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Did critics think The Starry Messenger was heaven sent?

Matthew Broderick stars in the play's UK premiere

Matthew Broderick in The Starry Messenger
© Marc Brenner

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage

★★★

"Matthew Broderick is Mark, a lecturer in astronomy, teaching a class who don't quite want to be there in a Planetarium that is about to be shut down. (The play is in fact based on a lecturer Lonergan met with Broderick when they were both teenagers; its setting is the old New York Hayden Planetarium, which was indeed demolished in 1997.)"

"Director Sam Yates lets all this unfold at its own unhurried pace on Chiara Stevenson's clever revolving set, which creates three distinct rooms, each with a great dome of changing sky overhead. Broderick's performance defines New English reticence; he is so buttoned-up and mild that sometimes he seems to have come to a halt. But he has perfect deadpan delivery and his eyes, warm and watchful, tell a story of his inner life."

"It doesn't quite hit the heights, but it does – like the Planetarium in which it is set – offer a glimpse of them."


Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard

★★★

"The interwoven stories never amount to more than the sum of their parts, and Yates' production is resolutely downbeat. Yet Lonergan is an observant writer with a fine ear for the rhythms of everyday speech, and there are moments of wry laughter – most of them involving Sid Sagar as Mark's splendidly obnoxious student Ian.

"So, not a starry mess. But it's hard to be sure what the play is really about, and the languid approach makes for three hours of nebulous theatre."


Ann Treneman, The Times

★★★★

"Broderick plays Williams as a gentle, well-meaning man who, in his forties, feels that something has gone missing, both in work and love. He and his wife, Anne, played by Elizabeth McGovern with a nervy niceness that is pure New York, have a 15-year old son who specialises in playing his guitar at top volume. She rabbits on; he seems tongue-tied much of the time. This is a multi-level plot, an intricate web of secrets, lies, happenstance and funny asides. You just know something is going to happen, and it does."

"Stephenson's set manages to reach for the stars while also paying due attention to the slide projector. There is a revolving series of rooms that keeps us on our toes. Up above and beyond, as life on Earth continues, we see comets and the occasional shooting star."


Matthew Broderick and Rosalind Eleazar in The Starry Messenger
© Marc Brenner


Tim Bano, The Stage

★★★

"Broderick and Rosalind Eleazar are both brilliant, as is the always excellent Jim Norton, as a straight-talking old man on his deathbed. It's a shame that McGovern, as Mark's wife, Anne, gets pretty short shrift. In one scene she has to listen to him mansplain the universe while all she gets to talk about are the logistics for Christmas Day."

"The mundane conversations between the characters are riveting because Lonergan – Oscar-nominated for writing and directing the 2016 film Manchester by the Sea – so skilfully sets the infinite against the depressingly finite; eternity against mortality. He and the cast expertly capture the many little nuances of human behaviour, such as Broderick's slumping shoulders as he faces his mouthy teenage son. Perversely, it's when the plot kicks in that the play suffers. That's when we're reminded that this is just a story."


Michael Billington, The Guardian

★★★

"Broderick, who has a look of ageing boyishness, invests Mark with the right sense of troubled quietude and dry humour: he is always pleasant to watch and has one moment of potential breakdown, just as guests are due to arrive, which would have made a perfect climax.

"We learn too little about his wife though McGovern plays her expertly as a woman keenly aware of marital drift and domestic boredom; and there is first-rate support from Eleazar as Mark's guilt-ridden lover, Jim Norton as the patient she lovingly attends, and Sagar as the accosting student. Yates directs with due care but, for all its perceptiveness, I felt Lonergan's play would work even better on the screen."


Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out

★★★

"Mark's slowburning breakdown is difficult to stay invested in, if only because it lasts for so long and doesn't really go anywhere. In one scene Broderick breaks down and weeps, quietly, with nobody watching him, and it's practically the only point at which I felt like Mark even had an opinion on his own life.

"This isn't to detract from Broderick's fine performance – or anybody else's, for that matter. He is wonderful as a man drifting passively through life like some lonely celestial body. But there is a smart, poignant existential drama somewhere inside The Starry Messenger that struggles to escape the black hold of Lonergan's most indulgent impulses."


Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph

★★★

I was never as bored as the evening dared me to be but I fell with gratitude on the snappier incidentals: the confrontational and obtuse class attendee who needs everything re-explaining (Jenny Galloway's Mrs Pysner) and the bumptious fellow student Ian (Sagar) who presumes to deliver blunt critical feedback.

"'There's a kindness and a sincerity to your personality that's really endearing but… it's not really enough to hold my attention for the duration of three hours,' he says. Yup, that's a crafty meta-joke, there. My own final verdict? Broderick fans will need to see this but it's so low-heat the staff at Wyndham's don't need to worry about switching on the air-con this summer. Don't shoot the messenger."

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