thu 24/07/2014

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Six of the best: Theatre


PLAYS Hotel, National Theatre **** Polly Stenham’s brilliant new play is a terrifying thriller set in a luxury tropical resort. Until 2 AugLet The Right One In, Apollo Theatre **** A triumphant transfer for the beautiful, melancholy vampire dramaMedea, National Theatre **** An updating of Euripides which retains its mythical power. Until 4 SeptShakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre **** A joyous, ebullient adaptation whose real romance is with theatre itself. Until 25 OctSkylight,...

Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

“Comedy, and a bit with a dog.” That’s what audiences really want according to the hapless would-be impresario Mr Henslowe, and that’s certainly what they get in Lee Hall’s new stage adaptation of John Madden’s 1998 film Shakespeare in Love – several bits with a dog, in fact.There was a time when film-makers had it all their own way, pilfering freely from literature in a process which was entirely one-way. But trends have turned, and now you’re more likely to see the show-of-the-film than the...

Holy Warriors, Shakespeare’s Globe

Aleks Sierz

While it is something of a cliché to be reminded that forgetting the past is a sure way of repeating it, the problems of the Middle East are so acute...

Medea, National Theatre

Heather Neill

We know how the story ends, but then so did Euripides' first audience in Athens in 431 BC. Medea was already a familiar character of myth, a...

'Gimme a vodka and a floorplan': Elaine...

David Benedict

My (very) small haul of autographs collected as a schoolboy ran the gamut from Peter Pears to Linda McCartney but even back then I knew the classiest...

The Importance of Being Earnest, Harold Pinter Theatre

David Nice

Or the importance of doing Wilde gracefully, in sensitively handled play-within-a-play

Intimate Apparel, Park Theatre

Naima Khan

Lynn Nottage's Off Broadway hit is a London heartbreaker

Shutters, Park Theatre

Marianka Swain

Three striking American plays provide insight into female experience

In Lambeth, Southwark Playhouse

Caroline Crampton

A delightful dramatisation of a meeting between William Blake and Thomas Paine

Perseverance Drive, Bush Theatre

Aleks Sierz

A new play about religion and prejudice is just too traditional in form and content

Richard III, Trafalgar Studios

Demetrios Matheou

Martin Freeman’s smooth villainy fails to reveal the twisted depths of his hunchback king

Daytona, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Heather Neill

Maureen Lipman shines in West End transfer of post-Holocaust romantic comedy

Beryl, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Steve Clarkson

A moving drama based on the life of Yorkshire cycling legend Beryl Burton

The Crucible, Old Vic

Alexandra Coghlan

Richard Armitage stars in an intense new production of Arthur Miller's chamber drama

Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s Globe

Marianka Swain

Dominic Dromgoole’s fluent production intelligently dissects tools of persuasion

Forbidden Broadway, Menier Chocolate Factory

Edward Seckerson

The stars cut down to size by scabrous musical spoof

Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Play about the miners’ strike is powerfully masculine, but doesn't avoid sentimentality

Great Britain, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Richard Bean’s timely play about phone hacking and corrupt tabloids is fun but too long

Mametz, National Theatre Wales

Elin Williams

Owen Sheers stages a famous Welsh battle in a field in Monmouthshire

Carousel, Arcola Theatre

Marianka Swain

Rodgers and Hammerstein classic sings out with renewed vigour

First Person: Gotta Have Faith?

Robin Soans

Playwright Robin Soans introduces his drama about a family divided by faith

Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, Jermyn Street Theatre

Caroline Crampton

Athol Fugard's 1972 work forms part of an intriguing season of South African plays

Idomeneus, Gate Theatre

Naima Khan

Greek tragedy makes too much of the mechanics of story-telling

10 Questions for Artistic Director John McGrath

Jasper Rees

All of Wales is a stage for the boss of National Theatre Wales

The Valley of Astonishment, Young Vic

Alexandra Coghlan

A play about the human brain that gets stuck in its own head

David Schneider Makes Stalin Laugh

David Schneider

The comedian and playwright introduces his play about Yiddish actors in the Soviet Union

Adler & Gibb, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Tim Crouch’s new play is a thrilling experiment that stumbles at the final hurdle

Skylight, Wyndham's Theatre

Matt Wolf

David Hare's domestic epic dazzles anew

Hobson's Choice, Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

Heather Neill

From 1880s to 1960s: Northern feminist comedy gets a mini-skirt makeover

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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