24 Feb 2012: Tis Pity She’s a Whore, The Bomb: A Partial History, In Basildon, Bingo

Weekly review roundup: 24 February 2012

This week’s 44 reviews saw yet another play from hundreds of years ago top the list. It’s an odd season so far, with knowing, modern-minded revivals of She Stoops to Conquer (1773, National); The Changeling (1622, Young Vic), and The Recruiting Officer(1706, Donmar) all opening within weeks of each other, and all among the best-reviewed plays of the young year. (The Recruiting Officer, which we wrote about last week, is so far the best opening of 2012.) 

The next in this parade is this week’s winner, ‘Tis Pity She’s a Whore (Barbican, until 10 March). This 1633 play, about a doomed incestuous affair and given a modern-dress take by widely-respected company Cheek by Jowl, got a straight four-star average from five reviewers, with a five-star by Michael Coveney (What’s on Stage) balancing a three-star by Michael Billington (Guardian). Coveney called the play “sordid, modern, upsetting and totally compelling” and said “the bravery, and headlong intensity of the performances, is remarkable,” especially calling out the young lead Lydia Wilson (last seen in The Acid Test at the Royal Court). Billington, on the other hand, respected elements of the effort, but felt it compared poorly to a production he saw in 2005.

 

Just edging up to four stars is The Bomb – A Partial History, a set of ten short plays which runs in two halves at the Tricycle Theatre. Commissioned by the Tricycle as the closing act of Nicolas Kent, who is departing as Artistic Director after 28 years, the vignettes trace the history of the nuclear bomb, from its development to the present day. Sarah Hemming (FT) said the decision to commission many short plays is “a great way of coming at such taxing material: the range of voices, styles and subjects injects energy and pace. And while each of the plays is very different in tone, common themes ripple through them, as the characters struggle to find a moral footing in this strange new world. This is not so much a history of the bomb as a history of our relationship with the implications of its existence.” Taken together, the plays are about five hours long; they can be seen as independent halves on consecutive nights, or in one long sitting on the weekends. Runs to 1 April.

 

In Basildon is the first major opening of 2012 at the Royal Court, which had a string of more intimate hits over the past few months in the upstairs space and through its Theatre Local programme. This play about working-class life Essex, by David Eldridge and directed by the theatre’s Artistic Director Dominic Cooke, is given an in-the-round performance, unusual for the main house there. The reviews suggest it has fallen short of greatness but is still a worthwhile evening, with a 3.75-star average (eight reviews but no five-stars, and two three-stars).

 

Henry Hitchings (Evening Standard) said that in contrast to Essex’s portrayal in TOWIE and its ilk, “Eldridge serves up something closer to Chekhov”: a play about “inheritance and domestic disharmony, at times deeply poignant yet replete with references to West Ham and Walthamstow’s defunct dog track.” Quentin Letts (Daily Mail) called it “like Ayckbourn, with jellied eels and F-words.” In conclusion, Hitchings voiced a common mix of praise and complaint, saying that in “a tepid final act,” the drama “loses some of its momentum and fizz. Still, In Basildon is scrupulously observed, and the acting is first-rate.”

 

Finally, a word to the wise regarding an especially low score for Bingo, at the Young Vic, starring Patrick Stewart. The play, written by Edward Bond (Saved) in 1974, has so far averaged two stars (though from only two reviewers). Libby Purves (The Times) said “Here are huge moral and philosophical themes: pity and terror, which Stewart is supremely capable of expressing and Jackson of directing. The problem is that Bond utterly lacks the human depth those themes require. In the prolonged final scene, where the mad wife and distraught daughter scrabble at the locked bedchamber door while our hero opts for suicide and a malicious will, you get an uncomfortable sense of a lesser spirit trying to claw down a greater one.”

 

Let’s end on a more positive note: We notice that two of the ten most-Playlisted plays on StageScan open next week: Snookered at the Bush and The Summer House at the Gate. Overall, your most anticipated play (as measured by Playlist adds) is Love Love Love at the Royal Court, by Mike Bartlett (13) which opens 27 April.

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