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Review Roundup: Matthew Broderick Makes West End Debut In THE STARRY MESSENGER - What Do The Critics Think?


The Starry Messenger

Hollywood star and multiple Tony Award-winning Broadway legend Matthew Broderick tonight made his West End debut at the Wyndham's Theatre in The Starry Messenger by Kenneth Lonergan, the Academy Award-winning writer of Manchester-By-The-Sea.

The production, directed by Sam Yates (Glengarry Glen Ross), also stars Elizabeth McGovern, known to millions for her portrayal of Lady Cora in the multi-award-winning drama series Downton Abbey.

In the vastness of the universe are we all just lonely souls under the same night sky?

Mark Williams is lost. An astronomer at New York City's Planetarium, he feels a closer connection to the infinite, starry sky than to his job or even to his wife, Anne. Mark doesn't believe in fate or divine intervention, but the universe has other ideas.

This bittersweet, comic drama is an unblinking exploration of love, hope and understanding our place in the universe, by one of the most celebrated writers working today.

Let's see what the critics have to say!

Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: Lonergan's leisurely paced, surprisingly humorous play twists away from every expectation; there's even a meta joke about finding grand meaning in stargazing. It also hinges on the unusual challenge of a man defined by his passivity and poetry-killing rationality, and the drama, too, is almost obtusely conflict averse. Yet the meticulous world building allows us to see how small actions - and inaction - can accumulate to impact on others, or how viewing them from a slightly different angle can change their meaning. The sensitive naturalism is beautifully judged, if occasionally too underpowered for theatre (projection is also an issue in some cases).

Michael Billington, The Guardian: With Matthew Broderick and Elizabeth McGovern heading the cast, this feels more like The Starry Vehicle. But, although Kenneth Lonergan has written superb screenplays such as Manchester By the Sea, and his 10-year-old play is wryly observant, it is too discursive to make great drama. Mark, its 52-year-old hero, who lectures at New York's Hayden Planetarium but feels he has missed his vocation as an astronomer, occasionally reminded me of Uncle Vanya without the rich sense of life that accompanies the Chekhovian consciousness of failure.

Tim Bano, The Stage: In director Sam Yates' staging, backdrops of deep, celestial indigo - skies and constellations - surround Chiara Stevenson's revolving set, framed by a black semicircle. That arc, reaching over the set, is like the outline of a planet, and serves as as a reminder of the smallness of the lives it contains. And yet the mundane conversations between characters manage to be mostly riveting because Lonergan - who was Oscar nominated for writing and directing Manchester by the Sea - skilfully sets the infinite against the depressingly finite; eternity against mortality. He and the cast expertly capture so many little nuances of human behaviour: the slump of the shoulders as Broderick gets home and faces a mouthy teenage son, or a wife who wants to fill him in on the day's news.

Ann Treneman, The Times: Sam Yates directs and holds his nerve for the pace, as anyone who has seen Lonergan's film Manchester by the Sea knows, is that of everyday life. But, after a few minutes where you wish Mars would explode or something to give us a bit of action, we cannot help but be enfolded into quotidian stories before us.

Dominic Cavendish, The Telegraph: Broderick acquits himself well enough as the self-effacing mid-lifer; his most physically demanding moments involve jumping off a chair to demonstrate gravity and an ardent fumble on the floor. In as much as he retains a boyish charisma while sounding affectless, he impresses but he's unable to suggest much inner life beneath the forlorn composure; that's the nature of the character rather than a limitation of the performance.

Mark Shenton, LondonTheatre: As these worlds tenderly and sometimes painfully intersect, Lonergan writes a cryptically subdued play that combines the big cosmic questions with the random banalities of life, like planning for a visit from your mother-in-law, and dealing with an unasked-for appraisal of your teaching skills from a student. Director Sam Yates's production is definitely a slow-burner, but the slow reveal of the play's intricate patterns is deliberate, finding both the poetry and the drama in the seemingly banal.

Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: Broderick brings a mix of quizzical humour and gentle despair to astronomy teacher Mark, a pleasant nerd whose life is several shades of grey (but far fewer than fifty). His marriage to Elizabeth McGovern's pinched and anxious Anne has gone stale, and his relationship with their teenage son feels distant. Even when two tricky students try to derail the classes he runs at Manhattan's planetarium, his response is apologetic rather than angry.

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out: The first half of Sam Yates's production is kind of weird but kind of enjoyable. There is some odd stuff here, like the very silly scene in which a student forcibly gives Mark detailed feedback on how he thinks the course is going - it's so daft that it should feel jarring, but it gets absorbed into the deadpan tone of it all. And while Mark and Angela are an odd couple, Lonergan is clearly trying to do something by contrasting his vision of a dry, dead universe with hers of one that's powerfully interconnected.

Sarah Crompton, Whatsonstage: McGovern has too little to do as Anne, the brittle wife, who worries about the arrangements for Christmas and the state of her marriage, but has lost the gift for listening, but she finds exactly the right tone of well-mannered niceness. The revelation, though, is Eleazar, as Angela, positively shining with life's possibilities, and a goodness rarely seen.

Matt Wolf, theartsdesk: Silver-haired but possessed of an eternal boyishness that abets this portrait of a man adrift in a world larger than he is, Broderick has a unique gift for giving the impression that he stands somewhat outside the very role he is inhabiting until such moments as he connects with genuine force. The Starry Messenger may be a bit of a curate's egg, but when it comes to leading men there really isn't anyone quite like this one.

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