tue 12/12/2017

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Cell Mates, Hampstead Theatre review - intriguing yet opaque

Matt Wolf

The play that famously got away when one of its stars (quite literally) jumped ship is back. In 1995, Stephen Fry abandoned the West End premiere of Simon Gray's espionage drama Cell Mates, leaving co-star Rik Mayall in the lurch and prompting Gray to write a particularly dyspeptic account of the bizarre goings-on called Fat Chance.

Jack and the Beanstalk, Lyric Hammersmith review - great fun for all ages

Veronica Lee

Pantomime may be a very old art form, but the Lyric Hammersmith has been injecting some freshness into it each year since 2009, and this year's production, written by Joel Horwood and directed by Jude Christian and Sean Holmes, is no exception.

The Box of Delights, Wilton's Music Hall...

Saskia Baron

Theatreland is currently awash with pantomimes and rehashes of A Christmas Carol, so all credit to this ambitious new production, an adaptation of...

The Best Plays in London


London is the theatre capital of the world, with more than 50 playhouses offering theatrical entertainment. From the mighty National Theatre to the...

La Soirée, Aldwych Theatre review - flickers of...

Laura De Lisle

La Soirée is on the up-and-up. Beginning life as an after-hours show at the fringes of the Fringe in 2004, it won an Olivier in 2015 and has landed...

The Melting Pot, Finborough Theatre review - entertaining morals

Katherine Waters

New York refugee drama confronts anti-semitism with humour and heart

Barnum, Menier Chocolate Factory review - a big, blowsy spectacle

Veronica Lee

Energetic retelling of the showman's story

Parliament Square, Bush Theatre, review – uncomfortable blaze of anger

Aleks Sierz

New drama about political extremism is brilliantly written – mostly

Dear Brutus, Southwark Playhouse review - a judicious mix of comedy and sadness

Heather Neill

Barrie’s grown-up fantasy gets a welcome centenary revival

The Passing of the Third Floor Back, Finborough Theatre review - the better nature of Jerome K Jerome

Tom Birchenough

Edwardian rediscovery verges towards the sentimental, but satisfyingly so

Goats, Royal Court review - unfocused and muddled

Aleks Sierz

New play about Syria is upstaged by its animal performers

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic review - Rhys Ifans takes on Scrooge, triumphantly

Saskia Baron

Superb staging resurrects Dickens' morality tale

Inside Pussy Riot, Saatchi Gallery review - an immersive misfire

Will Rathbone

Promenade piece makes hyperactive theatrical weather of some important themes

'She has escaped from my Asylum!': The Woman in White returns

Jasper Rees

Two more versions of Wilkie Collins's thriller on stage and screen join a long rollcall

David Edgar: 'Ebenezer Scrooge is alive and well'

David Edgar

The playwright introduces his new version of A Christmas Carol for the RSC

The Secret Theatre, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse review - a ferocious topical satire dressed up in period costume

Alexandra Coghlan

Finally, a new play worthy of the Globe's Wanamaker Playhouse

Everybody's Talking About Jamie, Apollo Theatre review - inclusive and utterly joyful

Marianka Swain

It's a triumphant West End transfer for this big-hearted British musical

Bad Roads, Royal Court, review – memorably unsettling

Aleks Sierz

International season continues with savage Ukrainian war play

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

Tiger Bay, Wales Millennium Centre review - ambitious but flawed spectacle

Owen Richards

Brand new musical builds high production on a shaky structural base

Network, National Theatre review - Bryan Cranston’s searing London stage debut

Matt Wolf

Seminal 1976 film resonates anew as Breaking Bad star gets 'mad as hell'

Poison, Orange Tree Theatre review - study of grief is both courageous and subtle

Jenny Gilbert

Finely judged two-hander about death and how to survive it

Coriolanus, Barbican review - great, late Shakespeare compels but doesn't stun

James Woodall

It's a tough play to bring off but underpowered acting doesn't help

Glengarry Glen Ross, Playhouse Theatre review - Christian Slater is gently charismatic

Aleks Sierz

All-star cast in modern American classic celebrate the ideal of the deal

Soldier On: a theatrical treatment of PTSD

Jonathan Lewis

Jonathan Lewis on working with ex-servicemen and women to tell their stories through drama

Mother Courage, Southwark Playhouse review - this production is not one for our times

Katherine Waters

Uninspired treatment of Brecht's 1939 antiwar tract

The Retreat, Park Theatre, review - funny but a bit flat

Aleks Sierz

New play about getting away from it all by 'Peep Show' writer fails to enlighten

Douglas Henshall: 'You can get stuck when you’ve been in the business for 30 years' - interview

Jasper Rees

The Scottish actor on the National Theatre staging of 'Network' and going back to Shetland

'This is how it happened': Tom MacRae on writing Everybody's Talking About Jamie

Tom MacRae

How the musical about a boy who wanted to go to the school prom dressed as a girl was created

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.

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