fri 21/10/2016

theatre reviews, news & interviews

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer, National Theatre

Matt Wolf

Some have responded to the very notion of a musical about cancer as if the idea itself were breaking some unwritten code of what is permissible to put on stage – which seems a bit rich given that the same genre has accommodated pieces about AIDS (Falsettos, now being revived on Broadway), cannibalism (Sweeney Todd) and even singing-dancing pussycats (um, Cats).At the same time, the National Theatre has among the various strings to its capacious bow an interest in experimenting with musical form...

Half a century of the Roundhouse

Marcus Davey

We've got a lot to celebrate in 2016: 50 years since the Roundhouse became an arts centre and 10 years of transforming young lives through creativity. In celebration of this momentous year we embarked on a journey of discovery to uncover the stories from train-enthusiast accounts of our humble beginnings to real-life high-wire love stories, from week-long raves in the 1990s to politically-charged spoken word in the 2000s. So many incredible stories have emerged from the walls of this beautiful...

Blue Heart, Orange Tree Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Q: How do you review a show that includes lines that ask “can my mouth swallow my mouth”? A: With difficulty, but I should be okay as long as I...

Six of the best: Theatre


PLAYSCrude, Shed 36, Port of Dundee ★★★★★ Sprawling, swaggering exploration of the seductive, destructive power of oil. Until 23 OctNo Man's Land,...

The Red Barn, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

At first, I was a bit confused by the play’s title. After all, David Hare gave his 1998 adaptation of Arthur Schnitzler’s La Ronde the moniker of The...

One Night in Miami..., Donmar Warehouse

Veronica Lee

Engaging study of pivotal figures in modern African American history

Oil, Almeida Theatre

Matt Wolf

Ella Hickson's historical picaresque needs a lot more energy

First Person: 'Schizophrenia is still a taboo subject'

Vladimir Shcherban

Award-winning director introduces Belarus Free Theatre's new play about mental health

A Man of Good Hope, Young Vic

Alexandra Coghlan

Isango bring all their signature energy and genre-bending skill to this adaptation

Shopping and F***ing, Lyric Hammersmith

Aleks Sierz

Twentieth-anniversary revival of 1990s zeitgeist play is fun, but unfeeling

Crude, Shed 36, Port of Dundee

David Kettle

Sprawling, swaggering exploration of the seductive, destructive power of oil

The Dresser, Duke of York’s Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Great work from Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith saves a nostalgic drama

Lunch/The Bow of Ulysses, Trafalgar Studios

Jenny Gilbert

Rarely visited Berkoff double bill shows its age, but still has disturbing power

First Person: A Man of Good Hope

Jonny Steinberg

On staging the true story of a refugee’s epic quest across Africa, brought to life by the Isango Ensemble

Murder Ballad, Arts Theatre

Marianka Swain

A starry cast elevates an insubstantial new rock musical

The Suppliant Women, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

David Kettle

Flawed but fascinating Aeschylus adaptation from David Greig

Travesties, Menier Chocolate Factory

Aleks Sierz

Tom Hollander stars in fiendishly clever Stoppard classic

No's Knife, Old Vic

David Nice

Lisa Dwan transfixes as Beckett's out-of-time exile

theartsdesk Q&A: Playwright Katori Hall

Jasper Rees

'The Mountaintop', the Olivier-winning play about Martin Luther King, has two new productions. Its author talks about its genesis

Floyd Collins, Wilton's Music Hall

Edward Seckerson

Adam Guettel's Off Broadway masterpiece brings its bounty to London

The Libertine, Haymarket Theatre

Aleks Sierz

'History Boy' Dominic Cooper triumphs as the Restoration rake Rochester

Imogen, Shakespeare's Globe

David Nice

Sound and vision blazon the new regime, but this is vintage Shakespeare

Pilgrims, The Yard Theatre

Aleks Sierz

The metaphor of mountain climbing resonates in new sex-war drama

Good Canary, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Jenny Gilbert

John Malkovich proves himself an ace director in addiction drama

The Greater Game, Southwark Playhouse

Veronica Lee

First World War football drama misfires

No Man's Land, Wyndham's Theatre

Marianka Swain

McKellen, Stewart and Pinter combine for a haunting, unmissable production

First Person: 'Leaving the house can feel like walking into battle'

Veronika Szabo

In 'War Paint', four women transform themselves for a night out. A performer explains how

Who's afraid of Edward Albee?

Jasper Rees

Remembering the playwright who fearlessly looked under the surface of the American Dream

Things I Know To Be True, Lyric Hammersmith

Marianka Swain

Love hurts in Andrew Bovell's shattering family portrait

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


Controversial, provocative and daring, STRINDBERG’S WOMEN: THE STRONGER and STORM, comes in a unique double bill to Jermyn Street Theatre from 2-26 November.


Two short plays by Strindberg, one entirely new to London, each focus on a vibrant female character based on one of his ex-wives. In THE STRONGER, wife number one tackles her rival with unforgettable energy and strength in the only play of its era with an all woman cast.


In STORM, an ageing, lonely and reflective man (Strindberg) is visited by ex-wife number three and their daughter; tempted by her to give love and marriage another try, he realises he cannot rise to the challenge and must live and die single and sorrowful.


Both plays are translated by the late Michael Meyer, in whose honour this unusual season is being staged.


To find out more and book tickets, click here.

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?


Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

Martyn Brabbins: a safe pair of hands at ENO

Noble choice for new Music Director under difficult circumstances

I, Daniel Blake

Ken Loach dramatises a nation's shame at the Department of Work and Pe...

A Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer, National Theat...

Musical about "the big C" soars after the interval

The Nose, Royal Opera

Not quite as sharp as a pen, Kosky's Shostakovich has its funny moment...

Ouija: Origin of Evil

Less could have been more in horror prequel

Mafia III

An offer you can refuse

Rodin and Dance: The Essence of Movement, Courtauld Gallery

Inspiring show highlights the sculptor's experimental studies of the f...

Half a century of the Roundhouse

The director of the charismatic venue celebrates its history and its work t...

Blu-ray: Pool of London

Multi-level crime thriller documenting post-World War Two London and racism

Jack Reacher: Never Go Back

Tom Cruise returns as the rootless hero, but he still hasn't found a p...