wed 04/05/2016

theatre reviews, news & interviews

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Middle Temple Hall

David Nice

You rarely see a full production of Shakespeare's dream play so magical it brings tears to the eyes. But then you don't often get 42 players and 14 voices joining the cast to adorn the text with Mendelssohn's bewitching incidental music, plus the Overture composed 16 years earlier – certainly the most perfect masterpiece ever written by a 17-year-old. Add a fluent ensemble of actors, a sense of high style in costume design and, above a simple stage with audience on three sides and the orchestra...

The Iliad, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

David Kettle

And so, it’s farewell to Mark Thomson with his final production as artistic director of Edinburgh’s Lyceum Theatre, after 13 years in the job (incoming artistic director David Grieg unveils his new season next week). With Homer’s The Iliad, in a new dramatisation by Clydebank-born playwright Chris Hannan, Thomson is going out with a bang – it’s a big, bold show that tackles one of our culture-defining myths, albeit a lesser-known one (‘the greatest story never told" is how the goddess Hera...

Elegy, Donmar Warehouse

Aleks Sierz

Playwright Nick Payne has carved out a distinctive dramatic territory – neuroscience. In his big 2012 hit, Constellations, he explored the effect on...

Travels with My Aunt, Chichester Festival Theatre

Bella Todd

Smoking weed on the Orient Express. Drinking at a brothel in Paris. Tricking the military police in Istanbul. Smuggling a Da Vinci into Paraguay. As...

Show Boat, New London Theatre

Matt Wolf

The Cotton Blossom looks mighty fine in its latest London iteration, Daniel Evans's winning Sheffield Theatre revival of Show Boat joining the...

Doctor Faustus, Duke of York's Theatre

Marianka Swain

Jamie Lloyd's contemporary take is crowded, lurid and weightless

Kings of War, Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Barbican

David Nice

Ivo van Hove's lucid, searing distillation of five Shakespeare history plays

Shakespeare: The Top 10 Deaths

Thomas H Green

Four centuries on from the Bard's passing, director Tim Crouch picks his favourite death scenes

Funny Girl, Savoy Theatre

Marianka Swain

Sheridan Smith is the greatest star in a winning West End transfer

Six of the best: Theatre


Annie Baker's microscopic epic leads theartsdesk's stage tips

The Flick, National Theatre

Marianka Swain

Annie Baker makes the ordinary extraordinary

My Mother Said I Never Should, St James Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Spirited revival of the 1980s feminist classic is a bit shrill, yet also quietly moving

All's Well That Ends Well, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Mark Kidel

A Shakespeare 'problem play' made good

The Sugar-Coated Bullets of the Bourgeoisie, Arcola Theatre

Jenny Gilbert

New play about the history of modern China is a bore

Another World: Losing Our Children to Islamic State, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New verbatim play about the terror state is worthy, but completely undramatic

Guys and Dolls, Phoenix Theatre

Marianka Swain

The all-time Broadway great remains a reassuringly safe bet

In the Bar of a Tokyo Hotel, Charing Cross Theatre

Tom Birchenough

Rare Tennessee Williams rakes the marital coals

Boy, Almeida Theatre

Matt Wolf

Staging concept jostles content in kaleidoscopic view of London life

Arnold Wesker: His Life and Career in 10 Scenes

Jasper Rees

The angry young playwright's career was as dramatic off the stage as on

The Brink, Orange Tree Theatre

Marianka Swain

An expressionistic lesson in acute millennial anxiety

The Caretaker, Old Vic

Marianka Swain

Timothy Spall leads an empathetic but overly broad Pinter revival

X, Royal Court Theatre

Marianka Swain

Alistair McDowall’s journey through time and space is beguiling and maddening

Sunset Boulevard, London Coliseum

David Nice

Glenn Close and company do much to fill Lloyd Webber's half-empty vessel

'What’s he doing - this kid - where’s he going?'

Leo Butler

'Boy', the Almeida's latest new work, grapples with poverty. Its playwright introduces it

How the Other Half Loves, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Veronica Lee

Ayckbourn comedy lacks trademark zip

Les Blancs, National Theatre

Tom Birchenough

Lorraine Hansberry’s final play leaves issues unresolved, but Yaël Farber's production excels

Long Day's Journey Into Night, Bristol Old Vic

Mark Kidel

Lesley Manville shines in O'Neill's dark modern classic

The Fifth Column, Southwark Playhouse

Aleks Sierz

Ernest Hemingway’s one and only play is verbally inert and dramatically dead

Bug, Found111

Marianka Swain

James Norton and Kate Fleetwood share delusions in this intimate Tracy Letts revival

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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Eugène Delacroix, 'Lion Hunt'(detail), 1861 © The Art Institute of Chicago, Illinois


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