Alex Jennings and Rachael Ofori

The Southbury Child reviews – Chichester Festival Theatre ★★★

Reviews are starting to come in for The Southbury Child at Chichester Festival Theatre.

Stephen Beresford’s darkly comic new play stars triple Olivier Award winner Alex Jennings as a vicar at odds with his community. Directed by Nicholas Hytner, the play centres on Jennings who refuses to allow balloons at the funeral of a child. What ensues is an exploration of family, community and the divisions of a modern society.

Dominic Cavendish writing for the Telegraph found it “hugely cathartic.. blissfully funny” and “the play of the year, so far”. The Guardian thought it “coasts by on sub-Alan Bennett humour and the odd eye-roll at wokeness”. Whereas Clive Davis for The Times went so far as to say “our thespian prayers answered”. The Sussex Press called it a “rare and disappointing misfire”.

The cast includes Holly Atkins, Josh Finan, Jack Greenlees, Jo Herbert, Phoebe Nicholls, Racheal Ofori and Sarah Twomey.

The Southbury Child is at Chichester Festival Theatre until xx. It will then transfer to The Bridge Theatre where it runs from 1 July to 27 August 2022. Book tickets to The Southbury Child at the Bridge Theatre in London.

Read a round-up of reviews for The Southbury Child, below. More reviews to follow.

Average Critics Rating

The Southbury Child reviews

The Guardian

"A vicar picks an odd hill to die on"
"Even-handed to a fault, Stephen Beresford’s new comedy coasts by on sub-Alan Bennett humour and the odd eye-roll at wokeness. But its hero’s stance on balloons beggars belief"

"Jennings is delightfully witty and urbane but that’s part of the problem: the way Beresford has written David, it is impossible to believe that someone so equitable would be intransigent in the face of grief."

" Instead of conveying any inner turmoil, the play coasts by on sub-Alan Bennett humour (insulted in Londis, David hopes there’s a Waitrose in heaven) and the odd eye-roll at wokeness."

Ryan Gilbey, The Guardian
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The Telegraph

"Hugely cathartic, this is the play of the year so far... blissfully funny and ineffably touching"

"Stephen Beresford’s heaven-sent new work stars an immaculately understated Alex Jennings as a priest taking a stand against modernity"

"At its heart is a stand-off between an individual and his community so tightly enwoven with competing principles and conflicting emotions it has an almost Ibsenite intensity. Yet its subtle, wry tonal quality puts you more immediately in mind of Alan Bennett, a prompting assisted by the fact that Alex Jennings, who has played Bennett on stage and screen, takes the lead as David Highland, blending beatific reticence with charismatic fallibility."

"Jennings is as immaculately understated as the script, lunging in a telling bout of desperation for a glass of whisky. Trying to prop everyone up, he’s crumbling inside, and finds a soul-mate of sorts in the new curate, a handsome Scot (Jack Greenlees) whose homosexuality is tolerated but not institutionally supported. "

"Beresford won a Bafta for the screenplay of Pride. He can pride himself on this. My play of the year so far."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph
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The Times

"Our thespian prayers answered"

"There are some plays that keep you talking well into the night. Stephen Beresford’s study of a wayward vicar at odds with his flock is one of them. "

"Admittedly, the writing is cluttered — so many themes jostle for attention that you occasionally get the impression you are watching a soap opera at warp speed — but it’s still a rare and heartfelt portrait of post-Christian Britain, anchored by a majestic performance by Alex Jennings."

"Hytner gets sterling performances out of the entire cast, and just when the storyline seems in danger of overheating, Beresford lobs in some astute comic notes."

Clive Davis, The Times
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Sussex Express

"A rare and disappointing misfire"

"Alex Jennings gives an impressive, skilful performance as the chaotic, provocative and deeply flawed vicar David Highland in Stephen Beresford’s new play.

But not even he can save this disappointing and ultimately rather dislikeable drama from being a rare misfire at the CFT."

"When the conclusion depends on the appearance of a child’s coffin to persuade us that this is gritty and hard-hitting stuff amid the laughs, you know it’s a play which has pretty much sunk already."

"The real problem is that so little about it persuades – fatally and above all the initial premise at the heart of it all, the completely manufactured conflict which is supposed to steer it through."

"Does it persuade us that this is a tough piece of drama dealing with the grittiest and biggest of issues? No, it simply leaves an unpleasant taste. As a piece of drama it is disastrously misjudged."

"A better drama would have given a much greater place to the little girl’s mother; it would have found a way to say something meaningful about grief and place the vicar’s intransigence alongside it. Perhaps some kind of genuine conflict might have sparked. Instead, the mother is barely in it."

Phil Hewit, Sussex Express

"‘Well-Meaning Production Can’t Cover a Schematic Script"

"Beresford is attempting to put new wine into old bottles. Nicholas Hytner’s deft production honors that, but cannot disguise the fact that this increasingly over-plotted play is two-and-a-half hours with scarcely a moment of subtext with which to reel in the audience. A play about knotty decisions is a loose, too-easy watch."

David Benedict, Variety
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The New York Times

"... a lively if uneven new play from Stephen Beresford"

"Nicholas Hytner’s characteristically adroit production is on firmest footing when the play is at its most serious, and when Jennings’s bespectacled David puts his flippancy to one side to make way for genuine anguish."

"Elsewhere, you slightly tire of the script’s more glib moments..."

Matt Wolf, The New York Times
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📷 Main photo: Alex Jennings and Rachael Ofori in The Southbury Child at Chichester Festival Theatre. Photo: MANUEL HARLAN

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