A Star Is Reborn: Matthew Broderick In The Starry Messenger At Wyndham's Theatre
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In Ferris Bueller’s Day Off, Matthew Broderick’s sidekick Cameron Frye is his slightly dreary friend. In The Starry Messenger, it’s Broderick turn to play the grey and utterly middle aged one.
Broderick plays Mark, a failed academic of the stars who’s so geeky and backward he’s never left the Planetarium he first set foot in as a kid, and now whittles his time away teaching evening classes there. This is writing that takes its time, and though it’s a basic plot — henpecked married man has midlife crisis — it goes round some detours which flesh it out.
The hand of ‘I’ll-just-make-the main-character-shovel-snow-and-get-into-pub-brawls’ Manchester By the Sea writer Kenneth Lonergan is everywhere. There’s a full, unthrilling five minutes in which Mark listens to opera. A parallel story set in the hospital where the young woman he’s having an affair with works has little purpose in the plot progression. It’s gossip’s gravity pull — we just can’t help but be fascinated by the minutiae of others’ lives.
Chiara Stephenson’s universe-themed set is a planetarium-like dome that constantly peers over the little stage, showing stars or clouds depending on the scene. But this seemed the most clunky aspect (and underlined in the first half how many scene changes there were). Even a tragic surprise (which we won’t reveal) is short lived.
These details, and the domestic prison of Mark’s life with his wife Anne (a waspish Elizabeth McGovern) arguing over guests’ sleeping arrangements, build up a picture of what Mark is fighting. You could read this as a man wrestling to overcome his fate to be lifeless and instead be an agent on the stage of all that’s exciting — love, romance and career success — and perhaps that's what Lonergan wants us to believe.
What's more interesting is whether a more sinister working is at play. Is Mark’s gawky greyness an armour to hide his really inner callous deviousness from others? This guy has had an affair with great ease, and his last line that he ‘seemed to have everything’ was just a little bit too monotone. It’s this sense of a disturbing discovery and suspicion that the hero is not all he seems which lifts The Starry Messenger to greater heights.
The Starry Messenger, Wyndham’s Theatre, Charing Cross Road, WC2H 0DA. Tickets £17-£127, until 10 August 2019.
Last Updated 31 May 2019