The Visit At National Theatre: A Drawn-Out Acting Masterclass From Lesley Manville

The Visit, National Theatre ★★★★☆

By Jonathan Marshall Last edited 27 months ago

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The Visit At National Theatre: A Drawn-Out Acting Masterclass From Lesley Manville The Visit, National Theatre 4
Photo: Johan Persson

Claire Zachanassian (Lesley Manville) returns to her destitute hometown seeking revenge on former lover Alfred (Hugo Weaving). Now the world’s richest woman, the locals sense a potential change in their fortunes but learn that prosperity comes with a price.

Photo: Johan Persson

It seems price was of no concern to the National. With a big name writer (Friedrich Dürrenmatt, adapted by Tony Kushner), two star leads as well as a vast cast, grand revolving sets and even a live band, no expense has been spared. For every impressive set piece, though, there are several filler moments as the band kicks in while we wait for the next scene. Time is the main issue here.

Photo: Johan Persson

At three and a half hours so much focus is on theatrics that momentum dips. The moments of real suspense, though, are done exceedingly well and this is mostly down to the cast as a whole. We believe Weaving’s fear and Sara Kestelman and Nicholas Woodeson offer outstanding support as the School Principal and Mayor.

Photo: Johan Persson

But this is Manville’s show. With biting putdowns reminiscent of Bette Davis, she shifts from outrageous to outright evil before sharing a beautifully tender scene with Alfred in the final act. With Claire having artificial legs, Manville also showcases remarkable physicality, evoking her power through stance, upper body and voice. A mesmerising masterclass in acting.

Photo: Johan Persson

The closing moments are hauntingly powerful but even certain elements of the climax are drawn out. After investing over three hours, this is when the audience are after pace as well as pathos. It’s without question a great play about the power of money and our idea of justice and the performances ultimately overshadow its flaws. But if this grand visual feast was cut down, we’d actually have far more to see.

The Visit, National Theatre, Upper Ground, South Bank, SE1 9PX. Tickets £15-£89, until 13 May 2020.

Last Updated 11 March 2020