Review Roundup: Polly Stenham's NO QUARTER - All the Reviews!

By: Jan. 18, 2013
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Polly Stenham's new play No Quarter, premiered at The Royal Court Theatre Upstairs on January 16, 2013. No Quarter delves into the relationship between a privileged son, who has left the real world behind, and his mother who has been dragged down with him. The production is directed by Jeremy Herrin with design by Tom Scutt, and runs until 9 February.

Let's see what the critics had to say:

Michael Coveney of reports: Sturridge's brilliant, compelling performance is made of a myriad tics and mannerisms, but is glued together with a deeply felt sense of purpose and lack of self-esteem, while Jeremy Herrin's superb production - the high-beamed studio is used by designer Tom Scutt to convey the timbered, cluttered, Edwardian gothic scale of a house past its prime - has The Combined impact of Stephen Beresford's The Last of the Haussmans and Alan Bennett's People. What a terrific new play to start the New Year.

Fiona Mountford of the Evening Standard writes: Like the play, Sturridge's performance is weird and wild and winding and wonderful; he's an exciting and frightening actor who shouldn't be allowed to absent himself so frequently from our stages. He glides effortlessly through the script's occasional bagginess and there is wonderful support from Joshua James as an affected young aesthete.

Michael Billington of the Guardian says: There is no doubt that Stenham creates a compelling protagonist in Robin. In part, he is a latter-day Hamlet railing at a world where kids simply trade information and lack the capacity for linear thought. At the same time, he is a drugged-up Peter Pan and, as his practical brother points out, a self-mythologising figure. While Stenham's ambivalent attitude to her hero is one of the play's strengths, I feel Robin's attacks on the cash nexus would have more force if he had ever had to work for a living. Stenham also falls back too easily on the old trope that it's really the older generation that's to blame. In Stephen Beresford's not-dissimilar The Last of the Haussmans last year, it was 60s hippies who got the flak; here it is Lily's Thatcherite peers, with their belief they could "take what they want". While there may be some truth in all this, it is in danger of becoming a dramatic cop-out.

Paul Taylor of the Independent writes: Premiered in Jeremy Herrin's assured, beautifully paced production, No Quarter feels like an odd amalgamation of those earlier scenarios. The play is set in a remote country house, which reeks of the eccentric "landed gypsy" class in Tom Scutt's gloriously cluttered cabinet-of-curiosities design.

Libby Purves of the Times reports: "Sturridge... gives a determined and subtle performance... But Stenham, whose hit debut was That Face, reiterates her theme of lousy posh mothers while giving little credibility to the damaged son... Forty minutes in I would willingly have beaten them both to death with one of the stuffed pheasants... Jeremy Herrin directs with more brio than the text deserves: there is coked-up swinging from the chandelier, violent piano-playing, an axe, a metronome, a dead rabbit and a vintage air-raid siren. In the final minutes Stenham hastily offers a back-story explaining why Robin is a mess. Too little, too late. The play purports to complete a "trilogy about growing up", but only feels selfconsciously, tediously louche... When Robin excoriates modern life and enthuses about woodland we sense a feeble echo of Jerusalem without the magic. And the druggy interludes are reminiscent only of those gossip-sheets about titled degradation, blue blood on the needles and posh corpses on the Axminster. Glum, cold stuff."

Quentin Letts of the Daily Mail writes: The play's opening 20 minutes are dreadfully slow and could do with rewriting. That, or director Jeremy Herrin needs a kick up the backside.
The setting is the main room of a country house which has been decorated in a bohemian manner: lots of books, a stag's head, Persian carpets, a piano, hippie knick-knacks, vodka bottles. Designer Tom Scott has plainly had a blast. The occupant of this opulent, untidy den is Robin, 24, a musically-inclined university dropout. He seems to be drunk and soon in an argument with his brother Oliver, 34, an MP.

Charles Spencer of the Telegraph says: One should be wary of plays that last almost two hours without an interval. I don't just mean in the obvious sense that you may find yourself desperate for a lavatory break long before the cast take their curtain calls. It can also be a sign that the management does not have complete confidence in the piece and is anxious to avoid the embarrassment of having a notably smaller audience in the second half than in the first. And certainly Polly Stenham's new piece often feels interminable and strikes me as a serious disappointment from a writer who made one of the most sensational dramatic debuts I have ever witnessed with That Face (2007), written when she was only 19.

The British Theatre Guide reports: At times, No Quarter feels like a pair of bookends with no books in between. At the start and finish, there is a family drama that asks some interesting questions about our world today. In between is a long stretch that is closer to one of those 1960s drug-fuelled happenings than a serious investigation of character.

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