Selected reviews by David Benedict, London theatre critic for Variety.
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David Benedict – selected theatre reviews
Jack Absolute Flies Again (2022)
"A Knockout New Comedy by the Writer of ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’"
"As his stakes rise, so does the already high level of ridiculousness powered by line-by-line laughs and the fiercely well-timed comedy of the entire company, not least Quentin’s much built-up role with ever-increasing levels of silly smut in her malapropisms. (Admiring her garden, she confuses clematis and clitoris.) And then there’s magnificently stuffed-shirted Peter Forbes — “Be quiet! I’m shouting!” — as Major General Sir Anthony Absolute who, awards judges take note, pulls off the astounding trick of being absolutely and perfectly furious while being astonishingly truthful."
"Like most theaters recovering from COVID, the National has been in serious need of a knockout hit. They now have one."
"Tom Hollander, Will Keen Crackle in Story of Russian Oligarch Who Tangled With Putin"
"Revelling in his authority, Hollander has a permanent gleam in his eye, a malevolent hint at the power-hungry madness simmering beneath his fascinatingly maintained calm surface. It’s an alarming performance made all the more vicious by its element of suprise. And Hollander never hints at what’s coming, providing high-voltage shock via sudden switches of mood as when he slams a piano lid down on an official accompanist whose playing he has only just praised."
The Seagull (2022)
"Emilia Clarke, Indira Varma Shine in a Production That Doesn’t Fly"
"an uneven production more willful than wonderful."
"On the upside, with everyone wearing visible head mics (shades of the troupe Complicite and beyond), they can — and do — whisper lines, making them almost closer to thoughts than speech"
"And Lloyd’s technique has the welcome effect of pulling the audience into the intensity of the drama and making audiences truly listen and do imaginative work.
"But the considerable downside is that all this robs the evening of the actors’ energy. At its weakest, it feels like a reading. And for audiences unfamiliar with the play, the stakes are likely to remain dangerously low because all the (over-emphasized) moments come at the expense of the drama coalescing into a whole. "
Mad House (2022)
"David Harbour, Bill Pullman Make Theresa Rebeck’s Chaotic Melodrama Seem Better Than It Is"
"You can see why actors of the caliber of David Harbour and Bill Pullman — plus equally gifted British talents Akiya Henry and Sinéad Matthews — wanted to appear in this world premiere. Rebeck has barely been produced in the U.K., but it’s immediately clear she knows how to whip up bitterly comic set-pieces for actors to sink their teeth into. But she has come up with a clutch of juicy, smart-mouthed roles rather than making them cohere into anything with true resonance beyond the melodramatic twists and turns of a secondhand family plot."
The Southbury Child (2022)
"‘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."
The Glass Menagerie (2022)
"Underpowered Amy Adams Leads a Slow-Burn Rethink of Tennessee Williams’ Classic"
"Director Jeremy Herrin is faithful to multiple elements of Williams’ stage directions — including a screen of accompanying images above the action — but he aims to deliver the play’s essence in unexpected ways."
"Constable’s strongly directional lighting, including everything from industrial size lamps set about the stage to a handheld flashlight, almost totally replaces the expected burnished gold of memory with a more soured sepia. This is demonstrably a past of difficulty and sadness as much as it is of lost, familiar happiness."
"With her trademark charm to the fore, Adams is a good fit for Amanda, the mother struggling to keep up appearances and secure her daughter’s future. She also (mercifully) holds back on the Southern belle cliché, which often leads to overly clotted interpretations."
"But with her voice querulous rather than grounded, Adams appears weightless. She’s nicely responsive to shifts of character, changing moods and the needs of a scene. But, robbed of the camera, she expresses but doesn’t radiate emotion to heat up the stage as Amanda needs to do."
My Fair Lady (2022)
"Lead performances outshine the production"
"The musical’s biggest switch is Eliza’s from flower girl to lady, a transition made convincing by Amara Okereke with both her bright soprano and real warmth. Her finest moment – and of the whole production – is the show’s pivot in the masterly The Rain in Spain, in which Okereke beautifully shows Eliza’s extended understanding of how, in order to change how she speaks, she has to truly listen.
Elsewhere, she is pushed too hard by Sher’s direction that turns scenes into effortful display, so much so that the chemistry between her and Higgins is largely theoretical. Sher is so busy presenting his directorial case for everything that the actual writing – in both the scenes and songs – is, ironically, not allowed to speak."
The 47th (2022)
" Bertie Carvel’s Transformation Into Shakespearean Trump Is Hypnotic"
"Bartlett’s audacity — plus the fact that Tunie, Wilson and especially Carvel never relinquish their grip on the audience — makes “The 47th” rarely less than entertaining."
Straight Line Crazy (2022)
"‘Ralph Fiennes Plays Robert Moses in David Hare’s Talky New Play"
"Everything is elegantly staged by Hytner on Crowley’s expansive office set, and the play’s underlying themes are resonant of what was a fascinatingly changing world. But Hare’s structural choices have resulted in a play in which everyone earnestly says what they mean and means what they say. Subtext, the playwright’s device for gluing audiences to character, situation and a sense of dramatic sympathy, is almost entirely absent."
"Taron Egerton, Jonathan Bailey Lead a Blistering West End Production"
"Without dropping a moment of the play’s seriousness, laughter is the key element that differentiates and distinguishes Elliott’s revival from the original production, which, under the direction of James Macdonald, moved from the tiny Royal Court Upstairs to Off Broadway’s Duke Theater in 2012."
"This engrossing, visceral ride through desire and self-deceit has a limited run and tickets are vanishing. If the in-demand actors are available, future life here and on Broadway seem certain."
The Collaboration (2022)
"‘Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope Can’t Make Drama Out of This Bio"
"From “The Theory of Everything” to “The Two Popes” via “The Darkest Hour” and “Bohemian Rhapsody,” bio-dramas are McCarten’s stock-in-trade. He and the same cast and director are already at work on a movie of “The Collaboration,” in which the story might well work better: Being able to show the whole story on screen could bring this material to life."
"Eddie Redmayne Dazzles in Triumphant West End Revival"
"This is no directorial flourish. It’s typical of the production’s immense authority that the rising Nazi power is never brandished for effect. Like everything else in this genuinely extraordinary portrait of not just individual figures but the whole of Berlin, it has been subtly built in all night. Its inexorability makes it devastating."
Best of Enemies (2021)
"Behind the Scenes of 1968’s Revolutionary TV Debates"
"For so sophisticated a writer, there are surprising lapses in subtlety. He and Herrin entertainingly show how this audience-grabbing moment of TV gold brought a wrecking ball to television and to democracy. But a little too much is stated rather than suggested. In his stronger work — “Ink”, “This House” — his perspective is there to be gleaned. Here, it’s spelled out."
The Book of Dust (2021)
"‘His Dark Materials’ Prequel Is a Triumph of Theatrical Storytelling"
"For such an episodic story, the surprise of the night is the level of emotion the production ultimately engenders. It’s a tribute as much to Lavery and Hytner’s glowing work as it is to Pullman’s tale that after the excitements of the epic life-and-death journey, the ending, which could risk sentimentality, turns out to be redolent of the best classic work built around young characters: It’s as satisfying for parents as it is for children."
"If it ain't broke, don't fix it. That, largely speaking, appears to be the mantra behind the London production of Broadway's celebrated record-breaker "Wicked." There have been tiny tweaks to Winnie Holzman's book, but the only people likely to notice are the show's devoted fans."
"A Smashingly Smart Austen Adaptation"
"Adding karaoke to the 19th century’s blueprint rom-com may sound like a translation too far but the shocking truth of Isobel McArthur’s smart, riotously funny five-woman adaptation, now playing on the West End, is how faithful it is to Austen while being gloriously entertaining."
"As sharp-eyed as it is seemingly silly, McArthur’s play-with-songs mirrors Austen by maintaining a shrewd 21st century perspective on the well-told tale of Elizabeth, Jane, Lydia and the other two who, face it, no one properly remembers."
Back to the Future (2021)
"West End Musical Is Lots of Fun Despite Flaws"
"The pastiche songs work best, as when Lorraine falls for “Calvin” and a girl group trio pops up from behind the curtains to accompany her. But otherwise, the songs are more pop than theater. Instead of deepening or driving forward, they state and re-state a case, with anodyne and/or mis-stressed lyrics: “I can’t wait to be/ In the twenty-first cent-u-ry” — which is a number of knowing nonsense put there solely to open the second act.
"Yet all those problems disappear beneath the determination of the production team to deliver a good time to its audience."
& Juliet (2019)
"Knockout vocals drive a camp revamp of “Romeo and Juliet," featuring the songs of Max Martin"
"Silly and serious, “& Juliet” wants to have its cake and to eat it too. Yet for all its many flaws, it’s hard not to cave in to its determination to add some thought to its undeniably feel-good factor."