Critics - Dominic Maxwell

Dominic Maxwell – London Theatre Critic

Selected reviews by Dominic Maxwell, theatre and comedy critic for The Times and the Sunday Times.

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Dmitry (2022)

★★★

"Dynastic ding-dong that befuddles then bewitches"

"An unabashedly high-theatrical style that at first makes you clutch your seat in fear that you’ll never follow all the Russian and Polish names, all the politicking, all the history? A dynastic ding-dong: House of the Dragon with no dragons. Not to worry, theatregoer. This new adaptation by Peter Oswald may start out befuddling, but it ends up bewitching."

"The supporting cast is uneven, but there are fine performances here. Tom Byrne has the deceptively easy strength of purpose of a young Hugh Laurie as Dmitry,..."

"It’s Big Theatre: not flawless, but admirably ambitious, mountingly involving and rewarding."

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The P Word (2022)

★★★★

"A tremendous two-man rom-com"

"... The P Word delights on pretty much every level. Akhtar has the two men each narrating their stories to us as well as interacting. He has filled his script with adroit, self-aware exchanges and reflections. And if we know — roughly — the trajectory of the tale as this pair start to share movie nights and riverside walks, the characters are too well drawn, their problems too tangible, for predictability to be a problem."

"So The P Word gives you what you want as well as telling you what you don’t already know"

The Times
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Gary Barlow - A Different Stage (2022)

★★★

"Tales from the boy-band boy scout"

"Barlow is an energetic and engaging storyteller, but you won’t mistake A Different Stage for anything off-the-cuff. He tells a couple of funny stories about disastrous gigs — one of which all but kills off his American career in a trice — that reinforced his desire to avoid sloppiness at all costs. He is the boy-band boy scout: always prepared."

"Take That fans will find much to love here. Neutrals like me may find themselves feeling kept at arm’s length. Tim Firth’s lively production, designed by Es Devlin, keeps its man on a short rein: he’s peppy, sometimes knowingly naff, addresses some true trials in his life, yet never entirely leaves Mr Showbiz mode. It’s an entertaining, sometimes amusing, sometimes moving, yet slightly too stage-managed evening of self-revelation."

The Times
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Chasing Hares (2022)

★★★

"A fitfully fascinating study of compromise and coercion"

"At its best, Chasing Hares is a pacy, thrilling depiction of compromise and coercion. The second hour of the show — which is inspired, in part, by Bhattacharyya’s uncle’s experiences working at a Dunlop factory in Bandel, West Bengal — is involving and darkly amusing too."

"Generally the tone is well sustained, the staging sharp. There is exciting work in here. It’s just a shame that the show’s musings on the power of storytelling end up getting in the way of the power of its storytelling"

The Times
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Billy Elliot The Musical (2022)

★★★★★

"This revival will have you dancing for joy"

"It’s a flat-out masterpiece. And if you had any worries that a humble regional revival of a musical that played in the West End for 11 years and on Broadway for three would come off second best, believe me, there is nothing humble about Nikolai Foster’s luminous production."

"It’s epic but intimate. Heavens, even the swearing is gorgeous. Several of Foster’s Curve musicals have gone on to have a life elsewhere. This, his biggest yet, will surely, hopefully, be one of them."

The Times
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Disney's Beauty and the Beast (2022)

★★★

"An all-singing, all-dancing piece of the Disney brand"

"Spectacle wins out over storytelling in this extravagant, exuberantly played revival of a Disney show"

"The highlight of the evening is Be My Guest, a number so catchy and so lavishly staged that it barely matters what show it arrives in the middle of. The director and choreographer Matt West celebrates musical theatre with every tool at his disposal: cartwheels, tap dancing, chorus lines, a pink sparkling curtain, synchronised moves worthy of the Ziegfeld Follies. "

The Times
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Jitney (2022)

★★★★

"A funny, fractious dive into the lives of 1970s American taxi drivers"

"Tinuke Craig’s fluid and absorbing revival oozes an unforced sense of edgy camaraderie, a sharp sense of lives in stasis amid a city in awkward motion. There is even, in the cinematic-jazz interludes by Max Perryment, a nod to Bernard Herrmann’s music for Taxi Driver."

"It’s unsentimental, but compassionate. And outstandingly well acted."

"It’s fractious, funny and lively enough that our suspension of disbelief can handle the cast breaking into a dance to a Bill Withers song. The accents are excellent, so good, in fact, that it takes a fair while, in this big old theatre at least, to tune into the vernacular. When the characters break off into smaller groups, though, the evening takes on an arresting intimacy."

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Murder On The Orient Express (2022)

★★★

"Henry Goodman is outstanding"

"Goodman has entirely cracked the mystery of how to put a new spin on the world’s most famous, most Belgian detective."

"Jonathan Church’s production does its best to make something fresh and theatrical of a tale with arguably the most familiar solution in the Christie canon. Robert Jones’s design does a fine job of getting us in among the action — moving dining tables and sleeping carriages across the stage in different formations — less so of bringing any sense of confinement, of tension."

The Times
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My Fair Lady (2022)

★★★

"A bit more power and it would be really lovely"

"a very decent, very stylish, eventually quite audacious My Fair Lady. Not, though, a great one. Or certainly not on opening night."

"My Fair Lady is always diverting, less often transporting. Michael Yeargan’s sets transport us from bare-stage blue to Covent Garden pillars before you even realise it."

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Grease (2022)

★★★

"It’s highly professional."

"Arlene Phillips’s choreography offers some thrills"

"[When] Olivia Moore takes centre stage.. to sing good-girl Sandy’s impassioned lament Hopelessly Devoted to You — it simply soars"

"It’s never going to be West Side Story, fine, but even so this Grease needs a more vivid sense of lives in the balance."

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Much Ado About Nothing (2022)

★★★★

"Shakespeare’s sparring lovers start the Globe’s new season in style"

"Something about Much Ado’s sprawling mix of the cheering (flirtation, farce, love, redemption) and the sobering (misogyny, betrayal) seems to suit the Globe."

"And, in a production by Lucy Bailey that elegantly feminises some of the power structures, Katy Stephens is a standout always as the amusing, authoritative, Latin-tempered governor Leonata, but never more so than when she sings. She forms a fine double act with another older stateswoman, Antonia (Joanne Haworth). And everyone excels in the unabashedly slapstick rendition of the scene in which they engineer first Benedick (Ralph Davis) and then Beatrice (Lucy Phelps) into overhearing disinformation about how much the other one loves them. It’s very funny."

The Times
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Jerusalem (2022)

★★★★★

"Mark Rylance mesmerises in one of the best plays you will ever see"

"A thousand playwrights try to write the sort of Chekhovian tragicomedy in which characters in one location chat over the course of a day — St George’s Day in the fictional village of Flintock in this instance — until, whoops-a-daisy, the story is done and everyone’s lives are changed for ever. Only Butterworth and his reunited team (the director Ian Rickson, the designer Ultz, and a fine cast, including an excellent Mackenzie Crook and some of the other original actors) has found a way to make that format vivid rather than meandering."

"Written long before Brexit, Jerusalem nails an English bloody-mindedness, a need to be free. Rooster is too rich a character to be merely emblematic, though. He ends up hobbled, his situation hopeless, his desires undimmed. And Rylance is mesmerising. It’s not the neatest play you’ll ever see, but it is one of the best plays you’ll ever see."

The Times
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Prima Facie (2022)

★★★★

"Shapeshifter Jodie Comer takes the stage by storm"

"If you’ve seen Jodie Comer play the murderous Villanelle in Killing Eve you’ll know she is a gifted shapeshifter. Nothing, though, can quite prepare you for the range, energy, resilience, emotional clarity and sheer presence she offers in this play by the Australian lawyer turned writer Suzie Miller."

"Is the legal system ill-equipped to offer justice for the one in three women who have been sexually assaulted? These 100 minutes of stage time make a strong case, which might make it an impassioned yet over-instructive evening in lesser hands. With Comer at its centre, Justin Martin’s inventive, propulsive production clears the space for its closing arguments thanks to the vividness with which it draws us into Tessa’s upturned world."

The Times
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Marys Seacole (2022)

★★★

"An ambitious tribute to the pioneering nurse of Crimea"

"This kaleidoscopic play is by turns abstruse, amusing, irked, forgiving. Mother-daughter relationships dominate, but it’s only when the lurking ghost of Mary’s disapproving mother (Llewella Gideon) breaks her silence that the show’s ideas about the underestimated role of the black caregiver in white society become overt."

"Not everything in Nadia Latif’s elegant, acerbic, beautifully acted production quite joins up. Is its strange shape, led by theme rather than narrative, a tribute to a woman who wouldn’t be contained by the conventional ways of thinking of her age? It feels as if Drury is a draft away from finding the perfect way to make Seacole’s story both literal and metaphorical in the way she wants to, but this is an ambitious evening that lingers in the memory even so."

The Times
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Bring It On: The Musical (2021)

★★★★

"Cheerleading musical will put smiles on faces"

"Inspired by the film series of the same name, Bring It On here gets its first British professional production. And, especially in those moments where you sense most keenly Miranda’s mix of musical-theatre extravagance and hip-hop exuberance — he shares credits for all songs with the composer Tom Kitt and the lyricist Amanda Green — it can really connect. It’s the sort of self-aware froth that can wipe that Plan B frown right off your face, masked though that face may be/should be/must be."

"The former Olympic gymnast and Strictly winner Louis Smith (as Cameron) moves and raps well, although at 32 he looks the most senior of these high-school seniors. And Guy Unsworth’s pulsating but poised production looks the part on Libby Watson’s school gymnasium set. So when the cast are throwing themselves into Fabian Aloise’s choreography, when they are singing and rapping pumpingly Manuel-ish tunes such as It’s All Happening, Bring It On achieves true take-off. It’s fun."

The Times
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A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story (2021)

★★★

"Mark Gatiss’s new Dickens adaptation puts a smile on your face"

"This is how to make Dickens’s greatest hit feel both surprising and familiar!”

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Magic Goes Wrong (2020)

★★★★

"Revelling in the art of the complex cock‑up"

"It’s a magic show. It starts going wrong. It keeps going wrong, for more than two hours. There, that’s taken care of the plot of this gloriously silly evening. So there is no purpose to Magic Goes Wrong beyond the simple delight in complex cock-ups."

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Groan Ups (2019)

★★

"Bigger in scope, smaller in impact"

"I’d love to say that it’s another smash. It has some lovely moments, especially when the second half ascends into the farce that suits them best. Yet it’s a baggy old evening, not quite a full-on gagfest, but too broad to sustain its aspirations to be something more substantial."

"There are some deft depictions of childhood tropes. Yet it soon starts to drift. The second half detonates the first half’s secret passions and rivalries, has fun with silly Simon’s preposterous plans to impress Moon, but can’t quite persuade us to take this malfunctioning crew semi-seriously. "

The Times
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The Girl Who Fell (2019)

★★★

"Lurching through a mothers grief "

"The lurches from idea to idea that stop The Girl Who Fell from being wholly convincing also keep it surprising, stimulating and touching. Hannah Price’s deftly acted production is blessed above all by a superb central turn from Claire Goose as Thea, the divorced chaplain who fears she is responsible for the suicide of her 15-year-old daughter, Sam."

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Vassa (2019)

"Like a tone-deaf pre-Soviet Succession."

“Redmond is a terrific actress, but struggles to suggest any inner life for a woman who ends the show as she begins it: ruthless, ingenious, scornful.”

“The insistent overplaying of the comedy dries up the laughs from the start.”

“The acting varies from the flat to the gurning, with only Danny Kirrane, as the elder son, Semyon, consistently nailing the sort of casual esprit required.”

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Come From Away (2019)

★★★★★

"9/11 musical has a heart the size of Canada"

"A feelgood 9/11 musical? Can that really be a good idea, never mind Come From Away’s two years on Broadway, never mind its awards and raves and standing ovations there? They give everything a standing ovation in New York, right?

"See the show in the West End, though, and it takes all of ten seconds to be in its generous embrace. You stay there for the next 100 minutes: laughing, tapping your foot, wiping away tears, feeling good about humanity — what a rare, welcome feeling that is these days — without ever feeling you’re just being sold gloopy musical-theatre good cheer."

The Times
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All About Eve (2019)

★★

"Fasten your seatbelts, it’s going to be a boring night... the multimedia staging knocks the wit out of this drama"

"this listless theatrical adaptation by Ivo van Hove feels too much like one long act of misguided quotation. With Gillian Anderson in the Davis role and Lily James as the ruthless ingénue, you’d expect at least some juicy acting to get our fangs into. Somehow, though, the mixture of stage acting and sequences filmed and projected on to a big screen upstage drains the energy from the action."

"Van Hove clings too close to Joseph Mankiewicz’s film; he fiddles with it rather than reinvents it. His best work (A View from the Bridge, Roman Tragedies) is uncomfortably intimate and intense. Here, it feels like eavesdropping on actors recreating a film, not on real people. It’s hard to care for anyone."

The Times
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Hole (2018)

★★

‘This hour-long explosion of the deeply felt meets the intellectually playful meets performance-art spectacle starts and ends with the same line: “I need you to listen.”’

‘We get the idea, but then what do we get? This raging feminist cabaret gets tiresome all too soon'

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Billionaire Boy (2018)

★★★★

“An imaginative, irreverent adaptation of David Walliams’s book captures the story’s fun and its heart”

“Good news for Robbie Williams: musical adaptations of David Walliams books can put a tap in your toe, a smile on your face and a tear in your eye.”

"Granted, Billionaire Boy is still a bit rough around the edges, most often when Luke Sheppard’s imaginative production sticks too closely to dialogue that might play on the page, but doesn’t translate to the stage."

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