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Review Round-up: Critics Hail Goold's 9/11 Decade

By • West End
Headlong Theatre and director Rupert Goold's site-specific exploration of 9/11 and its legacy, Decade, opened last night (8 September, previews from 1 September 2011) at St Katharine Docks.

Nineteen writers including Christopher Shinn, Lynn Nottage, John Logan, Abi Morgan, Samuel Adamson, Mike Bartlett, Alecky Blythe and historian Simon Schama were commissioned to write for the piece.

Decade follows Headlong's multi award-winning Enron and National Theatre co-production Earthquakes in London, which embarks on a national tour later this month.

The fifteen-strong cast include Tobias Menzies, Charlotte Randle, Cat Simmons, Lia Williams, Jonathan Bonnici, Leila Crerar, Kevin Harvey, Tom Hodgkins, Samuel James, Arinze Kene, Amy Lennox and Claire Prempeh. They help create a "an immersive theatrical experience" presented in a dis-used office building which used to be a metal exchange.


Michael Coveney
Whatsonstage.com
★★★★

"The sub-title of Rupert Goold's 9/11 theatrical cocktail is simple enough: 'Two towers, ten years, 20 plays.' … Although there are one or two structural devices to keep the show on the road… the evening cannot claim the coherent narrative intensity of Enron. The mood is more meditative and subdued … The old exchange floor… has been converted by designer Miriam Buether into the anodyne sky-high haven of the Windows on the World … The evening starts with Lynn Nottage's 'normal day' sketch in a neighbourhood store with racial undertones, thrums with Adam Cork's rumbling sound score, and ends with a litany of last minute text messages in a babel of despair … Emma Fielding and Charlotte Randle, both outstanding, registering various states of melancholy and hysteria; Kevin Harvey catching Barack Obama's sibilant rhetoric to perfection; and vivid cameos from Amy Lennox, Leila Crerar, and Tom Hodgkins as a hawkish Senator."

Quentin Letts
Daily Mail
★★★★

"The evening is stuntier than it need be. On arrival, theatregoers must walk through a mocked-up police check … The walls at either end show large, blue-sky vistas of New York city, just as it must have looked that doomed morning in September 2001 … Extensive use is made of a glass-walled, clerestory corridor through which we can see characters rushing to and fro … Some scenelets are more successful than others. Kevin Harvey uses his beautifully resonant voice in various parts … Tobias Menzies is excellent … Last time I reviewed the work of director Rupert Goold, he accused me of having some vendetta against him. Much as I would like to fuel his paranoia, I cannot. Decade is often moving without being mawkish. It has a gift for nostalgic hindsight … It is probably too long … But Decade is memorable and watchable."

Michael Billington
Guardian
★★★

"We sit comfortably at tables sipping drinks while the 15-strong cast offer, on a peninsular stage and at vantage points round the room, a variety of responses both to the catastrophe and all that has happened since. Little attempt, mercifully, is made to replicate the event. The show is largely reactions to it … Alecky Blythe has also come up with a fascinating item … Though not strictly factual, Simon Schama has written a piece, Epic, trying to see the events in historical perspective … Ella Hickson has a powerful item, very much in the style of Neil LaButeMike Bartlett's The Enemy reveals a journalist cynically cashing in on an interview with Osama bin Laden's killer. These stand out, however, in an evening that is half an hour too long. It is staged by Goold with discretion and flair … On this occasion, I craved either a purely documentary treatment or the response of a single writer with a powerful vision."

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard
★★★★

"Decade is an ambitious attempt to mark the 10th anniversary of 9/11 … The different contributions, which switch from documentary and historical exposition to pure fiction, are interwoven in a graphic and visually arresting fashion. This includes dance sequences and smart choreography by Scott Ambler. It can be hard to know where to look… and Adam Cork's detailed soundscape enhances the charged atmosphere … Bursts of earnest rhetoric and blind rage mix with wonky theories and confessional interludes. At times this is immensely affecting. There's some particularly deft writing by Lynn Nottage, Mike Bartlett and Ella Hickson. Samuel Adamson offers a poignant verbatim piece based on the words of Scott Forbes, who worked in the South Tower, and Simon Schama serves up a passionate paean to tolerance … Goold's production is fluent and artful … It may be possible to dispute the claim that 9/11 is 'the defining event of our times' and argue that Decade is overlong and doesn't tell us much we didn't already know, but this is a bold experiment in engaging with history, realised with flair."

Neil Norman
Daily Express
★★★★

"We are seated at tables in the Windows of the World restaurant at the top of the World Trade Centre. The views across Manhattan are spectacular … This multi-layered drama from site-specific specialists Headlong Theatre attempts to make sense of the event and the subsequent reverberations across the decade … The ‘play’ – and I use the word loosely – evolves backwards … There are a handful of songs and some well-managed, though redundant dance sequences … While it is not entirely dramatically coherent, it is a series of brilliant snapshots of the after effects of one of the most spectacular atrocities this century … Headlong have… cornered the market in Disaster Theatre, with Decade now joining Enron and Earthquakes in London in their portfolio … I sympathised greatly with the waitress born on September 11 whose birthday is forever overshadowed by the event. 'Technically, it was my birthday before this global tragedy' she wails. I know how she feels. My own birthday falls on July 7, the date of the terrorist bombings in London."

Libby Purves
The Times
★★★

"The opening chills the blood. In the 107th floor restaurant where we seem to sit, a hostess greets a smiling, silent guest … All is flashing and darkening and noise: above us, behind high glass windows, office workers look down in frozen horror. That sequence, and much else, is the direct creation of Rupert Goold and Robert Icke, for Headlong … Nineteen writers contribute playlets, and an ensemble of 15 actors perform them, interspersing naturalistic conversation with declamatory speeches, outbreaks of vivid dance and often inexplicable synchronised mime … They vary from the almost comic, like Ben Ellis’ troubled speed-daters, to Matthew Lopez’s touching sequences scattered through the evening in reverse chronology … Vast backlit photographs show the New York skyline on a sunny blue 9/11 morning. We are in the ghost of the North Tower restaurant. It all happens around us, sometimes with blinding success, sometimes not … Bravely, it reflects not only grief and anger but weariness: the admission that one grows tired of endless commemoration, conspiracy theories, vengeful anger and liberal forgivingness alike. An odd evening, not easily forgotten."


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