Hills of California review – Sensational performances in Jez Butterworth play | Theatre | Entertainment

Following Jez Butterworth’s acclaimed plays Jerusalem and The Ferryman comes The Hills of California, this time directed by Sir Sam Mendes.

Little was known about this new production before opening night, except that the story takes place in a run-down Blackpool hotel in 1976, with three sisters arriving to see their dying mother.

Beautifully well-written as always, Butterworth takes his time across three acts to reveal the characters, what makes them tick and what’s really going on.

Filled with believable, colourful characters, the play switches between the 1976 present and a 1950s flashback in the private side kitchen when the sisters were children.

This time-travelling transition is expertly engineered in the staging that swings around one side of the staircase (leading up to the dark and looming landings above) to unveil the other.

It’s a long play at approximately three hours, with only a pause between Acts 2 and 3. Yet the time flies as it’s so engrossing, not just because of the glorious dialogue but also some of the best performances across a whole West End cast we’ve seen in recent years.

The standout by a mile is Laura Donnelly who embodies the daughters’ strict mother in the 1950s flashbacks, before just as convincingly playing a very different character later on. 

Thematically, The Hills of California is a rich text, full of nuance and similar ideas explored in Jerusalem like the blurring lines between myth and truth and whether it really matters.

The play also explores the complex dynamics of family, forgiveness and dealing with broken dreams. But it’s also full of laughs.

And then, the one thing that didn’t quite sit right was the neatness and sentimentality of the ending, but perhaps that’s the point.

The Hills of California is performed at the Harold Pinter Theatre until June 15, 2024 and tickets can be booked here.

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