Theatre, West End
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • 3 out of 5 stars
(5user reviews)
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© Marc Brenner

It is to the credit and detriment of Mike Bartlett’s new play that it feels so startlingly 'now' that I half-imagined the writer standing behind the giant revolving cube of Tom Scutt’s astonishing set, handing out freshly-written lines to the cast as they spun gently past.

A brooding successor to last year’s magical realist odyssey 'Earthquakes in London', '13' is a sprawlingly ambitious state-of-the-nation sci-fi, set in a stygian parallel London. It's a messy world away from Bartlett’s ultra minimalist 2009 Royal Court smash 'Cock', yet there’s much that’s recognisable as the same writer. For all the characters' protest camping, rioting, tweeting, iPadding and YouTubing, and despite the portentous use of apocalyptic dreams as metaphor for our generation’s sense of unease, Bartlett’s glib, hip, incisive style remains in place.

The longer first half is splendid: 13 character studies wittily woven together to imagine what might happen if our nation’s disquiet were to be galvanised into direct action by a messianic leader, in this case Trystan Gravelle’s scruffy, likeable John, back from exile to oppose pragmatic Tory PM Ruth (Geraldine James).

Unfortunately the second half mires in a lengthy ideological argument between John, Ruth and nihilistic Dawkins-esque philosopher Stephen (Danny Webb). Here the play’s aggressive freshness becomes a weakness: this should have been ’13’s painstakingly crafted, shatteringly persuasive centrepiece; instead it’s static, charmless and slapdash, a wholly inadequate vehicle for the big ideas being expressed.

Both Bartlett and director Thea Sharrock must share the blame. But it feels wrong to condemn Bartlett for writing a work with its finger so firmly on the pulse of gloomy modern Britain that it only comes unstuck when he tries to suggest a solution to our modern malaise. And if period revival specialist Sharrock is an odd choice of director, she does some truly impressive things with Scutt’s audacious, dystopian set (worth admission alone).

A flawed play for flawed times, ’13’ demands to be criticized but it also demands to be seen.

By: Andrzej Lukowski


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Event website: http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk
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Unlike a lot of reviewers I thought the lengthier debate in the second half helped drag this play out of being polemical 6th form nonsense - it gave it much needed reason and nuance. It probably wasn't Bartlett's intention to make the messiah-like character short-sighted, idealistic and irritating (you get the impression he sympathises with lefty daydreamers) - but he was. So I was glad he got cut down to size in the second half. Though as with Bartlett's previous 'Earthquakes in London' it just seemed heavy-handed. I went to see Jerusalem the week after and that said so much more about our current culture, subtly but with lasting effect.


that really wasn't good at all. crazy awful, pointless (ultimately as the moments meant nothing) attempts to be crescendo filmic on stage, flat characters, far too many of them, basil exposition meets his three hectoring cousins for the entire second half... just annoying. Annoying theatre, which is theatre unconcerned with characters - the american wife and diplomat were particularly inane. incredibly flat at points. builds off a meloncholia style style sense of common doom, and does absolutely nothing with it. Indeed, the writing is so unsure, without being specific, all the threads just die away completely by the close. it didn't present theatrical characters - bar some acting brilliance that forced them - it just.. ech - this wasn't theatre. British reviews of major stage productions are, as is commonly understood in Ireland, never to be trusted. we travel over and they prove not to be worth the paper they were written on. In cultural terms, its like you are reviewing stonehenge or buckingham palace - never a bad review. a play of this ilk would have been savaged in dublin. Indeed a politically similar play by sebastian barry, one of out most noted playwrights and authors of recent times, was utterly savaged - that was hinterland. It attempted the crass trick of a 'have I got news for you' style contemporaneousness in its political message and it was rightly slaughtered by critics, and ignored by the theatre goer. it was a meaningless hot air conceit. why not echo current times from other eras? what is so brave in pat recitation of current woes when presented so flatly? Barry's play died, because it was bad, and pat, and it deserved to die a death. meanwhile - over in revering land. british critics do not know how to review plays on major london stages. they are walt disney reviewers for a british cultural disneyland. We're all just meant to buy the the ticket for the ride. for shame. I don't think you actually have much of an actual intrinsic theatre scene: nice buildings, nice scenery etc. but still. frankly suspect the lot of you.

Ms Thomas

Just saw it...the most dreadful boring theatre ive seen. The audience wriggled and squirmed its way through the pretentious, cliched, trite, predictable and uninspired plot. The set was the star, but totally under utilized. Yawn


very disappointing. felt like student production with glossy high production values papering over cracks.


very good - kept my interest all the way through. Complex, insightful + contemporary. really enjoyed it. Keep thinking about it!