Opening Night ★★ Gielgud Theatre | Until July 27, 2024

This is a play, based on a film, that is about the making of a play that is being filmed for a documentary and which suggests the audience's reality is also a construction. It is all very meta, but unfortunately, it is not very interesting. Opening Night, based on John Cassavetes' film of the same name, looks at the struggles of leading actress, Myrtle Gordon. The diva is horrified by the fact that she is aging, and she strives to reconnect with her past artistic inspiration which she identifies with her youth. When she sees a girl, who is a super fan, killed outside the theatre, Myrtle attempts to channel the adolescent's spirit in order to play a character for whom the star feels no affinity in a play for which she is only reluctantly rehearsing. No doubt fuelling Myrtle's aesthetic and existential despair is the fact that she drinks to excess. It is all quite sad, yet perhaps intentionally, not very engaging. All the layers of artifice and the one dimensional nature of the characters distance us from any real involvement in the story. The narrative itself is simply a muddle and the ironic showstopper number at the end falls flat. One of Myrtle's complaints about her character is that she has no humour, and the same can certainly be said of Opening Night. It is dreary and earnest, offering neither emotional, nor much intellectual stimulation. The extensive use of video projections throughout distracts from, rather than enhances, what is happening on stage, and Rufus Wainwright's score isn't really given an opportunity to bring some much needed heart to the show. Sheridan Smith puts in a convincing performance as Myrtle, and there is definitely some artistic inspiration in her portrayal. If there is a reason to see this show, it is probably Smith's performance.

Rated: ★★

Reviewed by J.C.
Photo by Jan Versweyveld

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