September’s best-reviewed new shows: Hangmen, Jane Eyre, and Casa Valentina

Great ensemble performances and strongly evoked historical context unite our pick of the best new shows to open this month.

(And, don’t forget – Stagescan now sells tickets! Through our partnership with See Tickets, you can buy by clicking the ‘Check Availability’ button on most show pages, or visiting http://stagescan.seetickets.com.)

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Hangmen – Royal Court Theatre, 4.1-star average 

Martin McDonagh’s new play received seven five-star pro reviews amid a range of responses. Dominic Cavendish (Telegraph) described a “look back in sharp-eyed wonder at the grimmer side of the swinging Sixties” which “takes you brilliantly, without any crude coercion, to the heart of serious questions about justice and punishment”.

Paul Taylor (Independent) thought his plot “a thing of wonder” and Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) found the piece “brilliantly macabre and exhilaratingly un-PC”. Michael Billington (Guardian) admired McDonagh’s “talent for eclectic playfulness” and Coveney detected a “constant desire to subvert an audience’s expectations while tickling their fickle fancy like any good cheap thriller writer”.

Among the less dazzled, Natasha Tripney (The Stage), thought the plot “formulaic” and was uncomfortable with its “underlying misogyny” and “casual racism” but found Matthew Dunster’s production “gripping nonetheless”. Taylor thought it “consummately well-cast and performed” and Tripney described “superb ensemble playing”.

Taylor called David Morrissey’s hangman-turned-landlord, Harry, “sublimely tinpot-but-touchy” and Coveney found him “mesmeric, chilling”. Tripney enjoyed Reece Shearsmith’s “distinctly creepy if officious” Syd, and Taylor thought him “hapless, pervy” and “spot-on”. Cavendish praised Johnny Flynn’s “pitch-perfect insolence” and Taylor found his Moody “disquietingly charismatic”. Tripney was among several suggesting he “really stands out” – she found his performance “wonderfully odd and wrong and jarring”.

Anna Fleischle’s set was generally praised. Tripney admired “a rich thing” describing an “eerie cream brick death cell” which rises “slowly and dramatically” revealing “an immaculate recreation of a 1960s boozer, all brass and etched glass, the wood brown as ale, the air like an ashtray”. Billington detected “just the right smoky fug”.

He hailed “a savagely black comedy” summing up “a compelling evening that confirms McDonaghs’s prodigal, pluralist talent”. Taylor described “A flawless treat” and Coveney anticipated “a big hit”.

Runs to 10 Oct 2015

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Jane Eyre – National Theatre, 4.1-star average

Several reviewers also gave five stars to a production Fiona Mountford (ES) found “endlessly inventive, admirably kinetic” remaking the classic “as something fresh and exciting”. She declared director Sally Cookson “a new name… to watch out for”. Matt Trueman (What’s On Stage) reported a version which “trades in feeling and mood and images: all the things that make theatre theatre”. Natasha Tripney said it “feels like a thing fuelled by love” for both novel and character.

Mountford called Madeleine Worrall’s Jane “quietly magnificent, morphing from an honest, stubborn, fiery little person into an independent, questing young woman”. Tripney found her “captivating” and thought Felix Hayes “everything you want in a Rochester: brusque, difficult, prickly” yet “massively charismatic” but added “this is very much an ensemble piece”. Trueman praised “fluid movement direction” and Mountford saw the whole cast “work their 19th-century socks off”.

Tripney found the devised staging “full of inventive touches”. Trueman described “a white-curtained stage that fills up with colour: red for confinement, cool blue for freedom”. Mountford found the minimal set, “comprising a wooden platform and planks surrounded by ladders” proved “the ideal means of transporting us fluidly from Gateshead Hall to Lowood to Thornfield Hall”.

Trueman detected “a deep, brooding, downbeat melancholy” which he thought “brilliantly drawn out” as a folk three-piece “fill the story with mournful, minor-key music, all sighing strings, wistful piano runs and itchy percussion”. Mountford praised the “inspired” decision to allow Bertha Mason to “haunt the action in song” adding “Melanie Marshall excels in this striking, plaintive role”.

Trueman described “a show that both takes its time and goes at a clip” finding it “thrilling and utterly theatrical”. Tripney thought it nevertheless “faithful” to the novel’s “boldness and romance, its feminism, its enduring power”.

Runs to 16 Nov 2015

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Casa Valentina – Southwark Playhouse, 4.0-star average 

Harvey Fierstein’s picture of a transvestite retreat scored unanimous fours. This, explained Mark Shenton (The Stage) is “the one without songs”. He described a “group portrait … alternately witty and gritty, warm-hearted and tough” in a “loving, detailed production” which “cleverly avoids caricature”.  Jo Caird (What’s on Stage) found it “delightfully camp and high spirited” adding “Moments of tenderness and truth regularly pierce the hilarity”. David Clack (Time Out) said “it’s the context of 1960s America that truly brings ‘Casa Valentina’ to life” adding that homosexuality, illegal at the time, “quickly becomes a great big pink elephant in the room”.

Caird felt Luke Sheppard “teased wonderfully subtle performances from his entire cast… never losing sight” of the characters’ “humanity”. Shenton praised “deeply felt, unsentimental performances” from “a fine ensemble”. Caird elaborated: “As ‘girls’, the cross dressers achieve varying levels of success, but the actors behind them are never less than expert” at “navigating… performance within performance”. She highlighted Ashley Robinson’s Gloria/Michael, while Clack found Ben Deery’s transformation from newcomer Jonathan into Miranda “adorably anxious” and detected a “Pacino-like ferocity” in Gareth Snook’s older Charlotte.

Shenton found the host couple “sympathetically played” by Tamsin Carroll and Edward Wolstenholme (the eponymous Valentina) and Caird thought Carroll “excellent”.

Clack summed up “a smart, superbly funny take on queer politics”. Caird said: “Beneath the drunken sing-alongs and joyful makeovers are ideas of identity, politics, persecution and the lies we tell ourselves for love.”  Shenton found the whole “poignant and deeply compassionate”.

Runs to 10 Oct 2015

Thanks for reading,

Cabe at Stagescan HQ

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