Review Round Up: Dinner With Groucho, Arcola Theatre

Discover what critics have been saying about Frank McGuiness’s play, playing at the Arcola Theatre until the 10th December.

Photograph: Ros Kavanagh

Broadway World: *** “Quite where to place it though? We get a bit of absurdist comedy, a bit of anti-naturalism stagecraft , a bit of 20th century antisemitism, a bit of vaudeville, a bit of Anglo-American cultural differences, a bit of spiritual philosophising and all with an unseen grim reaper observing this last supper that isn’t a supper. Rather like the sawdust on the floor, the play slips through our fingers and, rather like the proprietor, gives us nothing substantial to chew on.”

The Guardian: ** “Despite the seasoned talents involved in Loveday Ingram’s production, the play feels heavy footed. The caustic repartee becomes wearying and like The Waste Land – “one long grumble,” as Eliot has it – it’s dense with allusion, from King Lear to Marianne Moore’s poetry and a 1607 banquet for James I. It’s a melancholy tease but, possibly like the improbable real dinner, an uphill struggle.”

Evening Standard: ** “Dinner With Groucho is staged with technical skill by Ingram and her actors, and Adam Wiltshire’s set is pleasing, especially the backdrop of roiling clouds and sea by Michael Cummins. But there’s no life animating its dialogue and ultimately I don’t have a clue what it’s about.”

Time Out: ** “Ingram’s beautiful staged production has far more style than its substance. In fact, the whole thing is something of a conundrum. McGuiness has clearly tried to write a play aimed at an audience that has at least some understanding of both his leads; but if you are familiar you’re left searching for meaning. When the bill was finally called, I was relieved; despite the stellar guests, this dinner dragged.”

All That Dazzles: **** “This thoughtful and understated play won’t be for everyone, but it’s a provocative and sometimes moving piece that will find favour with many. If nothing else, it proves the pedigree of its author and the talents of its trio of actors, who more than earned their final bows.”

WhatsOnStage: *** “Dinner with Groucho is a dish best enjoyed by fans of modernism and the Marx Brothers – two art forms which don’t seem to be so different after all. It’s a tantalising proposition, with the capacity to both baffle and amuse.”

London Theatre1: *** “McGuinness is a terrific writer, and this is not much of a change in form. Sometimes the pacing is at odds with what makes sense, but then perhaps it is McGuinness committing to a nonsensical telling of a nonsensical story. That being said I struggled with the interpretation of the text. Usually, absurdism is played as deadly serious, or completely meaningless. This was quite self-aware, quite a few fourth wall breaks and self-deprecating jokes meant that this occasionally lost some of its depth and poignance.”

The Reviews Hub: ** 1/2 “The three actors put in convincing performances especially Ian Bartholomew as Marx with his stuck-on eyebrows. Greg Hicks is Eliot, but not the Eliot we usually think of. He’s more convivial even when he’s being snooty. Ingrid Craigie gives the Proprietor a sense of faded glamour and, even if she does belong to another time, there were plenty of women in Soho like her running coffeehouses and late night drinking dens right up to the end of the 1990s.”

British Theatre Guide: “Ian Bartholomew’s Groucho, with eyebrows, moustache and black tailcoat, certainly looks the part and moves like him too. Greg Hicks, in elegant tweed suit, presents a patrician Eliot letting his hair down but also suggesting a certain sadness despite the popping champagne corks. This pairing produces a delightful double act. There’s fine playing too from Ingrid Craigie as proprietor Margaret, slinky in a succession of grand gowns, full of quirky authority.”

Reviews Gate: ***** “Director Loveday Ingram has handled it with the lightest of touches and the performances of Greg Hicks as Elliot, Ian Bartholomew as Groucho and Ingrid Craigie as the Proprietor are outstanding. Hicks is a splendidly uptight but letting his hair down a little Elliot, Bartholomew, while doing a fine impersonation of Groucho the screen clown, manages to create the man underneath the screen image, and Craigie, in a series of splendid gowns keeps them firmly in their place, managing to be ever so slightly threatening at the same time. The bill she presents them with at the end is a masterpiece of invention – like the play. You make what you will of waiting to meet Godot. Here you will make what you will of dining with Groucho.”

To book tickets visit: https://www.arcolatheatre.com/whats-on/dinner-with-groucho/

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