StageScan Pick: The Convert

The Convert at the Gate Theatre received 4-star average pro reviews. Alice Saville (Time Out) hailed Danai Gurira’s “astonishing” play. Natasha Tripney (The Stage) observed “a twisted reworking of Pygmalion” as “A man reshapes a young girl, putting words in her mouth and ideas in her head” within a “richly written play about the complexities of colonialism and impact of the Church on African identity”. Matt Trueman (What’s On Stage) found “viewing colonialism through the prism of Christianity… instructive” and praised its “keen consideration of cultural change”.

Tripney observed “a linguistic richness to the writing” and Saville, who thought it “brilliantly textured” found her “meticulously researched use of mangled Queen’s English or animist rituals” felt “natural, not exoticised or laughable”. Tripney admired the way it “never feels like a lesson.” Saville, noting that Gurira “never shows us the white settlers,” admired “its skill” in nevertheless “showing us how seamlessly their cultural norms impose themselves”.

Trueman found Christopher Haydon’s production “exerts a quiet power as it starts to grip,” Saville found the whole “lip-chewingly tense” and Tripney hailed his “striking and memorable directorial swansong” at the Gate. Trueman praised the set: “A concrete floor that, once in place, changes the landscape for good and, behind it, a mound of displaced earth”.

Most felt the main strength of the piece was its characters. Tripney found “all vividly drawn” and Trueman hailed “fine, focused performances”. Tripney thought Jekesai “wonderfully rich… a symbol of a people pulled asunder but also a rounded human being” and the last image of her “incredibly powerful”. She found Mimi Ndiweni “a radiant presence” who “seems to grow in stature and strength as the play progresses” and Saville praised a “lively, nuanced” performance.

Saville also highlighted Joan Iyiola’s “wonderfully funny, sharp” Prudence and Tripney found her “fascinating… a proud, poised woman, independent of mind” whose despair at Jakesai’s passivity is “haunting to watch”.  Trueman said Stefan Adegbola “corsets himself with courtly manners and Christian ways” as Chilford, and felt Michael Ajao “conveys the anguish of a rebel as jealous as he is righteous,” hailing “strong support” generally.

Saville was “left a bit breathless, a bit startled, a bit in awe at how one play can hold so many contradictions in balance” as Gurira “clears the way for faith (of any kind) to be a guiding light through, as well as the cause of, all this mess”. Tripney summed up an “impressive and ambitious piece of writing” which “continually avoids moral simplification” and “deals with its subject with delicacy, intelligence and nuance”.

Runs to 11 Feb 2017, with some tickets still available from the Gate.
We also have tickets for some previous StageScan Picks including This House, School of Rock and the transfer of Travesties.

 

 

 

StageScan Pick: BU21

BU21 has received a solid four-star reception from pro critics on transferring to Trafalgar Studios (after a 4.5-star premiere at Theatre503). Among the new reviewers, Paul Taylor (The Independent) hailed Stuart Slade’s “wily, bracing play” which “explores how six millennials are affected by a terrorist outrage”. Andrzej Lukowski (Time Out) found it “smart, cynical” as it it examines “its characters’ flaws and their ability to squander the basic nobility afforded by surviving a terrible tragedy”. Fiona Mountford (Evening Standard) acknowledged “the glummest set-up” but found “six close-up, compelling and often blackly comic stories”. She hailed its “refreshing… unpretentious humanity” and “quiet insistence that the life instinct in us is ferociously strong”.

Michael Billington (The Guardian) thought it “extraordinary” and saw it suggest that, in a city “full of deep divisions of class, income and religion… any external threat fosters a bogus solidarity.” Lukowski  said it “homes in on these people’s lives – and doesn’t like what it sees”. Billington particularly admired it for being “unafraid to provoke wild laughter in the face of death” and Taylor reported “calculated audacity” although found the whole “occasionally.. too relentlessly self-aware”.  He found “amoral Alex… teasingly complicit with what he regards as the audience’s voyeurism” and Billington thought this character’s asides to the audience add “zest and brio”.  Lukowski agreed the play “threatens to overplay its provocations” but thought it saved by “a bristling, pugilistic hunger, a raucous sense of humour and a refusal to be satisfied with itself”.

Mountford praised Dan Pick’s “fluid production” and Taylor found it “tonally adroit” balancing “cynical knowingness with finely captured feeling”. Billington found the set’s “plastic chairs and strip lighting” reinforced “the feeling that we are watching an authentic group confessional”.

Taylor thought it “excellently acted” and Mountford praised “six fine performances that tread the tonal tightrope impeccably”. Billington saw them all “highlight the way crisis breeds a strange mix of selfishness, grief, resilience and opportunism”. Taylor saw Alex “played with reprehensible charm” by Alexander Forsyth and thought Graham O’Mara “spot-on… welling sentiment that queasily conjoins London pride and unreconstructed racism”. He found Roxana Lupu ”exudes quiet moral authority as the horribly burned Ana”. Mountford highlighted Florence Roberts for a performance with “an unmistakable sprinkle of stardust”.

Billington admired “a play that questions our assumptions about collective heroism and makes fascinating drama out of personal trauma”. Mountford summed up “an accomplished piece”, “constantly sparky” that “delights in surprising and wrong-footing us”. Lukowski, suggesting it’s “clear that Slade loves his characters: shits that they are, he makes us understand them all”, hailed “a genuinely fascinating new voice”. Taylor reported “disarming frankness” to “take your breath away with the depth of its moral challenge” and “candour” which “can make you gasp with uneasy laughter” concluding: “Strongly recommended”.

Runs to 18 Feb 2017 with some tickets still available from ATG.

And for more fine contemporary writing brilliantly executed, there’s still time to catch 4.5* This House, or why not try Don Juan in Soho?

 

 

StageScan Pick: She Loves Me

She Loves Me at Menier Chocolate Factory received an average 4.5 stars from critics, including seven fives. Fiona Mountford (Evening Standard) welcomed “this playful and delightful 1963 musical”. Mark Shenton (The Stage) described a “masterpiece” and Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) enjoyed “a gentle heart, an acerbically witty script and a view of romance that is always warm but never sentimental” plus “brilliant songs” and thought it “fantastically modern in the way it uses song to reveal character”. Libby Purves (TheatreCat) hailed “soaring melodies and fabulously witty lyrics” and Crompton enjoyed “the finesse and bite” of Sheldon Harnick’s lyrics and the “playfulness” of Jerry Bock’s score.

Crompton thought this “jewel… perfectly served” by Matthew White’s “delicate revival” praising its “fine-tuning”. Shenton felt “ingeniously” using British accents made it “more relatable” and hailed “the sweetest-looking and sounding production in town”. Mountford, who found it “charming,” saw an “elegant, intimate, ordered world… impeccably conjured”. Shenton enjoyed the set’s “effortless resourcefulness” and Purves thought it “ravishingly pretty” describing “gilt, roses, grapes, lovebirds, shining bottles and barocco curlicues”. Crompton praised choreography which “fills the tiny space with great flair” and Purves praised Rebecca Howell’s “sharp wit” highlighting a “chokingly funny” café bust-up. She felt lyricist Harnick, in the audience, “justifiably” called it “the best production of it he’s ever seen”.

Crompton enjoyed “simply delicious” performances, and Shenton reported “exactly the right blend of sincerity and feeling”.  Mountford thought Scarlett Strallen and Mark Umbers “beautifully cast as the sweet-voiced pair”. Purves found Umbers’ Georg, “just dislikeable enough at first” and Crompton described “a man unsure of his position in the world yet trying to hide his doubts” and said: “Watching him thaw is a joy.” Purves judged Strallen “perfection, all comic sincerity and vulnerable spirit”. Crompton enjoyed her “wide-eyed, ditzy dreamer, with a fierce line in crushing put downs” and found her “constant hopefulness… genuinely touching” and her rendition of the “showstopping” Vanilla Ice Cream “an absolute joy”.

Mountford hailed “terrific” Katherine Kingsley’s “winning way with the mordant one-liner” and Crompton found her “hysterical”.  Purves called Les Dennis “poignantly likeable, gently funny” and Shenton found him “heartbreaking”. Purves said “all the roles are taken perfectly”, and “all in turn stop the show” and Crompton judged even Cory English’s brief appearance “a masterpiece of comic timing”.

Shenton thought “no show has been more exquisitely and perfectly realised” at the Menier, finding it “scintillating and delightful”. Purves found it “camp but sincere, mischievous and intelligent, light as air with a fluttering heart and a Christmassy conclusion” and “really, really funny… the tonic for the moment”. Mountford was among those thinking it “surely bound for a West End transfer” and Crompton described “the kind of show you can watch at any time of year and emerge feeling goodwill to all men… Utterly heavenly”.

Currently booking to 05 Mar 2017, with some tickets still available from the Menier box office, although it’s probably best not to hang about. And if it’s put you in the mood for more seasonal treats, we have tickets for the Palladium’s star-studded Cinderella, the return of Potted Panto, brand new Nativity! The Musical and our latest festive tradition, Peter Pan Goes Wrong.

Have a great Christmas!

 

StageScan Pick: This House

 

This House at the Garrick Theatre attracted an average 4.5 stars from pro reviewers, with seven awarding fives.

Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) fairly typically felt James Graham’s 2012 play had lost neither its “exuberant impact –or its sobering pertinence”, and said his “talent is to conjure high drama, raucous comedy and deep emotion from the most unlikely of places”. Fiona Mountford (Evening Standard) declared this “magnificently sharp and witty look at the struggles of the 1974-9 Labour government… masterful all over again”. Patrick Marmion (Daily Mail) hailed “a play of astonishing, virtuoso complexity which is also a crash course in the workings of Parliament” and found “the hilarious horse trading tempers what was a brutal time in British politics”. Despite what Theo Bosanquet (Time Out) called “a starkly changed political climate” he felt “it serves as a reminder of the perennial challenges of democracy itself” adding: “For all the apparent dryness of its subject, the play is rich in humour and sentiment”.

Crompton thought it “beautifully served” by Jeremy Herrin’s “realistic” and “bold” production which, she said, “still walks, with real brilliance, a perilous tightrope… constantly balancing the nitty gritty facts of the time with the relevance for our own”. Mountford had seen “no better direction” of the play, reporting: “Herrin conducts, choreographs and makes fly material that could potentially, in lesser hands, be tough-going” so that, “the action whirls around the stage”.  Others found it “tumultuous”, “ebullient” or “thrilling” and Marmion saw “never a dull moment”.

Crompton praised Nathanial Parker’s “grace” and Bosanquet judged him “excellent”. Both had equal praise for Steffan Rhodri, whom Marmion thought “terrific”.  He also called Phil Daniels “outstanding”, praising a “Shakespearean range of industrial expletives”, and Mountford enjoyed this “rollicking” performance. She found Christopher Godwin “quietly moving” and Lauren O’Neil “great fun”. Crompton judged O’Neil, along with Kevin Doyle and Malcolm Sinclair “all pitch perfect”. Bosanquet described “truly an ensemble effort without a weak link in sight”.

Marmion found it “even at second viewing… terrific sport” and Crompton found “three hours and almost five years fly by in a moment”.  She summed up “a remarkable achievement for all concerned” which, Bosanquet felt, “has captured an enduring dilemma of politics; the tension between principle and practice”. Mountford, declaring “a landslide success” found it “unstoppably riveting” musing “Whoever would have thought that the intricacies of a minority government struggling to pass a series of bills would have been so engrossing?” She summed up: “Both a treat and a triumph… a superlative night out.”

Currently booking to 25 Feb 2017, with tickets available from StageScan.

For more proof that Christmas has come early this year even for panto-sceptics, don’t miss Buried Child or Dead Funny, If you fancy some ‘bleak midwinter’ spookiness, check our ticket offers for The Woman in Black. Or to lift the family’s spirits, we recommend School of Rock or Half a Sixpence.

Have a great holiday, and see you in 2017.

StageScan Pick: School of Rock

Andrew Lloyd Webber’s School of Rock arrived at the New London Theatre to an average 4.3 stars from critics. Libby Purves (TheatreCat) described “a lovely fantasy… a heartfelt plea for freedom, creativity and musicality”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) felt the musical “improved on this vaguely preposterous but resonant fairytale” and saw it land “with an almighty kerrang of confidence”, detecting “the same magic” that made it a Broadway hit.

He found Julian Fellowes’s book “cleaves closely to the celluloid storyline” but with “valuable… fine-tuning” so that it now “powers along at an energetic, adrenal lick”. Henry Hitchings (ES) found it “warmly amusing” and Purves “witty”. While Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) found some scenarios “corny” he enjoyed its “delicious” teasing of “uptight parents”.

Purves, hailing a “fresh British cast” judged David Fynn as Dewey “a find” enjoying an “enchanting evocation of a slobbish enthusiast… abashed and cunning, reckless and feckless and rock ’n roll” so that “Your whole heart, willing or not, goes out to him”. Hitchings, admitting “He may not have an outstanding voice,” praised “irrepressible energy” and Cavendish thought him “terrific… chaotic-charismatic,” adding, “Everyone plays their part to perfection”.

Purves noted that Lloyd-Webber and Glenn Slater’s songs are “entirely new” with some “good musical jokes” and found them “more satisfyingly woven into the developing story” than the “rock standards” used in the film. Cavendish described “an album’s worth… busting with rare freshness and vitality”. Hitchings enjoyed the “knowing cleverness” of Slater’s lyrics and a score, “buoyant and bassy, with moments of guitar-shredding frenzy and a keen ear for pastiche”.

While he thought early scenes “a little flat”, he found Laurence Connor’s production “roars into life the moment the students start to fall under Dewey’s spell”. Cavendish found “What was funny becomes doubly so” and praised “tightly drilled, pencil-sharp choreography”.

Purves described “a rabble of underage whoopers, ten-year-old guitarists and mini rock-gods… the wildest bunch of swirling, stamping, joyful muppets on a London stage since Matilda.” She detected “serious” musical “talent” and found their characterisation “neat and good-humoured”. Hitchings saw the young cast “radiating feisty attitude without appearing obnoxious” and Letts enjoyed “their sheer delight in rocking”.

He found the show “ear-splitting and rib-tickling… terrific fun”. Hitchings described a “fresh and charming… loud and cheeky… big-hearted, family-friendly show” enjoying its “anarchic wildness” and “exuberant silliness”. Purves found it “irresistible, feel-very-good-indeed… light, joyful, touching, youthful and musically inventive… Lovely, altogether,” predicting “a stonking hit”.

Currently booking to 12 Feb 2017, with tickets available from StageScan. We also have tickets for other shows in our StageScan Top Ten, including bittersweet farce Dead Funny, and full-on feelgood fun musicals Half a Sixpence and Showstopper! And we’ve just secured tickets for some exciting new plays including the Park theatre’s new season.

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StageScan Pick: Amadeus

Amadeus at the National Theatre received a 4.3-star average from pro reviewers, with five awarding full marks. Libby Purves (TheatreCat) praised Peter Shaffer’s “extraordinary imagining” in which, Paul Taylor (Independent) explained, “dying Salieri, court composer to Joseph II of Austria, relives through extended flashbacks the story of his envy of Mozart”. Natasha Tripney (The Stage) hailed a “feast of a play”.
Taylor enjoyed Michael Longhurst’s “thrillingly fresh and imaginative revival” and Tripney felt he “captures the glory of Shaffer’s writing, its wit and agility, its intellectual richness, its impishness”. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) praised a “note-perfect” production “which fully confirms its classic status”.  Tripney described costumes that “pop with colour” and “gleefully anachronistic” dance scenes, and Purves agreed “the play gets everything it needs for perfection and awe… stupendous”.
She thought Lucian Msamati’s Salieri “the performance of a lifetime (even for him)” as he “seethes, struts, writhes and falls like Satan himself, never loosening his grip on the pain. Or on us.” Cavendish enjoyed “dead-pan straightforwardness and sly bitter joviality”, Tripney found “his anguish… palpable”  and Taylor thought him “superb”.
Tripney found a “suitably huge” performance from Adam Gillen, “grotesque yet compellingly so” and Purves reported “unsettling energy” in a “famously daunting part” before he “draws out the vulnerability… with particular finesse”. Cavendish felt “Less, actually, would be more” but admitted “he wrests sympathy for this gifted misfit” and Taylor found the “sudden glimpses of sensitivity… moving”.
Cavendish found “most striking” the use of live onstage musicians so that “we hear the excerpts of Mozart’s masterpieces in gorgeous splendor” along with “a flow of incidental (and often wryly pointed) accompaniment” to the action. Tripney saw them “brilliantly integrated into the world of the play” and Taylor found “the anti-hero’s conscious awareness of posterity” built on “in ways that brilliantly amplify our sense of what he went through” including musicians forming “a chorus that comments on the action in wheezing anachronistic discords or in clambering mime”. Purves described “one terrifying moment” where they “slide triumphantly downstage towards the sobbing, retching Salieri, their celestial harmonies and glowing brass and varnish nearly running him off the edge.” She though the soloists “marvels”, highlighting Fleur de Bray.
Tripney summed up a production “for all its playful, punkish energy… capable of tenderness and profundity” and hailed a “genuinely celebratory” revival, “both vulgar and divine”. Taylor felt Longhurst “has let the air of today into Amadeus in bravura fashion” declaring it “triumphant”.  Cavendish, who found it “seems faintly to rush by” aired a popular sentiment, the “big sadness” that Shaffer, who died in June, had missed this production, adding, “I feel sure he’d have approved.”  Purves described “one of those landmark, memorable five-star opening nights” concluding “It’s wonderful.”

Runs to 31 Dec 2016, but is now completely sold out, so check the National’s box office for returns or look out for the ‘NT Live’ version at a cinema near you. We do still have tickets for some other revivals of twentieth-century classics, including The Entertainer, The Libertine, The Dresser and Art.

StageScan Pick: One Night in Miami

One Night in Miami at the Donmar Warehouse scored an average 4 stars from pro reviewers.  Libby Purves (TheatreCat) gave it five, finding this play, set at “a key moment in America’s struggle towards racial justice… startling, powerful” and “moving”.

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) praised Sope Dirisu’s “athletic” Cassius Clay and Purves saw him “scampering, dancing… merrily bumptious”. Daisy Bowie-Sell (What’s On Stage), admitting the character “feels underwritten” nevertheless enjoyed “beautiful, believable, vibrant and naïve energy”.

Purves praised Arinzé Kene’s “conflicted, angry… creative” Sam Cooke, Hitchings detecting “hidden depths” while Bowie-Sell thought him “superb”. She described “a voice that channels the old master uncannily” and Michael Billington (Guardian) heard him sing “with real joy”. Purves hailed show-stopping of “startling brilliance” including “a tremendous a capella rendering” of A Change is Gonna Come.

Billington saw Francois Battiste “subtly” capture Malcolm X’s “mix of assertive self-righteousness and fear for his future”. Bowie-Sell found “palpable conflict” in his “very strong depiction”. Hitchings admired “angry clarity” and Purves found the performance “striking, contained” and finally “moving” .

Bowie-Sell thought David Ajala’s “wise and likeable everyman” Jim Brown “great” and others found him “solid, thoughtful” and “impressive”. Billington saw it “outstandingly acted”, with Bowie-Sell judging all four “uniformly excellent” in “meaty roles” declaring it “worth seeing… for their performances alone”.

Hitchings acknowledged “a risk of their seeming simply to be mouthpieces” but Bowie-Sell described a “kind of boxing match” between Malcolm X and Sam Cooke in which Kemp Powers’ “funny, agile dialogue keeps things moving”. Billington detected “obvious dramatic weaknesses”, most typically that Powers “never fully develops the character” of Clay. He thought it “heavily” relaint on “retrospective irony”, although Bowie-Sell felt this created “several witty moments”.

Purves saw it “directed with heart” while Bowie-Sell found Kwame Kwei-Armah’s “taut” direction manages to “keep the thread of argument dynamic” and Hitchings praised his sensitivity. Purves saw the four “leap, joke and fight, lithe as panthers” as their “laddishness and earnest idealism, thoughtless energy and political extremism clash and mix”.

Bowie-Sell described “a fascinating portrait of four fascinating men” and Billington found it “stirring to hear the path to racial progress… argued with such passion and presented with such fervour”. Hitchings hailed “soulful”, and “sharply topical” writing which “packs a substantial punch”. Purves said it “throbs with life and soul and the complexity of the road to justice” judging the whole “Terrific”.

Runs to 3 Dec 2016, with tickets still available from the Donmar box office. And for more superlatively acted inter-male dynamics, why not also check out No Man’s Land, or The Dresser?

StageScan Pick: Travesties

The pro critics gave Travesties at Menier Chocolate Factory an average 4.3 stars, with four awarding five. Sarah Crompton (What’s On Stage) hailed Tom Stoppard’s “thrilling mix of fact and fiction” in which, Kate Kellaway (Observer) explained, “forgetful nonentity Henry Carr, a former British consul… swanks about having known James Joyce, Lenin and Dadaist artist Tristan Tzara”. Dominic Cavendish (The Telegraph) hailed a “cryptic-crossword of a modern classic” in which “the erratic Carr mind becomes a postmodern playground”. He described “high-wire feats of linguistic daring” including “an entire scene in the limerick form… exchanges in Russian, outbreaks of nonsense, a super-abundance of allusions, word-play and parodies” and “a running pastiche of The Importance of Being Earnest”. Crompton enjoyed “Wildean aphorisms” and “really good – and often quite silly – jokes”. Kellaway described “a literary Babel… with no plot and no brakes” and Cavendish admitted: “In lesser hands, such overload could be insufferable”.

Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) agreed, but found Patrick Marber “really makes it work… it rattles along”. Cavendish said: “The artifice is fleet, funny and hooks you in even as you pant to keep up.” Crompton heard “the emotional notes sound deep beneath the frenetic farce” and Kellaway detected “the sense of a playwright intoxicated by his own brilliance” in a production both found “scintillating”.

In a cast variously called “spry”, “excellent”, “first-rate” or “top-notch”, Cavendish observed “the finesse of accomplished farceurs”. He saw Tom Hollander play Carr “to the comic hilt, absent of gaze, laughably conscious of couture, almost the philistine-fool”, yet eventually reveal “a Great War survivor struggling to assert some semblance of belief in order in the face of engulfing meaninglessness”. Crompton found him “superb… bemused and charming” yet betraying “melancholy terror” and Kellaway found the performance “sensational… compulsively watchable”.

Cavendish said Freddie Fox “shines as the insolent Tzara” and Kellaway found the performance “dapper” and “gloriously over-the-top”. She praised Peter McDonald’s “comically understated” James Joyce, and Cavendish thought him “spot-on”. Letts found Clare Foster “particularly comical” and Kellaway enjoyed her “rivalrous tea for two” with Amy Morgan.

She found this “impeccably constructed – or deconstructed – literary romp… teeming with playful ideas… a tonic from start to finish”. Crompton found “the crackling intelligence… infectious” and summed up “a moment to treasure… like vintage champagne, rich and effervescent… with a mellow, lingering aftertaste”. Letts reported “a cracker” and Cavendish echoed many in suggesting “anything less” than “a West End transfer… would be a travesty.”

We now have tickets for the much-predicted West End transfer, so visit StageScan now to make sure you don’t miss out.

StageScan Pick: No Man’s Land

The return of No Man’s Land to Wyndham’s Theatre achieved full marks from four of the pro critics. Mark Shenton (The Stage) felt Sean Mathias’ “darkly calibrated” production “presents“ Harold Pinter’s “eternally cryptic and mysterious” 1975 play “as it is”. He observed “Beckettian echoes” plus “an inevitable power struggle” in an “alternately icily restrained and ferocious account of human beings hurtling towards the void”. Marianka Swain (Arts Desk) hailed an “elusive and haunting… absurdist work” staged with “primal power” and “exquisite physical precision” in a “wonderfully witty” production “alert to Pinter’s skewering of social codes, conversational tics, performative masculinity and studied national identity”.

Paul Taylor (Independent) saw Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen “both at the top of their game” and Shenton found Stewart’s “deadly, controlled courtesy… superbly offset by the more shambling” McKellen, judging them “extraordinary” as “they convey a sense of isolation and containment” yet “find plenty of humour”. Swain said “The whole quartet, but particularly the two knights, excel”, observing “a poetic strain of philosophy in their reading”.

Taylor hailed Stewart’s “great presence” as “a splendidly disconcerting” Hirst, “ranging between imperiousness and terrified bewilderment”, and praised “his prowess at conveying the alarming memory lapses and switches of tack of the alcoholic mind”. Swain saw him, increasingly drunk, swap “taciturn resignation for raging against his frailty” while still able to “smoothly assume the part of the erudite patrician”.

Taylor described McKellen’s “hilariously tragicomic… wonderfully unsentimentalised” Spooner, observing “a predatory edge to his obsequiousness” and a “lovely disjunction” between “pretentious literariness” and “constant opportunistic cunning”. Swain found him “believable in every guise” as he “always keeps one eye on the bottle”.

She praised “superb support” from Owen Teale and Damien Molony and Shenton saw them “bring the required sense of menace to the servants”. Taylor thought “insolent possessiveness and vaguely homoerotic complicity… excellently communicated”.

He also praised “fine design” while Swain described “period-perfect but funereal interiors… eerily juxtaposed” with projections of “whispering trees conjuring dark fairy tales” and “restrained yet chilling” sound design.

Shenton summed up “a stylish and spellbinding production” which, Taylor found, “manages to be the funniest account of the play I have seen without underselling its scariness, mystery or bleak vision”. Swain described “a ghost story… suffused with melancholy” in “a production showcasing a superlative pair of actors that will long echo in the mind” and was among those declaring it: “Unmissable”.

Runs to 17 Dec 2016, with some tickets still available from the Wyndham’s box office.  And if this has inspired you to seek out other fine, seasoned British actors in classic roles, check out Branagh’s The Entertainer, Ken Stott in The Dresser or Griff Rhys Jones as The Miser, or there’s still time to catch Chichester’s superlative ensemble in the five-star Young Chekhov season.

StageScan Pick: Jess and Joe Forever

Jess and Joe Forever at the Orange Tree has received a four-star majority from the pros. Henry Hitchings (ES) saw an “unfolding relationship… over several summers in rural Norfolk” starting in “sprightly innocence”. Tim Bano (The Stage) felt playwright Zoe Cooper “captures… the trauma of adolescence… with pinpoint precision”.  Matt Trueman (What’s On Stage) found the play “cleverly ushers us into assumptions” only to “slowly stir in complexities”. Aleks Sierz (Arts Desk) saw it play “delightful tricks with our expectations” to “joyous and highly emotional” effect, and felt its “theatrical form… raises this small story to sublime heights” explaining: “As Joe and Jess tell the story… they comment on it and each other, involving the audience”. He described a “comedy of manners” providing “a lot of laughs” before “dark shadows begin to fall” and “its ability to move us just grows and grows”.

Bano praised a “messy, playful” and “self conscious” production, “perfectly underscoring the self consciousness of adolescence”. Hitchings saw Derek Bond’s “sensitive direction” capture Cooper’s “unusual mix of earthy truth and lightness” and Trueman saw her “concerted naivety… cannily matched” in the “clunkiness” of a “DIY production” which “presents a child’s eye view”. Sierz found it “very funny… quietly intense.”

Sierz thought the two actors “perfectly cast… convincing at every age they play” until they “blossom” in a “wondrous transformation scene”. Bano found them “hugely endearing… capturing tween awkwardness perfectly”. Hitchings saw Nicola Coughlan bring “perky verve” to Jess as she “hints effectively at the story’s buried magic”. Sierz found her “precocious utterances…a real joy” and Bano hailed “strong comic presence”. Hitchings said Rhys Isaac-Jones “imbues Joe with an engaging earnestness” and Sierz found him “awkward, subjective and sincere”. Hitchings thought both “just as adept at portraying minor characters”.

Sierz described a “hugely enjoyable romcom… quirky, funny, moving and theatrically thrilling”. Bano said it “like its characters – transforms” and saw “lightness of touch and splashes of humour quietly, charmingly, deftly coalesce into heartrending and heartwarming beauty.” Trueman found its “power… rests in wrongfooting its audience”, suggesting this “daring… pays dividends” with an ending which made him “want to punch the air”. Hitchings summed up “a small play with a big heart… genuinely funny… unexpectedly powerful”.

Runs to 08 Oct 2016 with tickets available from the Orange Tree box office. And for more growing pains, why not check out Vanities – The Musical, the National Youth Theatre’s ’50s Romeo and Juliet or  The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time?