|The pick of this month features three depictions of men pressed into untenable roles by the society around them, with two well-received productions of less loved works and a new spin on a divisive eighties satire at the Almeida.
Fortune’s Fool, 3.7-star average: Old Vic, to Feb 22 2014
Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) judged it “the authentic individual voice of a talented young writer” and Michael Billington (Guardian) agreed: “It’s no lost masterpiece, but it has two great roles and offers a scathingly honest picture of rural Russian life.”
Coveney’s assessment was typical: “The colour and emotional depth of the play in Lucy Bailey’s fine production hits you with a totally unexpected force.” Most also echoed his praise for “a wonderful, agile design by William Dudley (sensitively lit by Bruno Poet)” and “a strong cast”.
While those who gave it three stars worried about Turgenev’s aristocratic viewpoint, or thin lesser characters, there were no reservations about the leads in what Quentin Letts (Mail) called “some of the best acting currently in London”.
All, like Ian Shuttleworth (FT), found Iain Glen “utterly magnetic, at once dignified and embarrassingly diffident as Kuzovkin,” appreciating what Letts called his “subtle, melancholy charm.”
Richard McCabe’s Tropatchov was variously celebrated as “hilarious” or “irresistible”. Charles Spencer (Telegraph) said he “seems an absurd fop, with his babble of slanderous gossip, corrupt face and epicene manner” but “leaves no doubt that we are in the presence of a character of vicious malignity”.
Letts pronounced the production “a gorgeous piece of work” and Dominic Maxwell (Times) agreed “it’s fabulous”. Paul Taylor (Independent) summed up: “Bailey’s production, which is horribly funny and deeply touching, marks an impressive return to form by the Old Vic.”
Coriolanus, 3.8-star average: Donmar Warehouse to Feb 8 2014
Almost all pros gave four stars to Josie Rourke’s new staging of what Charles Spencer called “this harsh, flinty tragedy”.
Paul Taylor was typical: “Her remarkably resourceful production capitalises on the intimacy of the space to give the epic proceedings a shocking visceral immediacy”. Henry Hitchings (Standard) judged it ” lucid, lean and finely controlled” also praising “a stark and highly effective design by Lucy Osborne”.
Dominic Maxwell called Tom Hiddleston “what must be the most soft-spoken Coriolanus since records began” while Taylor detected “the arrogance and dangerous charisma of one of nature’s cruel head-prefects”. Michael Coveney praised his “original, and disturbing, interpretation”.
Hitchings explained: “Hiddleston …does an impressive job of suggesting the emotional inadequacy of this self-deluding, impulsive loner – as well as the strange complexity of his motives”.
Taylor, among others, highlighted Deborah Findlay, “superb as his ferociously doting, militaristic mother – at first grotesquely comic…but then a terrifying figure as she tries to browbeat him into betraying the nature that she herself formed”. Of the support, Hitchings praised “crisp performances throughout” and Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) detected “a very ensemble feel”.
While many aired reservations, often around the ‘feminisation’ of the play’s macho world, Michael Billington was typical in concluding: “the production’s many virtues far outweigh its vices” before declaring it “well worth catching”, and it was “recommended” by several others.
Lukowski thought it “an intelligent look at the psychology of the elite” and Spencer said “there is no mistaking its dramatic energy, while the mixture of charisma and emotional truth in Hiddleston’s performance is very special indeed.”
American Psycho, 3.8-star average: Almeida to Feb 1 2014
This new musical adaptation also received mostly four-star ratings, if not everyone was convinced. Most enthusiastic, Michael Coveney declared: “This stunning high-concept musical with an uncompromising, insidious electronic score is one of the most original in recent years: creepy, beautiful, reverberative, hollow, sleek and disturbing.”
Henry Hitchings explained: “Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa has preserved the spirit of the novel… while cutting some of its more mind-bendingly unpleasant scenes” later admitting “it sometimes seems a little too slick”. Paul Taylor (Independent) also found it “short on visceral tension,” yet Matt Wolf (Arts Desk) experienced the violence as “a knockout blow” within what Andrzej Lukowski called Goold and Devlin’s “dazzlingly sterile Manhattan”.
Even Ian Shuttleworth, who judged the whole “vacuous”, appreciated “natty visuals and stylish performances” and Paul Taylor confirmed “the all-singing-and-dancing company perform the piece with terrific attack”.
All save Shuttleworth joined Michael Billington in praising Matt Smith’s “strange emotional vacancy and spiritual hollowness”. Hitchings called his Patrick Bateman “superb … an intriguing blend of nihilism, cold vanity and twisted charm”. Wolf judged it “a marvel, proffering an increasingly anxious and self-loathing narcissist” going on to approve the actor’s “somewhat off-kilter” singing as “perfect for Bateman’s own sidelong glance at the society he wants to send to the slaughterhouse”.
Amid a range of responses to Sheik’s new songs, Lukowski found they “vary in hummability, but they’re generally hilarious, characters with no soul singing trashy, narcissistic pop songs about their empty inner lives” while Taylor found them a “caustic antidote” to sentimental musicals.
The whole was welcomed as a “stylish shocker,” “darkly funny, outrageously entertaining” and “a deliciously mad rollercoaster.” Even Quentin Letts, who “loathed” the book, gave it four stars, pronouncing it “without doubt a theatrical event”. A West End transfer is predicted.