sun 23/07/2017

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Globe review - swaggering Shakespeare with a comic Spanish accent

Alexandra Coghlan

When I say that Matthew Dunster’s Much Ado is revolutionary I’m not talking about the many textual updatings and rewritings, not the lashings of PJ Harvey, nor even the gunfire – weaponised punchlines that cut through the colour and noise of the production.

Dessert, Southwark Playhouse review - undercooked and overwrought

Matt Wolf

"What is this, Saving Private Ryan?" a character randomly queries well into the actor Oliver Cotton's new play, Dessert. Well, more like a modern-day An Inspector Calls on steroids, with the volume turned up so high in Trevor Nunn's production that you don't half believe the questioner's wife when she talks about a state of affairs that could be heard all the way to France.

A Tale of Two Cities, Regent’s Park Open Air...

Susan Sheahan

Much loved, yes. But Dickens’s novel is probably little read by modern audiences and so a chance to see a new adaptation of this tale of discontent,...

Enter theartsdesk's Young Reviewer of the...


The Hospital Club’s annual h.Club100 awards celebrate the most influential and innovative people working in the UK’s creative industries, with...

The Best Musicals in London


Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre ★★★ Disney's latest blockbuster film-turned-stage show remains airborne – justAn American in Paris, Dominion...

The Best Plays in London


From Angels in America to Harry Potter: theartsdesk's stage tips

'You win in the end!' Deborah Bruce introduces her play 'The House They Grew Up In'

Deborah Bruce

How a new play at Chichester Festival Theatre was inspired by a conversation overheard in a café

Bodies, Royal Court review – pregnant with meaning

Aleks Sierz

New drama about surrogacy is rich in metaphor and fraught with conflict

Queen Anne, Theatre Royal Haymarket review - slow, long and dull

Alexandra Coghlan

Helen Edmundson's new history play gets bogged down in period detail

The Tempest, Barbican Theatre review - sound and fury at the expense of sense

James Woodall

The RSC's tech-powered production of Shakespeare's island play suffers badly after transfer from thrust to proscenium

The Mentor, Vaudeville Theatre review - having fun with artistic integrity

Heather Neill

F Murray Abraham crackles as a temperamental playwright

Matthew Dunster on adapting 'A Tale of Two Cities'

Matthew Dunster

Across the centuries: finding contemporary London in Dickens's French Revolution novel

Committee review - we're all on trial in new Kids Company musical

Marianka Swain

Investigation into the charity's downfall is slickly dramatised at Donmar Warehouse

10 Questions for actress Tracy-Ann Oberman: 'it's made me pretty fearless'

David Benedict

The TV and theatre star charts her route from 'EastEnders' and 'Toast of London' to 'Fiddler on the Roof'

The Wind in the Willows, London Palladium review - an effortful slog

David Benedict

Kenneth Grahame-inspired musical starring Rufus Hound is at once overly perky and dramatically weightless

Mr Gillie, Finborough Theatre review - theatrical buried treasure

Jenny Gilbert

Scottish rediscovery: James Bridie's 1950 play rings true today

Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill, Wyndham's Theatre review – searing stuff

Matt Wolf

Audra McDonald's long-awaited West End debut deserves to take the town

10 Questions for George Stiles and Anthony Drewe: 'we are optimistic people'

Jasper Rees

The makers of quintessentially English musicals on heading back to the Edwardian era for 'The Wind in the Willows' at the Palladium

Ink, Almeida Theatre review - The Sun rises while show sinks

Aleks Sierz

Rupert Murdoch saga by ‘This House’ playwright is too detailed and overblown

Gloria, Hampstead Theatre review – pretty glorious

Matt Wolf

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins's Off Broadway hit makes a vibrant crossing to London starring Colin Morgan

Terror, Lyric Hammersmith review – more gimmick than drama

Aleks Sierz

Audience participation cannot save a trial that suffocates in abstraction

Bat Out of Hell, Coliseum review - Jim Steinman's rockin' dystopia hits the stage

Adam Sweeting

It's opera, but not as we know it

Hir, Bush Theatre review – transgender home is sub-prime

Aleks Sierz

New American satire about families only occasionally hits the mark

Kiss Me, Trafalgar Studios review - Richard Bean two-hander is affecting if slight

Will Rathbone

Onetime National Theatre hit-maker offers a decided change-of-pace

Hamlet, Harold Pinter Theatre review - dislocatingly fresh makeover

Alexandra Coghlan

Robert Icke finds new truths in old words in this captivating production starring Andrew Scott

Tristan & Yseult, Shakespeare's Globe review - terrific visual and musical élan

Jenny Gilbert

Emma Rice bows out in riotous style - Shakespeare would have cheered her

Anatomy of a Suicide, Royal Court review - devastatingly brilliant

Aleks Sierz

Katie Mitchell returns with a powerful account of depression and despair

Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre review - foot-stompingly pleasurable

Aleks Sierz

Inua Ellams' new play about fatherhood and masculinity has an enjoyably global reach

Common, National Theatre review - Anne-Marie Duff fails to ignite

Aleks Sierz

Epic new play about the Enclosures gets bogged down in obscurity

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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