Selected reviews by Quentin Letts, theatre critic and journalist for the Times and Sunday Times.
Quentin is the political sketch writer for The Times and a theatre critic for The Sunday Times. He has written about parliament and its scurvy occupants since 1990.
Quentin joined the Times and Sunday Times in 2018, following 18 years writing for the Daily Mail, as their parliamentary sketch writer and theatre critic.
His books include the bestselling 50 People Who Buggered Up Britain and The Speaker’s Wife, a novel.
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John Gabriel Borkman (2022)
"Although Beale is, as always, delicious to watch, his voice so civilised and English, it doesn’t quite work. He lacks savagery. This Borkman does not stride up and down in bitter turmoil. He plods"
"Anna Fleischle’s design offers angsty greys and whites, the final misty outdoors scene evoking Scandinavian winter. Daisy Ou’s piano-playing on a high balcony is dramatically intense and Michael Simkins’s Willhelm, Borkman’s one friend, shows us drab normality. Maybe the world needs Borkmans after all. But this one is insufficiently feral."
The Snail House (2022)
"It is unexpectedly shouty"
"the second half improves... and by the end it almost has a Chekhovian flavour"
The Clothes They Stood Up In (2022)
"Alan Bennett grapples with everyday horrors"
"Scarborough being perfect as this fussy, inadequate little martinet. Sophie Thompson overdoes things a little as the implausibly patient Rosemary, but her exaggeration matches the absurdity of the plot."
"This run in Nottingham may not be the end of the production."
The Clinic (2022)
"The Clinic is an attack on middle-class pretension"
"Commercial theatres might have been tougher on, and therefore ultimately more helpful to, Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s The Clinic. Its idea has its moments, but the plot is a mess and the characterisation jerky."
"The Ian Charleson award-winner Gloria Obianyo, as the doctor, lives up to her rising reputation."
"The script attacks middle-class black pretension, with a dig at MPs such as Kwarteng, Cleverly and Kemi Badenoch, but this was rendered inaudible by an over-whoopy audience"
"This show adapts a Kavita Puri book, Partition Voices. As a record of ethnic cleansing, it has raw historical value, but as stage drama in this Abdul Shayek production it lacks urgency. "
"The performances are patchy and indistinct, the best coming from Bhasker Patel and Renu Brindle."
"Shayek should remember the adage “show not tell”. Let the acting, not the written page, describe human sentiments."
"Hail Gary Barlow, the sex god from next door"
"The Take That frontman’s one-man show is rueful and engaging"
"This engaging show, co-written by Tim Firth, is rueful, wry and just a touch wooden. Somehow that is as it should be. The evening might benefit from more music. It is when he sings, demonstrating remarkable clarity in the high notes, that Barlow takes flight as a stage presence."
I, Joan (2022)
"A gender-fluid Joan of Arc? Pull the other one"
"It’s not a bad idea, but do we really need battle scenes that look like Zumba sessions, modern dress and swearing?"
"Here is a Joan who stoically endures arrow wounds yet takes umbrage — right, that’s it, I’m off to burn at the stake — because courtiers will not use her preferred pronouns. Pull the other one."
All of Us (2022)
"Taking aim at Tories"
"The jokes soon dry up and go down the partisan plughole."
"Tory scum kill disabled people: that might have been a more honest title for Francesca Martinez’s All of Us. Martinez, who has cerebral palsy, has written and acts in a three-hour play attacking the government for not spending more on disability benefits. Initially her trenchant views are sugared by humour and by her willowy performance. The early scenes challenge presumptions and offer useful insights about our over-bureaucratised care system. Well before the end, alas, the show goes down a partisan plughole, squandering political sympathy and losing its dramatic poise."
"Even I wept buckets at this wonderful weepy"
"With songs by Stiles and Drewe, it is a gooey offering. The only hard-nosed thing is its commercially savvy sentimentality. Out comes the onion peeler time and again, and by the end every person on stage is weeping. Quite a few in the audience succumbed too."
"Nunn drills his youthful cast well and both set and computerised backdrops are better than one expects from a touring musical."
"I wanted The Lion, the Witch and the Wardrobe to evoke wonder"
"In all it’s a shrewd commercial package for families — but like a municipal swimming pool designed by centralised health and safety, it lacks depth."
"Yes, there is spectacle aplenty, but too little of the “fundamental seriousness” of religious hope. Aslan’s resurrection involved some amateurish fumbles. With the exception of the dear little faun Mr Tumnus (Jez Unwin) it all left me a little cold and, I’m afraid, lifeless."
Sister Act (2022)
"Beverley Knight, voice like a jumbo jet, plays a Philadelphia nightclub singer, Deloris, who takes sanctuary in a convent after seeing her gangster boyfriend murder one of his comedy hoodlums"
"Not even a Deloris could teach Jennifer Saunders how to sing. The Ab Fab star plays the mother superior and she is her usual comic self, but her two solos are acts of musical torture."
Jack Absolute Flies Again (2022)
"This loveable show should revive the battered box office at the National Theatre"
"... this is an enormously loveable show. The reason it works so well is not just the panache of the writing, acting and animated graphics of Spitfire dogfights. It is the mix of laughter and tears, its ability to peel away from formation comedy and bare an underbelly of something more vulnerable."
"Emily Burns’s production maintains such a pace that some jokes are lost in the gallop."
Much Ado About Nothing (2022)
"The test of any Much Ado is the moment Beatrice goes icy and asks Benedick to “kill Claudio”. If the audience laughs, the production lacks the proper depth of emotion. It happens here. But the night still has plenty of merit and Shakespeare’s conservative argument remains potent: “What we have, we prize not to the worth whiles we enjoy it, but, being lacked and lost, why then we rack the value"."
Crazy For You (2022)
"When it comes to song and dance and liquid watchability, Stemp is the works. He plays our rich kid, Bobby Child, and he is ace. Carly Anderson matches him as Bobby’s desire, and Tom Edden again proves his reliability by playing Mr Zangler, owner of the Follies."
"Susan Stroman’s production is a riot of syncopation and fun. Zest on stage."
Anything Goes (2022)
"Fear not, little flock. The Cole Porter musical Anything Goes is back at the Barbican after last summer’s triumphant run. Reno, the loveless nightclub singer who makes an Atlantic crossing with a shipload of gangsters and romancers, is now played by Kerry Ellis. For me she has a spoonful more mischief than last year’s star, Sutton Foster. Denis Lawson is also an improvement on Robert Lindsay as Moonface Martin, the sub-mafioso who is public enemy No 13. The cast’s other big addition is that old ham Simon Callow, who plays the millionaire Elisha Whitney."
"Playwright Peter Morgan‘s slick horror show captures the early days of the despot but makes him sound like Rodney from Only Fools and Horses"
"This is a slick horror story about greed for money and power. The Putin we see is a psychopath with murderous underlings. Berezovsky, played magnetically by a tonsured Tom Hollander, gorges himself on success. It is hard to feel sorry for him when he falls. Putin’s own overreach goes unshown, but it will surely come, will it not?"
The Seagull (2022)
"Emilia Clarke can’t save The Seagull"
"The stage is a bare, doorless, three-sided chipboard box. The actors are barefoot and drably attired on plastic chairs. They eff and blind. When not in a scene, they stare into space or close their eyes. This is also true, soon, of some audience members."
"The play opens with stuff about theatre theory and the didacticism of “the gatekeepers of culture”. It is done without irony. The cast are head-miked so that we can hear their gulps and snuffles. It’s like watching a bad Radio 4 play."
A Dolls House, Part 2 (2022)
"A radical feminist wrestling match"
"Patricia Allison impresses as Emmy, but she and Dumezweni are given little ammunition to make their big scene plausible. The play feels more like a political project, an examination of marriage and women’s rights, than a tale of love and loss. Dumezweni has magnetic presence. She, like the whole show, is perfectly watchable. But I did not for a moment believe she was Ibsen’s Nora. It might have been better to leave that slammed door shut."
My Fair Lady (2022)
"My Fair Lady reminded me why we go to West End shows"
"From the moment the overture starts swirling around the Coliseum, My Fair Lady is daringly sumptuous. Swooping melodies? Painted backcloths? Vast Edwardian hats and rich lighting? This Bartlett Sher production is unashamedly sensuous. Such things were once the reason we went to West End shows, handing over our precious spondulicks to be transported, rather than lectured at, and here Sher restores a mission to entertain and enchant."
The 47th (2022)
"At last, a five-star Trump we can love"
"Bertie Carvel is remarkable as the former president in this outrageous, must-see play that will rankle the metropolitan elite"
"The most immediate thing about this funny, outrageous production is Bertie Carvel’s turn as Trump."
"No, the show is not perfect. So why five stars? Because it’s so refreshing. Bartlett does not merely and lazily attack Trump. He acknowledges something of his electoral genius. Trumpism appeals to people “sick of paying taxes to a stifling culture they do not believe”. In jabbing the liberal, metropolitan Old Vic crowd, this show does something to make that culture less stifling. Also, Bartlett and Goold are plainly having a lot of fun. So much modern theatre is po-faced, palsied by political correctness. Not this."
To Kill A Mockingbird (2022)
"Aaron Sorkin supercharges To Kill a Mockingbird"
"At last, here’s a play with serious oomph — pity about Rafe Spall’s designer stubble"
"... here is a production of To Kill a Mockingbird (Gielgud Theatre, London W1) to restore some high-brow oomph to Shaftesbury Avenue. Harper Lee’s novel about race and rape injustice in 1930s Alabama has been given a fresh varnish by Aaron Sorkin, the screenwriter of, among others, The West Wing. It has a big cast and is skilfully staged."
Straight Line Crazy (2022)
"Ralph Fiennes takes on middle-class women"
"David Hare’s play makes town planning exciting"
"Danny Webb does a strong turn as the governor of New York. Siobhán Cullen and Samuel Barnett play Moses’s sidekicks. We hear of, but never meet, Moses’s wife. Pity. Seeing him at home might have helped us to know the man better. Hare never quite nails the obsession with straight lines. Was it megalomania, unyielding logic, something weirder? Or was it that new-world fervour, which London left-wingers never quite fathom, for the political self-sufficiency of the motorcar and the open, straight road?"
The Human Voice (2022)
"Jean Cocteau wrote this bottom-numbing play in 1928, when it must at least have had shock value and when the telephone was still a sufficiently new device to provoke novel questions about human communication. Such reflections today feel like truisms. Ivo van Hove gives the show his usual sheen of millennial trendiness. Wilson throws her considerable talent at it as the monologue alternates between bravado and desperation. But does anyone care? Around me in the dress circle, ennui prevailed. The first heavy yawn came after 18 minutes."
"Only for the brave - screams galore await"
"The ghoulery is done well, a team of anonymous, black-clad performers carrying off the other-worldly spooks with artful choreography amid dramatic lighting and collywobblying sound effects."
"Cinderella is a triumph"
"Cinderella is a triumph of catchy songs and fabulous wigs — it shouldn’t be denied to a joy-starved public"
"There's a touch of Blake's 7 to the Lyric's Solaris - and it's all the better for it"
"it might all have worked better had the director, Matthew Lutton, aimed it at the level of innocent sci-fi rather than something more pseudish."
All About Eve (2019)
"Superbly assured, but it's All About gimmicks"
"Gimmickry can be fascinating, as when Margo’s face is rapidly aged in a video time-lapse. But when done to excess, van Hoveian cleverness reduces the humanity in the theatrical experience."
"This is a memorable production. It is done with tremendous panache and it confirms Miss James as a top-notch stage performer, and Miss Anderson as box-office gold. But they should have called it All About Ivo."
"Sondheim revamped with a gender bender twist"
"Yet another old show has been warmed up with gender bending."
"In places the score is evocative of Burt Bacharach, with less of the melodic stop-and-start found in later Sondheim.
The episodic nature of the story keeps the action varied and Patti LuPone shows her vocal chops with the song The Ladies Who Lunch. She rather shows up some of the other singers."
"For its snappy production values, for Getting Married Today and for the walnut-veneered luxury of Miss LuPone’s presence, as well as the inventiveness of the gender switching, it’s just about a four-star evening. But a show to admire rather than love.”
"That voice, I tell you: it could reduce the very citadel of Jericho to rubble"
"Adrienne Warren. Dimples to kill. An impish, insistent stage personality. And a voice by Pratt & Whitney. That voice, I tell you: it could reduce the very citadel of Jericho to rubble. It is as big and growly as the real Tina Turner in her lion-mane strutting heyday."
"This show is a great deal better than most jukebox musicals. It is not just a collection of hit songs interspersed with prosaic dialogue."