sun 14/02/2016

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Nell Gwynn, Apollo Theatre

Aleks Sierz

As a subject for drama, theatre history is always popular in the West End. Between Mr Foote’s Other Leg, which has recently closed at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, and Mrs Henderson Presents, which opens soon at the Noël Coward Theatre, comes Nell Gwynn, a West End transfer of the popular show from Shakespeare’s Globe, with rising star Gemma Arterton as the eponymous heroine. But is this rowdy Restoration romp deserving of the lavish praise it has already garnered?The story of Nell, which begins...

The End of Longing, Playhouse Theatre

Marianka Swain

Jack is an alcoholic. Stephanie is a whore. Joseph is stupid. Stevie is a broody neurotic. These identifiers are proudly proclaimed in the first minute of Matthew Perry’s debut play, but if you weren’t paying attention, fear not: they will be repeated, loudly and often. This is theatre as group therapy, and there is nothing left to the imagination.Though Perry (pictured below with the cast) has been wary of calling The End of Longing autobiographical, it’s not hard to read his...

Toast, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Ismene Brown

If one says, accurately, that Richard Bean’s Toast is a comedy about Hull’s lost bread industry, trade unions and the poor working man, you will...

Six of the best: Theatre


PLAYSMa Rainey's Black Bottom, National Theatre ★★★★★ August Wilson's Broadway debut dazzles anew. Until 18 MayEscaped Alone, Royal Court...

Battlefield, Young Vic Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Legendary director Peter Brook makes theatre that teaches audiences to be human. Now 90 years old, he brings his latest project to London from Paris...

The Winter's Tale, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Alexandra Coghlan

Shakespeare's tale is told quietly here but with tremendous charm and impact

Rabbit Hole, Hampstead Theatre

Marianka Swain

David Lindsay-Abaire's examination of grief is smart and sincere, but too studied

The Master Builder, Old Vic

David Nice

False notes mar Ibsen's unsettling mix of the real and the supernatural

Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, National Theatre

Matt Wolf

August Wilson's Broadway debut dazzles anew

Red Velvet, Garrick Theatre

Marianka Swain

Adrian Lester is a blazing triumph as pioneering 19th-century actor Ira Aldridge

Jeepers Creepers, Leicester Square Theatre

Veronica Lee

Tedious bio-play about Marty Feldman

The police stopped 'To be or not to be' and asked to see our permits

Matthew Romain

A company member reveals what happened when the Globe's world tour of Hamlet performed for refugees from Central African Republic

Escaped Alone, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New Caryl Churchill play creates a fantasy world where banality is infected by horror

The Mother, Tricycle Theatre

Marianka Swain

Florian Zeller's desolate farce tackles maternal devotion and mental instability

Pink Mist, Bush Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Verse play about Afghanistan campaign soldiers is both harrowing and a touch too polished

Yen, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Powerful play about brothers comes storming in from Manchester, trailing tenderness and terror

Herons, Lyric Hammersmith

Aleks Sierz

Unmoving revival of Simon Stephens’s teen-bully play sacrifices emotional truth to directorial gimmicks

The Rolling Stone, Orange Tree Theatre

Tom Birchenough

Nicely textured family drama centred on homosexuality and the Church in Uganda

The Weir, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

David Kettle

Superb new production of Conor McPherson's play focuses on the unbreakable bonds of community

4000 Days, Park Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New drama about amnesia is based on a good idea, but too bland to stay long in the memory

This Will End Badly, Southwark Playhouse

Aleks Sierz

Trio of monologues about suicidal masculinity in crisis roars its way through your head

P’yongyang, Finborough Theatre

Tom Birchenough

Confident ensemble work propels new play that attempts to go inside North Korea

Seven sides of Alan Rickman


He was much more than one of the great British villains, as these clips demonstrate

Grey Gardens, Southwark Playhouse

Matt Wolf

Broadway novelty scores anew in London

Guys and Dolls, Savoy Theatre

Matt Wolf

Beloved Broadway favourite offers up New Year bliss

Best of 2015: Theatre

Matt Wolf

The Court rallied, Imelda sang out, and some centuries-old titles got reminted anew

Dr Seuss's The Lorax, Old Vic

Matt Wolf

Eco-friendly holiday show is alternately fun and wearisome

The Insatiable, Inflatable Candylion, National Theatre Wales

Dylan Moore

Psychedelic theatre-gig for adults and children is a roaring success

Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse

David Nice

Christopher Hampton's adaptation of a deadly 18th century classic triumphs again

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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