sun 23/11/2014

theatre reviews, news & interviews

God Bless the Child, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Much of the recent programming of the Royal Court has flaunted a preference for gimmicky gestures rather than the hard work involved in developing new playwrights. So after its staging of book adaptations, fictional documentaries and monotonous lectures here comes the latest gimmick: a play with a cast of a dozen eight-year-olds. Given that the story of the play is about an uprising of primary-school kids, is this a) literalism gone mad; b) an interesting and challenging idea; or c) an...

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, National Theatre

Matt Wolf

Behind the Beautiful Forevers, David Hare's adaptation of Katherine Boo's Pulitzer Prize-winning book, works as both play and portent. Viewed on its own terms, the evening grips throughout in its embrace of the multiple contradictions of contemporary Indian life as here filtered through those existing quite literally off the scrap of that country's gathering economic power. Even more importantly is what Rufus Norris's epic staging – this director's most confident work yet at this address...

Accolade, St James Theatre

Marianka Swain

Reclaiming lost plays can be unnecessary indulgence, but Blanche McIntyre’s note-perfect production of Emlyn Williams’ 64-year-old work ushers in the...

White Christmas, Dominion Theatre

Matt Wolf

What ought to be a featherweight holiday confection emerges as a charmless slog in the belated West End bow of White Christmas, a title that at this...

Cans, Theatre 503, Battersea

Naima Khan

Meet Len (Graham O'Mara), a man-child stuck in a world where "gaytard", "bender" and "spastic" are (to him, anyway) harmless insults. He throws them...

Far Away, Young Vic Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Revival of Caryl Churchill’s dystopian classic is not quite as imaginative as it could be

A Midsummer Night's Dream (As You Like It), Dmitry Krymov Lab, Barbican

David Nice

A little bit of Shakespeare goes a long way in Russian shaggy-dog circus act

Wildefire, Hampstead Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Roy Williams’s new story about a cop coming of age is too fast ’n' furious to be engaging

Not About Heroes, Trafalgar Studios

Marianka Swain

First World War poets are honoured in a resonant but overly reverential play

Six of the best: Theatre

theartsdesk

Kings, kids and Kinks: a bit of everything in theartsdesk's tips

Where Late the Sweet Birds Sang, The Rose Playhouse

Alexandra Coghlan

A dramatic miniature that tells the many truths about love

Man to Man, Park Theatre

Miriam Gillinson

One-woman play that launched Tilda Swinton's career rises again, but how far?

2071, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New climate change play is more a monotonous lecture than a spirited call to arms

Made in Dagenham, Adelphi Theatre

Caroline Crampton

This musical version of the 1968 struggle for equal pay lacks emotional verve

JOHN, National Theatre

Marianka Swain

DV8's verbatim physical theatre powerfully relates the life of a social outsider

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Royal Exchange, Manchester

Philip Radcliffe

Tennessee Williams revival is more lukewarm than hot

Jonah and Otto, Park Theatre

Naima Khan

Robert Holman's two-hander about God and men fails to convince

First Episode, Jermyn Street Theatre

Marianka Swain

An affectionate revival of Rattigan's lost play hints at greatness to come

Coolatully, Finborough Theatre

Veronica Lee

Enjoyable drama about Ireland's renewed emigration

'Tis Pity She's a Whore, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Alexandra Coghlan

Pints of blood but no real tragedy in this season opener

Sunny Afternoon, Harold Pinter Theatre

Adam Sweeting

Ray Davies's Kinks saga has heart and soul as well as musical brawn

First Person: The lure of the lost play

Tom Littler

As Rattigan's debut is staged after 80 years, its director ponders the rise of the rediscovery

The Wild Duck, Belvoir Sydney, Barbican Theatre

David Nice

Heartbreaking Ibsen adaptation mixes naturalism and forensic examination

Wet House, Soho Theatre

Marianka Swain

The desperate fate of addicts and outcasts is given bracingly humorous treatment

Memphis, Shaftesbury Theatre

Edward Seckerson

Tony-winning Broadway export is well-sung but unoriginal

Russian Avant-Garde Theatre, Victoria & Albert Museum

Sarah Kent

The moment when theatre was transformed by visionary Russian directors

Neville's Island, Duke of York's Theatre

Marianka Swain

Like its marooned middle-managers, Tim Firth's comedy loses its way

The Scottsboro Boys, Garrick Theatre

Edward Seckerson

Kander & Ebb's startling, stirring musical gets a West End upgrade

Andrew Logan’s Alternative Miss World, Globe Theatre

Sarah Kent

The delightfully shambolic talent show that's become a national treasure

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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