The Week on Stage theater reviews: Guys and Dolls, Further Than the Furthest Thing, Marjorie Prime

TIn this week, the Bridge Theater transforms into 1920s New York, Anne Reid plays in a Black mirror-like drama, and a new play at the Young Vic stages a revival of the second play by Scottish playwright Zinnie Harris.

Boys and Dolls – Bridge Theater ★★★★☆

In Nicholas Hytner’s production of Boys and dolls, nothing stays silent for long: not the cast, not the audience, not even the stage. After critically acclaimed immersive productions of Julius Caesar And A Midsummer Night’s Dreamthe boss of the Bridge Theater transforms the room into Depression-era New York, a place in constant flux.

Bright neon signs hang above the auditorium pointing to the city’s seedy underbelly; a world of late nights and men who gamble on just about anything. Nathan Detroit (Daniel Mays) desperately tries to find a home for his next illegal nonsense game, while promising his fiancee of 14 years (girl, run) Adelaide (Marisha Wallace) that they can get married any day now. Needing an impossible-to-lose bet, Nathan thinks he’s found one when he bets playboy Sky Masterson (Andrew Richardson) that he can’t “bring a doll to Havana”, with the doll in question being local preacher Sarah Brown (Celinde Shoemaker). .

The cast of ‘Guys and Dolls’

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The cast of ‘Guys and Dolls’

(Manuel Harlan)

Watching the swirling ensemble you’ll find it hard to know where to look, but our leads confidently drive the show. Mays is a little short on energy when he takes the stage, but he quickly gets going. Wallace, who recently bagged an Olivier nomination for her role in Oklahoma!continues to dominate every musical she stars in. She doesn’t overdo this easy-to-over-exaggerate role, making the oft two “A Bushel and a Peck” really sexy.

The highlight of the show comes from Nicely-Nicely Johnson (Cedric Neal), who gets those who won’t get up out of their seats with a breathtaking rendition of “Sit Down, You’re Rockin’ The Boat.” The ensemble comes together in these large, powerful group songs. There are no distractions and the audience regains all lost focus. We are reminded why we are here: to see musical theater titans at the top of their game, singing to their heart’s content. As classy revivals of grand musicals go, you’ll struggle to find better. Isabel Lewis

Full review here

Marjorie Prime – Chocolate Factory Menier ★★★☆☆

Anyone currently trembling with fear that their job will soon be replaced by artificial intelligence will be soothed by the gentle vision of an Android-filled future presented in Marjorie Prime. Brooklyn-based playwright Jordan Harrison penned this mildly dystopian play nine years ago, before Chat GPT’s hauntingly good AI software was successfully deployed to generate everything from movie posters to sonnets to wedding vows. Accordingly, he envisions a world where androids are imperfect aids to humans, rather than sinister overlords.

Last Tango in Halifax star Anne Reid is the warm beating heart of this show as 85-year-old Marjorie: she is wonderfully bawdy, full of life and anything but pitiful as she lives with dementia. But then she has a lot to be happy about. She has Walter (Richard Fleeshman) to boost her memory. He’s a “Prime,” or an accurate android facsimile of her late husband, forever 30 years old (it’s amusingly insinuated that she wanted him at his very hottest).

Nancy Carroll (left) and Anne Reid in ‘Marjorie Prime’

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Nancy Carroll (left) and Anne Reid in ‘Marjorie Prime’

(Manuel Harlan)

This piece is set 40 years in the future, but AI could easily create something with a Prime’s conversational skills right now. And with AI raising so many ethical issues, it’s somewhat disappointing that Harrison’s hints at some of the Prime’s darker possible uses don’t amount to much: the tone of this piece is as even as a gray-painted wall. Scenes move at a heavy pace, static and chatty, and tied to the confines of designer Jonathan Femson’s beautifully soft, wood-lined living room. Still, it’s a satisfying 80 minutes in theater with a more abstract final scene hinting at a more chilling potential vision of the future, one in which people can be squeezed out of their stories and then thrown away, like used tubes of toothpaste. It’s a welcome note of terror in a piece that often feels too cosy. Alice Saville

Full review here

Beyond the furthest – Young Vic ★★★☆☆

Zinnie Harris’ 1999 play follows the inhabitants of a small, remote island who are forced to move to England when a natural disaster strikes. In a week of nationwide protests against the government’s illegal migration law, the resurgence of the Young Vic could hardly be more relevant. But as the play progresses, the subject begins to get lost between increasingly bizarre and confusing storylines, blurring the focus.

The play opens on the nameless island (based on Tristan da Cunha, where Harris lived for a few years as a child) to which the newly confident Francis (Archie Madekwe) returns after spending a year in Cape Town. We meet his sweet Aunt Mill (an enchanting Jenna Russell) and fiery Uncle Bill (Cyril Nri), who have little, yet seem happy. But Francis has not come back alone; with him is Mr. Hansen (Gerald Kyd), a textbook colonialist villain who tricks the family with magic tricks, before sharing his proposal to build a factory on the island. But then a natural disaster strikes and the residents flee to damp, smoggy England – a working country, “the Queen and puddings”, as Mill laments.

Jenna Russell in ‘Further Than the Furthest Thing’

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Jenna Russell in ‘Beyond the Farthest’

(Marc Brenner)

It’s hard not to be entranced by the timeless world of the island, where people’s lives are connected to the earth. They wear simple navy blue smocks and flat shoes with split toes that mimic hooves. Nature shimmers hypnotically around them, with neon waves and glittering stars projected onto the slowly revolving stage. England is presented in sharp, clinical contrast in the second act. The circular light and curved benches on stage may make you think of an alien and crop circles, but the islanders are the aliens here. When Russell – who brings both depth and rare moments of comic relief to the show – remembers being mocked for always saying “is” instead of “am” or “his,” you can see the utter pain in her eyes .

Midway through the second half, Beyond the furthest goes off the rails. Mr Hansen, a cartoon villain with his cream jacket and slicked back hair, has a random moment of honesty and delivers a lengthy monologue that takes the show into whole new territory. It’s a good twist, but one that feels undeserved by the play. A later, equally lengthy speech by Mill yields another huge revelation. In the end, it all feels too hectic, too confused. Harris’s message – that no one leaves the house unless they have to – remains, but sometimes it’s hard to see through the smog. IL

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