The Starry Messenger
Wyndham’s Theatre, London ★★✩✩✩
MIDDLE age comes to us all, even Ferris Bueller. Yes, Matthew Broderick is now 57 and, almost as if to ram the point home, he plays a jaded 52-year-old astronomy lecturer in corduroy slacks.
This is his first West End appearance — a revival of Kenneth ‘Manchester By The Sea’ Lonergan’s 2009 minor-key comedy about mid-life disenchantment and unfulfilled ambition.
Broderick turns in a beautifully watchable performance as Mark, a mild-mannered rationalist still kindling hopes of a professional life in astronomy. His placid demeanour fractures only occasionally to reveal the frustrations of a stagnating career and a marriage that is nearly equally lifeless.
Then begins an affair with Angela (Rosalind Eleazar), a Catholic single mother and trainee nurse from Puerto Rico. She offers an unexpected fillip to his evening routine of teaching oddball adults about the solar system — followed by one-sided conversations at home with his wife Anne (a brightly brittle Elizabeth McGovern) about their arrangements for Christmas.
Lonergan is very good at capturing the banal cadences and misfiring communications of domesticity. In the best scene in Sam Yates’s startlingly long production, Anne chirrups away to newly arrived guests at the front door while Mark has a silent breakdown in the living room.
Yet his interest in the consolations or otherwise provided by the contrasting disciplines of faith and science never feel fully embedded within his characters’ lives — and are crassly amplified, too, by a crudely engineered plot point that occurs about half way through.
With its backdrop projections of the night sky, Yates’s production aspires towards the cosmic, but for all the pleasures afforded by its excellent cast, Lonergan’s play mainly feels pretty insignificant.