fri 06/03/2015

theatre reviews, news & interviews

First Person: The Meaning of Mermaids

Polly Teale

As a child I was bewitched by the tale of The Little Mermaid. I had it on a record and would play it and sit and sob on the settee, much to the bewilderment of my brothers. It wasn’t until years later that I found myself wondering what it was about this dark coming of age story, about a mermaid who had her tongue cut out, that spoke to me so powerfully. Rereading the story years later I realise that the story is about the experience of puberty and the self-consciousness that comes with it, a...

Game, Almeida Theatre

Aleks Sierz

This venue is one of the coolest in London — and its regular audience is both trendy and well-heeled. In the foyer, you get jostled by a better class of person. For this immersive show, written by the prolific and ever-inventive Mike Bartlett, the audience arrives and, after getting its tickets, is divided into four groups: A, B, C and D. Each group is then summoned by tannoy to enter the theatre though a different entrance. Yes, this is not a theatre show — it is a game show.Once inside, we...

Ruddigore, Charles Court Opera, King's Head...

David Nice

How can a feisty village dame duetting “lackaday”s with the mounted head of a long-lost, nay, long-dead love be so deuced affecting? Ascribe it...

The Rise and Shine of Comrade Fiasco, Gate Theatre

Marianka Swain

The quest for liberation is popular dramatic terrain, but the Gate Theatre’s "Freedom Burning" season shifts focus to the aftermath. What do you do...

Three Men in a Boat, The Original Theatre Company...

Ismene Brown

It’s a hostage to fortune really to create a play on one of the funniest books ever written, and a Victorian one at that. Still, Jerome K Jerome’s...

Lippy, Young Vic

Marianka Swain

An unconventional meditation on storytelling confounds

Man and Superman, National Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A theatrical trip to Hell has some heavenly moments

The Mikvah Project, The Yard, Hackney

Jenny Gilbert

New play about Jewish faith and the limits of love makes a splash

Romeo and Juliet, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Mark Kidel

Teen spirit, stirred but not deeply shaking

Beautiful: The Carole King Musical, Aldwych Theatre

Matt Wolf

With Katie Brayben as the prolific songwriter, a star is born in London as on Broadway

Kill Me Now, Park Theatre

Heather Neill

Greg Wise in a searing Canadian import about disability, parenting and mortality

Multitudes, Tricycle Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New play about political and religious conflict in a Bradford family is powerfully emotional

Crouch, Touch, Pause, Engage, National Theatre Wales

Gary Raymond

Alfie Agonistes: gay rugby play needs to come out more as a drama

Closer, Donmar Warehouse

Aleks Sierz

Rufus Sewell in a revival of the 1997 classic that begins uncertainly before romping home

Farinelli and the King, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Alexandra Coghlan

A witty and moving new play is a timely reminder of just why art matters

Happy Days, Young Vic

David Nice

The great Juliet Stevenson mesmerises in Beckett's tragic-heroic role of a lifetime

Muswell Hill, Park Theatre

Marianka Swain

Torben Betts interrogates First World malaise via the dinner party from hell

'I'm the photographer. Any nudity? Any fighting?'

Bill Knight

theartsdesk's theatre snapper exposes the secrets of the trade

theartsdesk in Moscow: A Bewitching Eugene Onegin

Fisun Güner

A magical realisation of Pushkin's verse novel that's coming to London

The Life and Times of Fanny Hill, Bristol Old Vic

Mark Kidel

Lewd 18th-century classic re-imagined for postmodern times

Richard III, Wales Millennium Centre

Gary Raymond

All-female Shakespeare migrates around the rafters - but to what end?

Gods and Monsters, Southwark Playhouse

Jenny Gilbert

New play about the last days of 1930s Hollywood director James Whale

How To Hold Your Breath, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

National treasure Maxine Peake stars in a terrifically satirical nightmare fantasy

Boa, Trafalgar Studios

Marianka Swain

Real-life theatrical couple impresses in this comprehensive study of a marriage

Little Light, Orange Tree Theatre

Marianka Swain

Tragic loss devastates in Alice Birch's gut punch of a play

The Singing Stones, Arcola Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Trilogy of shorts about women in the Arab Spring is celebratory, but too long and too depressing

The Last of the De Mullins, Jermyn Street Theatre

Marianka Swain

Rediscovered Edwardian play offers surprisingly robust feminist discourse

Six Characters in Search of an Author, Théâtre de la Ville-Paris, Barbican

David Nice

Fluid ensemble and design create an uncanny world in Pirandello's truth-versus-artifice drama

Di and Viv and Rose, Vaudeville Theatre

Marianka Swain

A frank, funny and deeply felt meditation on defining friendships

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

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

Gift Horse, Fourth Plinth

An equine skeleton with connections to the City takes up residence in Trafa...

OlliOlli 2: Welcome to Olliwood

Twitchy skating game gets under your skin like road rash


Neill Blomkamp's latest sci-fi actioner is a well-intentioned misadven...

White Bird in a Blizzard

Rising star Shailene Woodley is at the centre of a disappointing teen drama

First Person: The Meaning of Mermaids

The Shared Experience director discovers a fresh path into the underwater w...

Banished, BBC Two

Jimmy McGovern's colonial convict drama grips from the off


Kim Longinotto's latest is a lacerating documentary of Chicago's...

Mari Kvien Brunvoll, Kings Place

Norwegian improvising vocalist travels through hit songs via the subconscio...

Game, Almeida Theatre

Mike Bartlett’s new play about the housing crisis shoots from the hip

CD: Fairport Convention - Myths & Heroes

Old school folk-rockers prove they can withstand the test of time