I do not believe that society in general, or theatre- goers in particular, are ready to accept without question the use of expletives to support a script. Yes, language development is an ongoing process; but here, the repeated use of the f-word was both a distraction and a variable which interfered with understanding of the play and sympathy with its messages. There were some real positives, but........... - Eric Long
08 Jan 12
Earthquakes in London was my favourite new play of 2010 but a large part of the reason was Rupert Goold's exuberant direction which threw everything at Mike Bartlett's sprawling tale of climate change and much more besides. In contrast Thea Sharrock's production of 13 is relatively subdued but once again Bartlett casts his net over a vast array of targets, not all of which cohere. Ostensibly about the power of belief and the rise of social media as a key to influencing events and the populace, it takes in nuclear proliferation in Iran, war in the Middle East, banks, student loans, infanticide and seemingly anything else that Bartlett feels is contributing to the sense of doom he seems to have. As in Earthquakes he has envisioned a sort of Messiah figure (John) who quickly gains an unfathomably large mass of followers, but his views can sometimes seem preachy and under-researched; for example, I would have thought the people of Libya are in a better situation than those in Syria, partly thanks to western military suuport. However, in the major confrontation between John, a Conservative Prime Minister and her hawkish mentor the arguments are so well-balanced that it would be almost impossible to glean Bartlett's own position - I'm amazed Nick Hytner let this slip through the National's thought police. 13 tries to cover far too much ground and lacks an overall coherence but Bartlett is a highly interesting and challenging writer and this was a fascinating play despite its' obvious faults. - David Baxter
16 Dec 11
Two stars for staging in a revolving cube which was entertaining even if totally gratuitous. The play could have been performed in any pub theatre and it would have lost nothing. Script was meandering dull and unfocussed. A State of the Nation play? We need one. And out present political situation could hardly be bettered as a starting point. It should have been put away for a year and then worked on again. Instead we see the mighty National pull out all the stops and, I suspect, throw half a dozen script doctors at it and all we get is a timid squeak. - Clive Sollish
23 Nov 11
I'm always interested in shows that provoke such split reactions, and 13 is no exception. I wonder why it arousers such strong and different feelings I found the set fascinating and compelling, and the story interesting and challenging. I gather they have continued to work on the script, and perhaps it is tighter than when earlier theatregoers saw it.I found first half was bitty, and took a long while to say what it wanted to say, but the second half seems tighter, and brought the play to a satisfyingly disturbing conclusion, which demnadds that we think about our responsibility in this democracy of ours. - Gill B
12 Nov 11
Unfortunate. A play that promises so much in the first two mins, but delivers nothing, very slowly, over a VERY long period of time. Don't believe the blurb, this is like Bartlett has collaborated with an 'issues' drama group made entirely of 14 years olds, and he's had to write dialogue based on what came out of it. What a massive let down. It's an incomplete, visually underdeveloped but relatively well acted turd. Maybe the national will bring back an unexpected revival of HAMLET (again) and pretend that it was always coming back. Geraldine James would make a great Gertrude. - Cassox
28 Oct 11
This is a bit like going to two linked plays, such is the difference between the two halves.
THE FIRST HALF
Tom Scutt’s extraordinary giant moving cube dominates the Olivier stage after a smaller cube has disappeared into the flys. A series of interlocking scenes are played out in and around this as it changes shape. There are protests and riots; an ‘osbornesque’ defence solicitor; an advisor to the American president, his wife and daughter and an atheist academic. We have a woman again as (Conservative) PM, her dead son’s friend has returned from his travels as some sort of Messiah (Welsh, obviously) and everyone appears to be having the same dream. Oh, and we’re about to declare war on Iran.
There’s no doubting the inventiveness and stagecraft of this first half – but it comes at the expense of clarity, coherence and obvious purpose. You’re left thinking ‘ well, that was clever, but what are you really getting at here?’.
THE SECOND HALF
That question is answered soon in the second half, which is a debate between the PM, the academic and the new messiah, who now seemingly controls a crowd of 500,000 in Trafalgar Square. New politics (the public rising up with the help of social media and the charismatic messiah John, who has now become an almost supernatural being) meets old politics in the form of a liberal Tory about to do what she thinks is right, encouraged by the islamophobic academic who is dying of cancer. We end with the cast stage front each with a monologue; the last of whom is a soldier in recently invaded Iran.
Simply staged, the second half allows the narrative to breath and the debate is rather compelling….but it does feel like another play involving some of the same characters, pulling in some of the narrative threads of the first. I’m not sure whether this is intentional or not, but for me it led to an ultimately unsatisfying experience and left me thinking it was more work in progress than finsihed article. There’s a great play there waiting to be let loose, hampered by a sometimes thrillingly theatrical but relentless & confusing first half and a more intimate second half that’s a bit lost in this giant space.
The three central performances – Geraldine James as a very believable PM, Danny Webb as the angry academic and Trystan Gravelle as a charismatic John are all excellent, and there’s fine support from a cast of 19, including Nick Sidi & Genevieve O’Reilly as the American diplomat and his wife and Adam James as the solicitor.
Playwright Mike Bartlett seems to be struggling as his work scales up from minimalist gems like Cock to epics like this. If director Thea Sharrock had created a cohesive whole from this material it could have been very special indeed, but it frustratingly falls short. Worth the ride, though.
- Gareth James
27 Oct 11
Almost as bad as Decade and remarkably similar in bits. Frightened faces at windows, elephantine dances and worthy preaching. It also feels like another team has written it. Some good acting though....... and a Borg ship on the drum revolve. - Coral
27 Oct 11
generous review - this playwrite has a lot of friends - Dave Felton
26 Oct 11
Really Enjoyed this production, a good piece of Theatre... - Tim
26 Oct 11
all story lines are properly tied together in the end and leave the audience with some clear ideas about "what is the best way" versus "what is the right way". Very fine contemporary piece with a brilliant ensemble. Geraldine James shines as MP.
Highly recommendable - Elisabeth
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