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BWW Review: JUDE, Hampstead Theatre

BWW Review: JUDE, Hampstead Theatre

BWW Review: JUDE, Hampstead Theatre This is Edward Hall's last production as Artistic Director. After almost 10 years, he is leaving for pastures new. Before he joined the Hampstead was under threat of closure, as it scraped close to bankruptcy. Nowadays, it has established itself as one of the leading new writing venues, premiering over hundred plays - some proving to be a massive hit.

Hall has personally staged some brilliant shows. Cost of Living, starring Adrian Lester recently drew industry acclaim; he gave Maisie Williams of Game of Thrones fame her stage debut in I and You; and Firebird was my own personal favourite - the important story of sexual abuses occurring in towns across the country.

Hall is responsible for creating Hampstead Downstairs - a smaller space that stages incredibly dynamic work. Under his leadership, the building has taken risks and produced some fantastic shows.

Unfortunately, Howard Brenton's Jude doesn't seem to be one of them. An adaptation of Thomas Hardy's novel Jude the Obscure, the play is over-intellectual and a bit of a slog to sit through.

Judith is a Syrian refugee with an incredible gift for ancient languages, who dreams of studying classics at Oxford. When she's not running from the authorities she's cleaning houses and having visions of Euripides at night. As a viewer, it's a lot to process, but Isabella Nefar does hold her own on stage, giving an impressive performance.

Mixed with narratives of a dodgy pig farm, a cousin being radicalised and a teacher on a mission to become the best classicist there is, you get a text that is very convoluted and a bit all over the place. Hall's staging is strong and there are some lovely decisions being made, but Brenton's script is too fidgety to really ground itself.

In his writing, Brenton relies on lazy stereotypes and ill-judged jokes that feel very uneasy. It's a real shame, because there are some interesting performances despite this. As well as Nefar, Caroline Loncq is a standout as the bolshy and brass academic Deidre, and Anna Savva does well to convey Auntie Martha's pain at her niece's abandonment of duties.

Ashley Martin-Davis's design sees the set neatly covered in books. There are trapdoor surprises a-plenty, and it allows Hall to put in some daring moments. Blood, snow, sand, flowers; it's all to play for. But whilst visually it looks impressive, emotionally it never really grabs you. There's a sense of constant disconnect.

Jude at Hampstead Theatre until 1 June

Photo: Marc Brennar

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