tue 01/09/2015

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Murmel Murmel, King's Theatre, Edinburgh

David Kettle

It felt a bit like we were seeing things. At the fag-end of Edinburgh’s 2015 August of festival mayhem, with extreme exhaustion and input overload mixing to brain-addling effect in the heads of most festival-goers and participants, a hallucinatory, day-glo farce of a show that obsessively repeats just a single word seemed pretty fitting.Murmel Murmel was the Edinburgh International Festival’s last major show to be unveiled. Flown in from Berlin’s Volksbühne theatre, it’s a crazy creation of...

You Won't Succeed On Broadway If You Don't Have Any Jews, St James Theatre

Marianka Swain

Well, here’s an oddity. You Won’t Succeed... is too fragmented for musical theatre, too bombastic for cabaret, and about as profound as a first-draft Wikipedia page. Channelling the self-referential levity of the Monty Python show from which it takes its name would certainly help, but it’s mainly played straight. And what insight into the indelible Jewish contribution to musical theatre does two and a half hours’ investment get you? Those guys…they wrote some great songs. Oy vey.The weakest...

Our Country's Good, National Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

The political wheel has turned full-circle. When Our Country’s Good was premiered in 1988, it was a barely-veiled protest against Thatcher’s slash-...

Hamlet, Barbican

Matt Wolf

The set turns out to be the thing now that Benedict Cumberbatch's star turn in Hamlet has finally arrived, trailing in its wake a level of...

10 Questions for Actor Jason Hughes

Jasper Rees

Jason Hughes belongs to an influential generation of actors who emerged from South Wales in the 1990s. A promising rugby player as a teenager, his...

Lady Anna: All At Sea, Park Theatre

Tom Birchenough

Bicentenary Trollope adaptation mixes fiction with sea voyage in agile show

887, Edinburgh International Conference Centre

David Kettle

Magical, meditative new show on memory from Robert Lepage

The Iliad, British Museum /Almeida Theatre

David Nice

An epic stunningly maintained over 16 hours and a cavalcade of actors' delivery

Edinburgh Fringe 2015: Walking the Tightrope/Maddy Anholt/ Phil Jerrod

Veronica Lee

From the world's biggest and best arts festival

Six of the best: Theatre


A bit of everything in theartsdesk's stage tips

Crossing Jerusalem, Park Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Revival of Julia Pascal’s 2003 play about the intifada is powerful, but no easy ride

Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse

Edward Seckerson

Smaller is better - even best - in third London go-round of 1989 Broadway hit

The Heresy of Love, Shakespeare's Globe

Tom Birchenough

Conflict of restrictive dogma and individuality powerful in story of 17th century Mexico

Splendour, Donmar Warehouse

Aleks Sierz

Fine revival of Abi Morgan’s rarely seen play is well acted, and intriguing in form and content

Dear Lupin, Apollo Theatre

Marianka Swain

Roger Mortimer's waspish letters are transposed into cosy semi-drama

Bakkhai, Almeida Theatre

David Nice

Ben Whishaw's ambiguous Dionysos and operatic chorus serve superb Euripides translation

Of Thee I Sing, RFH

Matt Wolf

Sound issues all but scupper period satire

First Person: Dear Lupin

Michael Simkins

How to turn an epistolary humour book into a West End play starring James and Jack Fox

Three Days in the Country, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Patrick Marber’s adaptation of Turgenev’s classic is fun, but lacks subtlety and profundity

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

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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Depressed and plagued by insomnia, King Philippe V of Spain lies awake in his chamber. The Queen, desperate to find a cure, hears of Farinelli – a castrato with a voice so divine it has the power to captivate all who hear it. Even Philippe is astonished when Farinelli sings, and begs him to stay. But will Farinelli, one of the greatest celebrities of his time, choose a life of solitude over fame and fortune in the opera-houses of Europe? And will his extraordinary talent prove to be a curse rather than a blessing? Book Now!


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