1 July 2011: Richard III, The Beggar’s Opera, Lullaby

Weekly review roundup: 25 June – 1 July

The best-reviewed new show of the week: Richard III (Old Vic)

The blockbuster show of the week is Kevin Spacey as the hunchbacked Richard III, directed by Sam Mendes at the Old Vic. Libby Purves of the Times found it a five-star visceral experience; “a proper, gruelling piece of live theatre.” The reunion of Spacey with director Sam Mendes is “a thrilling display of both men’s dual expertise”; for example, Spacey’s nudge of an unseen severed head with a crutch, only to “moments later thoughtfully wipe the tip” is “just one of a hundred small memorable moments that make you gulp.” At the end “it was a relief to breathe out again, and stand in salute.” Michael Billington of the Guardian gave four stars to Sam Mendes’s “beautifully clear, coherent modern-dress production in which the protagonist becomes an autocratic archetype”, noting that Spacey’s “powerful central performance” does not radically redefine the character but “offers us is his own subtle variations on it: a Richard in whom instinctive comic brio is matched by a power-lust born of intense self-hatred.” Like Purves, he vividly recalls aspects of Spacey’s performance: “As he reaches angrily for the zapper, you get an instant sense of exclusion: Richard as the misanthropic outsider who will use a veneer of quick-witted charm as a ladder to the throne.” This is Spacey acting “with every fibre of his being” adding a “rougher, darker edge” to his voice and “ferocious energy” to his movements even with his leg encased in a splint. In contrast, while Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail appreciated the “spectacle” of the “strikingly theatrical” production, he would have appreciated a defter touch, saying “Mr Spacey, normally so good, does not quite nail the part.” Though clearly committed to the role, he “is ultimately undone by a surfeit of sarcasm and campness.” Unlike Purves, he felt the little touches possibly overblown; “there for all to see, but maybe not to feel.” Still, he found it in his heart to give Spacey and Mendes four stars: “The sheer showmanship is remarkable.” Runs to 11 September

See the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/88

Avg Pro: 

Avg Peer: 

Avg Pro: 

Avg Peer: 

The close runner-up for best (or another show you should know about): The Beggar’s Opera (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre)
The Beggar’s Opera only averaged four stars, but the text was so effusive in places (in contrast to some of the more dutiful ones for Spacey and Mendes) that it earns the second slot of the week. The show was written in 1728, and Michael Coveney of What’s On Stage calls it “a uniquely important and remarkable piece of British theatre: the first of a new genre, the ballad opera”. Director Lucy Bailey has bucked trend by not updating it even a bit, to the extent that the supporting music remains the folk hits of 1728, played on period instruments. Coveney rounded off his five-star review saying the music is “an archival treasure trove brought to quivering, affectionate life”, with songs that “often seem like extensions of a conversation, or an argument, which lends another compelling dimension to a remarkable evening.” Ian Shuttleworth of the FT harks back to last month’s production of Lord of the Flies, set in a smoking plane fuselage under the stately boughs of the park, noting that artistic director Timothy Sheader “enjoys programming work in Regent’s Park which is not merely adventurous but seems intended to test how incongruous things can get before imploding.” This is the work of an experienced team who are “unafraid to tackle open-air spaces head-on with audaciously tone-changing visual concepts, and once again their chutzpah pays off.”Charles Spencer of the Telegraph gave only three stars, based on the Hogarthian darkness of the original script, though he praised several elements of a production that “bustles along at a cracking pace,” with “great set pieces” and “fine comic turns”, finally admitting that “The Beggar’s Opera proves a darkly entertaining night in the park and Lucy Bailey’s production is the most persuasive account of this perplexing classic I have seen.” Runs to 23 July

See the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/91

The clunker of the week (a word to the wise): Lullaby (Barbican)

The trend towards immersive theatre (Punchdrunk, BAC 1:1 Festival) started well, and theatregoers might be forgiven for wondering if reviewers were raving about these things based purely on the novelty factor. Along comes “Lullaby” at the Barbican to prove that reviewers will in fact give two stars to something new and novel if it fails to deliver. The premise of the show, from the collective Duckie, is that you sleep over in the studio space at the Barbican; whimsical theatrical things happen around you before and while you sleep. Lyn Gardner of The Guardian (3 stars) found it “fun, although not quite as fun as it might be,” due to its “straining for a magical back-to-childhood bedtime experience that it never quite delivers.” Henry Hitchings of the Evening Standard (2 stars) found the “sleepover with a hypnotic side order of lectures and projections” to be “initially winsome,” then “surreal” as “narratives dawdle, and the imagery becomes more elusive.” Though “the spirit of Lullaby is generous and gentle,” the production “seems exaggeratedly naive and under-rehearsed”, and “the novel charm of being serenaded by an octopus can’t obscure the fact that the music and storytelling are twee.” In contrast, Terri Paddock of What’s On Stage gave five stars, mostly for the fact she got a full night’s sleep. The last thing she remembers, “some time after midnight, was a cello and an interplanetary lecture”; then, waking up at 7.30, “the first time I haven’t risen at least three times in the night in months.” The grateful Paddock “raise[s] a pillow and a happy yawn to the Duckie team” for their show that’s “cheaper than a hotel – and far, far cheaper than the insomnia doctor I consulted last year.” Runs to 24 July

See the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/209

Avg Pro: 

Avg Peer: 

Leave a Reply