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The Magistrate, National Theatre

Arthur Wing Pinero
Directed by Timothy Sheader
Pros: Well-directed with excellent performances, a great set and some big laugh out loud moments. A great production in every respect.
Cons: None really, but it’s not ground-breaking and it’s not the best farce I’ve ever seen. Doesn’t mean it’s not very good though!
Our Verdict: Great fun, easy to watch and a good way to spend your time and money if you fancy some decent laughs!
Courtesy of Tristram Kenton for The Guardian
Everyone knows that we’re big fans of the UK’s flagship theatre, but it must be said that their last batch of three shows was slightly disappointing. This House was outstanding, but Scenes from an Execution was not particularly inspiring, and Damned By Despair was certainly one of their weaker productions. This season seems to have marked a return to winning ways though. The Effect was brilliantly conceived, and this latest production of The Magistrate by Arthur Wing Pinero is very good: plenty of laughs, a typically brilliant Olivier set and some superb performances. It’s a jolly marvellous evening of simple entertainment!
Pinero’s script is a straight-forward farce that finds its basis in a lie told by Agatha Posket to her second husband, the Magistrate Posket. More specifically, Agatha tells him that both her and her son, the mischievous Cis, are five years younger then they actually are. Not a huge problem for her (36 instead of 31), but certainly a problem for her son who is believe to be 14 when he’s actually 19. The farce develops from this starting point, although naturally there are plenty of other plot lines which twist and turn together. Ultimately farce fans will be pleased: it’s not the best farce I’ve ever seen, but it’s got all the main building blocks to create a fast-paced and laughter-filled two and a half hours of theatre.
The show is brought to life in Timothy Sheader’s production by some excellent direction, an elaborate set from Katrina Lindsey and superb performances across the board. The ‘Singing Dandies’ that we are treated to in during the scene changes ensures that the production never loses that all important pace and energy, which is the key to the success of any farce. Talking of the scene changes, they are both slick and ambitious. Lindsey’s set rotates, folds out, comes up from the ground and flies off into the rafters. It’s what we’ve come to expect from the Olivier, but some of the fine detailing in this one was particularly good, especially the outline silhouette of a city skyline cut into the edge of the (various) back walls.
So onto the performances! John Lithgow as the blustering and constantly out-of-his-depth Magistrate is the star of the show. His diction is what did it for me – I’ve never heard the expression “Goodness Gracious!” spoken in such a brilliantly satisfying manner! That being said, the physical comedy of watching a stiff, tired and easily led old Magistrate race around with the 19 year-old Cis, jumping out of windows and trying but failing to be a disciplinarian is very amusing. It’s an outstanding performance, which is responsible for a lot of the big laughs delivered by the production.
The supporting cast is excellent as well though. Nancy Carroll was wonderful as the concerned and amusingly on-edge Agatha Posket, and Joshua McGuire plays of the part of her son Cis with huge flirtatious energy and mischievous intent. Peter Polycarpou only has a small part as the square Inspector Messiter, but I’m just a big fan of his so I think it worth mentioning that he is great for all of the 10 minutes he is on stage for! There are plenty of other great performances as well: it’s one of those casts where there are no weak links, only particularly strong ones.
The Magistrate is not a ground-breaking production, and it’s not the best farce I’ve ever seen. However, it’s a great way to spend your time if you fancy some good laughs and an easy afternoon or evening of pure entertainment. I don’t really have any complaints about it to be honest, so I’d certainly recommend it!
Please feel free to leave your thoughts and opinions in the comments section below!

The Magistrate runs at the National Theatre until 10th February 2013.
Box Office: 020 7452 3000 or book online at http://www.nationaltheatre.org.uk/shows/the-magistrate

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