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Review Roundup: EUREKA DAY, Starring Helen Hunt

Review Roundup: EUREKA DAY, Starring Helen Hunt

Eureka Day is now on until 31 October 2022 at The Old Vic.

The Old Vic and Sonia Friedman Productions just celebrated opening night of Eureka Day, the European premiere production of Jonathan Spector's multi award-winning play at The Old Vic, directed by Katy Rudd (The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Camp Siegfried).

The cast is Academy, Golden Globe and Emmy Award winner Helen Hunt (As Good As It Gets, The Sessions,Mad About You) as Suzanne, Kirsten Foster (Life of Pi, West End) as May, Mark McKinney (Superstore) as Don, Ben Schnetzer (Pride) as Eli and Susan Kelechi Watson (This Is Us) as Carina. The cast also includesRachel Handshaw as Winter and Alex Cartuson, Shin-Fei Chen, John Vernon and Pippa Winslow.

Set against the backdrop of a mumps outbreak at a progressive private elementary school in California in 2017, Eureka Day is a satire on the quest for consensus; the central question of 'to vaccinate' or 'not to vaccinate' taking on a whole new meaning in 2022.

Let's see what the critics had to say...

Franco Milazzo, BroadwayWorld: Eureka Day struggles in a couple of areas. The first is in getting points which make perfect sense to a Trump-era US audience over to a British audience in 2022. References to Rumi (the best-selling poet in the States, according to the BBC), the New Yorker and the intricacies of the American private schooling system will likely fly over many a Londoner's head. Moreover, Spector's allusions to the highly partisan political environment of the time may be too subtle for those watching not immersed in politics across the pond.

Arifa Akbar, Guardian: Directed snappily by Katy Rudd, the first half is full of impeccably polished satire, but we wonder where this can go; the script revels in its attack on the liberal left, spending too long taking pot-shots at this flatly drawn gang of entitled types, who use language as ammunition and concealment. "I feel fragile," says Suzanne, and it sounds cartoonish.

Nick Curtis, Evening Standard: Although Oscar-winner Helen Hunt is the big name in Jonathan Spector's sly US comedy about freedom and tolerance, it's really an ensemble piece where the star is the incisive, witty script. Eureka Day is a Californian private school so painfully right-on the parents self-police their language for inclusivity and their doughnut choices for sustainability.

David Benedict, Variety: That degree of pointing up the play's ideas is also there in the writing. It works in performance, but the effect quickly drains away because its contrivances for oppositional effect are too neat and its arguments are clearly stacked. For all his dutiful handing out of amusingly articulated positions, we are never in doubt which side the author is on.

Andrzej Lukowski, Time Out London: At first glance it feels staggering that Jonathan Spector's comedy about a hyper-liberal American school that goes into meltdown over mandatory vaccination dates from 2018, ie well before the pandemic. On reflection, though, 'Eureka Day' isn't so much prophetic as perceptive. I remember reading articles about the increase of vaccine hesitancy in the West long before Covid-19 was a twinkle in a pangolin's eye. It just seems vastly more significant now. And in fact, Spector's play is not so much *about* vaccine hesitancy; rather it uses it as a device to launch a damning attack on ivory-towered West Coast liberalism.

Clive Davis, The Times: This is the play that would have helped to keep us sane during lockdown. Jonathan Spector's comedy, set in an achingly right-on private school in Berkeley, California, had its first performance (in Berkeley) in 2018, yet it captures the passions over vaccination and misinformation that bubbled up at the height of the pandemic. Katy Rudd's breezy production has Hollywood star power in the form of Helen Hunt, who delivers an unflashy display as a painfully sanctimonious parent-governor. It's a testament to the quality of Spector's writing that you end the evening feeling a smidgin of sympathy for her.

Sam Marlowe, The Stage: Given the trauma of the pandemic, you'd think the play would feel needle-sharp. Not so. In Katy Rudd's highly coloured production, it's as hollow as the echo chambers it lampoons, its characters cartoonish and its satire of liberal pieties unrevealing, if sporadically entertaining. The presence in the cast of Oscar winner Helen Hunt doesn't come close to making its wearying verbosity seem worthwhile. She's perfectly competent; but like everyone here, she simply doesn't have enough to work with.

Simon Button, Attitude: Bringing star quality to the production, Hunt is outstanding as the most patronising of all the parents. Unlike the other Hollywood A-lister making her West End debut this year, Amy Adams in The Glass Menagerie, she has a commanding stage presence that is matched by everyone around her.

Chris Selman, Gay Times: It's a brilliantly observed satire. The thin veil of civility between the privileged parents rapidly disintegrates in act one during a virtual town hall event, hosted by the Executive Committee, to discuss the school's response to an outbreak of mumps. The audience is able to read the chat bar for the virtual meeting, which is projected on to the back of the stage; initial concern rapidly descends into accusations of fascism as it emerges that some parents deliberately haven't vaccinated their children. One participant, who entirely communicates in emojis, had the audience absolutely howling - it's genuinely one of the funniest sketches we've ever seen on the stage.

Marianka Swain, London Theatre: Spector's play gets to the root of a deeper issue: our increasingly polarised world, in which arguments are based on feeling, not fact, and we become ever-more entrenched in our culture-wars tribes. The kind of utopian consensus proposed by the Eureka Day board now feels like a pipe dream. At least we can all agree that the Old Vic is supplying a brilliantly funny and cleverly thought-provoking response.

Holly O'Mahoney, Culture Whisper: Eureka Day isn't a play about the recent pandemic but it's certainly a more relatable one, arriving at a time when many audience members will have recently found themselves embroiled in heated discussions about vaccinations and the rules around self-isolation. If anything, the play's distance from the disease which ground our own lives to a halt, and ended the lives of those less fortunate, allows us to enjoy its ridiculing all the more keenly.

Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

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