Review Roundup: Tony Kushner Adapts THE VISIT at The National Theatre
In the town of Slurry, New York, post-war recession has bitten. Claire Zachanassian, improbably beautiful and impenetrably terrifying, returns to her hometown as the world's richest woman. The locals hope her arrival signals a change in their fortunes, but they soon realise that prosperity will only come at a terrible price.
Friedrich Dürrenmatt's visionary revenge play is transported into mid-20th century America by Tony Kushner (Angels in America). Jeremy Herrin (People, Places and Things, This House) directs Lesley Manville (The Phantom Thread, Long Day's Journey into Night) as the ruthless heiress and Hugo Weaving (The Matrix) as her former love.
Troy Alexander, Charlotte Asprey, Jason Barnett, Sam Cox, Bethan Cullinane, Paul Dodds, Richard Durden, Ian Drysdale, Michael Elcock, Paul Gladwin, Mona Goodwin, Garrick Hagon, Liz Izen, Sara Kestelman, Joshua Lacey, Simon Markey, Louis Martin, Kevin Mathurin, Alex Mugnaioni, Joseph Mydell, Stuart Nunn, Simon Startin, Tony Turner, Douglas Walker, Flo Wilson and Nicholas Woodeson complete the cast.
Set design by Vicki Mortimer and costume design by Moritz Junge. The lighting design is by Paule Constable, movement direction by Aletta Collins, composition by Paul Englishby, sound design by Paul Arditti and music direction by Malcolm Edmonstone.
Marianka Swain, BroadwayWorld: The glamorous, outlandish, dark goddess Claire - who makes a devilish diva entrance in billows of smoke - is an irresistible creation. She's blown through eight husbands, is carried around in a sedan chair that once belonged to Lucrezia Borgia, travels with a pet panther, and lost her legs in a duelling accident and exotic plane crash; she now sports prosthetics of pure silver. She's already ensnared three of her enemies and turned them into a grotesque entourage.
Ben Brantley, The New York Times: While Jeremy Herrin's three-and-a-half-hour production suffers from terminal bloat, it is undeniably blessed in its leading old lady, whom Manville shapes as a couture-crafted entity beyond good and evil. When she declares, "I am a myth," you aren't about to argue with her.
Dominic Cavendish, Telegraph: Kushner's version emphasises the moral vacuum of the consumerist American Dream (a spending-spree is unleashed on the unspoken promise of Alf's demise) but he also takes simple, enjoyable relish in verbal cruelty: "You look like you swallowed a hat-box, or is that a goitre?" Manville's vixen blithely remarks, with knowing impunity, to a former acquaintance.
Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: Manville stalks through this stylish, macabre milieu with a beady, stiff-legged swagger, a fabulous wardrobe and a cloud of white-blonde hair that's part Madonna, part Thatcher. Whenever she speaks you forget to check your watch. She's always been a great actress and now she's on a stage big enough to act like a star.
Patrick Marmion, The Daily Mail: Kushner loves the sound of his own voice and, to be fair, I quite like it, too. Which is lucky, as he's added more than an hour and a half to Durrenmatt's two hours, shoehorning in meditations on suffering, sexuality, money, justice, religion, progress and more. [...] My tip would be to focus on Manville's bone-chilling turn as Claire Zachanassian. A veteran of a Hamburg whorehouse, she's a terrifying, seven-times-married mix of Mae West and Bette Davis, saved by a rich industrialist.
Clive Davis, The Times: The real star is Vicki Mortimer's eye-catching set design. A railway station is blanketed in steam, a wood rises from the depths. Is Kushner delivering spectacle for spectacle's sake? Yes, sometimes. The quartet of glamorous women who parade up and down with the coffin could be models from a Robert Palmer pop video. And you have to work hard to keep up with the references, from the ashcan school of painting to ZaSu Pitts.
Arifa Akbar, Guardian: There is gentle humour and some kookiness but the play tends to flag whenever Manville is not on stage. "Nothing could harm this comedy with a tragic end more than heavy seriousness," wrote Dürrenmatt in the postscript to his play. This adaptation, for all its grandness, feels crushingly heavy by the end.
Tim Bano, The Stage: Kushner provides some glorious speeches and zinging lines, but the play falls victim to his usual excesses. Every scene outstays its welcome, until even Weaving's character roars for the others to stop. It also feels muddled as to whether it wants to be reality or thought experiment. Though Kushner tries to squeeze the play into a realistic setting - a declined, post-industrial American town - it never fully convinces. The play works much better in its generalised, surreal moments.
Andrzej Lukowski, The Times: The Olivier is famously a difficult theatre to fill. Herrin's production absolutely does so, bursting with extras - children, a choir, supernumeraries - who are often crammed into the vertiginous catwalk on Vicki Mortimer's steampunky set. But maybe it all goes a bit too far - trust Tony Kushner, he's actually overstuffed the Olivier. 'The Visit' is like having too big a portion of a wonderful meal - and it leaves you feeling kind of torpid.
Michael Higgs, The Upcoming: With a sense of humour which is tough to stomach - not because it is bad, but precisely because it is so well-executed despite the heavy subject matter it tackles - The Visit is a thrilling ride. But those who are up to it will be rewarded with a play which is just plain wonderfully done. It's hilarious and moving, shocking and engaging - in other words, a must-see.
David Benedict, Variety: Beyond the two leads, it's the very definition of an ensemble production. Sara Kestelman and Joseph Mydell make strong impressions as the elderly schoolteacher with a moral sense and the local minister who sees things similarly, but also rather likes the idea of his church bell being replaced. It is by no means a flawless evening, but the sheer scale of the production, unimaginable outside of the massively resourced National Theatre, fills gaps in the dramatic writing. Once any desire for an eventful story has been parked, audiences are left to revel in the playing out of a grand idea in a theatrical style rarely seen today.