Time Out Critics Choice, Feb 2012
Nominated for Best New Play (Off West End Theatre Awards 2012)
Betts digs beneath the ironic trope regarding our inability to communicate in the communications age, offering an astute and multifaceted diagnosis of a very modern malaise. Every aspect of his characters' lives is infected by the internet. They're disconnected from reality, incapable of interaction and trapped beneath inflated aspirations. None of them accept, let alone tolerate, their own ordinariness. They are the stretched middle, torn by envious resentment of the A-list and liberal guilt for the Third World... Darkly funny (Mike Leigh writ large), Muswell Hill thrives by transplanting online behaviour into real life...a sharp and angry play; a painful portrait of a middle-class milieu, more connected than ever but barren with loneliness...the show feels cool and dangerous...the writing is fierce and the acting bang on.
TIME OUT **** (Critics Choice)
...the dinner party from hell is a stock dramatic device (but) Torben Betts gives it a fresh and funny spin in this new play that, at its best, puts one in mind of Alan Ayckbourn and Mike Leigh...The play is spot-on about many things: the routine dependence on technological toys, the token expressions of grief over the Haitian earthquake that has happened that day, and the way dinner parties often coincide with a domestic crisis.
MICHAEL BILLINGTON, GUARDIAN
Trenchant analysis of north London society in this west London theatre... focuses on those for whom youth is slipping into middle-age in a city where few incomes match the cost of property-owning and where realising ambition is a struggle...by turns hilarious and gripping.
Muswell Hill is an intelligent, unpatronising piece with humanity and something important to say...an immensely talented playwright.
PLAYS TO SEE ****
...brilliantly skewers the oddities of contemporary communication and a world in which global news stories form a mere 'backdrop' to domestic travails...sharp humour and a final melancholy twist... a witty and perceptive evening that gets the Orange Tree’s spring season off to a sprightly start.
There are moments of excruciatingly cruel comedy and the climactic tirade by one of the characters was genuinely shattering...
LONDON THEATRE REVIEWS
A magnificent, classy production which deserves to be seen by a wider audience.
THE THEATRE SHOWCASE
A contemporary classic.... Betts enjoys lobbing dramatic hand grenades into what might at first appear to be routine domestic comedies... what starts out as a mildly amusing comedy of social dysfunctionality turns into something altogether darker and less comfortable... A specialist in the sturm-und-drang of middle-class life, Betts’ Muswell Hill witnesses what is arguably the most horrendous social gathering since Leigh’s Abigail’s Party... this crisp, thought-provoking play is a taut examination of the psychological pitfalls that plague first-world living.
THE STAGE ****
This is a gimmick-free piece of theatre with something to say, and it isn’t afraid to say it with gusto... A tasty dish, full of fibre – with plenty of meat to devour and digest.
GAY TIMES ****
The dinner party setting is fruitful as a landscape for writers, enabling an easy shortcut to collide disparate personalities for conflict. In some ways, the obvious utility of the setting has led to a saturation point on the theatre stage. Talented playwright Torben Betts, however, has attempted his best to light a flame from this damp wood. More often than not he succeeds...the synergy of incompatibility is explored with devastating impact by Betts...
HAM AND HIGH ****
Muswell Hill gives a surprisingly, almost hauntingly realistic depiction of modern middle-class life.
...an engrossing and absorbing drama... Excellent and eminently watchable.
Betts uses a mix of comedy and drama to uncover the pain hidden just beneath the social veneer of middle-class life.
...clever, darkly absorbing entertainment...fresh, funny, thought-provoking and superbly acted...Blackly humorous in the honourable tradition of Ayckbourn and Mike Leigh, Muswell Hill exposes the superficiality of lives contained and constrained by tweets, texts and emails, dictated by a world according to the web. And, in that uncomfortable exposé, reveals profound human truths. Perfectly paced, with terrific performances all round – don’t miss it.
TIME AND LEISURE
A satire of today’s young and aspiring middle class...the cast is first class and gives the play a palpable sense of middle-class angst and it’s directed by the theatre’s artistic director Sam Walters with sensitivity and panache.
...a dark and entertaining, excellently acted play which holds up a mirror to the audience.
THE GOOD REVIEW
Funny and sharp... throws a white-hot searchlight onto the follies of the bourgeois.
...a genius piece of mirror-holding.
...a slick and entertaining example of a contemporary drama.
Rivetingly witty entertainment. A play written by an actor and it flows beautifully.
MARK RONAN’S THEATRE REVIEWS
A kitchen sink drama for the twenty-first century: a great new play, a tremendous production and brilliant performances.
This is Torben Betts’ third play at the Orange Tree, after The Company Man in 2010, and Clockwatching in 2001. Tragic in essence, they are notable for their often agonisingly, prickly comedy. Muswell Hill is no exception. The play shows the fragility behind the middle-class idyll of success, as the Haitian earthquake razes people’s homes and spiritual aspirations to the ground... Betts writes actor-friendly dialogue that the cast relish. His observations are sharply delineated with more than a sense of a biographical touch... Yes, it recalls Leigh and yes it recalls Ayckbourn, but it also shows Torben Betts as a playwright with an original voice.
...a fantastic new play... stunning and moving...an absolute triumph for both writer and actors.
THE PUBLIC REVIEWS
Go see it just for what he says about middle-class liberals who think they are "nice people".
Go see it just for what he says about what the US did to Haiti and the cynical reasons it might have had for helping them.
Go see it just for what it says about how 9/11 would have suited Bush down to the Ground Zero.
Go see it just to see what Feminism has done to infantilise men.
Go see it just for what it says about Obama.
Just go see it if you think you are a morally autonomous being.
THE VOICE OF REASON
An old-fashioned drinking-and-fighting play when a perfect storm of toxic personalities meet for a boozy party, the consequences of which are dramatic and irrevocable. Think Edward Albee's Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? or Ayad Akhtar's Disgraced... In holding a mirror up to middle-class delusion, Betts has penned a bitter satire of the kind of socially conscious urbanites who attend the theater.
THEATERMANIA, NEW YORK
Torben Betts is a splendid observer. Every character feels authentic, every conversation true to its sources.
WOMAN AROUND TOWN, NEW YORK
The dinner party from hell is a tried and true theatrical device. Playwright Torben Betts takes full advantage of its potential in Muswell Hill and delivers not only the requisite excruciatingly dysfunctional family dynamics, scathing looks at both well-heeled bleeding liberals, and down-at-the-heels revolutionaries, but a sobering shot at self-absorbed aging thespians as well. Ouch. And while he does it most entertainingly, with a rapier sharp wit, there’s much food for thought here.
THE FRONT ROW CENTER
British food has improved immeasurably in recent years but, as any viewer of Gordon Ramsey can attest, its kitchens are evidently still the stuff of nightmares. Muswell Hill is a worthy addition to the pantheon.
...a barbed comedy... the hurts and regrets pile up, and the curtain falls on a very funny comedy that has also become a sad commentary on human foibles.
This is a darkly funny and uncomfortable play... well worth a look, even if it is just to discover a fantastic playwright you may have never heard of.
Muswell Hill is a cleverly written, well-acted production.
Muswell Hill was first performed at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond on 8 February 2012 with the following cast:
MAT, Leon Ockenden
JESS, Jasmine Hyde
KAREN, Katie Hayes
SIMON, Dan Starkey
ANNIE, Tala Gouveia
TONY, Timothy Block
Director, Sam Walters
Designer, Robyn Wilson
Lighting, John Harris
A second production opened at the White Bear Theatre, London, on 12 August 2014, with following cast:
MAT, Jack Johns
JESS, Annabel Bates
KAREN, Fiona Rodrigo
SIMON, Alastair Natkiel
ANNIE, Nicole Abraham
TONY, Gregory Cox
Director/Producer, Roger Mortimer-Smith
Designer, Nancy Surman