Critics - Natasha Tripney

Natasha Tripney – Theatre Critic

Selected reviews by Natasha Tripney, International Editor of The Stage

Natasha is International Editor of The Stage, and formerly reviews editor and joint lead critic.

In 2011, she co-founded Exeunt, the online platform for theatre criticism and was its editor until 2016. As a freelance arts journalist, she contributes regularly to the Guardian and has written for the Independent, the BBC, Time Out and Tortoise.

She has a special interest in the arts and culture of the Western Balkans and has written for Lonely Planet, Nachtkritik and Kosovo 2.0.

Her novel was longlisted for the 2021 Lucy Cavendish Fiction Prize.

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Antigone (2022)

★★★

"A valuable message blunted by heavy-handedness"

"This adaptation reflects our current political climate more than any other production on in London"

"Hasan is a compelling central presence, conveying Antigone’s complex relationship with her own faith, with her husband Haemon (Oliver Johnstone), who is also inconveniently Creon’s step-son, and her determination to do right by her brother, no matter the cost."

"There is something refreshing about seeing these issues - the human consequence of inhumane policies - tackled on stage in such a direct way as well as seeing Muslim prayer and ritual presented with reverence and care, but at the same time there’s a lack of subtlety to Ellams’ approach which ultimately undermines the play’s power."

The Evening Standard
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Who Killed My Father (2022)

★★★★

"Understated and socially engaged"

"Engaging and accusatory monologue delivered by the gently compelling Hans Kesting"

"Though the pacing is at times sluggish, the production shifts gear when Kesting begins to directly address the audience. He holds the French government to account for its treatment of the poor, for cutting back on welfare payments and all but accusing the people who rely on them of leeching off the state, and for effectively breaking his father afresh. He castigates French politicians for complacency, labelling them essentially complicit in murder of the most vulnerable, and it’s horribly, depressingly resonant. Who Killed My Father is at once Van Hove at his most understated and most socially engaged, and the piece is more powerful for it."

The Stage
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Sister Act (2022)

★★★

"Genuinely uplifting"

"[Knight] brings vocal heft and requisite presence to the role – though she’s far more engaging when inspiring her cloistered sisters to find their voices while also raising funds to save the church from crumbling than she is in more broadly comic mode."

"Saunders is a natural comic, and though her singing voice is thin, she’s not called upon to use it all that often – together, the two make an appealing double act."

"There is some heavenly ensemble work from the cast. Keala Settle, the best thing in the objectionable The Greatest Showman, deploys her powerful voice and considerable energy to Sister Mary Patrick, while Lesley Joseph revels in her role as the crabby Sister Mary Lazarus. Lizzie Bea, recently seen as Tracy Turnblad at the Coliseum, is requisitely endearing and heartfelt as novice nun Sister Mary Robert."

The Stage
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Jack Absolute Flies Again (2022)

★★★

"Strives to be heartfelt but doesn't stick the landing"

"Entertaining but relentlessly frothy transposition of Sheridan’s comedy to wartime Britain"

"Thanks to physical comedy director Toby Park, from Spymonkey, and choreographer Lizzi Gee, there’s some nice physical business including an energetic dance sequence that Quentin steals with the aid of a ukulele. Mark Thompson’s colourful design, which mixes projections with a fold-out country house and a Nissen hut, nods towards panto but also allows for some tense scenes of the pilots on missions, the camera trained on their faces, Top Gun-style (video design by Jeff Sugg). This brings home the fact that the prospect of death was very present in their lives – the knowledge that they might not come back alive, or might be left horribly injured, is always there in the background and accounts, at least in part, for all the energetic bed-hopping, this hunger for each other."

The Stage
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Much Ado About Nothing (2022)

★★★

"Stylish, summery and deliciously designed"

"Godwin’s style can sometimes feel aggressively slick, but for all its surface gloss this is an accessible production that hits the right beats. Parkinson is an exceptionally good fit for Beatrice and she has a wonderfully brittle chemistry with John Heffernan’s Benedick. They are both prickly oddballs, both equally insecure, though their initial combativeness soon gives way to a genuine tenderness."

"It’s a glittery, apolitical production but it’s well cast, stylish, summery stuff."

The Stage
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Much Ado About Nothing (2022)

★★★

"Sunshine after a hard winter"

"The wartime setting, at times, feels a bit like dressing, primarily an excuse to strew the stage with accordions and eye-pleasing gowns, but Bailey – director of the Globe’s famously bloody Titus Andronicus – has a strong understanding of the space and this is a production of clarity as well as charm. The focus is on romance, the mood upbeat; the overall effect elegant, if a little restrained."

"The overall breezy tone means that the sudden shifts into darkness feels more marked – Beatrice’s injunction to kill Claudio causes audible gasps and Leonata’s turn against her daughter feels particularly brutal. The fact that it’s her mother condemning Hero makes it all the more chilling. But this darkness is quickly banished – it is not this show’s main aim - in a production intent on spreading good cheer and warm feeling, a little sunshine after a hard winter."

The Stage
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Scandaltown (2022)

★★★

"None of its blows land strongly"

"Stirling best understands how to handle the material, pitching her performance at the right heightened level, arch and acid in equal measure with flashes of humanity, and Goulding’s MP gets to go on an emotional journey of his own, but the playing elsewhere is variable and the pacing of Rachel O’Riordan’s production regularly saps the snap out of the lines. Too often, where it needs to be tight, it’s baggy."

The Stage
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The 47th (2022)

★★★

"Bertie Carvel is magnificent"

"Mike Bartlett’s new blank verse play about the 2024 US presidential election is not always satisfying but front and centre is a stupendous turn from Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump"

"Designer Miriam Buether’s set combines Dr Strangelove’s war room with an expensively anonymous hotel lobby, onto which, at one point, a golf-cart trundles. Rupert Goold capably marshals the large cast and the very plotty plot but, at times, the play’s twisty ambition works against it. The first half establishes a lot of themes and threads that it can’t resolve in a satisfying fashion, narrative elements are terminated abruptly and moments you feel should be chilling are oddly downplayed – though Cherrelle Skeete, as nurse talking about her mother’s lonely death from Covid-19, adds a welcome emotional note to the play’s later stages. It’s Carvel who leaves the biggest impression, bestriding the production in a magnificent and grimly apposite fashion."

The Stage
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Cock (2022)

★★★

"Frank and funny"

"Taron Egerton and Jonathan Bailey star in a stylish, savage but surface-skimming production of Mike Bartlett’s play about sexual identity"

"For a relatively short play – it runs to one hour and 45 minutes without an interval – it manages to say a lot about the way people in relationships exert a hold over one another, about desire and control and the power plays we conduct with those we love or, at least, claim to love, in a way that’s frank and funny and, at times, wince-inducingly cruel."

"But while it works on its own terms, it’s a difficult play to watch without an awareness of what it omits. While bisexuality is mentioned, it’s done so in a throwaway fashion with a faint expression of distaste. John describes his identity as a “stew”. And yet the play suggests there are only two possible outcomes to his dilemma, which makes it feel more dated than it is. The narrative is driven by John’s fluidity and yet recoils from it (something that also anchors it in time). Despite the best efforts of the cast, the characters always feel primarily like sexual chess pieces engaged in a game in which there can be only one victor."

The Stage
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The Collaboration (2022)

★★★★

"Humanises artistic icons"

"For a play about mould-breakers, it’s structurally and dramatically formulaic, but McCarten has a real knack for humanising icons – for digging beneath the image to reveal the flaws, the contradictions and emotional complexity. He tackles big themes with a lightness of touch – the always blurred boundary between art and commerce, an artist’s ownership of their own image – and while there are arguably places where the play could dig deeper, it has a real warmth to it and resists sentimentality. Though it is set near the end of both men’s lives – Warhol would go first from medical complications, Basquiat soon after from a drug overdose – its lens is trained on their lives."

The Stage
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Magic Goes Wrong (2020)

★★★

"Mischief theatre's entertaining fusion of magic and comedy"

"Funny and entertaining, if under-powered, fusion of magic and comedy. Though it doesn’t hit the highs of some previous Mischief outings, it remains a solidly entertaining show, from a company evidently keen to test itself, and, for once, there are a few sweet instances where everything goes right."

The Stage
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Cyrano de Bergerac (2019)

★★★★

"Words are everything in Jamie Lloyd’s stripped-down and shaken-up Cyrano"

“Martin Crimp’s adaptation plays fast and loose with Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play about a monumentally-nosed soldier-poet, trading Alexandrine verse for the rhythmic delivery of slam poetry”

“McAvoy, speaking for the most part in his Scottish accent, curls his tongue around the couplets, revelling in their rhythmic intricacy. Yes there are times when Lloyd’s production feels like it’s striving too hard to generate a hip, post-Hamilton vibe, but it tempers this with a sense of humour “

The Stage
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Betrayal (2019)

★★★★

"Stylish, intimate and superbly performed"

"All three actors are at ease with the rhythms of Pinter's language and at filling the spaces between their words with meaning, be it loss, longing or recrimination. There's an ease and chemistry between them as a company."

"Tom Hiddleston is disconcertingly convincing as the kind of man who casually talks about giving his wife a bashing and who is a total bastard to waiters yet is also capable of being charming and perceptive. He's a very responsive performer, at his best when interacting with others, and he's pretty remarkable here; the moment when he stares silently at Emma, sadly, desperately, is wrenching."

"It all plays out against Soutra Gilmour's achingly tasteful, minimalist set, an ecru canvas, beautifully lit by Jon Clark, that slowly moves forward, intensifying the claustrophobia. "

The Stage
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All About Eve (2019)

★★★

"A stylish but functional production"

"Though Van Hove’s adaptation sticks pretty closely to the original, it strips a lot of the joy and wit out of it. The result is glossy, but functional and superficial."

"The casting of Anderson as Margo is one of the production’s greatest strengths. She is simultaneously brittle and radiant, poised yet fragile, while Dolan, as a woman who inadvertently sabotages both her friend’s career and her own marriage, provides another reminder of what a great actor she is."

The Stage
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