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On the Shore of the Wide World

Members say: Slow, Great acting, Disappointing, Absorbing, Ambitious
29 reviews
130 reviews

Atlantic Theater Company presents the New York premiere of Simon Stephens’ Olivier Award-winning drama, an epic story about love, family, and the size of the galaxy.

... Read more

'On the Shore of the Wide World' spans three generations of a suffering family. Eighteen-year-old Alex is preparing to introduce his girlfriend Sarah to his parents. His younger brother Christopher is immediately and completely smitten with her. Their parents, Alice and Peter, are unnerved by how quickly Alex has grown up. Peter’s father Charlie is mastering card tricks and keeping his smoking a secret from his long-suffering wife Ellen. Something is about to happen that will change all their lives irrevocably as the honest scenes of domestic family life melt to reveal a sad picture of disconnection, fragile relationships, and missed moments. Featuring Tony winner Blair Brown.


Cast & Creatives (17)

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Reviews (159)

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

The New York Times

"A stealth heartbreaker…By the end…you’ve discovered that this dribbling, homespun prose has shaped itself into patterns of profound poetry, as if words in invisible ink had been held up to a flame…The assumed Mancunian accents, which don’t come naturally to most of the cast, are initially off-putting. But by the end, every cast member has created a detailed and intimate portrait. And the final scene between Ms. McCann and Mr. Wilson is beautiful–and devastating.” Full Review


“An inert little production...Since we're unable to forge enough of a connection with these frigid characters to ever really invest in their well-being, it is difficult to care…The cast embodies these boring people with capable, competent performances across the board. Unfortunately, Stephens does them no favors by regularly having his characters speak the subtext…With everything that is happening in the wide world, the events (or lack thereof) in this play make it feel awfully insignificant." Full Review


"The British made up of stock characters, each more boring than the next...Spending almost two and-a-half hours in their company is heavy going...The problem isn’t their modest dreams; it’s the absence of poetry or passion in their expression of those dreams...The hard-working actors are not to be blamed for the overwhelming blandness of the production...The heavy-handed production work dooms them to their dull characters and uninspired lines." Full Review


"There's a sad sense of ordinariness to 'On the Shore of the Wide World'...Subtlety done well can be wonderful, but 'On the Shore of the Wide World' meanders about for two long acts before reaching its unsatisfactory conclusion. It's only the fine work by director Neil Pepe's ensemble that stirs interest to see where it's going." Full Review

Time Out New York

"A long and busy family soap opera, chopped into 42 short parts, that toggles between banality and implausible melodrama. Fuzzily directed by Neil Pepe, the production suggests an acting class performing an anthology: 'Scenes for British Actors, Volume 8'...Its original London incarnation, perhaps, had some redeeming authenticity. At the Atlantic, it just seems beached." Full Review

The Hollywood Reporter

“A slog to endure, at once dramatically overstuffed and curiously lifeless…The play’s staccato, episodic style proves off-putting…Some moments do resonate…But more often than not the short encounters seem to be over before anything interesting happens…Pepe accentuates the weaknesses of the writing with his somnolent pacing and visually drab production, often shrouded in darkness, lulling you into slumber. It’s a shame because the production features a lot of strong acting talent.” Full Review

Village Voice

"Stephens structures his tale in a way that brings soap operas inevitably to mind...What breadth his panoramic tactic achieves is nullified by a nagging lack of depth...Neil Pepe’s production flows assuredly on Scott Pask’s homey, two-level set, but a more minimal environment might have allowed a theatrical swiftness to offset the episodic choppiness of the script. While the cast is full of seasoned performers, none except Wilson fully slips into a persuasive Northern groove." Full Review

The Huffington Post

"An intriguing but not quite satisfying evening...The actors contribute a good deal to the evening. Rosenfield is central, as the non-expressive teen at play’s center, while Wilson and McCann offer compelling portraits as the non-expressive parents...Stephens builds his story in small steps, not unlike a television drama of the soap variety. He manages to keep us engaged—he kept me engaged, anyway—but things turn clunky on several occasions." Full Review

Cultural Weekly

"While this dysfunctional family drama has some arresting moments, it drags on too long and becomes predictable and cliche-ridden...Stephens’ quirky observations and plotlines turn into soap opera fodder...Fortunately, Neil Pepe provides a strong staging and the cast delivers heartfelt performances, depicting the pain of buried longings...The actors and director deliver a professional product but it’s nothing new or exciting." Full Review

Lighting & Sound America

“A long, lumbering drama…Both unwieldy and undercooked. The action is sliced up into dozens of brief television-style scenes -- few, if any, of which build to anything like a climax…The author's attention is spread so equally among his cast of characters that, individually, they are starved for development…Pepe gets good, honest work out of his cast, constrained as they are by the script's narrowness…‘On the Shore of the Wide World’ often seems to be dangerously lacking in a dramatic pulse.” Full Review

Theatre's Leiter Side

“Stephens' screenplay-like written in 42 scenes, some quite brief, and not a few ending abruptly just as you're beginning to invest in them…It's hard not to regard the play as a truncated TV miniseries…Although the characters, for all their struggles with suppressed feelings, aren't especially interesting, the talented company does its best to maintain a modicum of interest for at least the first act…There's not much…that hasn't been seen in countless other domestic dramas.” Full Review


"Neil Pepe’s production of this earlier work, about three generations of an English family coping with a tragedy that is only glancingly mentioned, is meticulous and the cast is flawless. But it’s not a top-drawer work, and it left me wondering–especially as I struggled through the thicket of impenetrable accents on display–what compelled the Atlantic to present it." Full Review


"I found myself wishing that this overlong play had never left its home shore...More mundane than poetic. The cast...ably handle their characters' reactions to the confinement of the familial shores and the painful loss of a beloved family member. But none of these people really seem worth getting to know...Neil Pepe's largo-paced direction and Scott Pask's serviceable scenery to accommodate the ever-shifting duos don't help." Full Review

Front Mezz Junkies

"Beautiful, poetic, and devastating...The family Stephens has created is steadfastly trying to deal with all of its inner demons and domestic trauma that slowly seep into our collective surface over the course of this tad too long play...At times the play meanders and elongates moments for no need. But we can feel the authentic dynamics ebbing and flowing through the poetry of the dialogue." Full Review

Front Row Center

“Not a bad play, it’s just average, and overlong…What saves this production is the fine acting by the entire cast…There’s nothing very fresh or revelatory here, although Mr. Stephens has drawn his characters very well…Although the characters are interesting, well-drawn, and superbly acted, the pace of the play is slow…Regrettably, the plot meanders and twists and turns for almost three hours and then ends with an abrupt whimper.” Full Review


“Neil Pepe's production of Stephens' ‘On the Shore of the Wide World’ will not please all. The pace is consciously slow - like the life lived by these characters. However, the wait is worth the effort. By the end when the family reunites for Sunday dinner, the play has become both powerful and poignant. The title, incidentally, comes from the next to the last line of a Keats' sonnet, in which the speaker worries about missing out love, fame and success, an apt summation of Simon Stephens' play.” Full Review

Gotham Playgoer

“I approached the present play with low expectations. They were met...The play has a seemingly endless succession of short scenes that generated very little interest for me. I don’t require sympathetic characters, but I expect to feel some involvement which was lacking here. I looked at my watch often…The fine cast, which struggles uncertainly with the accent, deserves better than this…Director Neil Pepe does his best with material that is basically inert.” Full Review


“Alas, this meandering, multi-generational dysfunctional family drama proves to be surprisingly tepid in Neil Pepe’s workmanlike production…Some major plot elements simply move by too quickly, while others add up to very little…Everything about the production really forces the cast to do all the heavy lifting, and thankfully, they are mostly up to the challenge...I suspect that American audiences will wish they’re sitting on a different shore, or at least in a different theater.” Full Review

Financial Times (UK)

“Half an hour of such melodrama can be an agreeably un-taxing way of passing a weekday evening in front of the TV. But, at two and half hours with an interval, ‘On the Shore of the Wide World’ soon begins to feel rudderless. What’s missing is any attempt to weave the story of one troubled family into a broader social tapestry…The pacing here is also anything but swift under Neil Pepe’s direction, which increasingly loses focus as the saga wears on.” Full Review

Theatre is Easy

“A complicated and profound family drama with a virtuoso ensemble...Stephens doesn’t allow ‘On the Shore’ to be neat and tidy for the sake of clarity. He dares to make his play as messy and chaotic as life often feels. Atlantic’s artistic director Neil Pepe counteracts the messiness by grounding it with organized and compartmentalized staging…Every member of this ten-person cast delivers pure acting gold, making every moment irresistible.” Full Review


"There are compellingly explosive moments, to be sure, but what also grabs you–perhaps even more–is the understated web of feeling and enduring attachments created in Stephens' writing and beautifully realized by the cast under Neil Pepe’s sure but sensitive direction...At the center of the play is C.J. Wilson’s splendid portrayal of Peter...What is clear is Stephens’ deep compassion for his characters, his artfulness in bringing them to life and making you feel for them." Full Review

Daily Beast

"Stephens’ play has a supple brilliance to it. However, the actors in this production speak in such a maddening hodgepodge of British and Irish accents that it makes it take this intense drama that seriously...They certainly seem to rush at the text when more slowness and sensitive pacing is required. It became, for me anyway, a polyglottal mess, even as my brain tried to work past all the bizarre attempts at north-west England-speak into the brilliance of Stephens’ words." Full Review

Theater Pizzazz

“Stephens uses this technique, feeding us pieces of the plot second-hand and after the fact, just enough to pique our interest without making us feel cheated of the live action...Director Neil Pepe ensures that every element is aligned with and complements every other. Pacing, placement, and design couldn’t be better.. And the performances he elicits from his cast are marvelous…It is, of course, Stephens’s wonderful script that makes it all possible." Full Review

Epoch Times

"The work covers no new ground and makes no sweeping statements, yet it succeeds brilliantly due to every moment coming across as real...Stephens has done a brilliant job in making these characters resonate so strongly...Neil Pepe’s direction is quite strong...Probing, intimate, and deliberately untidy, 'On the Shore of the Wide World' shows just what the concept of 'family' can entail. At the same time, it examines the joy, comfort, pain, and responsibility that go with it." Full Review

New York Magazine / Vulture

“Stephens endeavors to weave threads of existential wonder and terror into the fabric of a workaday family drama. But at times…the experience can feel a bit like reading a novel in which someone has underlined a passage and written ‘THEME’ in the margin…When the play waxes poetic, we can start to see it straining to affect us…The play is at its most moving when it feels the least need to explain itself.” Full Review

See: Critics' Reviews | Members' Reviews
Avg Score

Great acting, Disappointing, Slow

See it if you want to see a talented group of actors come together to play a family.

Don't see it if you can be confused by a play with shifting times and feels very long.

Great acting, Intelligent, Thought-provoking, Resonant, Great writing

See it if you like plays with multigenerational casts, treatments of dysfunctional English families, themes of loneliness and finding happiness.

Don't see it if you have a difficult time understanding thick English accents, don't like dramas or plays about dysfunctional multigenerational families,

Great acting, Slow, Entertaining

See it if Family drama and generational divide is the focus of this play by Simon Stephens. They made really good use of the space and unit set.

Don't see it if Long plays bore you

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Great writing

See it if You have patience for a slowly developing narrative that creeps up on you. You enjoy a play with characters you can care about.

Don't see it if You are looking for something edgy or action driven.

Also Despite some low scores from other reviewers - I found it compelling. ... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Thought-provoking, Slow

See it if you have the patience to see past what feels banal at first blush but underneath hides an interesting take on the struggle of life/death.

Don't see it if you are looking for speedy writing, desire a fast-paced plot, or if fluctuating accents or long-ish run times bother you

Disappointing, Overrated, Slow

See it if You like family dramas. The language is at times insightful.

Don't see it if I found this play too long and too slow.

Great acting, Intelligent, Disappointing, Engaging, Needlessly long

See it if you like family dramas that are a few steps up from TV soap operas. Wonderful cast playing working class people in unfulfilled lives.

Don't see it if The cast is stymied by inconsistent British accents unlike anything I've heard before. 2 1/2 hours of vignettes keep the play superficial.

Also With major editing, better dialect coaching and fewer but longer scene... Read more Read less

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Slow, Great staging

See it if You want to see these actors who were all terrific. However the play wasn’t that compelling. The set was interesting.

Don't see it if You want a fast paced drama. This is fairly slow and meandering. I usually like that sort of show if done well but somehow this didn’t gel

Also It was a little distracting that the all American cast was using Briti... Read more Read less

Great acting, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if You appreciate intense family drama and Simon Stephens

Don't see it if You like a play that flows clearly. This needed cutting.

Great acting, Disappointing, Slow

See it if You want to see some excellent acting and don't mind sitting through an overlong play that ultimately goes nowhere.

Don't see it if You're looking for crisp, relevant writing.

Banal, Excruciating, Slow, Good acting, Listless

See it if you want to see some good ensemble acting (as uninteresting characters) in a sluggish, meandering, painfully slow, derivative family drama.

Don't see it if you expect to see an original, absorbing drama à la Simon Stephens' "Curious Incident..."

Overrated, Slow

See it if slow to develop family drama where everyone has a secret; decent acting; nice set; underwhelmed; no uplifting take aways from production

Don't see it if you don't like family dramas; have work to figure out everyone's life secret to put puzzle together to make sense of the show

Raunchy, Indulgent, Banal, Insipid, Slow

See it if You like family dramas where everyone has secrets. Some things you only find out much later (death of the other son).

Don't see it if You are looking for anything to happen. The actors were mostly good, however, some of them were obnoxious. Their lives were honest.

Also Tedra Millan shined as the girlfriend. Their lives seemed to reflect l... Read more Read less

Absorbing, Great acting, Profound, Beautifully staged

See it if you enjoy talky English plays. This one is long, but I felt the evening flew by. Great ensemble work!

Don't see it if you have difficulty watching a play with very little action.

Also I really enjoyed Tedra Millan's performance—her character had the most... Read more Read less

Overlong, Leisurely pace, Structured like a film, Intermittently involving

See it if you are willing to look at patterns of behavior rather than dramatic action; are sensitive to the play's undercurrents of pain & loneliness

Don't see it if you are impatient with scenes that appear to go nowhere; you want overt conflict to drive the narrative.

Also The play is like a European film that works by accretion of quotidian ... Read more Read less

Quirky, Cliched, Slow

See it if You enjoy dramas about family relationships and the trials of life.Good acting but slow and the lower class British accents may be a problem

Don't see it if You only enjoy musicals and simple dramas.

Absorbing, Great acting, Intelligent, Intense, Thought-provoking

See it if you want to see the most impressive acting ensemble currently in town in a very strong and moving family play

Don't see it if all you care about is originality of plot (as if that's still possible) and whether someone's foreign accent is perfect (who f-ing cares?)

Also Anyone who knows me knows how I feel about Ben Brantley. To be honest,... Read more Read less

Ambitious, Great acting, Slow, Great staging

See it if you want to see a quiet drama about 3 generations of a family with many issues; a few touching moments especially at end

Don't see it if So many problems it seems like a soap opera. Despite frequently going from problem to problem (& one part of the set to another) it is slow

Also The actors are good in spite of the writing; the dialogue makes the pl... Read more Read less

Great acting, Great writing, Slow, Entertaining, Terrific cast

See it if You like family crisis dramas across generations;British accents;multiple plots at one time;Blair Brown;marriage strife

Don't see it if Trouble with accents; dislike spousal abuse stories;slow moving

Great acting, Confusing, Disappointing, Cliched, Great staging

See it if You can't find an interesting magazine to read.

Don't see it if Don't have to

Great acting, Disappointing, Slow, Great set

See it if you like terrific acting even if the story takes over 2 hours to go nowhere.I didn't much care for the characters.Plot felt contrived.

Don't see it if you want something fast paced.I wanted to get involved with the characters, but each 1 was on for too short a time for me to identify with

Absorbing, Great acting, Intense, Thought-provoking, Resonant

See it if you enjoy the old fashioned type of play that delves into characters and messy family relationship.

Don't see it if you prefer more lighthearted theater with tidy relationships and endings.

Absorbing, Ambitious, Intelligent, Resonant

See it if you like multi-generational family dramas, packed with complications.

Don't see it if you have a problem with accents (Northern English) and don't want to sit for two and a half hours.

Also I had a bit of a problem with the ending, which seemed to come rather ... Read more Read less

Disappointing, Excruciating, Overrated, Ben brantley is way off, Long, so very long

See it if You enjoy hearing characters say "sorry" to one another an inordinate number of times. You like bad north England accents. Long, very long..

Don't see it if Priorities R characters to root for & belief in developing a character before killing him off. You believe in showing and not telling.

Ambitious, Indulgent, Disappointing, Excruciating, Slow

See it if Have an interest in seeing everything by Simon Stephens, otherwise don't see it, it's extremely slow and doesn't go anywhere.

Don't see it if Same as above; it opened with promise but the characters were difficult to relate too and the dialogue was dull.

Also I had high expectations because of the adaptation of the Curious Incid... Read more Read less