• Our critic's rating:
    Average press rating:
    Thursday, October 2, 2014
    Review by:
    Mark Shenton

    In a programme note, Hampstead Theatre's artistic director Edward Hall comments that, as he embarks on his fifth year at the helm there, "it feels appropriate for a theatre specialising in new plays to mark this moment with a play about writers and writing." And he goes on to declare, "Writers lie at the heart of what we do here and how we define ourselves."

    What a pity, though, that Hall - who has done so much to put this theatre back on the map after a long period floundering before he got there - has chosen to do so with a play of such ill-defined and barely-concealed contempt for creative writing classes, as it chronicles the snap judgements of a veteran writer and the opportunism of his all-too-eager protégées who have come to learn from him in weekly, very expensive group lessons.

    They've evidently paid $5000 each for the privilege; by comparison, theatregoers get off comparatively cheaply with a top price of only £32. But by the end of two insufferable hours in his company, you may - like Bryan Dick's suddenly homeless student - be begging for escape and a refund.

    Roger Allam's ill-prepared teacher Leonard barely has to read a paragraph of his students work before he rushes to judgement and sometimes rage at their inadequacies. Meanwhile, the students defensively and warily circle around trying to defend each other and themselves.

    This is hardly the stuff of compelling drama, but the nice surprise of Terry Johnson's brisk and elegant production is how convincingly it is all played to allow you to at least enjoy the acting if not the play. That may seem a paradoxical position, like loving the sinner but not the sin. But if Roger Allam is an actor one could watch reading the telephone directory, here it is a wonder to see him making this horrible man seem credible. The quartet of actors as the young writers enduring his masterclass are equally compelling.


    "Despite Roger Allam's best efforts, this tale of four aspiring New York writers is in dire need of a rewrite."
    Dominic Cavendish for The Telegraph

    "My only complaint about Terry Johnson’s production is that it inserts a totally gratuitous interval, thereby interrupting the smooth, linear flow of Rebeck’s rueful comedy."
    Michael Billington for The Guardian

    "American author Theresa Rebeck toys with some fascinating issues, not least the phallocentricity of the literary world, yet these points are never allowed to blossom."
    Fiona Mountford for The Evening Standard

    External links to full reviews from popular press
    Telegraph - The Guardian

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