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Light Shining in Buckinghamshire

From 26 critic and 103 member reviews
Members say: Slow, Confusing, Disappointing, Ambitious, Great acting

About the show

Three-time Obie Award winner Rachel Chavkin ('Hadestown') returns to New York Theatre Workshop with Caryl Churchill's incisive 1647-set drama about the power struggles in England after a brutal civil war. More…

Amid the chaos and confusion, revolutionaries across the country are dreaming of a new future. England stands at a crossroads as food shortages, economic instability and a corrupt political system threaten to plunge the country into darkness and despair. The Parliament men who fought against the tyranny of the king now argue for stability and compromise, but the people are hungry for change. For a brief moment, a group of rebels, preachers, soldiers and dissenters dare to imagine an age of hope, a new Jerusalem in which freedom will be restored to the land.

Theatre Reviews Limited

"Under Rachel Chavkin’s commending and assiduous direction that maintains an appropriate pace throughout, the actors grapple successfully with their characters and deliver exceptionally authentic and believable performances. Caryl Churchill gives the cast a stunning script...In their solo performances, each actor commands the stage with consummate professionalism and honors each word of the script with perfection...A must-see experience." Full Review

The Modernist Beat

"A remarkably resonant play for the present moment...Rachel Chavkin keeps the proceedings crisp, clean, and clear. She expertly blends anachronistic elements into the historical setting to anchor the audience to the fact that though the events portrayed are historical they are relevant to our contemporary political discourse. She employs a tight ensemble of six actors while disposing of the original play’s conceit of having multiple actors play the same role." Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

"Chavkin’s staging unearths plenty of close-to-home parallels in this story of betrayed revolutionary hopes...Even the climactic scene recreating the 1647 Putney debates, where Cromwell thwarted Leveller proposals for universal male suffrage, seems to echo current controversies about voter disenfranchisement and gerrymandering in the US...Chavkin and her multitasking troupe of six should still be applauded for turning revolutionary ghosts into (mostly) gripping radical theatre." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

“A complicated piece of historical story-telling, drastically unique...Captivating, for the most part. Playing with historical semi-realness, mixed heavily with modernisms...Doesn’t move fast enough to keep me as thoroughly engaged as I wanted to be. The craftsmanship is outstanding and impressive, the cast perfect, the history fascinating, but the never ending preaching becomes agitating, as if I’m being attacked by an army of tyrants while trapped in a church pew.” Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

"Challenging both in form and content...To augment its dramatic potential, director Chavkin has cast an ensemble of six actors, diverse in age, race, and physicality, to play dozens of roles. It’s a noble effort...Admittedly, it’s a challenge for the audience to follow the narrative, sort out the characters, and absorb the voluminous material...We thank NYTW for reviving 'Light Shining' once again, to remind us of the range of Churchill's dramatic gift and the strength of her voice." Full Review

Exeunt Magazine

“Chavkin’s minimalist production offers a rich soundscape, evocative lightning, and solid performances, but at times the dense text can be an impediment. Though...moves with great agility, the hangover from the historical content is hard to ignore...Offers captioning at all performances and I was grateful...Since the actors were confusingly doubling up at times...Has a sense of the ‘now’... But despite Chavkin’s efforts the textual relevance is slippery and seems to come and go." Full Review

Fordham Observer

"While I found the leaden content of this play a thrilling challenge — indeed, Churchill writes with a gravity and plain truth unlike any other modern playwright — whether audiences will have, or should be expected to have, the stamina to sit out the slow descent of this behemoth is another matter entirely.But Chavkin has done well to reckon with Churchill’s monstrous task. She’s assembled a well-prepared, amicable cast with an obvious eye toward body diversity." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“A play that is simultaneously interesting and boring...Chavkin's production features a cast with the technical skill and sheer lung power to parse the script's long, complex speeches...A monumental work, but not admirably so. It presents its panorama without frills or enticements. It is there to be gazed at and, perhaps, admired. But a play that deals with such tumultuous events, such matters of the soul and society, without stirring one's pulse is, in some crucial way, deficient.” Full Review


"Why do so many audience members appear to be struggling to stake awake? It has nothing to do with a top-notch production from a company that knows how to do this material...Chavkin brings Cromwellian order to Churchill's unruly dramatic revolution with her clear and effective staging...Despite their best efforts, Chavkin and company cannot salvage this shaggy early effort by Churchill. Still, moments of revelation hide within its rolls of fat." Full Review

DC Theatre Scene

"There are nuggets throughout 'Light Shining In Buckinghamshire' that are intellectually stimulating; entire scenes that are moving or mesmerizing. But it’s a challenging play to take in as a whole — a special challenge to Americans not well-versed in English history, but difficult for anyone because of Churchill’s dramaturgical approach...those expecting what we can call Chavkinian innovation will be disappointed." Full Review

The New York Times

"The first of Churchill’s plays I’ve found indulgent and leaden. However wonderful it may be to perform, it’s a hard slog to sit through...An endless cycle of betrayal and hardship. When that bleak vision arises from characters interacting, it is sometimes beautifully crystallized...More often, though, the arguments aren’t dramatized so much as transcribed...It is hard to imagine a more diverse group of performers...That would hardly matter if they were not all excellent." Full Review

Time Out New York

"Churchill has spoiled us, perhaps, with so many wonders of theatrical innovation that by contrast with them, this earlier work can seem drab and tendentious. The high point is a historically interesting account of the Putney Debates...But much of the play is weighed down in disquisitions on the injustices of God and property. The austerity of the production promises virtue, and expects it of us as well—especially the virtue of patience." Full Review

New York Stage Review

“A fair-to-middling, actually puzzling revival...The work comes off as a mixture of lecture, oratorio, sketches, and panel discussion. Certainly, what the creators hoped to accomplish seems to have fallen shy of the mark, not to mention occasionally elusive...The production problem is compounded by the frequent difficulty of following the arguments. Many are abstruse...The history lesson dispensed isn’t adequate to the time spent imparting it.” Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

"Chavkin and her team are passionate about envisioning 'Light Shining' as a #Resistance play, and in certain ways that makes sense. In other ways, the play is actually less about the light that flared up in 17th-century England than about how it burned out...While Chavkin’s production earnestly attacks the play’s weighty, thorny text, it find a sustaining engine...Its project is in many ways admirable and yet in others, unable to access the troubling nuances of the story." Full Review

Daily Beast

“The actors try to wring as much sense from Churchill at her most linguistically rich and dense, but it’s tough work to make cohere...Despite Rachel Chavkin’s brisk and sensitive direction and Isabella Byrd’s brilliantly effective and evocative lighting design, the doubling of characters and actors and confusing segues and repetitive scenes lead to a drawn out, slightly over-stuffed performance of just under three hours.” Full Review

Front Row Center

“It is difficult to fault the actors, or the set and staging, or the direction...So I guess we are down to the script...If Churchill intended to make us weary of the argument by offering no way out, she got it done. It wasn’t pleasant, or moving, or enlightening...The six actors could not be a more motley crew, disparate in age and gender, race and physical ability...I’d go see any of these actors in their next plays. But, this play? At best it is a port in a storm.” Full Review

New York Stage Review

“An historical drama of considerable scope, perspicacity, and intensity...Something of a slog slog to endure, frankly, in spite of its intrinsic merits...Much as I can appreciate the versatile acting, the glimmering atmospherics, and many of the drama’s insights, this overlong show nonetheless registers as a heavyweight history lesson...Chavkin stages this challenging play with sharp actors and designers, and obviously with a bold vision to forge it into a meaningful show for audiences today.” Full Review

The Clyde Fitch Report

“The problem is that these long and very specific debate sections reference historical details without context...Does Churchill prefer for these individual characters to be more indeterminate or not? The captioning provides a specificity that the competent but often generic costuming doesn’t always provide...The play’s political and religious themes resonate, but this production dampens the details. I fear something in Churchill’s original vision has been lost in translation.” Full Review


"There's a brilliant play buried somewhere in Churchill's 'Light Shining in Buckinghamshire,' a bottom-up historical epic about the English Civil War that the acclaimed British writer developed collaboratively with director Stafford-Clark and a group of actors back in 1976. Fifteen years later, it premiered stateside at the New York Theatre Workshop, where it has just returned for a ploddingly drawn-out second go-around that yielded a lot of empty second-act seats on the night I attended." Full Review

This Week in New York Blog

“A talented, diverse cast of six performs multiple roles each, without regard to age, race, gender, or physical ability...There are continuity issues; you don’t always know who someone is or what they’re doing...The entire show is open captioned on a small digital monitor near the back center of the stage. While it is admirable...its location is endlessly distracting....The different styles of language don’t always meld together; while some scenes are exceptional, others fall flat.” Full Review


"The results are more muted than expected. Despite the direction of the talented Chavkin, 'Light Shining...' lacks the explosive energy needed to sell a difficult play about revolution and rebellion, instead getting mired in heavy-handed, over-the-top language or lengthy digressions that feel less than pertinent in a more modern context...At a few points, Churchill's dense language is so thick that, in delivery, the words feel divorced from meaning, as demonstration feels more like recitation." Full Review

Broadway Blog

“So much…requires prior historical knowledge…or is buried in stylistic tics, that non-British audiences (and perhaps Brits as well) are likely to wish more light was shining on it…Tries to cover more than its time on stage can comfortably bear or an audience absorb…If you pay close attention, you'll appreciate some of Churchill's…observations…Nonetheless, as the play meanders toward its conclusion in an endless tavern scene about the…second coming of Christ, you may wish he'd show up already.” Full Review


“Chavkin here attempts to make the connections between Levellers, Diggers, and Ranters of the English Civil War and our modern protesters. Mostly, the connections seem obvious, forced, and not supported in the text...Plotless and often coming across more as a British history lecture...The problems lie in the text. The director certainly had a clear vision...The actors, too, are worthy of some praise...A good director and a more than competent cast cannot save 'Light Shining in Buckinghamshire.'” Full Review

Stage Buddy

“An incredibly dense play...Feels more like...drudgery than it does enjoyable entertainment...Does offer some deep thinking points. The question is whether it's worth toiling through two and a half hours of bewilderingly experimental theatre to find those points...The diversity of the cast should be commended...They're all fine actors, perhaps this play is just incredibly difficult to act...Perhaps the show's most intriguing element is its unsettling sense of apocalyptic degeneracy.” Full Review

Off Off Online

"The story is a series of dialogues that jump from place to place and character to character with typically Churchillian obliqueness. The effect is at once disorienting and thrilling...It’s in those spaces between people, however, that Chavkin’s staging falters. Churchill’s sense of humor is wicked and subtle, but the company’s readings of her dialogue are page-deep, almost completely missing the pitch-black cynical wit that underpins even the most banal scenes." Full Review

Absorbing, Edgy, Intelligent, Profound, Resonant

See it if You're a fan of Caryl Churchill's playwriting style, you love theatre that makes you THINK, you want to see more politically charged work.

Don't see it if You don't like non-traditional, abstract, heightened language works. Confrontational works aren't your thing.

Absorbing, Enchanting, Ambitious, Great acting, Great staging

See it if You want to see amazing actors have their fill of a complex text, aided by phenomenal direction.

Don't see it if You need things spelled out for you or you're a capitalist.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Clever, Great acting, Epic

See it if you are interested in the big questions of our world, history, society, and dig an intellectual journey.

Don't see it if you want a relatable protagonist whose journey you can travel watch, with some laughs and some tears.

Also It's about the long, slow progress of history. How much blood, passion... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Clever, Great acting, Edgy, Ambitious

See it if you are a fan of Churchill and Chavkin and want to see a gripping portrait of societal manipulation through religion and politics.

Don't see it if you prefer plays that have a linear structure.

Also The Butcher's monologue is one of the best pieces of writing in a cont... Read more Read less

Subversive, Sharp, Excellent acting, Focussed, Dense

See it if You enjoy a challenge. The play defies traditional story-telling structure, makes philosophy active, and seems written for today's politics

Don't see it if Dense language and references to history are not for you. The play also veers from structure most audiences find accessible.

Also I know this piece is not for everyone. But for me, it was a searing at... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Mesmerizing, Great staging, Great acting, Monumental

See it if you've got the stamina for Caryl Churchill at her most demanding; it's a uniformly gifted cast under Rachel Chavkin's incisive direction.

Don't see it if you refuse to entertain the thought that it's easier for a camel to go thru the eye of a needle than for a rich man to get to heaven.

Ambitious, Edgy, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Listenable if you're willing

See it if Caryl Churchill, 70s agit prop, excellent company of players, political discourse, sparseStaging, constant challenge float your theatre boat

Don't see it if can't or don't want 2 listen, hate debate, cannot see parallels with today, need easy, must disparage anything U don't prelike

Absorbing, Entertaining, Great acting, Relevant, Resonant

See it if you want to see great performances of brilliant writing , inspired directing, smart and efficient and thoughtful design.

Don't see it if you are incapable or unwilling to mentally engage with socially and politically relevant theatre that might make you uncomfortable.

Absorbing, Epic, Resonant

See it if you like communism, you like really well done brechtian stuff, you like getting uncomfortably screamed at about being the bourgeoisie

Don't see it if You have a short attention span, you don’t like guilt, you’re not willing to focus and open up your mind

Also Don’t listen to the haters this is a really powerful piece of theater ... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Absorbing, Thought-provoking, Intense, Intelligent

See it if one of Caryl Churchill's lesser-seen plays, dense and brilliant, complex and thorny staged with wit and courage and played by a fine team

Don't see it if historical, dense, language-heavy, elusive work is not your taste

Ambitious, Intense, Intelligent, Great acting, Epic

See it if Careening from scene to scene, the play presents the shock of the Civil War, faith, poverty, and property.

Don't see it if Very long, very wordy, I saw a few folks actually fall asleep. I'm not sure Caryl Churchill would mind, as the play works in true epic form.

English drama for history buffs

See it if 17th Century English civil war given the brainy Churchill treatment. Lots of religion and politics talk. I ate it up.

Don't see it if if history, religion and political plays bore you. Nice staging of difficult material. Talented cast -- Jennings and Jeffers stood out.

Thoughtful, Provocative, Political across time, Great acting, Tight directing

See it if You love a show where the playwright has done her research & connects the past to the present in dramatic truth. What has ever changed? Long

Don't see it if but never windy, serious yet humble, bleak but humane. Not a light or funny piece, it takes political expediency to task. Amazing talent.

Resonant, Profound, Intelligent, Great acting, Absorbing

See it if You're a Caryl Churchill fan, love plays with a nontraditional structure, and enjoy works with politically and socially poignant themes.

Don't see it if You're not a fan of straight plays with lots of challenging text. Old English stories bore you.

Ambitious, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Relevant, Slow

See it if you're into history, religion, or rebellion.

Don't see it if you're not into history, longer shows or a lot of talking.

Great acting, Relevant, Great staging, Confusing, Thought-provoking

See it if you can sit through long, complicated historical dialogue, and appreciate the complexities;

Don't see it if you are a plot fanatic; if you have faith in capitalism

Great acting, Great direction, Slow, Philosophical, Relevant

See it if you're interested in political, religious, and philosophical plays with great production design and acting. Set in 1600s, but relevant now.

Don't see it if Long, slow, and often dull script. Despite its merits in production and acting some scenes are a real bore (debates at end of act 1).

Great acting, Great staging, Intelligent, Profound, Intense

See it if You want to see 6 great actors give fantastic performances- even if the play may be slow going to some the actors make it worthwhile

Don't see it if you dont want to see a long play about a part of British history (but you should)

Relevant, Intelligent, Absorbing, Mesmerizing, Confusing

See it if You have the patience to sit through many short scenes that often feel unrelated until you’ve seen the whole of the work. A lot of metaphor.

Don't see it if You want a plot that is easy to understand or even follow. Even though I often had no idea what I was seeing I was oddly attracted to it.

Ambitious, Great acting, Great staging, Intelligent, Slow

See it if you're up for a long show set in 17th-century England; you're not put off by plays about politics and religion

Don't see it if you want something short and easy

Also I thought the cast was excellent - all of them played their multiple p... Read more Read less

Great acting, Slow, Ambitious, Needs-massive-editing

See it if you want to see a brilliant set of actors wrestle with a script that is a full hour too lengthy. About 40 min is Acting Heaven but...

Don't see it if As I said about, about 40 min is wondrous acting of brilliant words... but far too much of the play feels like it's still in workshop mode.

Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Slow

See it if you like history plays and don't need emotional depth or a play with good dramatic structure.

Don't see it if you absolutely don't want to be lectured to and hate monologues.

Also Two hours and 40 minutes is a long play -- which is fine except this o... Read more Read less

Confusing, Thought-provoking, Interesting

See it if you really love edgy casting and directing

Don't see it if you want to see a play that's straight to the point.

Difficult, different, thought provoking,




Ambitious, Confusing, Great acting, Great staging, Intelligent

See it if you enjoy intelligent absorbing themes

Don't see it if pedantics do not make for good theatre

Cast & Creatives (14)