thu 31/07/2014

theatre reviews, news & interviews

A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic

Demetrios Matheou

The latest production of Tennessee Williams’s sultry, brutal yet poetic masterpiece is mainstream theatre that dares to go out on a limb. Directed by Benedict Andrews, it may occasionally miss a beat, but its risk-taking comes with an innate sense of the play’s scorching pathos and an unnerving, dare one say exhilarating taste for the jugular that matches that of its primal male.Gillian Anderson is Blanche DuBois, the Southern Belle whose sanity is fading with her fortunes, riding the streetcar...

Porgy and Bess, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

David Nice

It should work as pure musical theatre. Yet what precisely is Gershwin’s - or rather “The Gershwins’”, as this title frames it, though Ira wasn’t quite Gilbert or Brecht - Porgy and Bess? An opera? Trevor Nunn made the three-hour-plus score, much cut here, dazzle at Glyndebourne and Covent Garden. Michael Tilson Thomas’s Barbican espousal of bleeding chunks alongside Berg’s Lulu, left as a torso in the year of Porgy’s premiere, 1935, even put me in mind of the sheer generous optimism of Wagner’...

A Bright Room Called Day, Southwark Playhouse

Marianka Swain

The pivotal early 1930s period in which Herr Hitler overcame strong if fractured left-wing opposition should make for meaty drama, but the sluggish...

Natural Affection, Jermyn Street Theatre

Siobhan Murphy

The work of William Inge doesn't get much of a look-in on British stages, but the American dramatist's depictions of frustrated aspirations and...

The Nether, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

There is so much public anxiety about paedophiles on the internet that it’s surprising that so few plays tackle the issue. Now Los Angeles playwright...

Six of the best: Theatre


Let the right Mormons in: a bit of everything in theartsdesk's tips

Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A joyous, ebullient adaptation whose real romance is with theatre itself

Holy Warriors, Shakespeare’s Globe

Aleks Sierz

New play about the Crusades fails to communicate the lessons of history

Medea, National Theatre

Heather Neill

An updating of Euripides which retains its mythical power

'Gimme a vodka and a floorplan': Elaine Stritch remembered

David Benedict

Brief encounters with the legendary New York diva

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

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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