Review Round-up: Were Critics Complicit at Old Vic?
Date: 29 January 2009
Complicit, which marks Kevin Spacey's first directing credit at the Old Vic since he launched his reign there with Cloaca in 2004, finally opened last night following a postponement of the original press performance (See News, 15 Jan 2009).
In the three-hander, Richard Dreyfuss is Pulitzer Prize-winning journalist Ben Kritzer, who finds himself hauled in front of a Supreme Court Special Prosecutor where he faces the dilemma of defending his belief in the freedom of the press or protecting his family.
Dreyfuss is joined in the cast by David Suchet and Elizabeth McGovern. Complicit retains the Old Vic’s in-the-round configuration created last autumn for The Norman Conquests and is designed by Whatsonstage.com Award nominee Rob Howell.
A raft of two star ratings adorned this morning's papers and websites as critics complied to condemn the show variously as “a plodder”, “ill-timed”, “pedestrian” and “boring”. It wasn't all bad news – David Suchet emerged with plaudits as Kritzer's “slippery counsel” as did designer Rob Howell, continuing his good work in the reconfigured Old Vic 'CQS' space. The real talking point of the night however was the issue of Richard Drefuss' earpiece (an Old Vic representative wouldn't deny he was receiving prompts), which distracted from some otherwise complimentary assessments of his "assured, fluent" performance.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (two stars) – “The Richard Dreyfuss affair with the London theatre has not been happy … And now he’s lumbered with a boring role in a boring play that he’s not been able to fully master. Joe Sutton’s Complicit is further confirmation that Old Vic supremo Kevin Spacey, who directs it, is still having trouble finding good new plays … Dreyfuss bumbles about the stage roaring at no-one in particular, palpably reliant on an ear-piece prompt, while David Suchet as his exasperated lawyer and Elizabeth McGovern as his anaemically saintly wife stand by wondering what on earth might happen next. And then there are some awful television inserts, with Dreyfuss sitting on Andrew Marr’s red sofa at the BBC, which seems ludicrous given that the case is presumably being heard in Washington.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (two stars) – “Kevin Spacey has lately enjoyed an excellent run of form at the Old Vic. It comes to an abrupt halt, however, with this ham-fisted American political thriller by Joe Sutton. Since the play raises such issues as assaults on press freedom and the executive's violation of the Geneva Convention, it sounds fascinating; but Mr Sutton has an extraordinary knack of sidestepping the moments of real drama … Spacey's production is oddly cast. Richard Dreyfuss as Ben never seems on top of the material, and is given to prowling around the Vic's new in-the-round stage barking at people rather than conversing with them. He also seems five times as old as Elizabeth McGovern, who is sadly wasted as his wife. It is left to David Suchet to give us the evening's real performance as his slippery counsel … But not even the majestic Suchet can redeem a play that talks about the big issues without ever properly dramatising them.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (two stars) – “Richard Dreyfuss’ ear stole the show at last night’s delayed opening of Complicit, not that it had much competition. This eye-catching ear generated an excitement and mystery otherwise quite lacking in Joe Sutton’s pedestrian, ill-timed play. According to reports which have not been denied, Dreyfuss was fitted with an ear-phone device, so that if his memory chanced to fail he could be discreetly prompted, without spoiling whatever tiny dollops of enjoyment audiences could squeeze from Kevin Spacey’s flashy production … In the event, though, Dreyfuss gives a fairly assured, fluent, suitably agonised performance in the thankless role of Benjamin Kritzer … At a time when the nightmare of Bush is over and Obama promises to close Guantanamo, it seems a case of bad timing to raise once again the question of America’s resort to torture. It would have been far more interesting and relevant for the Old Vic to commission a play investigating Britain’s own, shameful collusion with the USA over rendition.”
Quentin Letts in the Daily Mail - “One of the most basic abilities required of an actor is memory. Performers who can not remember their lines should not be on stage. To sell tickets to a show where the main actor has not mastered the script is a con of the audience … The play itself is a plodder. Mr Dreyfuss plays an American journalist who is asked by a court to betray the identity of a source … Playwright Joe Sutton makes terribly heavy weather of this topical matter. All right, American journalists can be ponderous, self-regarding bores, but no scribe as dull as the one portrayed here would ever have won national newspaper awards … The normally faultless David Suchet is caught up in this ill-chosen venture. He plays a lawyer while Elizabeth McGovern has an iffy time as the journalist's wife. Kevin Spacey directs. It's only a pity he didn't take the lead role himself.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “Oh dear, oh dear. A month ago I singled out the Old Vic as one of the best theatres of 2008 … But with Complicit, artistic director Kevin Spacey once again exposes his Achilles heel – his apparent inability to distinguish between good new plays and absolute stinkers. Complicit, which deals with American use of torture in the so called war against terror, is almost in the same league of awfulness as such previous Old Vic flops as the Dutch dud Cloaca and Arthur Miller's desperate Resurrection Blues … None of the play's three characters come anywhere close to vivid theatrical life. Indeed as poor Richard Dreyfuss wanders forlornly around the Old Vic's high-tech, in-the-round stage he resembles a bedraggled and confused old-age pensioner who has got lost on his way to the day-care centre rather than a wily campaigning journalist engaging in the fight of his life. But he shouldn't shoulder all the blame. The play itself is a dead loss.”
- by Theo Bosanquet
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