Magazine article The Spectator

No Star of Stage

Magazine article The Spectator

No Star of Stage

Article excerpt

I was sorry to see that Madonna has been almost universally panned for her performance in Up for Grabs. The danger is that she may now turn her back on the British stage and it can ill afford to lose such a glamorous patron. In addition to appearing in the spotlight herself, she's the co-producer of Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, one of the few West End plays that's worth seeing. We really should be grateful that a star of Madonna's magnitude has chosen to make London her home and is playing such an active role in the city's cultural life. If Madonna had decided to do something similar in Paris, I have no doubt that the French critics would be outdoing each other with their encomiums to her talent.

However, much as I'd love to attribute the bad reviews to the chippy provincialism of the British critics, the truth is she deserves them. Her performance as Loren, an ambitious New York art dealer, is strangely flat and cold-blooded. Her voice, for instance, is almost inaudible and she has no stage presence whatsoever - the last faults you'd expect from her. On the other hand, she never lets her guard down; you never lose sight of the fact that it's Madonna up there on stage. It's as though, in trying to give a convincing performance, she's made exactly the wrong decisions about which aspects of her persona to discard and which to keep.

Madonna's lacklustre central performance is a great shame because in other respects Up for Grabs is a highly entertaining play. As a satire of the American art scene, it's too broad to be very effective, but it works well enough as a modern comedy of manners, like an extended episode of Sex and the City. Madonna isn't one of the credited producers, but her sure hand is detectable in all the details, from the costumes to the set design. I don't think I've seen another play this year with such high production values. The other performances, particularly Michael Lerner as the 12th richest man in New York, are uniformly excellent. Don't be put off by the fact that it's sold out at the box office, either. Dozens of tickets are still available on eBay. When I last checked, you could still get three seats in your own box for (English pound)100.

Madonna could at least remember all her lines, which is more than can be said for Matt Damon and Casey Affleck in This is Our Youth. When I saw this play with its original cast a few months ago I thought it was just about the best thing in the West End, but in its current incarnation I'm not sure it even makes the top ten. It's still a brilliantly written comedy about the shortcomings - and the saving graces - of a group of young, Jewish New Yorkers, but I hadn't realised how much Hayden Christensen and Jake Gyllenhaal brought to their roles. …

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