Critics - Susannah Clapp

Susannah Clapp – London Theatre Critic

Selected reviews by Susannah Clapp is the theatre critic for the Observer.

Susannah Clapp is the theatre critic for the Guardian’s Sunday publication the Observer.

She is also the author of With Chatwin and A Card from Angela Carter, and a regular broadcaster. Susannah was one of the founders of the London Review of Books.

More about Susannah Clapp:

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John Gabriel Borkman (2022)

★★★

"Simon Russell Beale is doubly commanding as Ibsen’s charismatic banker in a problem-raising revival"

"Nicholas Hytner’s production, even with Simon Russell Beale, Clare Higgins and Lia Williams in the main roles is an evening of only intermittent splendours"

"The problems are not with the performances – Sebastian de Souza and Michael Simkins provide striking cameos – but with an overemphatic production. Anna Fleischle’s design – concrete walls and a Hedda Gabler stove – looms too obviously. Saint-Saëns’s Danse Macabre is played too loudly and too long. Most of all, the updating raises more problems than relevances..."

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Eureka Day (2022)

★★

"A new anti-vax satire needs more than a shot of Helen Hunt’s star power"

"In turning over the debate between vaxxing and anti-vaxxing, the play grazes the surface of some interesting problems – most particularly when it raises the question of the influence of big pharma – but these are pop-up points rather than developed arguments."

"Everything in Katy Rudd’s quick production is as bright as Rob Howell’s primary-coloured set. Eureka Day does not provide a eureka moment."

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Silence (2022)

★★

"Partition yields neither documentary nor drama"

"... in this four-handed adaptation – by Sonali Bhattacharyya, Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti, Ishy Din and Alexandra Wood – documentary and drama are both diminished. The accounts are introduced by an unnecessary story about the documentary maker. Performances are often overemphatic; Rose Revitt’s screen-based design is fidgety. Verbatim history has been extraordinarily important in the theatre – and on radio (where surely it deserves its own strand). Yet you sense its power only intermittently here."

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I, Joan (2022)

★★★★

"Isobel Thom’s non-binary Joan of Arc blazes on to the stage in Charlie Josephine’s eye-opening new play"

"“Non-binary finery”: I would count it worth going to I, Joan for that phrase alone. To see and hear it translated into movement, shape, colour, sound and gesture is to be part of a remaking of the stage, an explosion of new life."

"There is no better place to see someone making themselves up than in the theatre. You can be with a character step by step, and the self-discovery is wraparound, extending beyond an individual actor. All elements are vibrantly rethought in Ilinca Radulian’s production."

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The Narcissist (2022)

★★★★

"Christopher Shinn’s new play of post-Trump politics finds complex characters lost in ego and addiction"

"Josh Seymour’s production swoops adroitly from shrewd argument to intimate dialogue and jittery sputter: two characters are addicted to opiates and everyone is fighting addiction to their screens"

"People really change in the course of The Narcissist – not as common in plays as you might think. Politics and personality are unstably bound together. In an evening of finely controlled performances, Stuart Thompson is outstanding as the would-be boyfriend: earnestly proclaiming his socialist credentials, quietly preening as he tucks a curl behind an ear."

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Into The Woods (2022)

★★★

"Terry Gilliam and Leah Hausman’s take on Sondheim is just a bit too much"

"The time for Into the Woods has come"

"That Monty Python-style foot is one of the most effective strokes in a visually noisy production (designed by Jon Bausor) in which everything is larkily underlined"

"Sondheim deserves similar, less fussy illumination. They say he is not hummable, but rhythms and lyrics – hitting a core while sounding skewwhiff – tick away long term in your blood."

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The Trials (2022)

★★★

" A teenage jury call their climate-ruining elders to account"

"The ‘dinosaur’ generation is put on trial in Dawn King’s near-future new play, graced by some nicely nuanced performances from its youthful cast"

"On the whole, the less measured the character, the surer the actor’s landing. Joe Locke, of Netflix hit Heartstopper, has wonderful ease, Jowana El-Daouk unyielding scorn, Charlie Reid an outstanding sardonic loll. Something else takes place beyond individual characterisation. The group, introducing themselves with their preferred pronouns, spread themselves around the action with coltish grace, sprawling, meditating, deep breathing. Being young, bringing a new climate to the Donmar."

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All of Us (2022)

★★★

"Disablism, austerity and therapy-speak fuel Francesca Martinez’s jolting drama"

"There are startling, sparkling episodes in All of Us, revelatory moments when you hear and see experiences new to the stage of the National, which is working hard to expand the repertoire of the lives it projects."

"A play that sets out rightly to challenge the idea of normality, justly to take on government negligence, weakens its accomplishments by turning drama into dilemma."

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Jack Absolute Flies Again (2022)

★★★

"Mrs Malaprop’s a loose cannon in Richard Bean’s Battle of Britain take on Sheridan"

"Quentin, shiny as a creature on a carousel, brings admirable zip to the flinging-herself-around physical comedy (which requires her to do the splits while playing the ukulele) and to the verbal slips – “flatulence will get you everywhere” – that define her character. The trouble is that Bean so overeggs her speech with errors that the lines can scarcely breathe."

"The drama does not have the freewheeling expansiveness of his other adaptation, One Man, Two Guvnors, nor the bravura savagery of his England People Very Nice. The jokes are there, all right – but it’s as if they’re coming in to land in an adjacent room."

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Much Ado About Nothing (2022)

★★★★

"Shakespeare’s comedy is the gift that keeps on giving"

"As the hate-to-love, love-to-hate couple, John Heffernan and Katherine Parkinson give separately striking performances. Heffernan begins as a desultory discontent and subtly accretes layers of intelligence. Parkinson, wildly poised, gradually grows a heart, her face shining with surprised tears. However, they give off few sparks when together: their exchanges do not fuel the play. The energy is more diffused."

"Some of the play’s more disturbing moments go missing, but the glide of the action is delectable."

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Crazy For You (2022)

★★★★

"Who can resist Gershwin?"

"Development and detail is all in the swelling voices and frisking toes of Carly Anderson and Charlie Stemp. Anderson goes brightly (if disappointingly) from dungareed can-do to all-over frockiness; Stemp – the linchpin of the evening – tap-dances on a small silver tray, patters over tiny tables, spins and leaps and sparkles. Together, they dance into delight: first squaring up with hoedown elbowing, then swooningly back-bending in a waltz."

"This is a revival, not a rethink"

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That Is Not Who I Am (2022)

★★★

"A revelatory drama about identity theft is let down by its thriller plot"

"At its best, Lucy Morrison’s production spins between many modes of visionariness and fabrication. Here are lies by government and by lovers, crackpot theories (get rid of HIV by doing downward dog) and prescient fears. Mental disturbance merges with proportionate anxiety"

"As a doomed couple, Jake Davies and Siena Kelly are exceptionally natural and nuanced, shrugging in and out of affection, daily concern, apocalyptic alarm."

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A Dolls House, Part 2 (2022)

★★★

"Lucas Hnath’s sequel to the Ibsen classic is intriguing rather than revelator"

"This Doll’s House is a hybrid: it uses 21st-century idiom – “I’m pissed off at you” – while taking off from the conditions of Ibsen’s lifetime, with maids and clerks and very clear guidelines for how to behave as a respectable married female."

"This is an intriguing, not a transporting play. Patricia Allison is silvery and sharp as Nora’s daughter – independent from her mother but strikingly conventional; June Watson is magnificent as the beaky housekeeper. James Macdonald’s finely focused production pushes home – on the eyes as well as the ears – every twist of the debate. Like spectators at a boxing ring, the audience sit around the action. "

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Jitney (2022)

★★★

"August Wilson’s taxi-stand drama has developed new flavour with age"

"Punctuated by the constant ringing of the phone, and by the minute-by-minute flinging open and banging shut of the office door, the action, though ferocious, imperilled and urgent, has the intricate timing and the near balletic quality of a French farce. August Wilson never ceases to surprise."

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The Burnt City (2022)

★★★★★

"The immersive theatre trailblazers return with an all-consuming vision of the siege of Troy"

"The current embracing of all things classical – the National has just announced that a large-scale adaptation of The Odyssey will take place across the country next year – involves a search for a vocabulary that can encompass arbitrary and predictable terrors: blows from the gods and cycles of revenge horror. The Burnt City, a vision of the siege of Troy, draws on Aeschylus’s Agamemnon and Euripides’s Hecuba. It is not so much a re-enactment as a response to these works."

"Driving narrative is not Punchdrunk’s strong suit. Actually, the more driving (as in their 2009 It Felt Like a Kiss) the less original. They are creators of distilled moments. Crossing a border checkpoint into Troy, reimagined as a hub of decadence, you can see the Hotel Elysium (“no refunds”), a room in a tenement building with a half-eaten supper congealing in a Baby Belling, and a woman writhing in all-over leather as she waits for her dealer; Willow Weep for Me is playing. Almost most impressive are the apparently redundant rooms, places that might have been left as sketches but are meticulously realised: a taproom that has kegs of “Styx” and “Hades”; a pottery shop with rows of tiny clay figures of Poseidon and Athena. The most static scenes can contain an inward energy: magnificently, they urge you to look for the past that has made them."

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All About Eve (2019)

★★★

"Van Hove’s paraphernalia is there – the cameras circling the stage, the video screen capturing and magnifying the action. But Anderson is a strong enough actress not to be lost in all that. She doubly proves her strength: she is not, like Davis, a swaggerer; she is a scalpel, who does not volcanically implode but slowly peels away her defensive layers. "

"In the title role, James fares less well. She exhibits presence but small range. She is too obviously manipulative at the beginning, too simply nasty at the end; her mouth too constantly on the curl."

"The production is too entranced with glamour to be sinister, the space insufficiently claustrophobic for quarrels to be threatening. There is a more haunting show circling this enjoyable, glitzy one."

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