Review Round-Ups

Were critics for or Against Ben Whishaw's Almeida performance?

Christopher Shinn’s new play, directed by Ian Rickson, debuted at the Almeida on Friday

Sarah Crompton, WhatsOnStage


"…Whishaw and Hale are wonderful, expanding both the story and the relationship. I last saw him filling this stage with whirling energy as the cross-dressing god Dionysus in Bakkhai. Here he is all quiet holiness, still intensity, his agitation revealing itself only in his twitching fingers and restless thumbs. He is a plausible latterday saint but also a hideous prig, full of self-righteousness, leaving Sheila hanging because he can't decide whether he is ready for love. Hale is equally fine in a much less densely written role. Her entire body constantly expresses what she feels, even when she doesn't have a line to say.

But around them, the play rapidly disintegrates into a series of short, pretty evenly paced scenes, which twist and tug into all directions. Some of these are funny – there's a wonderful encounter with a waspish and politically correct creative writing professor (Kevin Harvey) who was a sex worker in a former life – but not all advance the work's central themes…"

Michael Billington, The Guardian


"Shinn paints a picture of an America where violence on the social and sexual level is pervasive; but neither he, nor Luke, asks how much this stems from specific issues to do with history, politics or the mass media. It is strange, for instance, that Luke, in his mission to get inside the sources of violence, never once mentions gun control.

There are good scenes within the play. Luke’s return to his childhood home highlights the problems for his mother, who can hardly even master the TV-recording system, of living with a scientific genius and a global celebrity. There is also some deft satire on the corporate world when the Equator boss outlines a scheme for "relational purchasing", which will enable people to share their reasons for buying a specific product. But while Shinn has sharp antennae, he comes perilously close to suggesting that, in order to counter violence, all you need is love."

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph


"What on earth has gone wrong? The near three-hour running-time to start with. It’s up there with Hamlet, which Whishaw so memorably played back in 2004 at the Old Vic when barely out of drama school. Yet while Shakespeare gives us human emotion at its most complex, Shinn has concocted a protagonist with all the depth of a computer print-out. In fact, beside this stealthily inquisitive figure, even that geeks’ geek Q (as played by the star in the Bond films) looks super-charged with personality.

Concerned by a mass-shooting on a university campus, and convinced he has been told by God to "Go where there’s violence", Luke has decided to let his ever-growing empires take care of themselves for a while, and spread his word among the people.

Whishaw, still boyishly handsome at 36, kitted out in black short-sleeved top and jeans, with white socks and sneakers, does a nice line in self-contained gurus (he was last at the Almeida two years ago as a feline, flirty Dionysus). His face here is open, serene, solicitous, his every physical gesture self-aware, cerebrally loaded."

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard


"Although Ian Rickson’s production is well-acted, it’s tonally uncertain, and Shinn’s intentions aren’t easy to decipher. Satirical scenes at the expense of campus politics and creative writing courses feel as if they’ve been squeezed into the play, and more nuanced ideas about 'radical modes of intimacy' and the way corporate cynicism can masquerade as wisdom are underdeveloped.

The result is a disjointed piece that keeps distracting itself by flirting unpersuasively with topical issues. Maybe that’s Shinn’s point — the fracturing of public discourse makes it impossible to solve society’s problems. But while it promises to grapple with big ideas about isolation and the corrupt nature of modern culture, Against lacks drive and focus."

Tim Bano, The Stage


"A fantastic and fascinating ensemble elevates the script: Whishaw combines quick feline movements with long periods of stillness, both rooted in precision, giving the impression of a young businessman completely assured of his own worth and potential. There's confidence in everything he does, but it never quite turns into arrogance. He makes a strong case for the idea that 21st century prophets are the Elon Musks and Mark Zuckerbergs, who seem everyday to come up with ideas to save the world.

There’s excellent work, too, from Kevin Harvey and Emma D’Arcy. D’Arcy plays a student in a polyamorous relationship, which provokes a few scoffs from the audience. But it's unclear whether Shinn wants us to mock or not. Much of the play could be satire, if it didn't ask us to take it so seriously."