Review: Never So Good (National Theatre)

Never So Good with Jeremy Irons

After a weekend of I’d Do Anything, I payed a visit to the National Theatre last night to see Howard Brenton’s new play, Never So Good, which opened a couple of months’ back. A vist to the National seems like a suitable counterpoint to the frivolity of a BBC reality TV show, and it was the perfect way to round-off the Bank Holiday weekend.

It felt more like a Sunday evening, so I look forward to making more regular Sunday trips to the National after last week’s long-overdue announcement that it will open on Sundays from September.

Anyway, back to the play itself. I read a few reviews about Never So Good before booking tickets, and the reviewers I respect most for their coverage of drama (Michael Billington and Benedict Nightingale)) were extremely positive about the play. If you’re interested in what they had to say, I have included links to their reviews at the bottom of this post.

In case you haven’t heard anything about this play yet, Never So Good is about Harold Macmillan, the former British Prime Minister. As such, the play represents history, and one which was probably very well known to much of last night’s audience. Having been born in the 80s, I didn’t live though Macmillan’s time as Prime Minister, and I can’t say that I was expert on the period of history covered within the play. In some ways, that wasn’t a bad thing though…

I was gripped from the very first instant, and the action retained my concentration fully for the duration of proceedings. Despite lasting for 2 hours 40 minutes (including an interval), the pace never dropped – a remarkable achievement by Howard Brenton. Critics have commented on the fact that Brenton’s reading of Macmillan is a sympathetic, perhaps rather surprising fact in the light of Brenton’s political leanings.

Whilst Brenton is responsible for the tremendous script, it is Jeremy Irons who carries the performance on stage. A couple of years ago, I was fortunate enough to see Irons in Embers, and once again, I feel privileged to see a truly theatrical great. Sitting in centre of the ninth row at the National Theatre, I was mesmerised by his performance. He didn’t just act as Macmillan – he ‘became’ him, wIth every gesture and movement.

Irons is ably supported by the rest of the fantastic cast – I don’t think I should single anyone else out, but it was a very impressive ensemble.

Howard Davies’ direction was very slick, heightening the action whilst keeping up the rapid pace. I also particularly liked choreographer Lynne Page’s dance interludes, which were a clever way of highlighting the changes in time. In addition, the set and lighting design were both marvellous, thanks to Vicki Mortimer and Mark Henderson.

All in all, Never So Good is an impressive achievement. As Michael Billington so eloquently puts it in his Guardian review, “In the end, one gets a valuable history lesson and a plausible portrait of Macmillan.”    

*****************************************************************************

Newspaper reviews:
For The Guardian’s full review, click here
For The Times’ full review, click here

Other blog reviews:
For the West End Whingers review, click here
For the American Look at London Theatre review, click here

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