The week in theatre: Beat the Devil; Sleepless: A Musical Romance – review

Bridge, London; Troubadour, Wembley Park
David Hare’s explosive, first-hand coronavirus monologue, delivered by Ralph Fiennes, hits every target. And Kimberley Walsh and Jay McGuinness carry a musical remake of a romcom classic

Going into the shell-shaped auditorium at the Bridge you see at a glance how Covid has scythed through the theatre. In the stalls, seats have been removed, not merely taped up: the audience sit in isolated pairs; we might be in dodgem cars, tensed to avoid the virus.

Or as David Hare, who was laid low by coronavirus in March, puts it, we are trying to Beat the Devil. In an impassioned 50 minutes – part polemic, part pathological investigation – he proves that his strongest writing for the stage is now fiery documentary. Ralph Fiennes, who delivers Hare’s monologue, directed by Nicholas Hytner, shows that one of his strengths is a sardonic lightness and restraint; the ripples of unease spread by George Fenton’s music echo this. Fiennes moves across Bunny Christie’s calm design (translucent screens, a work table) freely but with caution, as might a convalescent. His voice is most often level. It is the words that are explosive.

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