Review Round-up: Redmayne Shines Now & LaterDate: 15 September 2008
The world premiere production of Christopher Shinn’s US election drama Now or Later, a timely exploration of the tension between liberalism and fundamentalism in American politics, opened at the Royal Court last week (11 September, previews from 3 September), starring Eddie Redmayne (pictured) and Matthew Marsh (See 1st Night Photos, 12 Sep 2008).
On election night, things are looking rosy for the Democratic party. But as the likely President-elect (Marsh), his wife, advisors and 20-year-old son watch the results roll in, controversial photos of John Jr (Redmayne) are gathering momentum on the internet and the press team are working on damage limitation. Father and son must reach an agreement.
The cast also features Nancy Crane], Adam James, Pamela Nomvete and Domhnall Gleeson. American dramatist Christopher Shinn has had four previous plays staged at the Court: Where Do We Live, Four, Other People and, most recently, 2006’s Dying City, which was this year nominated for a Pulitzer Prize in the US. The premiere production of Now or Later is directed by Royal Court artistic director Dominic Cooke and designed by Hildegard Bechtler, with lighting by Charles Balfour and sound by Ian Dickinson.
Overnight and weekend reviews were generally favourable – critics applauding Shinn’s “razor-sharp wit” and “urgent” choice of subject matter. Although they couldn’t agree on the precise running time (70, 75 and 80 minutes were all suggested), most appreciated Cooke’s “thrillingly paced” production, even if some felt the compact playing time was “insufficient to debate or resolve the problems raised”. The performances were roundly praised, with Redmayne’s “riveting” and “volatile” turn as John Jr confirming his status as one of the country’s hottest young acting talents.
Paul Taylor in the Independent (five stars) – “Do you want to hear something good about Prince Harry, something that hasn't been spun by the Palace and that does not involve the armed forces or ‘extras’ from the third or developing worlds? Well, I suspect that he may have partly – and wholly inadvertently – inspired a controversial new play of razor-sharp wit and explosive canniness … Prince Harry is not troubled by conspicuous intelligence, and his hormonal life is simple. John, Shinn's preppy protagonist, is gay, the survivor of a teenage suicide attempt and is very intelligent … Eddie Redmayne is superb. Eyes glittering with wit and wounded sensitivity, he shows how John is both damaged goods and the goods … Matthew Marsh is equally good as the burly president-elect, his sleep-deprived eyes darting little glances of calculation as he tries to manoeuvre his son into authorising the all-important apology. The play raises deep questions. Should liberals respect the religious views of theocrats who may abuse that right to smuggle through hateful political baggage? And how far should you misrepresent your post-election intents to gain power? Unmissable.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (three stars) – “Young American playwright Christopher Shinn certainly has sharp political antennae. His new play tackles freedom of speech, the dangers of disrespect to Muslims and the embarrassments caused by presidential offspring. I admire Shinn for addressing the big issues. I just feel that, in adhering to the currently fashionable 80-minute playwriting rule, he doesn't allow his arguments room to breathe … There is enough matter here for a good ding-dong debate, which Shinn duly delivers … And, although Eddie Redmayne as the defiant John has a habit of dropping his voice at the end of sentences, he conveys all the character's gangling, principled obduracy. Matthew Marsh as his equally unbending father, Nancy Crane as his bewildered mother and Domhnall Gleeson as his loyal chum, fulfilling the role of the raisonneur in classical comedy, give fine performances in Dominic Cooke's suitably urgent production. I simply found that absorbing so many complex arguments in such a short span made my head spin.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (three stars) – “The 75 minutes’ playing time is insufficient to debate or resolve the problems raised. The implicit question Shinn poses about the dilemma facing John, the President’s gay 20-year-old son, under pressure from his father, is evaded rather than settled … John, his face and voice in Eddie Redmayne’s riveting performance suffused with the lineaments of neurosis and sadness, sits in his hotel room. He and Matt, a fellow student, both showing scant interest in the results, are disturbed by a Presidential aide, John’s glacial mother, Tracey a black party worker and by Matthew Marsh’s hypocritical President ... There would, however, be more sense of drama if the pictures had been published during not after the campaign. If only Shinn had concentrated on the thrashing out of an apology that satisfied intransigent John and the President. If only the play had not shot off on tangents … The President’s success in coaxing an apology from John unconvincingly concludes this flawed but gripping play.”
Sam Marlowe in the The Times (four stars) – “Playing out in real time over 80 minutes, Now or Later, in a riveting production by Dominic Cooke, sets up some of the most urgent issues facing Western liberalism and lets them battle it out in the amphitheatre of a US presidential election. With Obama and McCain's real contest for the Oval Office under way, it could not, of course, be more topical. But its brilliance lies in the way in which Shinn marries ideological debate to psychological complexity, shedding light, laser-bright and precise, on the way in which political discourse informs and shapes individual experience … Cooke's production is thrillingly paced, effervescent with wit and intelligence and superbly acted, in particular by Eddie Redmayne as the unhappily divided John and Matthew Marsh as his father, his every word carefully weighed but concealing an unnerving ruthlessness and volatility. This is highly accomplished work, thrillingly connecting the intellectual with the visceral, the abstract with the human. Urgent and unmissable.”
Susannah Clapp in The Observer – “Christopher Shinn's new play is a theatrical paradox: it's Shavian but snappy. Only 70 minutes, and pungently written, it's packed (over-packed) with debate. It has a persuasive emotional aspect; the ending, finely staged by Dominic Cooke, is a well-judged surprise. And it's cannily scheduled: its concerns could hardly be more current … In researching Now or Later, Shinn was helped by meetings with Cherie Blair and Hillary Clinton's head of communications. Matthew Marsh is very good as the about-to-be-President, suggesting the lustre of power as well as its damage; Eddie Redmayne, volatile and coltish, vividly projects distress and intelligence. Still, there's a hole at the centre: this boy, who's spent a lifetime complaining about his parents' way of going on, is now supposed to be astonished by their response to his actions.”
- by Theo Bosanquet