Anne-Marie Duff

The House of Shades reviews – starring Anne-Marie Duff at the Almeida Theatre 2022 ★★★★

Reviews are in for The House of Shades at the Almeida Theatre starring Anne-Marie Duff.

Blanche McIntyre (Hymn) directs the world premiere of Beth Steel’s revelatory new play which spans five decades of the lives, and deaths, of the Webster family.

There’s high praise for Anne-Marie Duff (His Dark MaterialsSex Education) who leads the cast as the Webster family matriarch. Whilst mostly positive there is is criticism of McIntyre’s production for its length (3 hours) and some of the directional choices made.

The cast includes Gus Barry, Beatie Edney, Kelly Gough, Michael Grady-Hall, Emily Lloyd-Saini, Carol Macready, Stuart McQuarrie, Mark Meadows, Daniel Millar, Issie Riley and Emma Shipp.

Beth Steel won Most Promising Playwright at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards. Both The House of Shades and Wonderland were shortlisted for The Susan Smith Blackburn Prize.

The creative team includes Set Designer Anna Fleischle, Costume Designer Liam Bunster, Lighting Designer Richard Howell, Sound Designer Gregory Clarke, Video Designer Isaac Madge, Movement and Intimacy Director Polly Bennett, Casting Director Annelie Powell, Associate Set Designer Liam Bunster, Dialect Coach Esi Acquaah-Harrison, Fight Director Kevin McCurdy, Costume Supervisor Natasha Prynne, Associate Fight Director Sam Behan, and Assistant Director Emily Ling Williams.

The House of Shades runs until 18 June 2022 at the Almeida Theatre, London.

Read a round-up of reviews for The House of Shades, below.

Average Critics Rating

i News

"Anne-Marie Duff glitters with spite in gripping family drama"

"Steel’s writing is joltingly powerful, with its jagged confrontations, corrosive wit and dark, vivid poeticism. It’s also slippery and sprawling, and sometimes ideologically blunt – but the play’s engine is so fuelled by the blood and guts of life that it hardly seems to matter."

"Duff is wrenching, eyes glittering with terrible spite and desperate sadness. Riveting, too, are Kelly Gough and Michael Grady-Hall as the adult Agnes and Jack, ripping themselves and each other apart as their lives, loyalties and ideals diverge. This is gripping, gristly drama: a story of so-called ordinary people, made epic."

Sam Marlowe, i News
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The Financial Times

"Anne-Marie Duff is magnificent"

"Steel’s play pulses with care and fury for the people left behind by global economic shifts and national politics. In that sense, it’s a Brexit play. It’s not sentimental, and its scope and depth are admirable, seeking to catch a hold of what has happened to the UK over the past 50 years."

"Duff is the soul of the play: tart, cruel, funny, desperate — a woman who yearns for something else, something better, and who is curdled by disappointment and haunted by guilt. She is magnificent; the play itself is bold, uneven, hugely welcome in its ambition, but struggles to pull it all off."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
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The Guardian

"Anne-Marie Duff gives a toxic tour de force"

"Beth Steel’s large canvas reflects brawny ambition and magnificent fearlessness as the dead walk alongside the living and the surreal interrupts the real. It is a kitchen-sink drama that incorporates state-of-the-nation politics, and the generational damage within family life is shown largely through its women.

‘It’s an energy’ … Beth Steel.
"You don’t have to be invited – you do it’: Beth Steel on her working-class family epic"

"Directed by Blanche McIntyre, the play emanates a retro sitcom vibe at the start but detours into Dennis Potter territory, with hallucinatory scenes, seductive and dreamlike, often with song."

"While the script is strong, its realisation is bumpy, with uneven pacing and some scenes that are a little too short to hold potency. Actors double up down the ages to good effect, and there is further doubling on stage as characters from the past feature in parallel with their elder counterparts. "

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Stage


"A riveting watch from an incredibly exciting playwright – an explosive family portrait of secrets, grief, despair and division”"

"Duff is fierce as Constance, singing beautifully, dreamily quoting Bette Davis at every turn, and embodying a real, yearning ache for a life unlived. When Alistair tells Constance he could kill her, she replies: “You kill me every day.” Duff shines, but the ensemble cast is also strong, with Kelly Gough giving a moving performance as the quietly exhausted daughter Agnes."

"Although too lengthy, The House of Shades is a riveting watch from an incredibly exciting playwright – an explosive family portrait of secrets, grief, despair and division."

Farah Najib, The Stage
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The Evening Standard

"Anne-Marie Duff can’t save this baggy production"

"Beth Steel’s much-anticipated, much-delayed play is a confused mix of family saga, melodrama and political screed."

"Duff’s expressive face and skittish emotions are as watchable as ever, and McQuarrie brings neat, beaten-down understatement to Alastair."

"The cast is strong. But the play is weak, and overlong at almost three hours, and the director, McIntyre, seems to have just waved it all through without addressing the problems."

Nick Curtis, The Evening Standard
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The Telegraph

"A disturbing drama"

"This is a highly satisfying, old-fashioned play that serves the audience with a rich mix of the personal and political on which to chew. Director Blanche McIntyre keeps a three hour running time nicely ticking over and beautifully deploys music and song as vectors of impossible dreams. Alongside Duff’s force-of-nature presence, at once toxic and tragic, Kelly Gough is particularly good as Agnes, whose early academic promise is squandered in a series of dead-end jobs."

Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
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The Independent

"Anne-Marie Duff is on spectacular form"

"At almost three hours, the play can feel unwieldy. Blanche McIntyre’s direction allows us to see the unhurried rhythms of family life, but this sometimes has the effect of slowing things down. Some of the bolder flourishes – a hammily delivered narrator who frames the action; a ghostly encounter with Nye Bevan – don’t come off. It’s at its most confident and compelling when unpicking the tension between feminism and socialism."

Jessie Thompson, The Independent
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📷 Main photo: Anne-Marie Duff in The House of Shades, Almeida Theatre.(c) Helen Maybanks

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