May’s best-reviewed new shows: The Father, Death of a Salesman and Bugsy Malone

Our three best reviewed new releases for this month are all modern classics, with a couple of powerful depictions of ageing and decline and an uplifting expression of youthful talent for light relief.

The Father – Tricycle Theatre, 4.8-star average

A five-star majority greeted this new French play which almost all reviewers called “devastating”. Daisy Bowie-Sell (Time Out) described “a beautifully crafted, if harshly upsetting piece.”

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) thought the text “crisply translated” and Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) found it “spare, elegant, and perfectly aligned” with a “watchful production”. Marianka Swain (Arts Desk) felt the play’s “stark, inescapable power” is that “we experience first-hand” the “cold horror” of dementia. She explained “Familiar faces shift into a succession of carers, while furniture moves and vanishes. As Andre loses his grasp on reality, so do we.”

Bowie-Sell enjoyed “excellent turns from the leads”, particularly “superb” Kenneth Cranham’s “heart-breakingly vulnerable” Andre. Hitchings detected “craggy charm” explaining “he slips into paranoia… lurching between moments of lucidity and painful bewilderment” as he’s “gradually robbed of his dignity”. Bowie-Sell said: “He jokes and smiles at his confusion, but there’s a fierceness in his eyes” as if “waiting for someone to deliver a punchline”. Coveney judged it “the performance of his life… natural, understated, clever and finally almost unbearably moving”.

Swain noted Andre’s “casual cruelty” toward daughter Anne and Hitchings said “Claire Skinner touchingly conveys her weary affection”.

Swain found “Miriam Buether’s increasingly minimalist set… a striking visual metaphor¬†for Andre’s loss: of everything, everyone, and finally himself”. Coveney described action “punctuated with the most astonishing black-outs …flashing up like photographic negatives, accompanied by fractured Bach keyboard music”.

Hitchings praised a “stunning play” achieving “an uncomfortably sharp sense of what it’s like inside the head of a character losing his grip on reality” and Bowie-Sell summed up “A brutal, truthful journey into some of life’s darkest places”.

Runs to 13 June

Death of a Salesman – Noel Coward Theatre, 4-star average

A four-star pro consensus greeted a play Fiona Mountford (Evening Standard) said “has a quiet magnificence” and “wounded, honest humanity”, praising the RSC for a “spot-on production” that “reminds us once more” of its “greatness”. Fisun Guner (Arts Desk) described a “fluid, dream-like structure” in which” Willy’s interior and exterior worlds collapse into each other”, and Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out)felt Gregory Doran’s “trad revival” made Miller’s “complicated mesh of psychodrama, memory play and still-pertinent social realism… all look effortless”, realising Willy Loman’s decline “with deft precision and a few sly flourishes – voices from the past…and a febrile live jazz score that grows more intense as Willy becomes more adrift”.

Guner reported “stunning central performances” which Theo Bosanquet (What’s on Stage) found “note-perfect”. Lukowski praised Anthony Sher’s “splendid performance” describing “a distracting mumble, a constant low-pitched whine that jars the nerves” until “it becomes apparent that this little man is, in his own way, a force of nature” with “a strange, tragic charisma that’s allowed his mess of a life to continue to move forward on fumes alone”. ¬†Mountford said Sher “beautifully outlines” Willy’s “foolish grandiosity” and Bosanquet described “a master of physicality” portraying “a wounded animal”.

Lukowski found Harriet Walter “reliably brilliant – tired, human, compassionate”. Guner, who judged her “pitch perfect”, felt “Linda is the play’s emotionally still centre” and Walter makes the role “larger than it appears on the page”.

Mountford said Alex Hassell’s Biff “swaggers before hunching into himself with despair”, Lukowski described a “magnetically pitiful… shattered alpha male twisted with self-loathing” and Bosanquet praised a “highly-wrought performance… counterbalanced” by “the admirably understated Sam Marks” as Happy.

Lukowski described Miller’s “greatest and trickiest play, done just right”. Bosanquet enjoyed a “faithful and quietly epic production” of “a tragedy that will echo down the ages” and Mountford praised “Superb drama”.

Runs to 18 July

Bugsy Malone – Lyric Hammersmith, 4.1-star average

The production that relaunched the Lyric received four stars from most pro reviewers. Patrick Marmion (Daily Mail) described “a terrific, zestful staging” of what Mark Shenton (Stage) called this “knowing yet constantly affectionate portrait of Chicago gangster turf warfare” and others judged it “joyous”, “punchy”, “feisty and subtle” “entirely winning” and “a blast”.

Andrzej Lukowski praised director Sean Holmes’s “ruthless lack of sentiment” and “gift for metatheatrical schtick”, concluding “his Bugsy is aware of its underlying absurdity, yet also played with a gleefully straight bat”.

Praising “uncluttered” design, Shenton said choreographer McOnie “populates the stage” with “kinetic movement” of “seamless clarity and sublime co-ordination”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) reported “terrific” dancing combining “juvenile exuberance” and “drilled professionalism”.

Neil Norman (Express) enjoyed “witty one-liners” and songs marrying “sophisticated lyrics with memorable tunes”. Cavendish observed that, while the movie’s stars lip-synched, these performers “carry the whole kit and caboodle” lending it “crucial emotional substance”.

Cavendish thought the cast “the peak of razzmatazz perfection”, praising “American accents, deadpan attitudes, dance-steps and vocal strength” delivered “with knock-out force” and reporting youngsters “radiating mischief, personality and talent”. Lukowski was among those acknowledging “a couple of am dram wobbles” but thought Samantha Allison “a terrific actor” and felt Thea Lamb “surely has a big singing career ahead of her”. Shenton called Daniel Purves “a pocket-sized dynamo, fresh, funny and fabulous” and thought Max Gill “owns this stage”. Jamila Ajadi “melted” Marmion’s heart and Cavendish concluded “they’re all champs”.

Marmion thought the show “a real shot in the arm” for the Lyric, “up there with Matilda and Billy Elliot”. Lukowski praised a “glorious, glorious finale” and Cavendish judged the whole “something very special indeed”.

Runs to 5 Sept

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