Review Round-up: McAvoy's Winning in the Rain
Date: 11 February 2009
The Apollo theatre, which last year played host to Josh Hartnett in Rain Man, had a touch of deja vu last night as another play with rain in the title opened at the Shaftesbury Avenue venue, again headlined by a Hollywood star (See Today's 1st Night Photos).
This time around, it's the turn of Atonement and Last King of Scotland star James McAvoy, who lines up alongside Nigel Harman and Lyndsey Marshal in Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain. The production, directed by Donmar associate Jamie Lloyd (Piaf), marks the play's first major London outing since it made its UK debut at the Donmar Warehouse in 1999, directed by Sam Mendes.
Three Days of Rain explores the secrets passed from one generation to the next. When two architecture partners die, they leave their children the mysterious legacy of a house they designed. The past, including an inexplicable diary entry containing the words 'three days of rain', is delved and re-interpreted until the audience is taken back to the earlier generation (played by the same three actors) to discover the truth.
So did the plaudits rain down from the critics? Well, not exactly. Although most heaped praise on the “dynamic” work of McAvoy and his co-stars ("a performance that makes you long to see McAvoy at large in the classic repertory” according to the Guardian's Michael Billington), such compliments were not so forthcoming in other areas. Although many praised Lloyd's “energetic” revival, others criticised it for failing to deal adequately with the play's “intricate structure and subtly shifting moods”. And for some, no matter how good the production, Greenberg's play is simply a “big so-what”. All in all, it was very much a case of three stars for Three Days.
Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (three stars) - “Jamie Lloyd’s energetic production, which comes with an imposing grey design by Soutra Gilmour of the Manhattan loft and an atmospheric soundtrack by Matt McKenzie, is very well done but doesn’t really convince me that the play … was all that worth reviving beyond the acting opportunities it offers … Still, McAvoy is wonderfully fresh, trembling with misdirected vitality as Walker and then creating a sensitive, stuttering soul as his own father, the disability projected with great technical finesse and no hint of patronising embarrassment. Harman is a convincingly shiny daytime television personality as Pip, subsiding into anger and resentment as his own father, while Marshal confirms her status as one of our most talented and polished comediennes.”
Benedict Nightingale in The Times (three stars) - “The prime strength of Greenberg’s play isn’t its depth or its surprises, but the opportunities it offers its trio of performers, and especially McAvoy. Was he a bit nervous last night? Act I left me wondering if the star of Atonement wasn’t missing the camera, for he seemed to be slightly scrambling his diction and compensating by overprojecting … As for the supporting actors, well, Marshal has little to do as Nan but be sane and sensible, but she does manage to introduce a streak of wildness into Lina … But it’s Harman who gives the performance of the evening, less as a frustrated Theo, but as the put-upon but giddily cheerful, generous Pip. And the moral? Judge not that ye be not judged, I suppose, or don’t blame your wounds too glibly on the old folk. To contradict Larkin: it’s not only your mum and dad who f*** you up. You can do the job with no help from others.”
Michael Billington in the Guardian (three stars) - “Our theatre's obsession with everything American continues. The first of this week's transatlantic quartet is a revival of Richard Greenberg's 10-year-old play originally seen at the Donmar. It's elegant and civilised, and contains a stand-out performance by James McAvoy but … it's hard to get over-excited about the sufferings of a group of privileged Manhattanites … The play makes some valid Stoppardian points about the way we misinterpret the past. Greenberg also neatly counterpoints the innocent optimism of the early 60s with the self-absorption of the neurotic 90s … The chief pleasure in Jamie Lloyd's excessively atmospheric production is McAvoy's dual performance as both Walker and his dad Ned … It's a performance that makes you long to see McAvoy at large in the classic repertory … It all makes for a perfectly decent, well-crafted play, but one only elevated into something more by McAvoy's dynamic presence.”
Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard (three stars) - “The pulling-power of movie stars may still keep fragile plays buoyant in the turbulent waters of the West End, where a fleet of musicals are riding out the economic storms. But Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain, which flourished in the studio-theatre intimacy of the Donmar in 1999, needs more than the evident charisma, emotional power and pathos of James McAvoy, to maintain such an insubstantial, under-developed family drama … Marshal, seizing her chances, puts on a comic, impressive show as the randy, heavy-drinking southern belle Lina … Yet Pip, Theo and Nan are too faintly characterised, with their dilemmas left unresolved, for this magnificently acted play to engage or emerge as coloured more than a paler shade of grey.”
Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph - “Richard Greenberg's Three Days of Rain is one of the finest American plays of recent years … So hopes were high for this new West End staging of a piece that attracts big names likes wasps to a pot of strawberry jam … It gives me no pleasure to report that last night’s opening only avoided disaster by a whisker … all three actors seemed on edge in a production by Jamie Lloyd that proved pitifully unresponsive to the play’s intricate structure and subtly shifting moods … There’s no rhythm to the playing, no wit in the delivery … The second half … is a marked improvement. The play’s wise and haunting exploration of love, infidelity, genetic inheritance and the way the present can so easily misinterpret the past begins to emerge strongly … But despite such glimmers in the gloom, I still left this production feeling that a terrific play had been badly let down.”
Simon Edge in the Daily Express - “They present a fine ensemble piece, crisply directed by the up-and-coming Jamie Lloyd. It’s only a shame that the play itself, written in the mid-90s with some sparkling line-by-line writing, is ultimately a big so-what … The brilliantly watchable McAvoy shrugs off the Catcher in the Rye intensity of Walker to become his stammering, tongue-tied father. Marshal has a ball playing a Tallulah Bankhead wannabe with all the best lines … And Harman, a strangely swishy stud as Pip, is more convincing as the ambitious genius upstaged by his inept partner … But by the end, it doesn’t feel as if we have arrived anywhere. The second-generation characters are not interesting enough to merit Greenberg’s time-travel investigation, and their forebears’ story feels like the first act of a play whose conclusion we might take or leave.
- by Theo Bosanquet & Katie Blemler
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