Nicola Walker in The Corn is Green

The Corn is Green Reviews at the National Theatre 2022 ★★★★

The Corn is Green has opened in the Lyttelton Theatre of the National Theatre in London.

Emlyn Williams’ semi-autobiographical 1938 play is given a new staging by director Dominic Cooke (The Normal Heart, Follies), in its first London revival for 35 years.

The play stars TV and stage actress Nicola Walker (Unforgotten, The Split) as Miss Lily Moffat, who arrives in rural North Wales determined to help young local miners out of poverty by teaching them to read and write.

Lily soon spots talent in the unruly Morgan Evans, but when she faces growing resistance from the community, she does everything in her power to forge him a new future.

Check out the London theatre critics’ verdict of the play, including the Guardian, TimeOut and more.

Also playing at the National Theatre: Small Island in the Olivier Theatre; also the National Theatre’s production of The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the Duke of York’s Theatre.

Average Critics Rating

The Guardian

"An inspirational heart-warmer in praise of good education"

"Emlyn Williams’ 1938 play is a kind of Billy Elliot of the Valleys: the old-fashioned but hugely entertaining and affecting story of a Welsh miner’s son who escapes his class-bound home town with the help of a bold schoolteacher"

"Dominic Cooke’s revival deploys a quirky theatrical device in which the playwright, Williams (Gareth David-Lloyd), is a character on stage who is constructing his story before the audience. This device cannot quite disguise the old-fashioned nature of the story or dampen its sentimentality, but it brings clever humour and is beguiling in its own right."

"Cooke’s direction is supremely well-paced and all of the performers have impeccable comic timing. Walker is delightful to watch, both in her angry exchanges with the supercilious Squire (Rufus Wright, excellently doltish), which bring sparky satire, and in her initially brusque attitude towards Davies’s sweet, laconic Evans."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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"Nicola Walker is tremendous as an inspirational schoolteacher in this classy revival for Emelyn Williams’s slightly dated Welsh classic"

"Cooke’s production does a huge amount to smooth over this story’s rough edges. His masterstroke is to turn it into a kind of memory play, with Emelyn Williams himself appearing as a kind of narrator who reads the stage directions out loud. As his world becomes more and more fully realised, so does Ultz's set design, growing from a bare stage into a full schoolhouse box set, while scene changes offer vignettes from the glittering 1930s parties of Williams’s future."

"This is a fine example of how to revive a dated play and make it feel postmodern and fresh. But the text of ‘The Corn is Green’ lacks the raw power needed to make this exercise feel worthwhile: it's an intellectual fairytale where obstacles to Evans’s success conveniently vanish, and supporting characters are thin cardboard cutouts to be knocked down on his path to glory. Strong performances and an undeniable momentum make it fun to watch, but there's not much to ponder when the music fades."

Alice Saville, TimeOut
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The Telegraph

"Nicola Walker is unmissable in this riveting production"

"The National Theatre’s revival of Emlyn Williams’s 1938 play is crowned by the Unforgotten star’s finely calibrated performance"

"Miss Moffat is the embodiment of the teaching profession at its most tirelessly dogged, dutiful and – to a hugely moving degree – self-denying. Walker's forte – as shown so brilliantly in the ITV detective drama Unforgotten – is her ability to communicate admirable purpose; few eyes blaze with such intelligence, few frowns convey such concentration. There are also hints of sadness within the self-containment."

"Iwan Davies’s brooding, casually clever Evans emerges from the pits of juvenility and stands on the brink of a great escape from all he has known, his sense of self and class in the balance. In the first half, on an empty stage, there’s a rich comedy to the small-town mindsets, typified by rough-and-tumble youths and the snooty, sexist, proudly philistine local squire (Rufus Wright). In the second, we get a proper living-room set by Ultz, and the dramatic stakes are raised, particularly by a sexually bold local lass (Saffron Coomber’s Bessy). A battle of female wills ensues over Evans’s future; without wishing to spoil the twist, Miss Moffat has to go the extra mile of sacrifice to win out, lending her the force and nobility of a tragic heroine."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Times

"Escaping the valleys in a tale of its time that can still seduce"

"Nicola Walker impresses as Miss Moffat, a single-minded idealist who arrives in the village of Glansarno and promptly decides to start her own school. Could Walker endow her with a tad more Bloomsbury hauteur? Maybe. But the rapport she creates with her star pupil Morgan Evans (Iwan Davies) is touching, even if Williams could have given the diffident prodigy more depth. Rufus Wright’s squire gets plenty of laughs, as does Alice Orr-Ewing as the timid but snobbish teacher Miss Ronberry. Richard Lynch is the god-fearing John Goronwy Jones, a bearded grumbler who, physically anyway, bears more than a passing resemblance to Charles Pooter. At first, Cooke is content to use a bare stage, only gradually bringing in conventional trappings designed by Ultz."

Clive Davis, The Times
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The Stage

"Precision-tooled acting from Nicola Walker"

"Nicola Walker leads a stunning cast in Dominic Cooke’s smart revival of Emlyn Williams’ autobiographical play."

"On a technical level, the production stuns, with Christopher Shutt’s sound and Charles Balfour’s lighting designs on stark display, while ULTZ’s design layers itself slowly into a complete world, cornered by descending staircases like entrances to a pit."

"As the industrious improver Miss Moffat, every syllable a bark, the peerless Nicola Walker condenses the Lyttelton until it’s like we’re watching a TV close up. As she comes to realise that, for all her to-a-fault dedication to the improvement of others she has, along the way, forgotten to show any kind of affection to Morgan, Walker shows immense control over the way she metes out that affection. It’s precision-tooled acting."

Tim Bano, The Stage
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The New York Times

"Cooke enlivens a time-honored tale by involving Williams directly as his play’s narrator (played by Gareth David-Lloyd), setting the scene and monitoring events throughout. And a vigorous Walker invests the peppery spinster at its inspirational center with a fiercely beating heart"

Matt Wolf, The New York Times
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📷 Main photo: Nicola Walker in The Corn is Green

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