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Review Roundup: MAD HOUSE, starring David Harbour and Bill Pullman

Mad House is at the Ambassadors Theatre until 4 September

Mad House

Mad House, the hotly-awaited world premiere of Theresa Rebeck's play has now opened at the Ambassadors Theatre, starring David Harbour and Bill Pullman.

In rural Pennsylvania, Michael (Harbour) has returned to his childhood home to look after his dying father, Daniel (Pullman). His siblings Nedward (Stephen Wight) and Pam (Sinead Matthews) soon arrive, determined to work out how much money Dad actually has left and how they're getting their hands on it.

David Harbour and Bill Pullman return to the West End in the world première of Theresa Rebeck's dark and funny new play. Directed by Moritz von Stuelpnagel, Mad House opens at the Ambassadors Theatre this June for a strictly limited season.

So what did the critics think?

Jonathan Marshall : BroadwayWorld: Pullman is perfectly cast as the ailing but restless father - we understand his frustration, laugh at his boyish humour and feel for him when he realises the level of greed inhabited by the two children who haven't been around to look after him. Harbour also captivates, enjoying effortless chemistry with Henry and radiating the anger, hurt and exasperation at being persecuted and undermined for his previous battles with mental health. It's a multi-faceted, nuanced and heart-wrenching portrayal.

Arifa Akbar: The Guardian: Mad House loses the threads of its first half to turn into a different kind of family psychodrama that could easily be another play, with big pivots in mood and focus. With Daniel mostly offstage, it loses the humour and revolves around sibling conflict, and introduces some creaking plot turns around greed and inheritance.

Dave Fargnoli: The Stage: Though it's loaded with crisp dialogue and moments of wince-inducing viciousness, Rebeck's script suffers from its low stakes and ponderous pace. Portentous conversations about the permanence of the stars or the lasting patterns of behaviour laid down in childhood bubble up inorganically from slow, sprawling scenes, meaningful observations never quite cohering around a point.

Clive Davis: The Times: Sometimes, as a play's interval approaches, you cross your fingers and hope that the script can reach the same heights in the second half. Theresa Rebeck's drama about a dysfunctional American family - receiving its world premiere in London - offers a prime example.

The first hour or so delivers an absorbing blend of dark and light, anguish and humour. Sadly, that delicate balance goes awry later. It's still a thought-provoking piece, but you're left wondering what might have been.

Farah Najib: Evening Standard: Both stars are brilliant. Pullman as Daniel is sallow and sunken, frequently wiping gunk from the corners of his mouth, every word an effort. Don't be fooled by this weakness though, there's brute force behind his verbal abuse. With his body mostly confined to a chair or bed, so much is communicated through his eyes, which dart mischievously as he spews insults.

Andrzej Lukowski: Time Out: The play remains pretty queasy. What are we to think about the fact Michael tries to kill his dad multiple times? What is Rebeck trying to say about society via these truly horrendous, irredeemable people? Once 'Mad House' stops trying to be funny it pitches into emotional territory so vertiginously nihilistic that it's difficult to even see what it wants to say beyond screeching PEOPLE ARE AWFUL in your face, again and again.

Alice Saville: The Independent: Hidden somewhere in the shaky foundations of Mad House is the message that the supposedly mentally ill Michael is the sanest one here. He's the only one who's not driven by some kind of ruthless agenda, and the only one who's trying to do the "right thing". Having a breakdown is, perhaps, the only rational response to being a part of this f***ed up family. Harbour delivers a memorable performance as this tormented everyman, but this play isn't solidly built enough for it to hit home.

Mad House is at the Ambassadors Theatre until 4 September

Photo Credit: Marc Brenner

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