thu 22/06/2017

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Terror, Lyric Hammersmith, review – more gimmick than drama

Aleks Sierz

Can the theatre be a courtroom? A good public place to debate morality and to arrive at profound decisions. You could answer this with a history lesson that ranges from the ancient Greeks to more recent tribunal plays in the 1960s and 1990s.

Bat Out of Hell, Coliseum review - Jim Steinman's rockin' dystopia hits the stage

Adam Sweeting

Opera-lovers coming to St Martin's Lane may feel confused to be confronted by an unrecognisable Coliseum, which now has huge girder-like structures adorning the stage and ceiling and a rather ugly skyscraper looming out of the wings, called Falco Tower.

Hir, Bush Theatre review – transgender home is...

Aleks Sierz

Donald Trump’s electoral success was, we have been told, fuelled by the anger of the American working class. But how do you show that kind of anger...

Kiss Me, Trafalgar Studios review - Richard Bean...

Will Rathbone

Hampstead Theatre Downstairs' habit of sending shows southward to Trafalgar Studios continues with Richard Bean's Kiss Me. A character study set in...

Hamlet, Harold Pinter Theatre review -...

Alexandra Coghlan

Midway through Hamlet a troupe of actors arrives at Elsinore. Coaching them for his own ends, the prince turns director, delivering an impassioned...

Tristan & Yseult, Shakespeare's Globe review - terrific visual and musical élan

Jenny Gilbert

Emma Rice bows out in riotous style - Shakespeare would have cheered her

The Best Plays in London


From Anatomy of a Suicide to Tristan and Yseult: theartsdesk's stage tips

Anatomy of a Suicide, Royal Court review - devastatingly brilliant

Aleks Sierz

Katie Mitchell returns with a powerful account of depression and despair

Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre review - foot-stompingly pleasurable

Aleks Sierz

Inua Ellams' new play about fatherhood and masculinity has an enjoyably global reach

Common, National Theatre review - Anne-Marie Duff fails to ignite

Aleks Sierz

Epic new play about the Enclosures gets bogged down in obscurity

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

h.Club 100 Awards: Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester


Joseph Houston and William Whelton found a storage space on Gumtree and turned it into a musical theatre. Here's how

Annie review - a 12-year-old star is born

Matt Wolf

A cautious Miranda Hart cedes centre-stage at Piccadilly Theatre to enchanting newcomer

On the Town review - triple threat Danny Mac and co are unmissable

David Benedict

Glorious reimagining of Broadway rarity at Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Sand in the Sandwiches, Theatre Royal, Haymarket review - delightful but sanitised

Matthew Wright

Hugh Whitemore's skilful highlights reel over-eggs a complex poet's charm

La Strada, The Other Palace review - Fellini's tragicomedy becomes a noisy romp

David Nice

Lively song and movement, but the special pathos of the film is smothered

Killology, Royal Court review – both disturbing and life-affirming

Aleks Sierz

Three monologues brilliantly summon up a punchy world of pain and violence

Jam review – obsession and resentment in the classroom

Jenny Gilbert

Debut play at Finborough Theatre about teaching and the unteachable hits a nerve

An Octoroon review - slavery reprised as melodrama in a vibrantly theatrical show

Tom Birchenough

A major work of new American drama receives its European premiere at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre

Deposit, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs review - capital's housing crisis lands centre-stage

Will Rathbone

Housing crisis drama is a quiet corker

Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's Globe review - Emma Rice goes out with a bang

Alexandra Coghlan

Shakespeare's cross-dressing comedy gets the high-seas treatment, but loses the poetry

The Mikado review - Sasha Regan's all-male operetta formula hits a reef

David Nice

Familiar company faces can't quite compensate for an odd choice of setting

Woyzeck, Old Vic review - John Boyega’s thrillingly powerful triumph

Aleks Sierz

Finn from 'Star Wars' dominates a radical rewrite of Georg Büchner classic

Tristan & Yseult, Brighton Festival review - playful and inventive storytelling

Veronica Lee

Emma Rice's revival of Kneehigh classic is a wonderful synthesis of artforms

The Gabriels, Brighton Festival review - hilarious drama in the shadow of Trump

Nick Hasted

Richard Nelson's Election Year in the Life of One Family is a sprawling Chekhovian saga

Meow Meow's Souvenir, Brighton Festival review – subversive but evocative new song-cycle

Bella Todd

Post-modern cabaret star plays mischief with the ghosts of Brighton’s historic Theatre Royal

Richard III review - Greg Hicks gruesomely impressive as power-crazed ruler

Jenny Gilbert

Arch machination and misogyny in its hero lift an otherwise under-nuanced production

Lettice and Lovage, Menier Chocolate Factory review - Peter Shaffer's star vehicle sags

Matt Wolf

Felicity Kendal follows with difficulty where Maggie Smith once gloriously led

No Dogs, No Indians, Brighton Festival review – poor production shoulders too big a task

Bella Todd

World premiere of Siddhartha Bose's new play empties seats by packing too much in

Footnote: a brief history of British theatre

London theatre is the oldest and most famous theatreland in the world, with more than 100 theatres offering shows ranging from new plays in the subsidised venues such as the National Theatre and Royal Court to mass popular hits such as The Lion King in the West End and influential experimental crucibles like the Bush and Almeida theatres. There's much cross-fertilisation with Broadway, with London productions transferring to New York, and leading Hollywood film actors coming to the West End to star in live theatre. In regional British theatre, the creative energy of theatres like Alan Ayckbourn's Stephen Joseph Theatre, Scarborough, the Bristol Old Vic and the Sheffield theatre hub add to the richness of the landscape, while the many town theatres host circling tours of popular farces, crime theatre and musicals.

lion_kingThe first permanent theatre, the Red Lion, was built in Queen Elizabeth I's time, in 1576 in Shoreditch; Shakespeare spent 20 years in London with the Lord Chamberlain's Men, mainly performing at The Theatre, also in Shoreditch. A century later under the merry Charles II the first "West End" theatre was built on what is now Theatre Royal Drury Lane, and Restoration theatre evolved with a strong injection of political wit from Irish playwrights Oliver Goldsmith and Richard Brinsley Sheridan. Catering for more populist tastes, Sadler's Wells theatre went up in 1765, and a lively mix of drama, comedy and working-class music-hall ensued. But by the mid-19th century London theatre was deplored for its low taste, its burlesque productions unfavourably contrasted with the aristocratic French theatre. Calls for a national theatre to do justice to Shakespeare resulted in the first "Shakespeare Memorial" theatre built in Stratford in 1879.

The Forties and Fifties saw a golden age of classic theatre, with Sir Laurence Olivier, Sir Ralph Richardson and Sir John Gielgud starring in world-acclaimed productions in the Old Vic company, and new British plays by Harold Pinter, John Osborne, Beckett and others erupting at the English Stage Company in the Royal Court. This momentum led in 1961 to the establishing of the Royal Shakespeare Company in Stratford, and in 1963 the launch of the National Theatre at The Old Vic, led by Olivier. In the late Sixties Britain broke the American stranglehold on large-scale modern musicals when Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice launched their brilliant careers with first Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat and then Jesus Christ Superstar in 1970, and never looked back. The British modern original musical tradition led on to Les Misérables, The Lion King and most recently Matilda.

The Arts Desk brings you the fastest overnight reviews and ticket booking links for last night's openings, as well as the most thoughtful close-up interviews with major creative figures, actors and playwrights. Our critics include Matt Wolf, Aleks Sierz, Alexandra Coghlan, Veronica Lee, Sam Marlowe, Hilary Whitney and James Woodall.

Close Footnote

Advertising feature


The world’s first show based on true-life coming-out stories, OUTINGS plays the West End for the first time, in an exclusive one-night gala presentation in aid of LGBT+ helpline Switchboard.


This powerful, funny and confessional collation of over 20 true-life tales was created by award-winning writers following an online campaign for submissions that was supported by Stephen Fry amongst many others. The gala will see each story told by a different performer, and the cast includes Switchboard patron Mark Gatiss.


'Life affirming'-


Monday 26 June, 7.30pm - Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue


Book at

or call 0330 333 4812 

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