mon 20/10/2014

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Gypsy, Chichester Festival Theatre

Edward Seckerson

There’s a moment of stunned silence in Imelda Staunton’s storming Mama Rose at the Chichester Festival Theatre, a long, long, moment where neither speaking nor singing she conclusively demonstrates what a difference a great actress makes in this most iconic of musical theatre roles.Just like her mother and husband before, her daughter June has run off with the act’s hoofer Tulsa (excellent Dan Burton) and she (Rose) sits with the letter taking in all its implications. Suddenly everything else...

Six of the best: Theatre


PLAYSElectra, Old Vic **** Kristin Scott Thomas continues her sensational partnership with Ian Rickson in Sophocles. Until 20 DecKing Charles III, Wyndham's Theatre **** Pigott-Smith is the jewel in the crown of a provocative political comedy. Until 29 NovOur Town, Almeida Theatre **** Off Broadway revival hops the Atlantic, its invention and power intact. Until 29 NovThe Cherry Orchard, Young Vic **** Katie Mitchell delivers Chekhov's masterpiece with devastating power. Until 29 NovThe...

Our Town, Almeida Theatre

Matt Wolf

A template of the American theatre gets dusted off to quietly devastating effect in Our Town, the 1938 Thornton Wilder play that has never been...

The Cherry Orchard, Young Vic

Marianka Swain

Ghosts are walking at the Young Vic. Katie Mitchell’s stark, startling production of Chekhov’s final lament is not just an evocation of a lost era,...

East Is East, Trafalgar Studios

Aleks Sierz

When it first opened in October 1996, Ayub Khan Din’s East Is East was hyped as the best Asian play since, well, ever. And audiences flocked to see...

10 Questions for Playwright Simon Stephens

Marianka Swain

The celebrated dramatist on adapting his idol Chekhov’s seminal work

Here Lies Love, National Theatre

Matt Wolf

David Byrne musical about Imelda Marcos offers razzle-dazzle, disco and no shoe gags

Uncle Vanya, St James Theatre

Marianka Swain

Anya Reiss plays safe with her modern updating of Chekhov

Romeo and Juliet, Sherman Cymru, Cardiff

Elin Williams

Wales's newest artistic director Rachel O'Riordan opens with an energetic blast of the Bard

Peer Gynt, Théâtre National de Nice, Barbican Theatre

David Nice

Irina Brook's song-and-dance Ibsen entertains, but misses the darker shades

The Distance, Orange Tree Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New play powerfully tackles one of the last taboos — women who leave their kids

Henry IV, Donmar Warehouse

Alexandra Coghlan

Strong performances carry Phyllida Lloyd's all-female Shakespeare

Notes from Underground, Print Room

Tom Birchenough

Harry Lloyd frantically engaged with one of Dostoevsky's less sympathetic characters

Warde Street, Park Theatre

Marianka Swain

New play inspired by the 7/7 tragedy trades reflection for sensationalism

Speed-the-Plow, Playhouse Theatre

Marianka Swain

Mamet revival and its star Lindsay Lohan escape disaster, but fail to deliver a triumph

Rachel, Finborough Theatre

Caroline Crampton

Revival of the first-ever play by an African-American women struggles to impress

Electra, Old Vic

Demetrios Matheou

Kristin Scott Thomas continues her sensational partnership with Ian Rickson in Sophocles

Seminar, Hampstead Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Comedy vehicle for Roger Allam is enjoyable, but not at all thought-provoking

Single Spies, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Ismene Brown

Alan Bennett's 'spy' plays about Burgess and Blunt continue to be relevant

Next Fall, Southwark Playhouse

Marianka Swain

American play exploring religion and homosexuality needs a bolder angle

The Edge of Our Bodies, Gate Theatre

Heather Neill

American coming-of-age drama gets the Gate's 35th anniversary season off to a gripping start

Dangerous Corner, Richmond Theatre

Marianka Swain

Early JB Priestley thriller fails to provide any thrills

Rudy's Rare Records, Hackney Empire

Naima Khan

Lenny Henry leads rousing stage version of onetime radio drama

The James Plays, National Theatre

Demetrios Matheou

Independence is lost, but there’s no stopping this stirring trilogy of Scottish histories flying its flag in London

Flowers of the Forest, Jermyn Street Theatre

Caroline Crampton

A rediscovered play from the 1930s brings a different perspective to WWI

The Vertical Hour, Park Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Revival of David Hare’s 2006 play about the Iraq War is both timely and engrossing

Kingmaker, St James Theatre

Marianka Swain

New satire about Boris Johnson steers clear of reality

Was it right to censor Exhibit B?

Fisun Güner

A white artist recreates a 'human zoo'. Are we meant to be surprised at the blacklash?

Teh Internet Is Serious Business, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New play about Anonymous hacktivisits is informative, but lacks a distinctly individual voice

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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