s “three-hour historical political play about Middle East negotiations” manages to be “absolutely thrilling” and “pins you to your seat”. Natasha Tripney (The Stage) agreed: “For a play that chiefly consists of men in suits sitting around tables smoking and talking” it’s “gripping stuff”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) admired the “deft combination of research, fictional intuition and dramatic compression” in this “justly acclaimed” play and Purves hailed its “perfectly paced, intensely clear structure” and “fast-sparking dramatic dialogue”. Tripney enjoyed “a remarkable lightness of touch… witty, nimble and full of pleasing detail”. Michael Billington (Guardian), acknowledging “a dramatist who delights in process,” felt “Rogers successfully immerses us in the crises of the particular moment”. Tripney, suggesting protagonists Mona and Terje had “made progress” because they repeatedly “returned things to a human level,” felt “the play pulls off a similar trick”.

Cavendish hailed Bartlett Sher’s “riveting… tense and sharply paced” production. Purves found it “clear and fast,” Tripney thought it “assured” and Billington admired its combination of “epic sweep” and “emphasis on the individuals”. Purves found the acting “remarkable” suggesting “seldom do you remember you are watching performances,” rather “you are looking through them… marvelling at history and hope”. Tripney reported “a tight ensemble” working to “a high level of detail” and found many “small gestures… dramatically satisfying”.  Billington agreed “the drama lies in the detail” but admitted “my head started to spin with information overload”.

Tripney felt Toby Stephens “anchors the play” and observed “a dash of arrogance” in his “fastidious” Terje. Billington agreed he “brings out the vanity and self-regard behind Larsen’s idealism” and Purves found him “often very funny”. Tripney thought Lydia Leonard’s Mona “similarly superb”.

Purves also thought Nabil Elouahabi “tremendous” as Hassan, “a tense ball of fury… who moves through sullenness and anger to acceptance”. Billington saw Peter Polycarpou and Philip Arditti “brilliantly suggest men of sizeable ego and seeming intransigence who yet manage to achieve a genuine human connection”. Purves found “comedy” in Paul Herzberg and Thomas Arnold’s economics professors and Billington reported “good support” from Howard Ward and Geraldine Alexander.

Tripney thought it “works” as both “documentary theatre” and “a valuable reminder of just what can be achieved”. Billington described an “engrossing… instructive lesson about the primacy of the personal in global affairs”. Cavendish thought “the way a tiny vessel of hope managed to navigate its way across a great gulf of hostility and mistrust… brilliantly conveyed” leaving an audience to just “watch, learn and marvel”.

Booking to 30 Dec 2017 with tickets starting at £21 available from Stagescan. We also have tickets for James Graham’s latest political drama, Labour of Love.

StageScan Pick: The March on Russia

The March on Russia at Richmond’s Orange Tree received a 4.1-star average pro rating, with none awarding less than four. Michael Billington (Guardian) thought “There could no better tribute” to the late David Storey than reviving his “neglected” 1989 play depicting “an uneasy family reunion”. Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) described a “journey… to the heart of family relations… sharp and funny… but bleak too” with a “brutally truthful” feel.  Tom Wicker (The Stage) found “the gulf between young and old… like an ache” and detected “a mournful truthfulness, sketched out beautifully”. Admiring Storey’s “great skill”, Billington saw in the play both “poignant family drama” and “a microcosm of the wider world’s disappointments”. Wicker found its “depiction of a Yorkshire full of closed-down coal pits… hauntingly melancholic” but Fiona Mountford (ES) found this “wistful, elegiac tone underpins much humour” as Storey “exquisitely captures the daily rhythms of long-married, low-level bickering”.

Billington found Alice Hamilton’s production “rightly rooted in domestic detail” and Crompton admired a “simulacrum of a real home, down to the fire, constantly tended” within which “a convincing family emerges”. Wicker admired Hamilton’s “confident grasp of the power of stillness” as “she brings out every detail” of this “finely textured” piece. Crompton found her “gently sympathetic to the play’s quiet, slow unfolding” but often detected “speeches being made rather than words being spoken”. Billington felt she “neatly captures the play’s delicate shifts of mood” and Mountford described a “quiet, accomplished production” admiring the range of “different emotions… signified by the simple act of making a pot of tea”.

Mountford found Ian Gelder and Sue Wallace “both excellent” as the couple. Billington thought Wallace “particularly fine…  “outwardly plucky” with a “sadness… revealed only in her eyes” and found Gelder “captures perfectly Pasmore’s surface bravado and secret vulnerability”. Crompton saw him “beautifully played with a sort of game resignation” until he “comes to life” in telling a wartime story “wonderfully, managing to balance the poetry in Storey’s writing with the rhythm of speech”.

Wicker praised “good, nuanced work” from Colin Tierney, Sarah Belcher and Connie Walker as the children and Crompton saw “all in clearly differentiated ways struggling with dislocation and loss”. Billington thought Walker’s character “underwritten” but found Tierney “morosely haunted” and felt Belcher “pinpoints Wendy’s festering filial resentment”.

Billington hailed “a deeply moving study of the quiet despair behind the materialist orthodoxy of the 1980s” and Crompton praised “a reminder of just how good and pertinent a playwright Storey was” concluding “his darkly compassionate voice deserves to be heard”. Wicker felt this “powerfully affecting” show “belongs to” Gelder and Wallace, concluding “You feel the weight of the years in their every bitterly funny jibe, but also the love. It stings.” Mountford suggested we “celebrate this superlative remounting” of a “crisply bittersweet” play, which she found “beautiful, quietly heartbreaking”.

Booking to 7 Oct 2017 with tickets available from the Orange Tree. And if that’s put you in the mood to venture into another family’s heart of darkness, we still have tickets for the upcoming London transfer of Bristol Old Vic’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night, with prices from £29.

StageScan Pick: Follies

Follies at the National Theatre, in its first full London staging since 1987, received a 4.5-star average from pro critics, with most awarding five. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) praised Stephen Sondheim’s “elegiac, eloquent work”. Tim Bano (The Stage) thought it “slightly plotless” and Michael Billington (Guardian) admitted it’s “problematic” despite songs which deftly “combine emotional pain and witty pastiche”. Lukowski suggested Sondheim, though “peerless,” is “very hard to get right”.

Billington saw Dominic Cooke’s “superb revival… without a trace of camp” give “this bleakly festive musical a poetic unity” suggesting he “never lets you forget the astringent sadness beneath the spectacle”. Bano suggested it “has always been about looking back” and here is “as much about looking back from 2017”. Lukowski described a “towering” revival which “pierces both heart and brain” suggesting Cooke brings “the edge you’d hope for, a hard clarity and sense of brooding dread” without neglecting “the fancy stuff”. He described a “frankly extraordinary… huge and prodigious” cast which Bano judged “insanely strong”.

Lukowski found Imelda Staunton “owns the most complex role”, hailing “a great singer”. Bano observed her “dazzling presence” here become “nervous energy with an anxious smile” and saw her “find character progression in a show which, really, has none”. Billington found her Sally “unforgettable” as, by Losing My Mind, she’s become “a lovelorn wreck” whose “voice seems to dissolve on the song’s final syllable”.

He saw Ben “beautifully played” by Philip Quast, who “gradually reveals the desolation beneath” an initial “urbane condescension” and admired the “conviction” with which, in Live, Laugh, Love “he goes to pieces in the midst of a top-hat-and-tails turn”. Bano reported “one of the best voices in the world”, admiring his ability to “act” while “hitting every note”. He thought Janie Dee “excellent” as “caustic, miserable Phyllis”, and Billington found her “brilliantly sardonic”. Lukowski felt “she nails” a “wistful tightrope act” also “showing us the lines that connect her to the vulnerable girl”.

He saw many “remarkable songs… dispatched as ‘turns’” by minor characters. Bano described Tracie Bennett’s “clever take” on I’m Still Here, turning its “list of her accomplishments… into a cry for attention”. Billington found it “simply breathtaking” and Lukowski agreed she “pretty much nukes the house”. Bano also highlighted Josephine Barstow and Alison Langer’s duet as old and young Heidi, “joining their two operatic soprano voices with crystal clarity”. He reported, “every 10 minutes or so… another stunner of a set piece, sung impeccably… with tight tap routines”.

Billington found Cooke “captures the sustained emotional arc of Sondheim and Goldman’s musical” leaving him “admiring” it “more than ever”. Lukowski summed up “a perfect, devastating evocation of the pain of looking back. Plus: tap-dancing!” Bano, reporting “goosebumps”, found it “worth the wait” and declared: “This isn’t just triumphant, it’s transcendent”.

Currently booking to 3 January, with tickets still available from the NT box office. And if you fancy another lavish five-star revival of a musical classic, we have tickets for Christopher Wheeldon’s An American in Paris starting from £22.

 

StageScan Pick: Late Company

Late Company at Trafalgar Studios has scored a combined 4.1 average pro stars across its two short runs this summer, with all awarding at least four. Claire Allfree (Telegraph) described a “tightly coiled evening” that “thrives on the proximity between actors and audience” in both the Finborough and Trafalgar 2. Neil Norman (Express) explained its dinner-party hosts’ “intimate and tragic connection” with the strangers they’re expecting: “A year earlier their gay son committed suicide after being bullied at school by the son of their guests”. Henry Hitchings (ES) saw playwright Jordan Tannahill’s core subject “entangled with questions of intolerance, depression, parental responsibility and our sometimes toxic ideas about what’s funny”.

Norman admired how the playwright “lets the story unravel through the interaction of the characters”. Allfree enjoyed the “clever… way it exposes the carapace of modern social rituals” as “polite chatter” and “overtures towards reconciliation” give way to “the feelings beneath… animal like: huge, furious and mad with pain”. Hitchings saw “increasingly raw emotion… punctuated with toe-curling and often ludicrous scenes of social awkwardness and point-scoring”. Libby Purves (TheatreCat) described “small explosions and rumbles of danger” and admired how “the degrees of delusion in the two women in particular are treated by the young author with a clear and hard, though not wholly pitiless, eye”. Norman expressed “wonder” that it is “so brilliantly balanced between accusatory anger and humane understanding”, adding: “He nails the cultural differences… without making cheap jibes about their differing political views”. Allfree described a “fast-moving, 75-minute nightmare” with “a touch of ancient Greek drama in the way it interrogates ideas of justice, forgiveness and revenge” and hailed writing which “fizzes with authenticity”, finding Tannahill’s “arrow sharp dialogue… by turns comic and excruciating”.

Hitchings thought Michael Yale’s production “nicely observed, peeling back its characters’ layers of delusion and pretentiousness” and Purves found it’s “intimacy and force… riveting”. Allfree hailed “a quintet of impeccable performances”. Purves detected “a real sense of danger” in Lucy Robinson’s “brittle and over-poised” hostess Debora and Allfree felt Lisa Stevenson’s “twittering Tamara, beautifully betrays the nervousness of a woman socially out of her depth”. Hitchings found in the two “a perfect contrast”.

Norman thought it “beautifully performed by all, especially David Leopold” and Hitchings agreed his “apparently ordinary” character, Curtis was the “most intriguing” admiring newcomer Leopold’s “restrained performance”. Allfree found him “fabulously sullen” and Purves declared “I can’t speak too highly” of his ability to “carry a part which moves him from surly embarrassed irritability to… devastatingly open”.

Purves hailed a “neat 75 minutes, bang-on topical and sharply written”. Hitchings thought it “picks a nimble course through some prickly subjects”. Norman admired “a model of controlled information as revelations… leak steadily into the room like dripping blood”. Allfree thought it “unapologetically conventional” yet “in the way it picks apart our misguided hunger for easy resolutions… utterly transfixing” and summed up a “pocket-sized, sucker punch”, admitting “It’s been a while since I left a show feeling so winded”.

Runs to 16 Sep 2017, with some tickets still available from StageScan. And for more dinner-party recriminations, why not catch Apologia at Trafalgar 1. We still have seats from £43!