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‘The Starry Messenger’ review

Theatre, Drama Wyndham's Theatre , Covent Garden Until Saturday August 10 2019
3 out of 5 stars
2 out of 5 stars
(6user reviews)
 (© Marc Brenner)
© Marc Brenner Matthew Broderick as Mark
 (© Marc Brenner)
© Marc Brenner Elizabeth McGovern (Anne)
 (© Marc Brenner)
© Marc Brenner Jim Norton as Norman 
 (© Marc Brenner)
© Marc Brenner Matthew Broderick (Mark)
 (© Marc Brenner)
© Marc Brenner Matthew Broderick (Mark)
 (© Marc Brenner)
© Marc Brenner Matthew Broderick and Elizabeth McGovern
 (© Marc Brenner)
© Marc Brenner Matthew Broderick and Elizabeth McGovern
 (© Marc Brenner)
© Marc Brenner Matthew Broderick, Rosalind Eleazar
 (© Marc Brenner)
© Marc Brenner Rosalind Eleazar (Angela)
 (© Marc Brenner)
© Marc Brenner Sinead Matthews (Doris)

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Matthew Broderick is good as a jaded academic in Kenneth Lonergan’s rambling drama

Dramas don’t come more midlife crisis-y than ‘The Starry Messenger’, a spectacularly lengthy (three-and-a-quarter hours on press night) sort-of comedy by US playwright Kenneth Lonergan.

It stars Matthew Broderick (ie the actual Ferris Bueller) as Mark, an epically jaded lecturer at New York’s Hayden Planetarium circa 1997. Aged 52, he wanders through life in a mostly affable fug, exquisitely courteous but occasionally vaguely irritable, like Patrick Bateman with his balls cut off or Michael Douglas in ‘Falling Down’ if he didn’t fall down.

He drifts, blithely, into an affair with Rosalind Eleazar’s sensitive single mother Angela. Though the whole young-woman-throws-herself-at-much-older-guy thing is a bit tiresome, there is something interesting about their relationship – it feels like Mark is mostly reciprocating Angela’s attention to be polite; the affair has little bearing on his cordial but distant relationship with his wife Anne (Elizabeth McGovern, good but somewhat wasted in a minor manic pixie dream wife role).

The first half of Sam Yates’s production is kind of weird but kind of enjoyable. There is some odd stuff here, like the very silly scene in which a student forcibly gives Mark detailed feedback on how he thinks the course is going: it’s so daft that it should feel jarring, but it gets absorbed into the deadpan tone of it all. And while Mark and Angela are an odd couple, Lonergan is clearly trying to do something by contrasting his vision of a dry, dead universe with hers of one that’s powerfully interconnected.

But the second half is just a bit much. For starters, I haven’t mentioned the whacking great subplot about trainee nurse Angela, an elderly patient of hers named Norman and his daughter Doris. While it’s great to see actors of the calibre of Jim Norton and Sinead Matthews in the West End (as Norman and Doris respectively), their entire storyline feels like a meandering indulgence.

And Mark’s slowburning breakdown is difficult to stay invested in, if only because it lasts for so long and doesn’t really go anywhere. In one scene Broderick breaks down and weeps, quietly, with nobody watching him, and it’s practically the only point at which I felt like Mark even had an opinion on his own life.

This isn’t to detract from Broderick’s fine performance – or anybody else’s, for that matter. He is wonderful as a man drifting passively through life like some lonely celestial body. But there is a smart, poignant existential drama somewhere inside ‘The Starry Messenger’ that struggles to escape the black hole of Lonergan’s indulgent impulses.

Venue name: Wyndham's Theatre
Address: Charing Cross Road
Transport: Tube: Leicester Square; Rail: Charing Cross
Price: £12.50-£127.25. Runs 2hr 50min
Static map showing venue location

Average User Rating

1.8 / 5

Rating Breakdown

  • 5 star:0
  • 4 star:0
  • 3 star:0
  • 2 star:5
  • 1 star:1
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1 of 1 found helpful

I saw this yesterday.  I guess as it's still in previews I should have expected some glitches.  And I really wanted to like this as I am a big fan of Matthew Broderick.  But gosh it tested my patience and interest.  Yes actors talking over each other.  And Broderick fluffing his lines several times.  But mostly the play is too long, rather incoherent and there was absolutely no chemistry between 'Mark Williams' and his younger paramour.  And I struggled to see a point in the cancer patient and his daughter.  Cut that and you've got a two hour play that might hold the audience better. But only in retrospect did I realise that maybe Broderick's performance as a grey, inconsequential, insignificant man (which at first I thought was poor acting) was really the point of the thing, given he was able to "have it all".

1 of 1 found helpful

Paid 75 Pounds for 2 Royal Circle tickets for this evening´s show... far over priced for this play. Agree completely with Annelies G below. We don´t feel the actors are ready for this performance. 

We still love Elizabeth McGovern though!

1 of 1 found helpful

Nothing good to say about this play. The acting is terrible, the plot is boring and it is soooo long for nothing really. I see theatre in London all the time, so if you really want to see great theatre, head to Hampstead Theatre where the plays are of great quality. And if you do fancy Leicester Square, Book of Mormons is what you want to see. Provocative, hilarious and extremely well executed. None of the things Starry Messenger can claim. Definitely doesn’t live up to London standards.

1 of 1 found helpful

 I see plays in previews all the time, but I have rarely seen one as unprepared as this. Actors dropped their lines constantly or talked over one another. The play was interrupted by a technical glitch: I believe they couldn't get the stage to rotate.

And, what an awful play. Full of stereotypes and conventions ( a white middle aged man in a midlife crisis finds happiness in the arms of his black girlfriend.) At the end, his wife says 'you get to have it all.' He says, 'I do.'  And, she seems ok with that. YUK! And, the play trivializes continuing education and makes fun of the people who pursue it. Lonergan should stick to film and stay out of the theatre.

Broderick is totally not compelling, and Elizabeth McGovern has almost no part. And, what part she does have is the pleading, supporting wife who accepts his affair. What was she thinking when she took this project on?

The only highlights of the evening were the performances by Rosalind Eleazar and Jim Norton. They were memorable. Thank you.

A bad play, poorly produced, and badly acted by the lead. 

I went into this without expectations and without reading reviews. I go the theatre a few times a month, and I just wanted something cheap this time. You can't beat £15 for a West End show, but I would not have paid more than that for this. Though it seems it was cut down in time somehow, it was still 3 hours of dreadfully boring nothingness. It felt like several scenes/storylines could have been cut for time and just the fact that they were pointless. There were a few laughs, but overall, it felt as long as it was. The acting was not good, save for a couple of minor characters like Ian, and the actors had no chemistry. There were several quite obvious mistakes (such as Matthew Broderick saying the wrong character's name, leading the actors and audience to a fit of giggles), and the actors kept talking over each other. The story wasn't even good, and there were clearly no repercussions to Mark cheating on his wife because he still got everything he wanted, just as white men do.

The worst play I've ever seen in West End for the last 15 years! Exhausting long (3 hours and 45 mins), awfully written, endless monologues and incredibly boring, usual topics! Poorly staged, very low production value with such a bad-taste sets! By the exception of the excellent support cast, the leading cast simply unacceptable: I'm still wondering why McGovern accepted this role (in her first scenes, we couldn't even hear her, though our seats in the middle of the stalls) and Broderick with the same annoying flat voice throughout the whole play, with no charm anymore, and in his final monologue, he delivers those incredibly boring lines, as if it was a text from the Bard! Simply ridiculous. That's why a lot of people have walked out of the show, that's why the ticket sales are extremely poor. Whose brilliant idea was to bring it to West End? Please, save your money!

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