The Suicide

Theatre, Drama
  • 3 out of 5 stars
  • 3 out of 5 stars
(13user reviews)
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Pal Aron (Councillor Brian Dawes), Javone Prince (Sam)

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Ashley McGuire (Sarah), Rebecca Scroggs (Maya), Javone Prince (Sam)

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Roxanne Palmer (Ensemble) and Paul Kaye (Patrick) 

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Sule Rimi (Hajji), Javone Prince (Sam)

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Javone Prince (Sam) 

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Messy update of a classic comedy

Various broadsheet commentators have lately had a mewl about the gloomy, challenging nature of the work in Rufus Norris’s first year in charge at the NT. Well, I hope they’re bloody happy now. Daft comedy ‘The Suicide’ isn’t a disaster but it is a bit of a mess, Nikolai Erdman’s classic Russian satire relocated to modern, multicultural London and left to stagger all over the shop.

Sam (Javone Prince) is a schlubby loser whose benefits have just been sanctioned. He lives in a tiny flat with his long-suffering wife Maya (Rebecca Scroggs) and her oversexed mum, Sarah (Ashley McGuire). It is the middle of the night, he’s grumpy and – long story short – threatens to kill himself. Unfortunately his self-pitying rant becomes a YouTube sensation, and he’s pounced upon by various chancers who see a golden opportunity. This rogue’s gallery includes an oversexed neighbour (Ayesha Antoine), who wants Sam to pretend he’s her lover, Paul Kaye’s trustafarian documentary maker, intent on making Sam’s death the first spark in a revolution, and Pal Aron’s ambitious local politician (who bears an amusing resemblance to a certain Labour mayoral candidate). 

There is a lot of good stuff in Suhayla El-Bushra’s adaptation: at its best it feels like it comes close to skewering the phenomenon of hashtag empathy and our society’s chronic fetishisation of the individual. There are some legit laughs and memorable characters, notably Kaye’s Patrick, Lizzie Winkler as Patrick’s pathologically earnest German assistant Ava, and Tom Robertson as a godawful slam poet. And Prince – heroically battling a sore throat on press night – gives good everyman as Sam.

But still. The tone of El-Bushra’s adaptation is all over the shop, veering wonkily from domestic comedy to social satire to cartoonish tit-around, too hyperactive to really nail any of them. She’s clearly a talent, but her work has predominantly been in TV and sustaining a two-and-a-half-hour play feels like a step too far. If there is any truth to accusations of dourness in the Norris era, it lies in the fact that his predecessor Nicholas Hytner directed most of the NT’s big comedies – you suspect he would have imposed some order on this in a way the competent Nadia Fall hasn’t quite managed. 

‘The Suicide’ is enjoyable enough, but it’s hard not to think it could have been something more.

By: Andrzej Lukowski

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3.2 / 5

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LiveReviews|13
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1 of 1 found helpful
tastemaker

The first act was very funny with a lot of fast paced energy. A great performance by the Understudy in the lead role of Sam, who absolutely nailed it. The second act for me kind of dragged on with a weak plot. This play was too long, probably would have been better to keep it at 100 minutes. A decent enough adaptation that raises some good points, but a long way from being a classic.

1 of 1 found helpful

Felt like it had been written by three different people in three different rooms who didn't talk to each other. I don't know the original but this felt as though it didn't know whether it was a bedroom farce, a weak political satire or a pantomime, or just some bizarre jumble of genres that didn't go together and filled in the gaps with pointlessly gratuitous nudity or swearing gags. The acting was obviously supposed to be hammy and the characters supposed to be caricature but this took it to another level that was just cringing to watch. 

Tastemaker

Translated and transformed from the original 1928 play by Russian playwright Nikolai Erdman, this modern day satire revolves around the life of Sam, played by Javone Prince.


Sam, down on his luck, out of work, relying on his wife (Rebecca Scroggs) for money and mother-in-law (Ashley McGuire) for a roof over his head, threatens suicide from the roof of his council estate towel block, Clement Attlee House.


Captured on film, Sam’s suicidal thoughts go viral and become an internet sensation. They play shows how people will use any situation to their advantage as a variety of characters look to push Sam towards suicide in order to further their own desires. These include a hippy film maker, brilliantly played by Paul Kaye, the London Major, a hipster café owner, the head of the Community Mental Health Team, and people from the estate, including Sam’s poetry writing friend and the partner of the local gangster.


Featuring a live drummer and cartoon-style video projections, whilst going at a frantic pace, this play has audiences captivated and laughing in equal measure. 

tastemaker

This is an adaption of an early controversial Russian satire. To be blunt it is really not a good enough production to put on at the National.

All theatres get it wrong sometimes, but this production is weak, lazy, and cringe-making. It would sit more at home at the end of a pier.

tastemaker

This is a satiric masterpiece by Nikolai Erdman but brought into the 21st centure and claims to 'smashes it into contemporary urban Britain & bringing hip-hop'. The hip hop link is tenuous however really well put together and its relatable!  There's lots of energy which glues the audience to everything in the play and to me, its a play that you could watch quite a few times and notice different things. Well put together and the cast are amazing. Definitely another awesome play by the National Theatre. 

tastemaker

The reviews for this play have been fairly mixed, with the main criticism appearing to be that it could have been so much more.  I disagree and think it’s fine as it is and you’ve got to take it at face-value - it was a entertaining two and half hours with lots of laughter and I thoroughly enjoyed myself.  Yes, there was maybe some big message that was supposed to come from it all and doesn’t, or perhaps there isn’t a deeper meaning and it’s just meant to be harmless fun. 


Really liked this. Sets were brilliant. It was not what I expected, I was pleasantly surprised. It was funny and I liked some of the cheeky moments. I thought it was cleverly done and the cast did a great job. Like a few others have said, I found the Margaret Thatcher dream scene a bit strange but I guess it was a good way for the cast to change for the next scene.

tastemaker

It was an imperfect production but the sets were superb, it was visually powerful if not a tad overlong. The acting was superb and there were certainly plenty of laughs. An interesting commentary on modern attitudes to mental health and fame. Go see it, there is a lot out there that isn't half as good as this and with the NT you are pretty much guaranteed to get a top quality production even if the script sometimes sags a tad

tastemaker

I enjoyed this play. Maintained my interest throughout and was very amusing.  An unusual take how the media, those in power, those who crave power and/or money can manipulate others for their own ends.  Interesting, thought-provoking.

Tastemaker

This is an update of a play for which, Nikolai Erdman, the original author spent time in Siberia, in the 1930s. This version is set in current UK with social media, local politics and hip-hop slam rap being lampooned.

On the day I saw it Adrian Richards, the understudy, played Sam and was excellent.

It is funny and the characters are well written and recognisable. There are bits that could go, I'm not sure what seeing Maggie Thatcher in the afterlife added to the proceedings. I will look out for Suhayla El-Bushra's writing in the future. The set was great too, it cleverly moved back and forth between the inside and outside of an authentic looking tower block flat.

While the state here is not going to feel threatened by this play, it was entertaining, interesting and showed promise.

Recommended.


Tastemaker

Slightly surprised with the below reviews as although I didn't find this as funny as previous farcical offerings at the National such as 'One Man Two Governors' I did think play had lots of energy, good comedic moments and kept the audience engaged throughout. My only main criticism would be that the ending could have been edited down as I think it was stretched out enough (I don't know the original play in case this follows the same narrative)?


I saw it in preview, and it felt like at least a half hour of material could usefully be cut to produce something far tighter and funnier- and the Thatcher dream scene would, if I were wielding the scissors, be first to go. This is a play with several things going for it- a strong central idea and some very amusing incidentals, both characters and business. The set is both imaginative and authentic looking, calling to mind very precisely the tower blocks of North London estates while allowing rapid switches from inside to out. However, somehow the whole does not tie together and it is too long. Drumming as a background to the more heated dialogue is distracting and pointless. All credit to the cast, who were energetic and very frequently spot on funny. It's the structure of what they were put into which needs work. So: an experiment, not all bad, but not a complete success either.

Tastemaker

Closer to 2.5 but as it was the first preview I'll round it higher.  Found much of it too broad for my tastes but it's very spirited and definitely unlike anything I've seen at the National Theatre.