The Magistrate

  • Theatre

This twinkly eyed revival of Victorian farceur Arthur Wing Pinero's 1885 romp was, by the NT's standards, a last minute fix, pulled out of the bag a few months back to replace Richard Bean's shelved Christmas show 'The Count of Monte Cristo'. But there's no air of 'rush job' to Timothy Sheader's super-stylised production.

For starters, 'The Magistrate' looks fantastic: Katrina Lindsay's 2D set is chocolate box Victoriana force-fed laudanum until it's gone a little nuts, all spiralling, abstract cityscapes and impossibly angled chintz. And it's not just the set that's gone through the looking glass – with their mad hair and retina-searing outfits, the cast seem to have escaped from a Tim Burton version of 'A Christmas Carol'.

Joshua McGuire gains a good foot in height from his vertiginous barnet as the impish Cis Farringdon, a 14-year-old whose prodigious appetite for bawdy is best explained by the fact he is, unbeknownst to himself, 19. The improbable lie was fed to him by his mother Agatha (Nancy Carroll), who shaved five years off her own age while being courted by her now husband Posket (John Lithgow), the hapless magistrate of the title.

Your fondness for Sheader's sumptuous production will depend on whether you like farce additive free or stylised to within an inch of its life. Personally, I couldn't get enough of the mad visuals and vaudevillian musical interludes, even if they conceivably betray a lack of faith in Pinero's source text.

Big American star Lithgow is a touch subdued in the first half, but his bewildered Posket comes into his own in the second as he brings his gangly physicality to bear on the aftermath of a wild night on the town with his stepson. McGuire is an excellent, cartoonish foil, full of wicked glee yet strangely sweet. But it's the reliably brilliant Nancy Carroll who gives the production a heart: her amplified everywoman injects enough soul into Agatha to make us sympathise with the ludicrous pickle she's got herself into.

Like most Christmas presents, Sheader's gaudy production is good fun at the time and liable to be forgotten shortly thereafter. But that's all in the disposable spirit of the season – you'd have to be a bit of a Scrooge to deny 'The Magistrate' was a hoot.

Average User Rating

3.3 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:4
  • 4 star:2
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:1
  • 1 star:3
LiveReviews|10
1 person listening
CamdenLady

Very well executed. Not "Died Laughing" funny because farce is not what we laugh at nowadays, but that didn't stop it being interesting and entertaining. How many of Pinero's devices went on to become staples of TV sitcom? How many strands of Victorian society were being sent up in the plot? Excellent ensemble playing, especially from the athletic and not quite juvenile Joshua Maguire, and from the 2 principals, in today's performances the understudies Nicholas Lumley and Tamsin Carroll. Do not feel short changed if you're booked for a performance with 3 billed actors indisposed. Lumley, T Carroll and Manning in this tight and disciplined production in no way second best. Excellent. Looking forward to more Pinero at Trelawny of the Wells (Donmar).

London Lass

Rating below is wrong - This was brilliant - great night out. Very amusing - many audible laughs from the audience. Definitely recomend it.

LondonChap

Extremely high production value with beautiful sets. Many nods to Gilbert and Sullivan. A simple, gentle and very entertaining afternoon at the National. Ignore the newspaper critics, this is a lovely production!

Sophie

A joyous production and no mistake - reflected in the audience reaction when I saw it. Maybe there was a duff night in previews that inspired the negative reviews, but I find it hard to believe. Farce is an acquired taste I guess but to enjoy it you need to give contrivances the benefit of the doubt and throw yourself into the big gaudy world. With a cast this good it's easy to pack up your cynicism and go along for the ride.

JJ

I don't really understand these negative reviews as I went to this last night and really enjoyed the production. Plenty of whooping and cheering at the curtain call and smiling faces on exit, so it would seem I wasn’t the only satisfied customer. As a rule I don't relish the prospect of farce - I feel a pressure to laugh at the rather lame slapstick humour and often shift around embarrassed while the rest of the audience laugh raucously . The Magistrate was an exception, I found it nicely paced, less frenetic and just a bit less indulgent than the norm. I enjoyed the amusing musical interludes and thought the set creative and visually effective. The acting, as you would expect, was assured and the costumes excellent. I haven’t seen much Pinero before, but am pleased that I already have tickets to the Donmar production of Trelawny of the Wells and am positively looking forward to it.

Harry

Very dull, dated and woefully unfunny. I wouldn't mind the fact that its completely irrelevant and lacking in plot if it it was at least a genuinely fun, laugh out loud farce. If you're expecting something along the lines of the Old Vic's recent production of A Flea in Her Ear, then you'll be bitterly disappointed. I'm just glad that I went to a preview so at least the seats were cheap.

jww

Sadly it just doesnt work, the set and the over the top acting just alienates the audience rather than inviting them in. Its not the plays fault but its just not slick enough. Shame.

B. Wayne

Strange decision by the National to stage a comedy with no jokes in it. It's Christamssy, I suppose with a feeble pun about "dates" raising a rare half smile before the blessed relief of the interval and the search for coats and the car park ticket. And, of course, it has a famous film star in it. I wonder if Lithgow and the rest of the cast were picking up on the stony silence among large swathes of the audience tonight. To be fair, some people were laughing. I'm guessing the National must have spiked their drinks with happy pills, because a few extravagent wigs and daft colonels shouting about "lay-dees" doesn't seem enough to get most people who've shelled out thirty quid for this rubbish to feel happy about their evening.

El Tel

Clunking is the word. Dire song and dance. An American over the top ham actor takes the lead role in a dated story...... Why did I waste my time and money?