April’s most amazing new shows: Gypsy, Oppenheimer and Carmen Disruption

We’ve picked some real treats for you from a month of well-reviewed openings, with three impressive productions, two illuminated by fine lead performances and one that intriguingly fractures its title role.

Gypsy – Savoy, 4.7 pro average

Jonathan Kent’s revival of what Dominic Maxwell (Times) called “one of the greatest Broadway musicals,” which Michael Billington (Guardian) judged “fabulous” and Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) declared “simply the best”, received perfect five-star scores from most reviewers, and was lauded as “magnificently restored”, “stunning”, “thrilling” and “even better since its Chichester debut”.

Coveney described “a barnstorming, scathingly hard-edged performance” from Imelda Staunton, which Maxwell found “staggeringly good”. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) found her “hilarious, tragic, monstrous impresario Momma Rose” elevated by “the sense of irreparable damage to her soul” and Billington agreed that “Every facet of the character is caught” in “one of the greatest performances I’ve ever seen in musical theatre”.

Among the other players, Billington saw Lara Pulver “chart Louise’s growth from shy wallflower to coldly calculating stripper with great skill”. Coveney found Scarlet Roche’s baby June “astonishing”, and highlighted Julie Legrand in two smaller roles. Only Peter Davison, as Herbie, divided opinion: while Billington welcomed “a warmth that was missing before”, Coveney complained “he doesn’t make too hot with the singing”.

Coveney saw “efficient designs” and “gorgeous choreography” both “as good as it gets without breaking the mould,” approving “no attempt to be ‘clever’ with it”.

Quibbles aside, approval was unanimous. Billington described “the gorgeous pleasure of an evening that both celebrates showbiz and… exposes the psychotic nature of addiction to stardom”. Lukowski, who found the show as written “a splash dated”, felt Staunton “makes it timeless”. Coveney described “musical theatre heaven” and Maxwell described “the best chance of an epiphany you’ll ever get in a theatre”.

Booking to 28 Nov 2015

Oppenheimer – Vaudeville, 4.5 average 

Tom Morton-Smith’s new play was similarly hailed on its arrival from Stratford. Fiona Mountford (ES) declared it “the RSC’s best piece of new writing in years” and Kate Bassett (Times) found the comparative newcomer’s work “astonishingly assured and mature”. Sarah Hemming (FT) found it “impressive,” tracing “the path by which the human race arrived at the ability to annihilate itself”.Demetrios Matheou (Arts Desk), who declared it “exceptional”, detected “an inkling of how Oppenheimer could have been so hell-bent” and Andrzej Lukowski judged it “not formally groundbreaking, but… ambitious in the very best way”.

Hemming described “restless, intelligent and ultimately desolate drama, delivered… with fizzing energy”. Lukowski enjoyed Angus Jackson’s “jazz-soaked, somewhat Enron-tinged production” and “pacy” juxtapositions of “bright young things liquoring it up” with “zippy lecture-style sequences”. Matheou praised “dazzlingly lucid and entertaining physics” and a “winning combination of clarity and gusto”.

Most attention went to what Mountford called John Heffernan’s “towering” and “increasingly haunted” lead, which Lukowski found “quite remarkable”, declaring him “one of our best and most underrated actors”. Hemming judged him to be “superb: affable and charismatic yet slightly aloof, as the play wears on he retreats further into his core, his stare increasingly distant”.

Matheou saw his “mesmerising” performance as “the heart and soul of a fine ensemble” which Hemming also judged “excellent”. Mountford praised “strong support” from Catherine Steadman, and Hemming found Jamie Wilkes “impressive”.

Bassett applauded the RSC’s “inspired” commissioning of the play. Matheou described “an intense, and densely themed production… delivered with ebullient energy” which “rightly leaves us hanging” on how to view Oppenheimer. Hemming reported “a sobering and resonant message” and Lukowski agreed “it really delivers its payload in its final phase”. Mountford summed up “ambitious writing, stylishly directed and impeccably performed” declaring the result “Outstanding.”

Runs to 23 May 2015

Carmen Disruption – Almeida, 3.8 average

Simon Stephens’s “extraordinary” latest, explained Michael Billington, is “less a re-creation of [Bizet’s Carmen] than a deconstruction of it, reflecting on the strangeness of a singer’s vagabond life, our frantic dependence on social media and the increasing homogeneity of modern European cities.” For him, it worked: “It is a crowded work, but a totally compelling one.” The show attracted a range of positive reviews including two fives. Andrzej Lukowski praised the writing’s “harsh, chaotic beauty” and Susannah Clapp (Observer) lauded “an explosive example of fracture and rediscovery” and “a true response to a great work”.

Clapp enjoyed the “poignant precision” of Sharon Small’s star, who “finds it easier to be Carmen than herself” and Billington felt she “captures well the loneliness of the long-distance singer”. But, as Clapp explained, the other Carmen in the show is Jack Farthing’s “vamping rent boy” who “ripples with nonchalant narcissism”.

While some highlighted other performances, the focus was this “dense, intense piece” that, said Matt Trueman (What’s On Stage), feels “like a staged poem”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph)described “commendably detailed and committed” acting within a “strange, complex, ethereal collision of personae, saturated with a forlorn sense of existential crisis”. Billington thought Stephens’s vision “beautifully realised through the fluidity of Michael Longhurst’s production” and Trueman praised “hypnotic and discomfiting” choreography.

Hitchings described a piece “haunted by the spirit of Carmen” and “eerie” pop music references, and Clapp heard “snatches of Bizet’s score, gloriously rendered”. Billington praised Viktoria Vizin’s “rich voice” and Cavendish judged it “exquisite”. Lukowski, who enjoyed the mezzo-soprano’s “malevolent allure”, found the staging of atomised modern Europeans “against a backdrop of the continent’s bloody, romantic old soul… unforgettable”.

Lukowski found the production “ravishing”, and “endlessly intriguing”. Hitchings concluded “Stephens’s writing has rarely felt sharper” praising “moments of startling intimacy”. Clapp, while agreeing the show was “elliptical, tangled, [and] sometimes in danger of suffocating itself” declared it “a depth charge to the theatre” which “will go on reverberating”.

Runs to 23 May 2015

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