Review Roundup: Did Keeley Hawes Impress the Critics in THE HUMAN BODY?

The production is now on at the Donmar Warehouse

By: Feb. 28, 2024
Review Roundup: Did Keeley Hawes Impress the Critics in THE HUMAN BODY?
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Keeley Hawes and Jack Davenport, make their long-awaited returns to the London stage in The Human Body; a story of political and private passions from writer Lucy Kirkwood.

In his final production as Artistic Director of The Donmar WarehouseMichael Longhurst directs together with Ann Yee, with whom he previously collaborated on Next to Normal and Caroline, or Change.

So what did the critics think?

Cindy Marcolina, BroadwayWorldThough it’s a bit on the longer side, it’s uniformly engrossing and doesn’t feature any lulls or fillers. It’s a fascinating production from every viewpoint: Joshua Pharo’s in-your-face lighting, Nathan Amzi and Joe Ransom’s video design, Ben and Max Ringham’s compositions, each aspect joins in harmony to deliver a compelling and thoroughly riveting product. Like most of what the Donmar has been producing lately, this is a show to see.

Arifa Akbar, The GuardianHawes and Davenport have a potentially explosive chemistry from the moment they meet in a train carriage, while Kirkwood’s script crackles with unspoken desires, disappointments, yearning and some fantastic humour. Having recently adapted Roald Dahl’s The Witches, Kirkwood shows her range here, often deftly weaving bigger politics with the politics of Iris’s marriage and affair.

Nick Curtis, The StandardThe production, by Michael Longhurst and Ann Yee, is engrossing but meandering. Designer Fly Davis dresses the cast predominantly in shades of grey against a powder-blue set, suggesting ration-book drabness and also cinematic artifice. Props are handed over by a polished and visible stage management team – the must-have, along with slick video, for fashionable West End shows from Sunset Boulevard to The Picture of Dorian Gray.

Clive Davis, The TimesKirkwood seems unsure of what kind of play she is trying to write. Is it a staid, semi-documentary celebration of the founding ideals of the NHS? Or is it a clever-clever meta-romance full of sly parallels with the thwarted emotions of Brief Encounter? It fails on both counts.

Sam Marlowe, The StageKirkwood raises some interesting notions about different types of heroism and the relationship between the corporeal and the body politic. But the hectic production often interferes with the flow of character and events, with people and places scarcely established before we’ve moved on. More engaging than the ideas here is the delicate drawing of the tentative midlife love affair, a physically consuming coup de foudre offset by the compromises and sacrifices of respectable marriage, played out with wry humour and tremulous veracity by Hawes and Davenport.

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out: Kirkwood is a mercurial playwright: her last three works were a big budget musical (‘The Witches’), a high concept conspiracy thriller (‘Rapture’) and a ragged raw monologue about police violence towards women (‘Maryland’). ‘The Human Body’ is a lot more MOR than all that - though steeped in interesting detail about the Atlee/Bevan years, it’s essentially a fairly conventional period romance that often teeters on melodrama.

The Human Body runs at The Donmar Warehouse until 13 April.

Photo credit: Marc Brenner