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Theatre Review: The Starry Messenger @ Wyndham Theatre

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Kenneth Lonergan’s The Starry Messenger is currently playing at Wyndham Theatre in the West End and having heard barely anything about the play, I was intrigued.

I was so hoping that I had found a hidden gem, a bittersweet play about philosophy and love and the universe (very cliche I admit). I wish this was true, however I'm disappointed to say that I understand why I had heard so little.

Image courtesy of Story House PR

Matthew Broderick does an amazing job of playing a superficially dull character, who lives a monotonous life and doesn’t care about much at all. Throughout the first act I sat wondering if I was being harsh, as I found nothing interesting in the character or Broderick at all – which shocked me greatly, being a huge fan of Leo Bloom in The Producers (2005).

It therefore took me a while to realise that that was the character – he was bored of his life and it shone through Broderick’s dry, understated wit, slight stammer and timid nature. (I was so relieved upon this realisation, as I really didn't want to believe that Broderick was a bad actor!)

Downton Abbey star Elizabeth McGovern is advertised as working alongside Broderick as Mark’s wife, Anne, however her role was minor at best. McGovern plays the fed-up wife well despite this, and I couldn’t help but relate to her inspiringly organised mind as the married couple organised to discuss Christmas plans at exactly 6:15pm the next day. However, the audience only witness a handful of scenes involving McGovern – the main focus is instead on as Angela, a young trainee nurse and love interest of Mark.

Stuck in a job he has lost passion for and a family he feels emotionally estranged from, it is no wonder that when Mark meets Angela he instantly falls for her. Rosalind Eleazar’s portrayal of Angela is open, friendly and warm-hearted, and she was definitely one of the stand-outs in the show.

Despite the awkward lack of chemistry between Broderick and Eleazar, highlighted in their first meeting, which I can only assume was meant to be endearingly awkward and not as long and uncomfortable as I found it to be, I looked past this and loved all the scenes instead involving Angela and her favourite cantankerous hospital patient, Norman, played wonderfully by Jim Norton.

Sadly a side-plot at best, Angela and Norman shared some beautiful scenes as they switched between flirtatious banter in his hospital room and deep, philosophical conversations regarding death, religion and repentance. Their scenes shone with passion and I wish more of the play featured these beautiful conversations. Near the end of the play, when Angela has received some devastating news (no spoilers), Norman not only comforts his friend but shares some insightful advice, which I will remember for a long time.

Other stand-outs among the monotony of Mark’s lifestyle include his pupils at the Planetarium, where he teaches a beginners astronomy class. Jenny Galloway and Sid Sagar are both brilliant at bringing the humour to the play, with the former asking hilariously basic questions and tickling audience members with her stand-offish attitude and arrogance. Sagar was my personal favourite amongst the pupils as he introduced Mark to his incredibly in-depth ranking system of the class, giving him detailed feedback on how he thinks the course is going, much to Mark’s annoyance.

One of my personal favourite things to watch out for in a play is the set – whether it’s a small Fringe show or a huge musical in London’s West End, I love seeing a designer’s vision come to life. Chiara Stevenson has designed a revolving set, creating three distinct rooms, each with a great dome of changing sky overhead to mimic the Planetarium. Watching a starry sky fade into storm clouds as the revolve swung slowly to reveal Mark and Anne’s cosy yet sophisticated living room made me very happy, and I admire how beautiful the scene changes were. They often provided something interesting in between some rather dull scenes!

At first I was saddened by the fact that this show hasn’t been selling well – when I went to collect my ticket at the theatre’s box office, I was surprised to have been upgraded to the Royal Circle rather than sitting up in the gods as usual. My view was fantastic and definitely worth more than I paid.

However, upon reflection, I can see why the production has been struggling to fill seats. Perhaps it’s just me, but the show was just too long and slow. With a running time of just over three hours, including a 20 minute interval, there just didn’t seem to be enough action to fill the space. Admittedly whilst I enjoy drama and excitement in a production, others may prefer a slower-paced play with more down-to-earth conversations as the backbone - however I think it’s fair to say that The Starry Messenger instead is disappointing in its slowness. It left me wishing on the stars that it had been more exciting.

The Starry Messenger is running until 10th August with tickets available here. 

Lead image courtesy of Story House PR




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