Wyndham’s Theatre, London – until 10 August 2019
As a love letter to New York’s Hayden Planetarium, Kenneth Lonergan’s The Starry Messenger serves a purpose. Matthew Broderick is Mark, a professor of astronomy who teaches an evening class in the introductory basics of his subject, with an aspect of the play forming an autobiographical nod to classes actually taken by Lonergan and Broderick in their youth at the Planetarium, before it was demolished in 1997.
Lonergan’s story however takes our disbelief and suspends it by the slenderest of threads. Amidst a string of weak constructs, we observe Mark being tested by a mid life crisis that stresses his long standing marriage to Ann (Elizabeth McGovern).
Along the way Lonergan offers up a glimpse of many recognisable facets of modern living, his text enveloping love, lovelessness, deceit, jealousy, grief and ageing – together with a smattering of hope too. But ultimately there is little in this piece that grabs the audience to take them on much of a dramatic journey.
For the price of a West End ticket Lonergan serves up a slice of life which, and for a fraction of the cost, many of the show’s audiences may well be experiencing day in, day out. The message of the piece may well be that sh*t happens but life goes on, but this is far too skimpy an argument to drive three hours of troubled text. There’s perception in the writing that offers up a sequence of meticulously observed mundanities, but too much of Lonergan’s fiction is just implausible.
Broderick does what he does best – this is Leo Bloom, 30 years on only without Mel Brooks writing the comedy. And as drama The Starry Messenger falls way short of Albee’s barbed acerbity that made George and Martha such a horrendously compelling mid-life, middle-aged, monstrous couple in Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf. Overall, Lonergan’s Mark misses the mark.
The acting is fine throughout. Alongside Broderick, McGovern captures an inner angst as Rosalind Eleazar’s trainee nurse Angela puts in another well defined turn. Jim Norton’s curmudgeonly Norman, an elderly cancer patient who drives one of the show’s subplots is also spot-on in depicting the emotional onslaught of his disease and its impact on daughter Doris (great work from Sinead Matthews).
There are momentary gasps and occasional laughs but ultimately this is a stretched out evening at the theatre, albeit one with a starry cast.
Runs until 10th AugustPhoto credit: Marc Brenner