REVIEW ROUND-UP: Downstate at the National Theatre

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Love London Love Culture rounds up the reviews for Pam MacKinnon’s production of Bruce Norris’ new play.

Morning Star★★★★ K Todd Freeman is fierce and tender in equal measure in his outstanding portrayal of the Diana Ross-loving choreographer Dee, while Tim Hopper’s Andy demands attention with his simmering self-righteousness.”

Culture Whisper: ★★★ “Downstate is an absorbing but uneasy watch, even with moments of humour from Cecilia Noble’s Ivy and Aimee Lou Wood’s Effie. Still, Norris offers much to think about. With particular rigour and a considered approach, Downstate astutely examines the effects of making monsters out of sex offenders.”

The Guardian★★★★ “While Norris has opened up a controversial subject, he leaves it to us to decide whether incarcerated isolation is the ideal solution to a terrifying problem.”

A Younger Theatre: ★★★★★ “Downstate has been described as “controversial”, and I can absolutely see why. But when discussing something so terrible, it is easy to label the people that commit these crimes as inhuman, or monstrous. And they may be just that now, but were they always? This is what Norris’ incredibly nuanced play asks. It poses a plethora of tough questions, such as: How can we prevent this from happening? And what exactly do we do with the people that do it? Downstate leaves us to decide.”

Exeunt Magazine: “Pam MacKinnon’s stunningly realistic, consistently well-acted production unveils the humanity of four convicted paedophiles living in a claustrophobic group home in Illinois, kept away from the wider world and watched closely by the US’s dystopian criminal justice system.”

Time Out: ★★★★ “If Norris humanises these men, that’s only because they are human, and to understand they’re human is to understand they are products of our society, that we can’t just give up on them. Norris doesn’t ask us to have empathy, but he does make a case for sympathy.”

London Box Office: ★★★★ “The play is remarkably easy to watch (given the harrowing subject matter) and everyone who does so will undoubtedly learn things which will challenge their views and established thinking.”

Theatre World: “The strength of this play lies in the balance that Bruce Norris achieves between condemning “evil” and allowing viewers to gain some kind of understanding and empathy with the men who perpetrate and represent it in what feels desperately like a slice of very real life in the raw.”

The Telegraph: ★★★★ “A play about paedophilia that will simultaneously outrage us and prompt us to ask searching questions about how we should treat the perpetrators. The result is not simply some bleeding-heart plea for tolerance, but a smart, acutely funny, important piece of work which challenges our never-ending Medieval thirst for revenge.”

Rev Stan: ★★★★★ “The dialogue is so natural, the performances effortless you forget you are at the theatre, it belies the precision, skill and timing of the delivery.”

The Independent: ★★★★ “With salutary cunning and insight, Norris makes it damnably difficult to know where to plant a firm foot, in regards to sympathy. Negotiating his play sometimes seemed to me what it would be like trying to race confidently up an escalator designed by Escher.”

Evening Standard: ★★★★ “The result is an uncomfortable experience, flecked with humour but bleak and haunting. It raises deeply awkward questions about revenge, revulsion and forgiveness.”

Reviewsgate★★★★★ “It is not an easy evening but it does everything theatre should do and should not be missed.”

British Theatre.com: ★★★★ “Andy’s PTSD and the accounts of their crimes are as graphically drawn as are the crimes committed against these men, who are humans not monsters. If you like challenging, well written and acted drama, this is the play for you.”

The Times: ★★★★ “There are quite a few laughs here amid the pain and anger, but be warned: I was gripped by this play and I wouldn’t want to go again.”

London Student: ★★★★ 1/2 “Never have I been so engrossed and disgusted at the lives on stage, and from this my own assumptions about criminals and the system in which they exist have been challenged. Simply put, it’s extraordinary theatre.”

City Am: ★★★ “Bruce Norris’ America-focused play asks the question of how a retribution-hungry society should treat sex offenders, but struggles to deliver a satisfying answer besides ‘not like how they do it in Illinois’.”

Downstate continues to play at the National Theatre until 27 April 2019.

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Emma Clarendon
Emma Clarendon studied drama through A-Level before deciding she was much better suited to writing about theatre than appearing onstage. She’s written for a number of online publications ever since, including The News Hub and Art Info. Emma set up her own blog, Love London Love Culture, in April 2015 and tweets at LoveLDNLoveCul.
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Emma Clarendon on FacebookEmma Clarendon on InstagramEmma Clarendon on RssEmma Clarendon on Twitter
Emma Clarendon
Emma Clarendon studied drama through A-Level before deciding she was much better suited to writing about theatre than appearing onstage. She’s written for a number of online publications ever since, including The News Hub and Art Info. Emma set up her own blog, Love London Love Culture, in April 2015 and tweets at LoveLDNLoveCul.

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