15 July 2011: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead, The Railway Children, Yes, Prime Minister

Weekly review roundup: 9-15 July

The best-reviewed new show of the week: Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead (Theatre Royal Haymarket)

This is Tom Stoppard’s first major play, which imagines two minor characters from Hamlet watching the action unfold around them and realising that they are bit players in someone else’s drama. Summing up the views of most reviewers, the West End Whingers said the playwright’s “too-clever-by-half and slightly over-extended mash-up of Beckett and Shakespeare is made highly palatable thanks to a delightful production and a fine cast.” The show reunites Samuel Barnett and Jamie Parker, who “recreate the easy rapport they exhibited in The History Boys” says the Evening Standard’s Henry Hitchings. Still, he says, “while lots of Stoppard’s jokes still have bite, much of the humour that once struck audiences as dazzlingly original hasn’t aged well” and the writing “lacks the depth of humanity one finds in his mature works such as Arcadia.” Caroline McGinn of Time Out adroitly calls it “a student classic” with “more rhetoric than wit” but notes that it succeeds because director Trevor Nunn “never forgets this is a comedy.” In an inspired bit of research McGinn also notes that Nunn “would have directed the play’s premiere in 1965, had the RSC’s new-writing budget not fallen through.”

Runs to 20 August

See the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/579

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Theatre for the whole family: The Railway Children; The Tiger Who Came to Tea; Pericles

The Railway Children at Waterloo Station
This widely-reviewed show (six major 4-star reviews and one 5-star) employs a sterling cast, including comedian Marcus Brigstocke and a 60-tonne steam locomotive, to bring to life a well-loved children’s book and film. The show is staged at the former Eurostar terminal in Waterloo Station, where a 1,000 seat venue has been built around the railway tracks. Libby Purves at the Times noted that, while based on a children’s book, “It’s a real play and asks its audience for real theatre imagination: the characters as adults are relating a strange, charmed summer at the same time as they play their romping younger selves.” She concludes her review with the declaration “Lovely.”, while Fiona Mountford at the Evening Standard ended her five-star review with the simple declarative “Unbeatable.”

Runs to 4 September; see the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/173

The Tiger Who Came to Tea (Vaudeville). 
Unlike the Railway Children, this lightly but well-reviewed show (one 4-star, one 5-star), is “first and foremost for children” says What’s On Stage. However, it delivers, even with the most mercurial of crowds; “judging by the shouts and laughter of the mostly pre-school audience, they were entertained for the full duration.”

Runs to 4 September; see the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/165

Pericles (Regents Park Open Air Theatre)
Reviewed more widely but less positively than Tiger, with three 4-star reviews and one 3-star. Michael Bilington of the Guardian said “Natalie Abrahami’s production does exactly what it says on the tin. Billed as ‘Pericles reimagined for everyone aged six and over’, what we get is a vivid theatrical experience that combines pirates, panto and the best bits of this relatively unfamiliar late romance.”

Runs to 23 July; see the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/92

The clunker of the week (a word to the wise): Yes, Prime Minister (Apollo)

Based on a seminal BBC sitcom, this show was well-reviewed in its first West End incarnation in 2009, but the return with a new cast and the same script has left critics unimpressed. Charles Spencer at the Telegraph said the show, which he has seen three times, “suddenly seemed alarmingly out of touch.” Although it provides “a highly entertaining evening that tells us far more about the way we are governed than a dozen more earnest Left-wing, state-of-the-nation plays”, events have overtaken it; “more than a year after its premiere, the authors really must address the issue of topical content.” Andrzej Lukowski at Time Out agreed that “not enough has been done to update this script since it was written. Its preoccupations – a BBC in crisis, an internally unpopular PM – feel very 2009; it would probably have worked better as either an ’80s period piece or with some topical updates.” What’s On Stage had more criticism in its one-star review, noting that while “the elements are all in place for brilliant farce and biting satire,” the show instead descends “into a brash, hysterical and rather grimy pantomime.” All of the best jokes are taken from the old TV scripts, while the new ones “rely on tired platitudes (‘murder and prayer’ is the American way) and cringe-worthy concessions to modernity (eg Twitter exists).” All in all, “a disappointing coda to TV’s smartest half-hour.”

Runs to 17 September

See the full list of reviews at
http://stagescan.com/show-details/581

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