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Review Round-up: What did critics think of Norris' Low Road?

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Dominic Cooke's production of Bruce Norris' The Low Road opened at the Royal Court last night (27 March 2013).

Billed as a "a fable of free market economics and cut-throat capitalism", the show's cast includes Bill Paterson, Elizabeth Berrington, Simon Paisley Day and Johnny Flynn.

It runs at the Royal Court until 11 May.

Giles Cole

Dominic Cooke directs a large, long pageant of a play with consummate skill, the proceedings presided over by the benign figure of Bill Paterson in the personage of the great Adam Smith. It is a splendid turn, but there are many performances to admire. With 51 listed characters there is plenty of opportunity for contrasting roles: Elizabeth Berrington, Ian Gelder and Simon Paisley Day, in particular, are superb, with Johnny Flynn persuasive and engaging… For all its entertainment value – and there were many loud approving chortles at press night – the play does, however, have an air of being rather pleased with itself, and it sets its sights somewhat lower than one might have expected. But even if its targets are easy, it hits home with relish.

Michael Billington

…what a play! It's a three-hour extravaganza with 20 actors… It would be too simple to say Norris is offering a diatribe against capitalism… this does scant justice to a play that is rich, turbulent and satirical, not least in a Davos-style debate about the current economic crisis. Cooke's production, ingeniously designed by Tom Pye, also offers a cornucopia of good performances. Johnny Flynn captures Trumpett's youthful arrogance while Kobna Holdbrook-Smith lends Blanke a massive dignity and sense of history. Simon Paisley Day as a corruptible British captain, Ian Gelder as a beneficent Puritan, Elizabeth Berrington as bustling madam are equally good, and Bill Paterson as Adam Smith presides over this indispensable play with the relaxed air of a man who knows that his faith in the free market has been all too readily accepted.

Charles Spencer

…Cooke’s production… has a terrific swagger and dash about it, and the ensemble cast do it proud. Norris offers a ripe pastiche of 18th-century language, and there are some excellent jokes. Nevertheless the play loses its way in a disappointing second half… This epic show, neatly and wittily designed by Tom Pye, boasts a 20-strong cast with most of the actors taking on multiple roles. Johnny Flynn plays the wicked Jim Trumpett with just the right mixture of cruelty and charisma, Kobna-Holdbrook Smith makes a magnificently dignified and well-spoken slave, and Simon Paisley Day offers a wonderful comic turn… There’s terrific support from Elizabeth Berrington, Ian Gelder and John Ramm among many others, and if the play finally runs out of steam, there’s a lot of fun to be had before it does.

Henry Hitchings
Evening Standard

…Norris’s new offering is a punchy piece about the excesses of capitalism… Adam Smith, lent a suitable dryness by Bill Paterson. With a cast of more than 50 characters and 20 actors playing them, this is epic theatre — a picaresque caper complete with Brechtian flourishes and nods to sitcom… As Norris satirises the slyness of entrepreneurs and various absurdities of the free market, there are plenty of stinging lines. There are enjoyable performances, too, notably from Ian Gelder and Simon Paisley Day. But the play is overlong and its gibes sometimes misfire. What’s more, the production doesn’t feel properly in its groove — though that should change as the run goes on. It’s vivacious and mischievous, yet often heavy-handed. And the screwy ending is completely misjudged.

Paul Taylor

There were moments, during the three hour slog through The Low Road, when I found myself thinking that I would rather tak' any road than have to watch it again… Adam Wealth of Nations Smith (Bill Paterson) is our narrative guide through a galumphingly jokey account of the career of one Jim Trumpett (very skilfully played by Johnny Flynn)… But while the gamely performed by a spirited cast, it is wearisomely effortful and fails either to tell you much that is new or make you reconsider what you know in the light of capers with context. A disappointing end to a largely admirable regime.

Libby Purves
The Times

Bruce Norris’s new play is a romping, sprawling, barnstormer… Flynn is terrific, whether clothed or (in one juncture) stark naked, always deploying a petulant, furious bankerly sense of entitlement… The Royal Court has a tradition of afflicting the comfortable… Norris’s attack is wilder, twice the length and three times as entertaining. I doubt it will follow his Clybourne Park up West, but salute his willingness to abandon the known path and strike out into 18-century picaresque fable… Norris is far too fly — and flip — to offer solutions: our hero’s final furiously Thatcherite, “Equality would make beggars of us all!”, neither wins nor loses.


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