Law grabs attention in Donmar show

Anna Christie

(Donmar Warehouse, London)

The Verdict looks at critical reaction to key productions opening Off Broadway, regionally and abroad that appear likely candidates for further life on Broadway and/or elsewhere.

London critics are buzzing about “Anna Christie,” the latest production from the Donmar Warehouse to star Jude Law.

Many of the reviewers harbor minor reservations about the melodramatic tendencies of the 1921 Eugene O’Neill play, last seen on Broadway in a Roundabout Theater Company production that starred Liam Neeson and Natasha Richardson. But they unanimously agree that such reservations are easily forgotten thanks to the trio of lead perfs from Law, as a shipwrecked Irish stoker; Ruth Wilson as the title character, a woman with a shady past whose love for the stoker offers a shot at redemption; and David Hayman as her father. The production, helmed by American director Rob Ashford (“How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying”), also was much praised.

All the plaudits are certain to make Gotham legiters — not to mention producer Arielle Tepper Madover, who has a first-look deal with the Donmar — prick up their ears. The Donmar show in which Law starred was “Hamlet,” which moved to Broadway and easily recouped a month before its limited 2009 run was over. Plus, this latest show’s helmed by a Broadway regular.

Here’s what the critics said:

n Michael Billington’s five-star review (out of five) included the refrain echoed in all the notices: “Jude Law is the big draw in this outstanding revival of Eugene O’Neill’s 1921 play. But Law’s is only one in a triptych of fine performances.” Billington also lauds the “visual power” of the production, opining that Ashford’s staging “discovers the inner intensity of a play that can easily lapse into coarse melodrama.” Still, perhaps the strongest praise was reserved for Law, in what the critic calls “the best performance I’ve seen him give.” “I suspect it’s a breakthrough performance,” he wrote, “in that it releases Law from the tyranny of always being seen as the good-looking lead man and allows him to become a character actor.”

n In the Evening Standard’s four-star review (of five), Henry Hitchings agrees about the “three potent performances,” singling out Law, who “exudes a visceral toughness that may just shape an entirely new career path for him.” Although the “play itself isn’t a masterpiece,” he added, it’s helped enormously by the perfs and by “Ashford’s deft production.” “It’s likely to haunt those who see it for a long time,” he concluded.

n Giving the show another four-of-five stars, Paul Taylor in the Independent chimed in with his own accolades. The production is “pitch-perfect” and “beautifully acted,” he wrote, and praises each of the thesps equally. “Wilson is magnificent in every department,” he contended, adding that “Ashford’s excellent production” adds nuance to the play’s unconvincingly happy ending.

n In the Telegraph, Charles Spencer’s four-star review (of five) struck similar notes of high praise. “The Donmar does this sometimes creaky play proud, with an atmospheric production and a trio of superb central performances,” he wrote.

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