True West – reviews of 'brilliant' Sam Shepard revival

Searing revival of Shepard's modern classic about sibling rivalry 'grabs by the jugular'

True West
(Image credit: Peter Le May)

What you need to know

A revival of Sam Shepard's 1980 play True West has opened at the Tricycle Theatre, London. Actor and playwright Shepard is best known for his Hollywood roles and his Pulitzer Prize-winning play Buried Child.

True West tells the story of two brothers, Austin, an earnest screenwriter on the verge of success, and Lee a drifter and petty thief. After Lee hijacks Austin's meeting with a Hollywood producer to pitch his own idea for a trashy Western, the brothers are forced to collaborate and old sibling rivalries and resentments threaten to tear them apart.

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Phillip Breen's production, starring Alex Ferns and Eugene O'Hare, was first staged at Glasgow's Citizens' Theatre last year. Runs until 4 October.

What the critics like

Breen's "brilliant small-scale production of Shepard's seminal 1980 play", grabs us by the jugular, says Serena Davies in the Daily Telegraph. Ferns and O'Hare, have the audience in stitches one moment before nearly making us cry the next in an enthralling production of a true classic.

Shepard modern classic is "a bare-knuckle brawl between old myths and new illusions, civilisation and savagery, creativity and commerce, played out in sibling strife of nerve-jangling violence", says Sam Marlowe in The Times. The slow burn staging pays off in performances that sizzle with resentment and black comedy.

When the good boy and the outlaw square up to each other, the result is not pretty, says Lyn Gardner in The Guardian. But it gets "a searingly good – and often very funny staging" that tackles the violence between two misfit brothers head-on.

What they don't like

For a few wild minutes, Shepard's vision of sibling rivalry and artistic fallibility seems rich and spontaneous, says Henry Hitchings in the Evening Standard. "But the play itself is uneven and repetitive, a series of sometimes dazzling riffs rather than a satisfying whole."

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