Pirates of the Caribbean screen star Orlando Bloom made his highly anticipated professional stage debut last night (16 July 2007, previews from 5 July) in the West End revival of David Storey’s In Celebration at the Duke of York’s Theatre. The production plays a limited season through to 15 September.

In David Storey’s play, which premiered at the Royal Court in 1969, Bloom plays Steven, the youngest of three brothers who return home to their Northern roots for their parents’ 40th wedding anniversary. Although they’ve returned to celebrate, the complexities of family life and long-held grievances make a decent party unlikely. Each of the brothers has been transformed, through a university education and professional success.

Steven’s brothers Andrew and Colin are played by Paul Hilton and Gareth Farr, his parents Mr and Mrs Shaw by Tim Healy and Dearbhla Molloy, and the neighbours by Lynda Baron and Ciaran McIntyre. The production is presented by Sonia Friedman Productions, Michael Edwards and Carole Winter, and Tulchin/Bartner Productions.

While some first night critics were underwhelmed by Bloom’s stage debut, it was as much due to his chosen role – as the largely silent, introverted brother – as his performance. The choice of play, viewed as something of a period piece, was also questioned and opinions as to the evening’s entertainment overall ranging from something “richly satisfying” to something “you’d only recommend … to your worse enemy”. There were good notices for Bloom’s co-stars Paul Hilton, Tim Healy and Dearbhla Molloy, although the highest praise was reserved for the show’s ever-prolific producer Sonia Friedman, hailed by one critic as “our last, serious hope of keeping straight plays alive in a West End deluged by musicals”.

  • Michael Coveney on Whatsonstage.com (two stars) -“ In making his stage debut as the youngest of three brothers returning home to Yorkshire for their parents’ fortieth wedding anniversary, Orlando Bloom exhibits a faultless modesty. His character Steven, a discouraged teacher, stuttering novelist and father of four, is a silent, moody introvert. He says very little and rarely commands the stage. He succumbs to a little light weeping, but does that in the safety of the darkness…Tim Healy’s Mr Shaw, 50 years down the mine and smoking like a trooper, is a bull-like comedy turn in his white vest and bulging eyes, while Dearbhla Molloy as his wistfully elegant wife suggests a world elsewhere but not a reason for having married the old brute in the first place…Lez Brotherston’s detailed sitting room design has a mysteriously under-used and under-lit upper level. The play is a trial for the whole family and, in these circumstances, the audience as well.”

  • Nicholas de Jongh in the Evening Standard -“ Producer Sonia Friedman - our last, serious hope of keeping straight plays alive in a West End deluged by musicals - dares greatly by reviving this Sixties slice of northern, working class drama … The test will be to see whether new-generation theatre audiences will be tempted both by Orlando Bloom, whose first shot at stage acting is a bit of a miss, and the chance of learning some invaluable social history, theatrically conveyed … In Celebration by neglected Royal Court favourite David Storey, harks back to the social-realist school of novelists, dramatists and film directors who brought grimy, industrial England into national view … Bloom's troubled, taciturn Steven is sometimes obliged to squat: Anna Mackmin's production needs more chairs and far greater charges of passion and engagement, particularly in the first torpid half. Furniture and clothes worn by the Shaws mainly come in endless, uninviting shades of brown, grey and beige. So too does some of the acting…Bloom's sexual charisma and androgynous prettiness before the camera vanishes clean away on the stage's more distant perspective. He stands around looking caddish in his pencil-thin moustache, blankly disengaged and forever bathed in boredom … Fortunately Dearbhla Molloy's astonishing Mrs Shaw does capture the play's complex essence. She exudes a strange, sad reserve, a sense of shuttered emotion.”

  • Charles Spencer in the Daily Telegraph -“I have been banging on of late about the desperate shortage of serious drama in the West End, so I ought to be dancing a jig of joy about this revival of David Storey’s In Celebration (1969). But when I said serious, I didn’t mean downright miserable, and this is the kind of show that sends you into the night wondering whether to slit your wrists at once or wait until you get back home. The admirable Sonia Friedman is clearly determined to keep the flame of it’s-grim-up-North working-class drama alive in the West End. And she doubtless hopes that the presence of Orlando Bloom will be enough to entice punters into enduring a two-and-a-half hours of punishing pessimism. In this I fear she’s been over-optimistic … Director Anna Mackmin, with the help of suitably dreary designs by Lez Brotherston, certainly doesn’t short-change the audience when it comes to wretchedness, while a brilliantined and moustached Orlando Bloom spends the entire evening looking pale and interesting. It’s not a challenging role but he remembers his lines and doesn’t bump into the furniture. Tim Healy and Dearbhla Molloy are genuinely moving as the parents who have done their best in vain and Paul Hilton brings an edge of danger to the stage as vengeful brother Andrew … But frankly you’d only recommend this play to your worst enemy.”

  • Rhonda Koenig in the Independent - “’It's like a museum, this is!’ says Andrew (Paul Hilton), back in his parents' Yorkshire home. ‘It hasn't changed in 500 years.’ The faded floral wallpaper, the unframed mirror, the protective covers on furniture any sane person would abandon to the elements - all these do look like exhibits in the Museum of Dull, but the play that inhabits this setting is something of a museum piece as well … David Storey's drama of 1969 may be younger than most of the first-night audience, but already it seems a relic of a time when men were no good at expressing their feelings, and women weren't much better… The play also lacks the sympathy for women that would be expected of plays written a short time later. Mother is fingered as the family villain, a chilly expert in ‘domestic science’ and ‘human hygiene’. But the now-clichéd silent scream is Storey's only acknowledgment of her own pain.”

  • Michael Billington in the Guardian (four stars) -“What makes it a fine play is Storey's use of the specifics of family life to explore a cultural malaise. Andrew's anger springs from the deification of a mother who, in Lawrentian terms, feels she married beneath her … But Storey is also addressing the alienation of sons educated out of their class and suffering a peculiar English mix of guilt and insecurity. Andrew's explanation for his sense of hurt may be a bit glib. But through Steven, Storey nails the traumatised rootlessness that comes from feeling one's life has no significance. Bloom lends Steven exactly the right sense of haunted taciturnity and withdrawn moodiness … Paul Hilton as the vengeful Andrew, however, really has to motor the action, and does so with a quivering, attenuated figure suggestive of a Wakefield Hamlet. Even his few gestures of affection, such as dancing with his mother, are replete with irony ... The result is a richly satisfying evening that reminds you of Storey's ability to confront unpalatable domestic truths and to portray an England in which class is still a governing determinant.”

    - by Ryan Woods