tue 28/04/2015

theatre reviews, news & interviews

American Buffalo, Wyndham's Theatre

Demetrios Matheou

From the great, gasp-inducing rush of colour when the curtain opens on American Buffalo to the embrace that closes it, this revival of David Mamet’s career-making rummage through the junkyard of the American Dream has you in a vice-like grip. It’s been eagerly anticipated, and doesn’t disappoint.Most great plays have an air of having just been written. American Buffalo is now 40 years old, yet speaks loudly and painfully about the state we’re in today. While a number of our bankers and...

Ahnen, Tanztheater Wuppertal Pina Bausch, Sadler's Wells

Jenny Gilbert

You’re already in the land of the unpredictable with Pina Bausch. Creating unease was her métier. But when she pulls a gag intended to convince you that something has gone badly wrong on stage, and then it really does, the discombobulation is profound.When stage hands brought on a portable ballet barre, some 110 minutes into Thursday night’s opening performance of Ahnen (German for “ancestors”, but also “foreboding”), a few hearts among the Sadler’s Wells audience may have leapt: ah,...

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

The trouble with the general election is that while everybody talks about money, nobody talks about ideas. We know the price of everything, but the...

Clarion, Arcola Theatre

Marianka Swain

“Fury Over Sharia Law For Toddlers!” No, not a prime example of spoof headline generator Daily Mail-o-matic, but the latest piece of fantastical...

Ah, Wilderness!, Young Vic

Marianka Swain

Coming-of-age comedy, moonlit romance and a gentle folk soul: can this really be Eugene O’Neill? The master of darkness makes a surprising departure...

Who Cares, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Promenade performance of a timely new verbatim play about the NHS fails to thrive

Death of a Comedian, Soho Theatre

Veronica Lee

Few laughs in drama about stand-up comedy

Carmen Disruption, Almeida Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Simon Stephens’s new deconstruction of Bizet’s opera is strangely, feverishly beautiful

Alice's Adventures Underground, The Vaults

Marianka Swain

New subterranean Alice offers an engaging alternative journey

The Pirates of Penzance, Touring

David Nice

Where the maidens are men and every gag's a winner

Measure for Measure, Cheek by Jowl/Pushkin Theatre, Barbican

David Nice

Stark exposition, explosive consequences in strangest Russian Shakespeare

Gypsy, Savoy Theatre

David Nice

Imelda Staunton dazzles with truth and vitality in a near-perfect musical

Lampedusa, Soho Theatre

Jenny Gilbert

Ongoing tragedy of migrant deaths at sea examined in stirring new play

The School for Scandal, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Mark Kidel

Pitch-perfect Sheridan satire with present-day resonance

The Glass Protégé, Park Theatre

Marianka Swain

New play recalls historic Hollywood hypocrisies, but fails to convincingly dramatise them

The Twits, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Stage version of the Roald Dahl story is blissfully wild and finishes on an uplifting note

King Size, Theater Basel, Linbury Studio Theatre

David Nice

Promising idea of dramatised dreamsongs from all ages yields insipid results

First Person: Learning the lessons

Jonathan Guy Lewis

Jonathan Guy Lewis on his new play ‘A Level Playing Field’ - and the need to reinvent education

Olivier Awards 2015: Young Vic triumph heralds the era of the giant-killer

Marianka Swain

Risky projects and smaller subsidised theatres reign supreme

theartsdesk Q&A: Choreographer Stephen Mear

Marianka Swain

The theatrical dance dynamo talks striptease, triple threats and the power of escapism

After Electra, Tricycle Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New black comedy about family life sparkles occasionally but rather unevenly

Dead Sheep, Park Theatre

Marianka Swain

Political drama continues its reign, as Geoffrey Howe torpedoes Thatcher in a new play

Brighton Festival: The Locations That Make the Festival

Thomas H Green

A colourful guide to the 10 varied spaces inhabited by this year's eclectic festival

Abyss, Arcola Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New play about a young woman who goes missing is compelling, but slippery

Sweeney Todd, London Coliseum

David Nice

Barber, pie-maker and orchestra all predictably consummate, but the staging lacks focus

Oppenheimer, RSC, Vaudeville Theatre

Demetrios Matheou

The dawn of the Atomic Age is brought vividly to life in this dazzling new play

Why everyone should see The Mysteries from Cape Town

Jasper Rees

How a medieval play from Chester ended up in Xhosa and Zulu

The Three Lions, St James Theatre

Tom Birchenough

Farcical pratfalls as Cameron, Beckham and William preen for Britain

Princess Ida, Finborough Theatre

David Nice

Tweaked plot and lyrics muddy the waters of Gilbert and Sullivan's tricky sexist satire

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

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