John Lithgow stars in the title role opposite Nancy Carroll in The National Theatre revival of Arthur Wing Pinero's The Magistrate at the NT Oliver. With his louche air and a developed taste for smoking, gambling, port and women, it's hard to believe Cis Farringdon is only fourteen. And that's because he isn't. Agatha his mother lopped five years from her true age and his when she married the amiable Posket.
The imminent arrival of Cis' godfather sends Agatha incognito to the Hôtel des Princes to warn him of her deception. But it's also where her son has cajoled his otherwise staid stepfather into joining him for a binge. High-spirited carousing leads to a police raid and a night of outrageous mishap as the trapped guests make desperate attempts to conceal themselves from the law and from each other. Indignities escalate at court the next day where Posket, the police magistrate, must preside.
Let's see what the critics had to say...
Michael Billington, Guardian: I feel it also cramps the style of the actors. John Lithgow, the highly distinguished American stage and screen star, has to follow in the footsteps of Alistair Sim and Nigel Hawthorne as Mr Posket and he acquits himself well enough. He is very good in Posket's morning-after monologue where he relives the shame of his night-chase across London and vainly tries to cleanse his soiled face with his shirt-tail. But it still strikes me as a piece of odd casting since the role requires a peculiarly British sense of pompous dignity upended: I kept wondering what the great Arthur Lowe would have made of the part.
Charles Spencer, Telegraph: It all feels a little tame and rather desperately Sheader tries to gee it along with Gilbert and Sullivan like songs between scenes, performed by a chorus of tiresomely zany dandies. Nor do Katrina Lindsay's oddly angled, cartoon-like set designs help a play that actually needs to evoke a sense of prim Victorian respectability.
Michael Coveney, Whatsonstage: Nicholas Hytner's beautifully weighted (and superbly well cast) production also operates as a brisk antidote to the "living history" pageants in royal palaces and the hushed-tone reverence of stately home guided tours, while pondering the problem of having somehow to share a real life that was led, and still colours the walls, with marauding gangs of tourists en route to the coffee shop.
Quentin Letts, Daily Mail: It starts a little slowly with a Gilbert and Sullivan-style musical number written by clever Richard Stilgoe but we have more such songs later and they are keenly witty.
Henry Hitchings, Evening Standard: It's the performances that ensure the show's appeal. Lithgow does a good job of making Posket charmingly earnest. Nancy Carroll savours the absurdities of Agatha's deceit - and also, along with Christina Cole as her sister Charlotte, adds more than a touch of glamour.