Saturday, March 31, 2007

Why Utopia is like Marmite


I have read quite a few reviews of this show over the past few months, and they have increasingly led me to one conclusion - that The Coast of Utopia is like Marmite: you either love it or you hate it.

While there are some drifters around the middle, the majority of people seem to fall into one of two camps - those who would happily set up home in the Vivian Beaumont, and those who wish they'd been sedated before entering it. Utopia critics are like the weather - you never know what they're going to do...

From the 'Love It' camp:

Terry Teachout of gives a big thumbs up to the show and hits the nail on the head for me with this first paragraph:

I am in no doubt whatsoever about the merits of Jack O’Brien’s production. It is a sublime work of theatrical art, a commingling of play and performance so complete that no one lucky enough to see it will ever again read Mr. Stoppard’s words without remembering how Mr. O’Brien and his colleagues brought them to hot-blooded life.

Small wonder that Lincoln Center has carried off the dazzling trick of making a box-office smash out of a sequence of plays about a cabal of obscure intellectuals who talk at intimidating length about ideas of considerable complexity. “The Coast of Utopia” is many things, but first—if not foremost—it is a rattling good show….

I confess to wondering whether I would have been quite so impressed with “The Coast of Utopia” had I first seen it in a less memorable production, and it may also be that I responded to it so strongly because I share its author’s anti-utopian vision of the tragedy of modernity. But countless other viewers who feel otherwise have been no less deeply moved, suggesting that Mr. Stoppard has succeeded in transfiguring the unpromising raw material of politics and turning it into high art.

Markaley goes against the tide by proclaiming part three's superiority over the other two:

Tonight I saw the third (and final) part of Coast of Utopia at Lincoln Center. It was the only one of the three that I really enjoyed all the way through. The others I enjoyed parts of and could appreciate the rest, but this was definitely my favorite.

Clive Barnes meanwhile, of the New York Post, (very) briefly uses the words 'thrilling' and 'epic', before giving the show four big stars.

Nobody from the 'Hate it' camp seems to have voiced their opinions this week, so moving away from the Marmite analogy...

  • Capacity last week was 90% - so slightly down on the previous week but still up on all other plays bar one. Yes, Ms. Redgrave eclipsed Utopia once again, but given the fact that it has been going since October, I would think coming a close numero deux is still pretty impressive...
  • There are several fantastic things up for grabs as part of the HighTide Festival this month. Lot 5, interestingly, is Mr Stoppard's signed Coast of Utopia jumper (words printed in Russian) while Lot 8 is the full trilogy also signed by the man himself. Lot 10 is the aforementioned annotated Utopia script, on which there is a reserve of £1050. (NB: Contrary to what we previously thought, this is actually the current New York script, and is dated 25th August 2006. Click here for details. Nobody has currently bid, so if you have considerably more roubles than me, it'd be a fantastically lovely thing to buy!) All these goodies are on auction at until Tuesday April 3rd.

  • At meanwhile, there are eight Coast of Utopia window cards available at more of a serf's budget. (serf = me)

  • In other news, the fabulous Ms Plimpton will be appearing alongside a host of other well-known faces at P.S. 122's gala in honor of actor-playwright Eric Bogosian, on the day after life ends as we know it. (May 14th, that is...)

  • Utopia co-set designer Bob Crowley meanwhile, talks about his use of "The Kabuki Drop" in the aforementioned play The Year of Magical Thinking, which opened this week. Another member of Utopia's ultra-talented creative cohort is also mentioned briefly. Mr Crowley went along to opening night with NY Times fashion critic friend Cathy Horyn. She talks about the night here.

  • Photo-wise, USA Today has a lovely one of Mr Stoppard and the five leading men, while Playbill has a whole group - five of which I've never seen.

Incidentally, with the arrival of Frost/Nixon in New York yesterday from my side of the pond, there are now three members of the cast of Wilde appearing simultaneously on Broadway. Now we just need to get Mr Fry and Mr Law over here. Thoughts, anyone?!

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