thu 29/01/2015

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Hard Problem, National Theatre

Matt Wolf

Here's the genuine hard problem facing commentators confronted with Tom Stoppard's new play of the same name: how do you honour the legacy of this extraordinary writer's first play in nine years that also marks its director Nicholas Hytner's National Theatre swansong and is – truth be told – a disappointment on multiple fronts? Speaking as one who can recall as if it were yesterday the revitalising jolt to both head and heart that one felt leaving the opening night of Arcadia nearly...

The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios

Demetrios Matheou

Now that the national self-delusion of the classless society has been laid to rest by the double whammy of economic crisis and the Cameron-Osborne-Johnson era of Bullingdon Club governance, it would seem an ideal moment to dust off Peter Barnes’s 1968 satire of upper-class madmen and monsters.Unfortunately, The Ruling Class needs more than a dusting-off; 45 years since its last West End appearance, it needs renovation. And it doesn’t get it from Jamie Lloyd’s latest production at the Trafalgar...

Dara, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

The history play has roots that go deep into our culture. We love to see stories that are kitted out in fancy dress, and long to savour a past that...

Hello/Goodbye, Hampstead Theatre

Marianka Swain

If the London property boom continues post-election, the fight for living space may well develop into all-out war. But what begins as skirmish in...

Taken at Midnight, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Heather Neill

The mother, so often a sentimental figure in art, can be as tenacious and bold as any animal when protecting her young. Mark Hayhurst's play about...

Blind Date, Jermyn Street Theatre

Marianka Swain

Chirpy romcom offers big-hearted courtship, but lacks contemporary bite

The Changeling, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

David Nice

Ill met by candlelight: Hattie Morahan shines in nasty Jacobean tragicomedy

New Atlantis, The Crystal

Aleks Sierz

Immersive and futuristic piece about water shortages and global warming is a treat for boffins

Islands, Bush Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New show about offshore tax havens is luridly absurdist, but the end result is deeply tedious

The Railway Children, King's Cross Theatre

Marianka Swain

There's plenty to delight youngsters in this spirited slice of family entertainment

Bull, Young Vic

Aleks Sierz

Brilliant new play about work and bullying from Mike Bartlett aims to make us all complicit

First Person: Finding Oppenheimer

Tom Morton-Smith

The author of the RSC's new play about the creator of atomic bomb seeks an elusive truth

Liberian Girl, Royal Court Jerwood Theatre Upstairs

Caroline Crampton

An accomplished debut about the horrors of civil war

Women on the Verge of a Nervous Breakdown, Playhouse Theatre

Edward Seckerson

Almodovar's Madrid mayhem moved from screen to musical stage, breathlessly

First Person: Doing The Walworth Farce

Sean Foley

Acclaimed comedy director introduces Enda Walsh's new farce starring three Gleesons

Tree, Old Vic

Veronica Lee

Comic storyteller Daniel Kitson's engaging two-hander

theartsdesk Q&A: Playwright Ayub Khan Din

Jasper Rees

The author of 'East Is East' on bringing his tyrannical father back to life onstage

Donkey Heart, Trafalgar Studios

Aleks Sierz

Excellent new play about family tensions in Russia transfers to the West End

The Grand Tour, Finborough Theatre

Edward Seckerson

Jerry Herman rarity is a collector's item

Timber, Brighton Dome

Thomas H Green

French-Canadian backwoods circus proves a final treat for the holiday season

Jack and the Beanstalk, Birmingham Hippodrome

Veronica Lee

Home of UK's biggest pantomime delivers again

Best of 2014: Theatre

Matt Wolf

It was ladies' night across the London stage this year

Widowers' Houses, Orange Tree Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A timely revival of a timeless satire

Eric and Little Ern, St James Theatre

Veronica Lee

Affectionate tribute to a great double act

City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse

Sam Marlowe

Lavish entertainment from the musical portrait of Forties Tinseltown

Almost, Maine, Park Theatre

Heather Neill

UK premiere of sweet, phenomenally popular American drama set in a fictional town

The Frozen Scream, Wales Millennium Centre

Gary Raymond

Pastiche co-written by Sarah Waters is a brave misfire

The Merchant of Venice, Almeida Theatre

David Nice

Las Vegas bling lethally demolished in Rupert Goold's layered Shakespeare

Henry IV, Parts One and Two, RSC, Barbican

David Nice

A charmless Falstaff and two blunt young blades in mediocre Shakespeare double bill

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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