24 June 2011: Luise Miller, Realism, Emporer and Galilean

Weekly review roundup: 17-24 June 2011
The best-reviewed new show of the week: Luise Miller

With six four-star reviews and two five-stars, this nudged out Realism (below) as this week’s top winner. Frederick Schiller’s Romeo-and-Juliet-meets-Machievelli-in-Germany, about an ill-fated romance between a violinist’s daughter and a politician’s son, impressed all reviewers with its performances and its staging, although some found the script too melodramatic by the end. Caroline McGinn of Time Out seemed to revel in almost every aspect of “Mike Poulton’s electrifying new version,” including “gorgeous, richly cynical scenes of court politicking”, Felicity Jones as a “steel rose” as the title character, “breathtakingly good” performances by Ben Daniels and John Light, and David Dawson’s “equally superb” turn as a “camp courtier”. She was equally thrilled with Paula Constable’s lighting (and not the only reviewer to mention it positively) asserting that nine years at the Donmar “have taught departing director Michael Grandage and his design team to play this intimate building like the fine instrument it is.” Even if Schiller’s script has “youthful flaws,” Grandage and his team “leave you chastened, moved and profoundly impressed.” Michael Billington of The Guardian observed the same strengths and weaknesses but felt a different net impact, noting that “though the acting and production carry a tremendous visceral charge, they cannot disguise the fact that the 24-year-old Schiller was still learning his craft.” What begins as a study of class conflict “ends in contrived disaster,” albeit one where the staging is “magnificent” and “the acting, as always at this address, is richly textured.” “Even if Schiller’s play finally lapses into melodrama,” he concludes, “it is hard to imagine it being better done.” Runs to 30 July

See the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/27

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The close runner-up for best (or another show you should know about): Realism (Soho Theatre)With the same average score as Luise Miller (4.25 stars), only the fact that fewer reviewers saw Realism kept out of the top spot, because the text of the reviews was almost universally over-the-top positive. Dominic Maxwell of The Times said that “If Waiting for Godot is a play in which, as one critic had it, ‘nothing happens, twice’, Realism is a play in which nothing happens, spectacularly.” Anthony Neilson’s comedy, in which a man doing not much of anything in his flat on a Saturday morning sees his subconscious thoughts come to life around him, “is wildly inventive, always entertaining, and ultimately rather moving too.” Fiona Mountford of the Evening Standard sees Realism as a “heartening” event, boding well for the arrival of the Soho’s new artistic director Steve Marmion. With a new late night license and multiple stages, the redone Soho “has a pleasing buzz about it, and if Marmion’s zippy opening production in the main house is anything to go by, there’s going to be some punchy new writing to savour.” Lyn Gardner, the Guardian’s critic whose average review in our database is 2.9 stars, gives four stars to Neilson’s “surprisingly moving musings on mundanity,” and Brian Logan of Time Out wheels out his full five stars, pronouncing the experience “a wild cavalcade of fantasies, memories and imaginative non-sequiturs” and finding it “absurd, outrageous and tender.” Runs to 9 July

See the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/144

The clunker of the week (a word to the wise): Emperor and Galilean (National Theatre)This signal production was widely reviewed, but managed to gather only an average review score of a flat three stars, which is hard to do among London’s sometimes-too-forgiving review corps. Charles Spencer of the Telegraph was certainly not in the mood, saying that despite “lavish designs and an epic cast,” the show is “an almost unendurable bore.” The story is of Emperor Julian of Constantinople who, in the 4th century AD, struggled to reconcile his Christian teachings with his pagan leanings. Despite its originally being written by Henrik Ibsen for the Barbican, the play has never been staged in the UK, perhaps because it runs about eight hours as written on the page. Adapting it for the National, Ben Power has cut it to less than half that, but despite the play’s aspiration to address “great themes – faith, power, free-will and predestination among them”, says Spencer, it “has almost nothing of interest to say about any of them.” Ian Shuttleworth of the FT suggests the play “resembles [Ibsen’s] Peer Gynt without the levity,” and that “like Peer Gynt, it was written to be read rather than staged”. He was more open to the play’s existence, but only barely, admitting in the end that he was “glad to have seen this play, but rather less glad to have spent three and a half hours seeing it.” Patrick Marmion of the Daily Mail was most up for it, terming Power’s excision of two thirds of the text “a strident distillation” which results in “an extraordinary procession of poker-faced melodrama of stadium proportions.” Runs to 31 July

See the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/552

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