Patrick Stewart's New Play Reviewed By Critics

By Lisa
September 15, 2001 - 10:03 AM

Patrick Stewart's (Jean-Luc Picard) return to the British stage began at the end of last month, as 'Johnson Over Jordan' opened at the West Yorkshire Playhouse. This week, several reviews of the play appeared in UK newspapers.

"John Boynton Priestley, Bradford's greatest literary lion, who died in 1984 would surely be delighted to know that Yorkshire are once again County Cricket Champions - and that the West Yorkshire Playhouse is reviving his 1939 'adventure in theatre', in which a cosy, respectable Everyman figure, Robert Johnson, relives his life at the very moment of death," summarised Michael Coveney for the Daily Mail.

Coveney is critical of Stewart's performance in the title role. "One of Ralph Richardson's most famous roles is taken by Patrick Stewart, so you might suppose a journey into the intergalactic unknown would be a doddle for the Star Trek veteran. [...] [But] Mr Stewart, whose classical RSC voice is still a great asset, get anywhere near the ethereal, dotty starkness that Priestley wrote, and that Richardson must have conveyed so well."

The play was awarded only one star out of a possible five and given the tag line "Stewart's star trek interrupted by terrestrial second thoughts."

The Times newspaper was much more positive about the play, and Stewart's performance.

"The first thing that you see as you enter the West Yorkshire Playhouse's Quarry auditorium is a figure lying on a bed in striped pajamas, his face blown up on the white wall that serves as a screen behind him," wrote reviewer Benedict Nightingale. It's Patrick Stewart, who is best known now for doing heroic things in a preposterous suit on the wrong side of the ozone layer but was a key member of the RSC in the days when it was a genuine ensemble. And it's terrific to see him back here on stage."

"With crazed-looking figures bursting from the back wall, obsessed Dickensian money-men poring over ledgers and gaudy bisexuals rampaging round a tawdry bar, [Jude] Kelly's production combines narrative simplicity with the odd visual flourish. Itís also well performed, by Bernard Lloyd, Avril Clark and others. But I suspect I'll mainly remember Stewart, who combines his old energy with innocence, meekness, vulnerability and a sense of wonder at what's extraordinary in the ordinary. Has he come back to Britain to stay? If only!"

The full review can be found here on the Times web site.

The play was awarded three stars out of five by the Guardian. "It's certainly an extraordinary piece," wrote reviewer Michael Billington.

The performance of the Next Generation captain was highlighted as particularly impressive. "Stewart rightly refuses to make Johnson a glamorously heroic figure. He hints at the way in which youthful rebelliousness turns into middle-aged deference, but the keynote of his performance is a bemused sadness at missed opportunities. [...] Stewart's understated performance and the surrounding versatility are admirable, but I still feel that Priestley's play is one in which the will struggles to do the work of the imagination."

The full review is available online at the Guardian web site. More details about the play itself, including a schedule, booking information and prices can be found here on the West Yorkshire Playhouse site.

Thanks go out to Antony F, and Stewart Harvey for spotting reviews!

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