mon 29/08/2016

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Six of the best: Theatre


PLAYSOur Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National Theatre ★★★★★ Lee 'Billy Elliot' Hall adapts book about six convent girls, with miraculous results. Until 1 OctHarry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace Theatre ★★★★★ The continuing story of JK Rowling's witches and wizards works its magic onstage. Currently booking until Dec 2017Yerma, Young Vic ★★★★ Lorca rewrite places Billie Piper among her generation's best. Until 24 SeptA Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's...

They Drink It in the Congo, Almeida Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Do you carry a small part of the Congo every day on your person? Probably. Your mobile phone will contain coltan, aka columbite tantalum, which is used to make your electronics work better. And this is mined in the Congo. The trouble is that fluctuating prices for this mineral, as well as competition for such resources, encourages conflict between militia groups, which is one reason for the constant wars in this region of Africa. Another reason is the legacy of colonialism. Another reason is...

Edinburgh 2016: Angel by Henry Naylor/ Horse in...

Veronica Lee

Angel by Henry Naylor, Gilded Balloon ★★★★Rehana tells us what her hometown Kobane, in Syria, is like – “A small border town where nothing...

Edinburgh Festival 2016: Alan Cumming/ The Glass...

David Kettle

Alan Cumming Sings Sappy Songs ★★★★★ Is this even theatre? Hardly – cabaret, more like, as Scottish actor-author-provocateur Alan Cumming sings...

Groundhog Day, Old Vic

Matt Wolf

The New York theatre is so consistently awash in "star is born" moments when one or another British actor crosses the Atlantic to copious praise that...

Allegro, Southwark Playhouse

David Nice

Experimental fable of compromise boasts a fine cast, but no good songs

Edinburgh Fringe 2016: Alix in Wundergarten/4D Cinema/Bucket List

David Kettle

Theatre highlights and lowlights from week one of the world's biggest arts festival

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Lee ('Billy Elliot') Hall adapts book about six convent girls, with miraculous results

theartsdesk in Venice: Shylock comes home

Heather Neill

The 500th anniversary of the Ghetto is celebrated across the city

Yerma, Young Vic

Matt Wolf

Lorca rewrite places Billie Piper among her generation's very best

Young Chekhov, National Theatre

Matt Wolf

Chekhovathon builds to a shattering climax

What are the arts doing here?

John Martin

The artistic director of Pan Intercultural Arts explains its pioneering work ahead of Southbank's Festival of Love

Breakfast at Tiffany’s, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Sam Marlowe

Bland taste to this breakfast starring Pixie Lott as Holly Golightly

Rotterdam, Trafalgar Studios

Aleks Sierz

New drama about a transgender lesbian is hugely enjoyable

The Plough and the Stars, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Revival of Sean O’Casey’s modern classic is relevant, but a bit sombre

Half A Sixpence, Chichester Festival Theatre

Bella Todd

The Tommy Steele musical gets a triumphant, banjo-rehabilitating refresh

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Palace Theatre

Matt Wolf

Does the continuing story of JK Rowling's witches and wizards work its magic onstage?

Jesus Christ Superstar, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A classic musical reborn for a contemporary audience

Some Girl(s), Park Theatre

Marianka Swain

Neil LaBute's masochistic odyssey is sporadically thought-provoking

Into the Woods, Menier Chocolate Factory

Matt Wolf

Off Broadway transfer illuminates Sondheim's fairy tales anew

Unreachable, Royal Court Theatre

Jenny Gilbert

Devised play about a film director's obsession almost loses the plot

The Stripper, St James Theatre

Marianka Swain

A musical take on pulp noir is frustratingly uneven

Bugsy Malone, Lyric Hammersmith

Marianka Swain

Generation-bridging joy with the return of the mobster musical pastiche

Faith Healer, Donmar Warehouse

Aleks Sierz

Revival of Brian Friel’s 1979 classic is brilliantly acted and utterly compelling

Brian Friel, the private playwright of Ballybeg

Jasper Rees

The Northern Irish stage craftsman celebrated for Dancing at Lughnasa and Faith Healer

As You Like It, The Savill Garden, Windsor

Ismene Brown

All the garden's a stage for an appealing Shakespeare staging of romance and spectacle

Opinion: Post-Brexit, we need theatre more than ever

Marianka Swain

The arts hold the key to our collective humanity

First Person: Boys Will Be Boys

Melissa Bubnic

Melissa Bubnic introduces her new play about women working in a man’s world

Macbeth, Shakespeare's Globe

Marianka Swain

Incoherent vision results in a (Mac)duff production

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

Advertising feature


Belarus Free Theatre presents


Wed 31 Aug - Sat 24 Sep 2016, 7.15pm (2.30pm Sat matinees)

Soho Theatre

Tickets from £10


Belarus Free Theatre combine forces with Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina to share stories of persecuted artists, living under dictatorship, who will not be silenced.


What happens when you are declared an enemy of the state simply for making art? Where do you belong when your government suppresses your basic right to expression? And how do you survive in one of the most brutal prison systems in the world?


This brand new production blends sensuous theatricality and vigorous physicality to shine a light on the suppression of artistic freedoms. Drawn from the real-life stories of Russian performance artist Petr Pavlensky, incarcerated Ukrainian filmmaker Oleg Sentsov and Maria Alyokhina, who makes her stage debut.


One of the bravest and most inspired underground troupes on the planet.’ New York Times


‘For the BFT, political theatre is not a genre, but a necessity.’ Vanity Fair


Created in partnership with ArtReach as part of Journeys Festival International; Co-commissioned by Art Centre Melbourne. Funded by the National Lottery through Arts Council England.


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