Tag Archives: Boulevard Theatre

The Sunset Limited


Boulevard Theatre

The Sunset Limited

The Sunset Limited

Boulevard Theatre

Reviewed – 21st January 2020



“fiercely and fearlessly full of rich dialogue that explores some of the deepest questions of human existence”


“The Sunset Limited”, by the American novelist, playwright and screenwriter Cormac McCarthy, was originally published as ‘A Novel in Dramatic Form’. What distinguishes this from a play is uncertain. What is certain, though, is that the award-winning writer’s unique style infuses each word and phrase with customary flamboyant bleakness that holds our attention to an almost uncomfortable degree.

Devoid of any real theme or plot, it is fiercely and fearlessly full of rich dialogue that explores some of the deepest questions of human existence. In the past, McCarthy has admitted that he respects only authors who “deal with issues of life and death”. Indeed, his nihilistic, almost existential approach can be off-putting on the surface, but his command of language and colloquial style effortlessly draw us into this short, one act play. And once we are in, what keeps us there – in this case – are the performances of Gary Beadle and Jasper Britton who play the two nameless characters.

Referred to only by the colour of their skin, Beadle is labelled ‘Black’, while Britton is ‘White’. All the action (or inaction) takes place in Black’s sparse, run-down tenement building. Black is an ex-convict while White is a professor. Sounds predictable and insensitively black and white, but any potential stereotyping is rapidly subverted and quashed. Black is cheerful; an optimist and evangelical Christian while White is an irredeemably miserable atheist. It becomes clear in the opening scene that Black has saved White from throwing himself under a train. (The title of the play derives from the name of the passenger train – The Sunset Limited – that travels from New Orleans to Los Angeles). Black has taken White back to his apartment and taken it upon himself to save White from any further attempts at suicide.

Beadle and Britton captivate throughout as we watch them steer their way through the ensuing debate. Nothing happens, beyond drinking coffee, or Black serving up a dish of reheated Creole cuisine from his fridge. But we are shaken to the core by their two opposing worlds, and our ideas are shattered by the crashing waves of their argument. Just as we think we are safely buoyed up by Black’s rolling tide of positivity, we are dangerously dragged back by the undertow of White’s nihilism. It is a raging debate, but comical too. “I long for the darkness” utters White, “If I thought that in death, I would meet the people I knew in life, I don’t know what I’d do. That would be the ultimate nightmare”. Britton beautifully seizes on the savagery of this pessimism but with a deadpan glee that brings out the humour. Beadle’s bible bashing counter arguments come with as many absurd and self-deprecating twists that remind us that we are being entertained rather than preached at.

The two actors’ natural performances transform McCarthy’s writing into a kind of poetry. Director Terry Johnson pitches them together in a slow dance that keeps the rhythm flowing and echoing in our heads long after we leave the theatre. The questions it has kicked up refuse to settle. After all – there are no real answers for them to settle on. But we, the audience, have the easier task: we can safely discuss these questions of life and death in the bar after the show, leaving the characters on the stage to make the life or death decisions.

The outlook is pitch-black and harsh, and seemingly a dead end, but nowhere else is a journey to nowhere such a pleasure.


Reviewed by Jonathan Evans

Photography by Marc Brenner


The Sunset Limited

Boulevard Theatre until 29th February


Last ten shows reviewed by Jonathan:
Wireless Operator | ★★★★ | Pleasance Theatre | November 2019
42nd Street | ★★★★ | Upstairs at the Gatehouse | December 2019
Bells And Spells | ★★★★★ | The Coronet Theatre | December 2019
Teenage Dick | ★★★★ | Donmar Warehouse | December 2019
The Lying Kind | ★★★ | Ram Jam Records | December 2019
The Nativity Panto | ★★★★ | King’s Head Theatre | December 2019
Once | ★★★★★ | Fairfield Halls | January 2020
The Co-op | ★★★ | White Bear Theatre | January 2020
The Long Letter | ★★ | White Bear Theatre | January 2020
Krapp’s Last Tape / Eh Joe / The Old Tune | ★★★★★ | Jermyn Street Theatre | January 2020


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Reviewers’ Round-up

When not out reviewing for us, our team attend many more shows which they’d love to tell you about. Take a look at what they’ve been seeing recently

November 2019

THE LARAMIE PROJECT | ★★★★ | RADA GBS Theatre until 30th November 2019 | Seen by Ethan Doyle
The Laramie Project
An interrogative and harrowing verbatim piece on a despicable homophobic murder that explores the attitudes of the town in which it occurred with frankness, intimacy, and hope. The performances are sublime in their service of the text and there are some truly striking visual moments too. Just make sure to bring tissues – you will cry.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN | ★★★★  Noël Coward Theatre until 30th May 2020 | Seen by Flora Doble | Photo by Matthew Murphy
Dear Evan Hansen
The hotly-anticipated Broadway transfer of Dear Evan Hansen has finally arrived at the Noël Coward Theatre in London. Exploring mental health, suicide and the social media abyss, Dear Evan Hansen is a groundbreaking and powerful piece of theatre that will hopefully help facilitate important conversations about depression, anxiety and youth suicide.
THE LION, THE WITCH & THE WARDROBE  | ★★★★★ | Bridge Theatre until 2nd February 2020 | Seen by Katre | Photo by Brinkhoff Moegenburg


A beautiful, magical production with superb puppets and an amazing multi-talented cast. A really special show..
SOLARIS  | ★★★★ | Lyric Hammersmith until 2nd November 2019 | Seen by Dominica Plummer | Photo by Mihaela Bodlovic


A lyrical, thought provoking, but somewhat disappointing adaptation by David Greig, of Stanisław Lem’s classic science fiction novel. In the eerie presence of the sentient planet Solaris, an orbiting space station sent from Earth experiences the inexplicable. Greig updates this unforgettable story by adding a female protagonist to a crew trying to avoid madness a long way from home and from those they have left behind. Or have they? Enjoyed for superlative performances and a memorable set design that alternates between the bright clean lines of the space station and the moody seascapes of the planet below.
LUNGS  | ★★★★★ | The Old Vic until 9th November 2019 | Seen by Dominica Plummer | Photo by Helen Maybanks


The Old Vic’s revival of Duncan Macmillan’s eco love story reunites Claire Foy and Matt Smith in a seamless two hander about a couple considering parenthood in a world on the brink of climate change. Macmillan’s script holds up well and Foy and Smith recreate the onstage chemistry that ups the stakes in this timely drama. It was a treat to see the traditional Old Vic create an intimate theatre in round so that everyone in the audience could feel that much closer to this conflicted couple and their story.
SHOOK | ★★★★ | Southwark Playhouse until 23rd November 2019 | Seen by Dominica Plummer | Photo by The Other Richard


Samuel Bailey’s Papatango prizewinning play is performed to great effect in a gritty, naturalistic setting about three young offenders who are also parents. Bailey’s play is an absolute gift to powerhouse performers like Josh Finan, Ivan Oyik and Josef Davies, with good support from Andrea Hall playing their empathetic teacher. Bailey’s tale may lack a satisfying denouement in this memorable portrait of prison life, but his talent for dialogue and characterisation will ensure him a devoted following for whatever he chooses to write next.
DEATH OF A SALESMAN | ★★★★ | Piccadilly Theatre until 4th January 2020 | Seen by Rebecca Crankshaw | Photo by Brinkhoff Moegenburg


Sharon D Clarke and Wendell Pierce give powerhouse performances in Arthur Miller’s classic drama.
GHOST QUARTET | ★★★★ | Boulevard Theatre until 4th January 2020 | Seen by Jonathan Evans | Photo by Marc Brenner

Ghost Quartet

An intoxicating, bizarre and sometimes baffling musical. The narrative threads weave themselves into knots, but the gorgeous score of this song cycle lines the show with magic. Magic that is matched by this impressive new venue in the heart of Soho.
ON BEAR RIDGE | ★★★★ | Royal Court until 23rd November 2019 | Seen by Jonathan Evans | Photo by Mark Douet

On Bear Ridge

Riveting, off-beat theatre that takes you to another place. Surreally dark, shone through with stunning performances. 
MARY POPPINS | Preview Performance | Prince Edward Theatre until 7th June 2020 | Seen by Chief Spy | Photo by Mark Douet

Mary Poppins

The all time classic returns with its incredible score, magnificent staging and an outstanding cast including the legendary Petula Clark. You’re guaranteed to leave with a smile on your face.
DEAR EVAN HANSEN | Preview Performance | Noël Coward Theatre until 30th May 2020 | Seen by Chief Spy | Photo by Matthew Murphy

Dear Evan Hansen

The winner of six Tony Awards finally arrives in the West End and the wait has definitely been worth it. Steven Levenson’s book combined with Pasek & Paul’s outstanding score make this the show to see. This performance had Marcus Harman in the lead role proving he’s an exceptional alternate Evan.
A WOMAN ON NO IMPORTANCE | ★★★★  | Yvonne Arnaud Theatre until 2nd November 2019 | Seen by David Woodward


“The unspeakable in full pursuit of the uneatable” just one of many typically Walden witticisms that sparkled like fireworks at this performance. Perhaps no surprise that it’s deeply sympathetic to the eponymous character, well-played by Liza Goddard. There’s a hint of grimly controlled madness about her performance, with her off-kilter stance and dress, with some real poetry in her speeches. To the audience’s satisfaction, she turns the tables on her nemesis. Directed by Dominic Dromgoole. Roy Hudd and Isla Blair also appear in this witty and thought provoking show.





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