What did critics make of author Zadie Smith’s debut play, making its debut at the Kiln Theatre?

(c) Marc Brenner

The Guardian: *** “Smith is brilliant at sowing the seeds of characters, giving little snippets that build them fully and immediately. Her writing also has a physical humour that director Indhu Rubasingham and movement directors Imogen Knight and Celise Hicks translate effortlessly onstage; getting the men to grind to Cardi B’s WAP has the room cackling.”

The Arts Desk: ***** “Zadie Smith’s updated Chaucerian tale has a spring in its step and a twinkle in its eye.”

Evening Standard: *** “Indhu Rubasingham’s production is full of brio and unpretentiously immersive, the supporting ensemble enlisting our sympathy with sidelong glances and sheepish grins. This is a bizarre and uneven evening, but in a good way.”

Time Out: *** “At heart it does feel a bit like a literature project. It’s dazzling to behold Smith’s intelligence at work in the way she’s transposed the tale. But the structure isn’t that dramatically thrilling, with the tale – when it comes – so heavily restating of Alvita’s earlier themes as to feel a bit superfluous. It very much relies on Indhu Rubasingham’s kinetic staging to hold our attention.”

Culture Whisper: **** “Stylistically, it’s joyfully Brechtian and wickedly crude. Despite the budget which has allowed the auditorium to be reimagined as a pub, further props are more makeshift, with a drinks tray doubling up as a halo for token appearances from religious characters and signs brought on to shift the setting to Jamaica. Characters display an awareness of their fictionality and much of the play’s humour derives from this: in one especially funny moment, one of Alvita’s husbands realises – and protests – his being killed off. Sex acts are mimed on stage with wince-worthy montages that wouldn’t look out of place in a female-led take on Trainspotting. It’s gleefully good fun.”

Broadway World: ***** “This 95-minute play is warm and entertaining for the most part, with the occasional shocking or affecting moment here and there to add a bit of colour. As you would expect with a Zadie Smith piece, it wholeheartedly celebrates NW6 and all its many characters – from the religious aunties all the way across to students who move to the area.”

London Theatre.co.uk: **** “However, Indhu Rubasingham has winningly transformed her theatre into a pub lock-in, with the audience sat at tables or on side benches and an arresting backdrop of stacked bottles from designer Robert Jones. It creates a dynamic playing space and suits the inventive, freewheeling style of Smith’s piece – I loved the use of a bar tray as a halo – although sight-lines are sometimes an issue. Covid rules restrict much mingling, but the few (safely distanced) elements of audience interaction are great fun.”

The Times: ***** “For her debut as a playwright, the novelist Zadie Smith is exploring home territory. She’s long been associated with a multicultural corner of northwest London, and in this rewrite of the Wife of Bath’s tale, she and the Kiln’s artistic director, Indhu Rubasingham, have concocted a stunning piece of freewheeling stagecraft which builds a bridge between past and present.”

iNews: *** “But there’s lots to enjoy, and Perkins delivers a tour de force. This may be an uneven, sometimes eccentric evening; but like Alvita, it’s irresistibly seductive.”

The Daily Mail: **** “It’s local theatre at its best, looking outwards with confidence and swagger. And as for that thorny question about what women really want, Alvita’s answer is… power.”

The Stage: **** “Zadie Smith’s retelling of Chaucer’s Wife of Bath, directed by Indhu Rubasingham and starring Clare Perkins, is a joyful, rowdy celebration of diverse voices.”

The Independent: *** “Clare Perkins gives an inspired performance at the Kiln Theatre, but Smith clings too closely to this well-loved literary text.”

The Wife of Willesden continues to play at the Kiln Theatre until the 15th January.


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