sat 25/10/2014

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Wild Duck, Belvoir Sydney, Barbican Theatre

David Nice

Ibsen cast a cruel eye on the characters of his most relentlessly symbolic play – wild ducks wounded or domesticated by fate or character. They speak or behave unsympathetically, for the most part, yet the actors must make us care for them. Simon Stone and Chris Ryan sidestep the problem by not only updating the action but writing their own script on the subject, reinventing some of the motivations while keeping the essence. True to some of Ibsen’s main points it may not be, but this is...

Wet House, Soho Theatre

Marianka Swain

When gifting the unheard a voice, the temptation is often to make it a solemn one. Thankfully, Paddy Campbell has, for the most part, sidestepped puritanical preaching in his debut play based on experiences working at a ‘wet house’, a homeless hostel where incurable alcoholics can drink in a secure environment. Though tonally uneven, at its best Campbell’s piece delivers unpalatable truths with a bitingly funny sweetener.Wet House, developed with Newcastle’s Live Theatre, introduces naïve new...

Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre

Edward Seckerson

It's throwback week on the West End, with two very different shows recalling the darkest days of America's racial disharmony. But whereas The...

Russian Avant-Garde Theatre, Victoria &...

Sarah Kent

Installed in the main exhibition space, this could have been a blockbuster show introducing a large audience to an important moment in Russian...

Neville's Island, Duke of York's Theatre

Marianka Swain

Hell is other people. It’s not the wilderness that poses the greatest threat to the stranded corporate bonding quartet in this docile Lord of...

The Scottsboro Boys, Garrick Theatre

Edward Seckerson

Kander & Ebb's startling, stirring musical gets a West End upgrade

Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World, Globe Theatre

Sarah Kent

The delightfully shambolic talent show that's become a national treasure

The House That Will Not Stand, Tricycle Theatre

Marianka Swain

A key moment in American race relations inspires a richly ambitious new drama

Gypsy, Chichester Festival Theatre

Edward Seckerson

Imelda Staunton gives the performance of the year in possibly the show of the year

Six of the best: Theatre


Kings, kids and singing despots: a bit of everything in theartsdesk's tips

Our Town, Almeida Theatre

Matt Wolf

Off Broadway revival hops the Atlantic, its invention and power intact

The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic

Marianka Swain

Katie Mitchell delivers Chekhov's masterpiece with devastating power

East Is East, Trafalgar Studios

Aleks Sierz

Spirited revival of 1990s classic is enjoyably entertaining, but lacks darker shadows

10 Questions for Playwright Simon Stephens

Marianka Swain

The celebrated dramatist on adapting his idol Chekhov’s seminal work

Here Lies Love, National Theatre

Matt Wolf

David Byrne musical about Imelda Marcos offers razzle-dazzle, disco and no shoe gags

Uncle Vanya, St James Theatre

Marianka Swain

Anya Reiss plays safe with her modern updating of Chekhov

Romeo and Juliet, Sherman Cymru, Cardiff

Elin Williams

Wales's newest artistic director Rachel O'Riordan opens with an energetic blast of the Bard

Peer Gynt, Théâtre National de Nice, Barbican Theatre

David Nice

Irina Brook's song-and-dance Ibsen entertains, but misses the darker shades

The Distance, Orange Tree Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New play powerfully tackles one of the last taboos — women who leave their kids

Henry IV, Donmar Warehouse

Alexandra Coghlan

Strong performances carry Phyllida Lloyd's all-female Shakespeare

Notes from Underground, Print Room

Tom Birchenough

Harry Lloyd frantically engaged with one of Dostoevsky's less sympathetic characters

Urinetown, Apollo Theatre

Matt Wolf

Broadway sleeper hit takes on a darker tone

Warde Street, Park Theatre

Marianka Swain

New play inspired by the 7/7 tragedy trades reflection for sensationalism

Speed-the-Plow, Playhouse Theatre

Marianka Swain

Mamet revival and its star Lindsay Lohan escape disaster, but fail to deliver a triumph

Rachel, Finborough Theatre

Caroline Crampton

Revival of the first-ever play by an African-American women struggles to impress

Electra, Old Vic

Demetrios Matheou

Kristin Scott Thomas continues her sensational partnership with Ian Rickson in Sophocles

Seminar, Hampstead Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Comedy vehicle for Roger Allam is enjoyable, but not at all thought-provoking

Single Spies, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Ismene Brown

Alan Bennett's 'spy' plays about Burgess and Blunt continue to be relevant

Next Fall, Southwark Playhouse

Marianka Swain

American play exploring religion and homosexuality needs a bolder angle

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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