17 June 2011: London Road, Chicken Soup With Barley, American Trade

Weekly review roundup: 10-17 June

The best-reviewed new show of the week: Chicken Soup with Barley (Royal Court).

The best-reviewed new show of the week: Of our 18 reviewers, ten reviewed it and all gave it a solid four stars, and Michael Billington of the Guardian gave it the full five. The play, which traces two decades of an East End family’s disillusionment with Communism, “reminds us of Wesker’s rare gift for generating strong emotion while encompassing big ideas”, said Billington. Caroline McGinn of Time Out praised several of the performances while noting that the while allegory could get in the way of characterisation, “it’s the analysis which is Wesker’s great weakness and strength.” Sarah Hemming of the FT agreed, noting that while “it is pretty stiff in places and the political points often elbow their way into conversation, it has a deep vein of humanity running through it. Dominic Cooke’s authentic revival, on meticulous sets by theatre designer Ultz, draws this out and is driven by some tremendous performances.”

See the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/121

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The close runner-up for best (or another show you should know about): London Road (National Theatre)

This very well-reviewed show had been due to close this month, but has now been extended to August 27th, meaning those who were shut out by its very quick sellout now have another shot. In his five-star review, Andrzej Lukowski of Time Out praised the “raw humanity captured in music” by the “outstanding” ensemble, who conjure a “vivid, bustling world.” The “real brilliance” of the show, however, was the presence of a bit of darkness in some of the characters, and in the group as a whole: “something very new for the musical form, a powerful, beautiful and unsettling articulation of the ambivalence that underpins all communities.” Although there are actors, a script, a set, and songs, Lukowski said, “this is as far away from chorus lines and jazz hands as it gets.” Although the show has more five-star reviews than any other in our database, Libby Purves of the Times didn’t see it that way: in giving it three stars, she called it “Clever, absorbing, artistic. And nasty,” allowing that she “hated it! I know Ipswich” she said, and she felt that the town she knew was being condescended to by “a suave South Bank audience laughing at real ordinary people’s remarks”.

See the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/73

The clunker of the week (a word to the wise): American Trade (Hampstead Theatre)

This garnered rare two-star reviews from three of our pro reviewers, and a one-star from Charles Spencer in the Telegraph, who said that the show was like watching your maiden aunt try to act cool: “you cringe, cover your eyes and long for it to stop. But for 90 minutes that feel like several hundred, the show goes on and on and on.” In trying to show that the RSC is “down with the kids”, the show “has a cartoon-like quality that makes the Carry On films seem like something by Chekhov, is almost spookily unfunny, and the cast give over-the-top performances of palpable desperation.” Henry Hitchings at the Evening Standard was more measured, saying “[Director Jamie] Lloyd, making his RSC debut, oversees a strident, colourful and overemphatic production” where “the drama suffers from a lack of bite, and there’s never the lightness of touch needed to vitalise its farcical elements.” Only Paul Taylor of the Independent had more patience for Lloyd’s “wonderfully frenetic, day-glo production, with a crack cast whizzing around on wheeled chairs”, saying “[Writer Tarell Alvin] McCraney’s hilarious modern London…is the work of a sharp-eyed outsider who has turned the sordid truth into a sunny, scabrous cartoon that yammers with chutzpah and cheeky resilience.”

See the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/50

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