Review round-up: Afterlife (National Theatre)

I went to the National Theatre on Tuesday night to see Michael Frayn’s new play, Afterlife, at what was press night.

I generally prefer not to stray too far out of my writing comfort zone and instead, I concentrated on writing about musical theatre in this blog (as you’ll see if you look at my planned trips for this year, you’ll notice a very clear bias towards musicals.

Given that, I don’t plan to write a full review of Afterlife – there have been plenty of other people offering their thoughts on the play, so instead, I’ve decided to pick up what they have said, and whether I agree at all with them.

The first thing that strikes me on reading the critics’ responses to Afterlife is just how varied the views have been. Obviously the world would be a pretty dull place if all newspapers reflected the same views, but the critical response seems even more mixed than usual. Mark Shenton has made the very same point (albeit more eloquently) in a great post on his The Stage blog this morning, and it’s interesting to see that even the staff of The Stage disagree (judging by the extremely positive review written by Susan Elkin

The only really positive response in the major national ‘quality’ press came from Sam Marlowe in The Times, who gave the show a 4-star review. The Telegraph and Independent reviews were far more negative (around the 2-start mark) and Michael Billington of the Guardian came in somewhere in between with 3-stars.

I would have probably been with MIchael Billington though – whilst the play is not without faults, it is well worth seeing, and I don’t really recognise the miserable failure that seems to be implied by some of the reviews.


The good…
I think that Sam Marlowe (Times) is absolutely right in praising the set design in his review – he refers to the “monolithic, smoothly gliding pillared set, at once elegant and deliberately artificial.”  Compared to some of the other sets I have seen at the National, this one was very uncluttered, and I think the effect worked well for Michael Blakemore’s production.

Marlowe also offers praise to the Director, noting that the production is “directed with cool precision by Michael Blakemore”. The praise was certainly merited for me, and I think that If there is any fault with the production, it lies with Michael Frayn, and not with the director.

Michael Billington, in the Guardian, reflects a similar view, referring to “Blakemore’s superbly marshalled production”.


…the bad…
It’s pretty clear from the title of Charles Spencer’s Telegraph review that it’s not going to be a good one – “Afterlife – the rhyme of a slow, spirit-sapping death”.

He notes that the parallels [between Reinhart’s story and his Everyman story] often seem excessively laboured” and it was difficult to disagree with him entirely, particularly during the 2nd act, where the pace slowed and the connection became increasingly prominent. 

I also found the verse-speaking slightly frustrating at times – Spencer goes even further, referring to “blessed intervals when Frayn actually allows his characters to speak in plain prose”


… and the bloggers
The response so far from the blogging community hasn’t exactly been positive…

In his blog on The Stage, Mark Shenton writes “After the grim spectacle of Fram, Nick Hytner’s National seems to have finally hit that double whammy of failure that – during its early successes – its artistic director always warned would come.”

And whilst the West End Whingers haven’t filed a full review yet, their response to Shenton’s post makes their opinion pretty clear –  “Sadly we too are unable to account for our return after the interval and have put it down to morbid curiosity.”


To find more responses, take a look at the following:
The Guardian review  Michael Billington
The Times review – Sam Marlowe
The Telegraph review – Charles Spencer
The Independent review – Paul Taylor
Evening Standard review – Nicholas de Jongh
The Stage review – Susan Elkin
The Stage blog – Mark Shenton


2 Responses to “Review round-up: Afterlife (National Theatre)”

  1. 2 Charlie Benyon July 3, 2008 at 5:55 am

    Great review of the reviewers, but I saw the Times’ critic a couple of weeks ago sitting in the front row at the Donmar Warehouse and Sam Marlowe was a rather attractive she. Samantha’s definitely not a he.

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