10 Feb 2012: Absent Friends, The Changeling, The Night of January 16th

Weekly review roundup: 10 February 2012


We’ve been burning the midnight oil on our redesign of StageScan (well, the 3pm Friday oil, at least), so this week’s review roundup is a quick one. We did, as usual, add over fifty reviews to our site this week – 55, to be exact – so even though it’s quick, we can still point you to the best of the new bunch.The safest bet is probably Absent Friends, a 1970s comedy by Alan Ayckbourn at the Harold Pinter Theatre. The reviews are still coming in for this, but the three big critics who have weighed in have all given it four stars.


Ayckbourn gives us three couples, each unhappily married in their own way, who come together for tea one afternoon to console an old friend whose fiancee has passed away, but who still revels in the memory of the time he had with her. Michael Billington(Guardian) said “Any budding dramatist could learn a vast amount from the economy and skill with which Ayckbourn sets up the situation. But his craftsmanship and the laughter it generates almost camouflage the acute social observation…the fact that [the man who has lost his fiancee] is clearly the happiest man in the room makes his friends’ tongue-tied awkwardness in his presence all the funnier.”


(The StageScan take on this one – we only gave 3.5 stars – is that you have to sit through a lot of awkwardness for not that many funny moments, but the acting is wonderful.) Runs to April 14


The most widely-reviewed opening of the week was The Changeling, a dark comedy about lust and murder written in 1622 and given a wild production at the Young Vic. This got several four-star reviews, and a five-star from Michael Coveney (What’s On Stage) who almost never gives them, but who loved this new interpretation of a show he knew very well. Charles Spencer(Telegraph) also knew the play well, and said he always likes citing it as evidence that old drama could be edgy – and that here the script’s darker aspects were “gleefully captured in [Director] Joe Hill-Gibbins’s creepy, sexy, and at times downright bonkers modern-dress production.”


The show comes in at under just four stars on average, though, due to Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) splitting from the pack and only giving two stars, saying “About 20 per cent of the production strikes me as dementedly brilliant. The rest is a mess.” Runs to 25 Feb.


The last four-star average of the week (of shows with two reviews or more) was The Night of January 16th, a… wait for it… interactive murder mystery written in the 1930s by Ayn Rand. This curio is on the White Bear Theatre; of it, Matt Trueman (Time Out) said that, while it’s “intended as a serious illustration of objectivist ethics (Rand’s system of self-interest), it’s essentially a schlocky murder mystery: mediocre, but also great fun.” Runs to 25 Feb.

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