23 July 2011: Anne Boleyn, Betty Blue Eyes, Loyalty

Weekly review roundup: 16-23 July 2011

The best-reviewed new show of the week: Anne Boleyn (Shakespeare’s Globe)

Howard Brenton’s new play debuted at the Globe last year and promptly sold out; it returns this year to solid acclaim, reeling off a perfect set of five four-star reviews. Sam Marloweof the Times calls it a “friskily absorbing drama,” and then, perhaps worried he has been too subtle, “a ripe, salty congress of sexual and theological politics.” Like almost every critic, he heaped praise on Miranda Raison’s performance as Anne, which he found “clever, sexy and warm”, and later “brilliant, courageous, fervently religious and sensual”; in short, “a heroine to lose your head over.” Michael Coveney of What’s On Stage was glad to see the return of this “richly enjoyable epic” which “avoids the pitfalls of costume drama, thanks to [Director John] Dove’s staging and Brenton’s characteristically punchy and vivid dialogue.” (For his part he found Raison’s Anne “both devilish and delightful.”) Caroline McGinn of Time Out called it “an audacious and at times tongue-in-cheek historical rewrite, which gleefully exceeds the numerous facts at its disposal.” In addition to Raison bringing Anne to life as a “wholly seductive being with the passion of Joan of Arc, the willpower of Margaret Thatcher and the disputatious dazzle of a young Germaine Greer” McGinn also praises the “excellent ensemble” who make the most of a script which is “sharp enough to hit every intellectual and emotional target in its sights, and broad enough to embrace every last groundling.”

Runs to 21 August

See the full list of reviews at

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Special section: Musicals

While we don’t exclude musicals from the regular weekly roundups (or the website), the fact is they generally average out at about three and a half stars, and so are rarely in the running for either best or worst new show. Here we call out some of the debuts of the last few months; all are still running. (Note that while we only give one quote per show, we pick this quote by reading all the reviews and then picking a line which seems to sum up the sentiment of the group.)

Betty Blue Eyes (8 reviewers, avg 4.0 stars)
Novello Theatre
Plot: Musical adaptation of Alan Bennett’s1984 film A Private Function, in which a small town raises a pig to eat at a celebration of the royal wedding; set in an austerity Britain in 1947.
Libby Purves, The Times: “A new smash musical is born: witty, rude, lovable, warm, dramatic, hilarious.”

Runs to 28 Jan 2012; see the full list of reviews at

Road Show (8 reviewers, avg 3.6 stars)
Menier Chocolate Factory
Plot: A “new” “Sondheim” musical following two hucksters around America – first introduced in New York in 1999, and reworked through several iterations (and titles) since then.
Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: “The show now has a focus and flair that commands admiration even if it doesn’t inspire complete devotion.”

Runs to 17 September; see the full list of reviews at

Ghost: The Musical (9 reviewers, 3.3 stars) 
Piccadilly Theatre
Plot: It’s the movie Ghost, but as a stage musical.
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: “Although its fidelity to the visuals of the original is at times spectacular, the music adds no great poignancy, and its sentimentality feels exaggerated and synthetic.” (Note: If you’re considering it, don’t miss the point about the visuals being spectacular; almost every reviewer called this out.)

Runs to 28 Jan 2012; see the full list of reviews at

Shrek: The Musical (10 reviewers, 3.2 stars)
Plot: It’s the movie Shrek, but as a stage musical.
Michael Billington, The Guardian: “It’s an amiable, well-crafted show that puts you in a pleasant frame of mind and that will fill a gap in the family market. But I was still left pining for that moment of ecstasy that is the musical’s chief justification.”

Runs to 19 Feb 2012; see the full list of reviews at

Lend me a Tenor (8 reviewers, 3.0 stars) 
Gielgud Theatre
Plot: Musical farce based around mistaken identity and opera stars.
Sarah Hemmings, FT: “The plot is a bit rickety and the musical itself is not quite charming, witty or sharp enough to produce gold.”

Runs to 19 November; see the full list of reviews at

The clunker of the week (a word to the wise): Loyalty (Hampstead)

This play, which tells the story of a couple who disagree on whether Britain should support the Iraq war but must go along to get along, garnered only a 2.7 average from eight reviewers. Charles Spencer of the Telegraph went into it steeled for “yet another piece about how and why Tony Blair’s government went into the Iraq war”, albeit one with a “unique selling point”: the playwright making her debut here is Sarah Helm, a “respected journalist and writer” who also happens to be married to Tony Blair’s former chief of staff. Although the play promises a combination of insider revelations and thoughtful reflection on the intersection of political and personal life, Spencer reports that “one’s principal feeling watching Loyalty is profound gratitude that one isn’t married to Sarah Helm”, whom he left considering “the kind of self-righteous anti-war harridan one would run a mile from.” The promised mix of personal and political “feels decidedly strained, and the attempts at humour are usually leaden.”

Henry Hitchings at the Evening Standard also found the lead character (whom he was charitable enough to refer to as Laura, given that that is her name in the play) a “tormentingly sanctimonious presence.” His criticism was broader, with too many scenes which “strain plausibility or lack vitality”; despite the momentous subject matter, “not much seems urgently at stake”, and the audience leaves “with little sense of having got closer to the truth.” Lyn Gardner was less negative, finding the “the first half at least” to be “compulsively watchable” based on Helm’s (one assumes) firsthand knowledge of the details and peculiarities of world leaders’ conversations. Though the attempt to make a larger point about government duplicity falls short, “it is in the bedroom or the kitchen, as it charts the inner workings of a marriage under immense strain because of outside forces, that the play feels most true.”

Runs to 13 August

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