sun 02/08/2015

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre

David Nice

This is the real Greek, bloody-fantastical thing. After the fascinating but flawed attempt to bring Aeschylus’s Oresteia into the 21st century, the Almeida has turned to a more tradition-conscious kind of experiment with Euripides’ last and greatest masterpiece. James Macdonald’s production daringly fuses operatic settings of the essential Bacchic choruses by Orlando Gough, stunningly executed by 10 women, a mostly faithful translation rather than a “new version” by Anne Carson blending irony...

Of Thee I Sing, RFH

Matt Wolf

Satire may famously be what on Broadway closes Saturday night, but last night's concert performance of the Gershwin brothers' Of Thee I Sing found many patrons fleeing the Festival Hall at the interval. The culprit lay in sound issues that took the aural equivalent of a pneumatic drill to a featherweight piece that needs tender treatment if it is to flourish as the original did against the odds. Rarely performed today (New York did a concert version of its own in 2006), this was in...

Six of the best: Theatre


PLAYSA Number, Young Vic Theatre **** Powerful revival of Caryl Churchill’s 2002 play is both well acted and thrillingly contemporary. Until 15...

First Person: Dear Lupin

Michael Simkins

When I got the call enquiring whether I’d like to adapt The Sunday Times Humour Book of the Year Dear Lupin for the stage, the first thing I did was...

Three Days in the Country, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

The trouble with the classics is that they are long, complex and difficult. But today’s sensibility favours the quick, simple and easy. So it is no...

Prom 11: Fiddler on the Roof, Grange Park Opera

David Nice

Bryn Terfel's effortless Tevye hampered by amplification as the shtetl musical hits the Proms

Richard II, Shakespeare's Globe

Ismene Brown

The Wilton Diptych meets Monty Python, and Richard II comes to provocative life

Extract: The Time Traveller’s Guide to British Theatre

Aleks Sierz and Lia Ghilardi

Take a ride through 400 years of British theatre with our fictional guides

Listed: Precocious Writers


As the Royal Court introduces some very young playwrights, we celebrate the great child authors

The Gathered Leaves, Park Theatre

Heather Neill

An endearing, old-fashioned family drama featuring real-life parents and their offspring

What's It All About?, Menier Chocolate Factory

Matt Wolf

Off Broadway hit shines in Off West End transfer

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Garsington Opera

Stephen Walsh

Shakespeare filleted but partly fleshed back out by Mendelssohn's lovely music

Constellations, Trafalgar Studios

Marianka Swain

Nick Payne's revived quantum multiverse romcom is out of this world

The Mentalists, Wyndham's Theatre

Veronica Lee

Stephen Merchant makes an engaging stage debut

theartsdesk Q&A: Actor Roger Rees

Jasper Rees

Remembering the star of Nicholas Nickleby and much else, who has died aged 71

Lesere, Jermyn Street Theatre

Tom Birchenough

Traumatic memories of World War One haunt new drama of control

The House of Mirrors & Hearts, Arcola

Jenny Gilbert

New musical about grief and family dysfunction breaks the mould

The Invisible, Bush Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Well-meaning new show about cuts to legal aid is thin on plot, relationships and ideas

A Number, Young Vic Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Powerful revival of Caryl Churchill’s 2002 play is both well acted and thrillingly contemporary

Sinatras on Sinatra: 'He was a lonely soul'

Jasper Rees

Ol' Blue Eyes is back at the Palladium. His daughters Nancy and Tina remember Frank

Orson's Shadow, Southwark Playhouse

Marianka Swain

Dramatisation of Welles and Olivier’s backstage feud is one for the superfans

theartsdesk Q&A: Director Michael Longhurst

Jasper Rees

The stellar young theatremaker who is suddenly everywhere

Measure for Measure, Shakespeare's Globe

Alexandra Coghlan

Dromgoole lets the light into Shakespeare's darkest comedy in this new production

The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

This affectionate production of a classic does what it says on the tin

{150}, National Theatre Wales/Theatr Genedlaethol Cymru

Dylan Moore

Bold and technically dazzling, the energy of Marc Rees’ Patagonian tale flags too often

Positive: Introducing a comedy about HIV/AIDS


Playwright Shaun Kitchener and director Harry Burton discuss their new production at the Park Theatre

The Trial, Young Vic

David Nice

Richard Jones, Nick Gill and Rory Kinnear turn the dramatic screw on Kafka's nightmare story

Keeping up with the Joneses

Jasper Rees

The epic story of Welsh Patagonia finds Wales's two national theatres collaborating

The Seagull, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Marianka Swain

Strikingly staged Chekhov continues a strong season in the park

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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The Independent



Time Out


The international five-star smash hit production of Orwell's dystopian masterpiece 1984 is now back in London for a limited West End season. Now seen by a quarter of a million people, theatre's most powerful event will run until 5 September. Don't miss out.


April, 1984. 13:00. Comrade 6079, Winston Smith, thinks a thought, starts a diary, and falls in love. But Big Brother is always watching.


Orwell's ideas have become our ideas; his fiction is often said to be our reality. The "definitive book of the 20th century" (The Guardian) is re-examined in this radical and much lauded staging exploring surveillance, identity and why Orwell's vision of the future is as relevant now as ever.


For more information and to book tickets, visit 


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