Breaking the unofficial tradition of a Russian play in the Lyttelton for Spring, the National takes us instead to late Depression-era New York and Clifford Odets' Rocket to the Moon. Taking place over the hot summer of 1938 in a dentist's office, Ben Stark (Joseph Millson) is a man seemingly in no control of his life; he does as he's told by the competing influences of his wife Belle (Keeley Hawes) and father-in-law Mr Prince (Nicholas Woodeson.) He even seems to need prompting to take notice of his new assistant Cleo (Jessica Raine) with whom he starts to fall in love.
Although Hawes is the big name here, it's actually a supporting role; despite her many TV credits this is actually her professional stage debut so that's probably as it should be. She does pretty well although hers is the worst of actually quite a lot of dodgy New York accents. (Hawes isn't the only TV name making a foray into theatre; the music is by Doctor Who's Murray Gold.) It's Millson and Raine, both NT regulars, who in fact carry the show, the former doing well with a rather thankless role. It's well-enough written with a number of nicely crafted lines that stand out but seeing as it's largely a story about stagnation it's too long (at over 2 and a half hours) to really hold the attention. A bit of life is injected by the other occupants of the building - an equally moving and funny turn from Peter Sullivan as a fellow dentist, a smart-aleck chiropodist (Sebastian Armesto) and the womanizing Willy Wax (Tim Steed.) But Angus Jackson's production feels really underpowered despite a few nice moments, including a great final scene for Raine.
Rocket to the Moon by Clifford Odets is booking until the 21st of June at the National Theatre's Lyttelton.