The event of the year for many Madonna fans is her West End Premiere in “Up for Grabs” at the Wyndham’s Theatre, an event which I suspect many theatre critics have either been dreading or eagerly anticipating. After all, how often does one have a chance to critique a superstar?
I had promised myself before reviewing this show that I would not specifically write about Madonna, but judge the play on its merits, and Madonna as if she was any other actress. However, I realise that this was a worthless task. Like it or not, there are many people who will be going just to see her.
Like many, I suspected that this was just a publicity stunt by the producers to ensure a packed house for this ridiculously short run. I was expecting an awkward performance from an actress who would be full of her own self-importance, knowing that the people in the audience were there to see her, and not necessarily the play. However, Madonna is superb. On the evening I saw the play her task was made doubly difficult, not just because of the obvious fans in the audience, but because the play was stopped after 25 minutes due to technical problems. It was twenty minutes before the show resumed and yet Madonna continued her performance as if nothing had happened, a true professional.
The story of ‘Up For Grabs’ by David Williams concerns Loren, played by Madonna, an art dealer who attempts to break into the more exclusive buyers market and so make her name and fortune. However, this task is more difficult then she originally thought as she discovers when she tries to arrange a buyer’s auction for a Jackson Pollock painting. Loren comes to realise that far from manipulating the ‘filthy rich’ bidders, it is she who is being manipulated by them. She comments after one particular scene involving a sex aid and a fat middle-aged multimillionaire, “I guess there are things about the rich that you do not read about in ‘Fortune 50”. Will Loren sell the Pollock painting and make her fortune or will she end up being two million dollars in debt?
Madonna moves around the stage looking totally at ease. I was surprised by her sense of timing and her dry wit, which she uses to the full in delivering some terrific lines. She plays the character of Loren like a tough Brooklyn New Yorker and yet she still managers to elucidate the characters venerability. One could so easily feel ambiguous about the fate of Loren, not sure whether to dislike her drive for success or warm to her obvious, but slightly bazaar, sense of decency.
The rest of the cast also performed well and I especially liked Sian Thomas who plays Dawn Grey, she is excellent as the carefree drunk willing to be reckless in her bid for the Pollock painting.
The stage design by Jeremy Herbert is disappointing, the small box-type compartments that slide on and off stage could hardly pass as the homes of the Manhattan elite, and the video footage that constantly plays on the panels surrounding the actors soon become distracting.
This is a surprisingly good production, and not just for Madonna fans.
What other critics had to say.....
CHARLES SPENCER for THE DAILY TELEGRAPH says, "Madonna strikes me as being about as good as the play - OK, but hardly sensational." MICHAEL BILLINGTON for THE GUARDIAN says, "Madonna is not positively bad: just technically awkward. " NICHOLAS DE JONGH for THE EVENING STANDARD says, "Madonna trades heavily on her charisma and huge sex-appeal." BENEDICT NIGHTINGALE for THE TIMES says, "Enjoyable comedy." PAUL TAYLOR for THE INDEPENDENT says, "In her scenes with Boswell's vivid supporting cast (in which Sian Thomas is outstanding), Madonna is so busy concentrating on rehearsed effects that she fails to create any sense of spontaneous connection."
External links to full reviews from newspapers