fri 09/10/2015

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Eventide, Arcola Theatre

Sam Marlowe

His style is probably too subtle to be described as causing anything as noisily obtrusive as a splash, but Barney Norris’s debut play Visitors certainly created significant ripples last year. This follow-up drama is also, on the surface at least, low-key: a gentle, melancholy rumination on love and loss, in which the more drastic events happen offstage and time ticks by, ungraspable, inexorable.Set in a Hampshire village, it’s in part an elegy for a rural way of life, fading away in the face of...

Six of the best: Theatre


PLAYSPhotograph 51, Noël Coward Theatre ★★★★ Nicole Kidman's return to the West End has been worth the wait. Until 21 NovThe Father, Wyndham's Theatre ★★★★★ Well-deserved West End transfer for Florian Zeller's powerful portrait of dementia. Until 21 NovPeople, Places and Things, National Theatre ★★★★ New drama about addiction is informative, didactic, clever, funny and often very moving. Until 4 NovRichard II, Shakespeare's Globe ★★★★ The...

Barbarians, Central St Martins

Veronica Lee

Paul, Jan and Louis, three young men living in a gritty part of south London, are bored and broke and, for them, there are two kinds of Britain...

The Father, Wyndham’s Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Dementia is an increasingly common theme in theatre, television and film. But although there are plenty of stories about old people suffering from...

The Wars of the Roses, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Heather Neill

At the press night curtain call for Richard III, about eleven-and-a half hours after the beginning of this anniversary three-play production, Trevor...

Valhalla, Theatre 503

Aleks Sierz

Award-winning new play about scientific ethics is compelling and thought-provoking

Brian Friel, the private playwright of Ballybeg

Jasper Rees

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

Medea, Almeida Theatre

David Nice

Strong performances, but Rachel Cusk's riff on myth doesn't come close to Euripides

Dark Tourism, Park Theatre

Marianka Swain

Toothless satire of celebrity and the media won't make headlines

Farinelli and the King, Duke of York's Theatre

David Nice

Music and Mark Rylance charm, but is it enough?

Tipping the Velvet, Lyric Hammersmith

Marianka Swain

Sarah Waters’ Victorian Sapphic novel gets an inventive postmodern reframing

10 Questions for Actress Jane Lapotaire

Heather Neill

Veteran actress on returning to the stage in the RSC Histories

The Sweethearts, Finborough Theatre

Jenny Gilbert

New Camp Bastion tragicomedy about war, heroism and terrible pop music

Iliad: War Music, National Theatre Wales

Dylan Moore

Epic reimagining of Homer provides the ultimate ‘open-mike’ night

Nell Gwynn, Shakespeare's Globe

Marianka Swain

Nell's story is reclaimed, but sold short, in this merry romp

Living Quarters, Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol

Mark Kidel

A Brian Friel theatrical treasure revealed in this devastating tale of a family tragedy

Waiting for Godot, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

David Kettle

Magnificent Beckett from two revered Scottish actors

Dinner with Saddam, Menier Chocolate Factory

Aleks Sierz

Comedy about the former Iraqi dictator starts well but then soon gets bogged down

Martyr, Unicorn Theatre

Marianka Swain

An impassioned but tonally uncertain new play tackles religious extremism

Mr Foote’s Other Leg, Hampstead Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Simon Russell Beale shines as an 18th-century comic, but the play is clumsy and too long

The restoration of Nell Gwynn

Jessica Swale

Playwright Jessica Swale on unearthing the truth about the celebrated actress

The Encounter, Bristol Old Vic

Mark Kidel

Simon McBurney re-invents theatre with a touch of genius

Casa Valentina, Southwark Playhouse

Marianka Swain

Harvey Fierstein's Sixties cross-dressing drama is heartfelt, but overloaded

Hangmen, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Comedy about 1960s Britain starring Reece Shearsmith and David Morrissey lacks heart

The Cocktail Party, The Print Room

Alexandra Coghlan

A theatrical soirée you won't want to leave

Jane Eyre, National Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

An ardent theatrical reimagining of a classic novel

Don Juan, Lesya Ukrainka Theatre, St James Theatre

David Nice

Actors excel in Ukrainian classic despite symbolic overload

Kinky Boots, Adelphi Theatre

Edward Seckerson

Broadway Tony-winner comes home in its West End debut

Llanelliad: Greeks bear gifts to Wales

Heather Neill

Epic theatre-makers on taking Logue and Homer to Carmarthenshire for NTW

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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Stuart Lee



Leicester Square Theatre

21 September – 6 December 2015 & 2 – 8 January 2016


A brand new live show with fresh material in preparation for Stewart's next BBC2 series of Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle.  Throughout this extensive season, the middle-aged comedian will explore new subjects, try-out brand new material and will cut and add sections. Urine, the Union Jack and the ghosts of dead comedians are some of the subjects Stewart explores  ... see it live now months ahead of transmission.


"What is exhilarating is how many surprises he still throws in and how deft his jumps are from one tone to another.... invigorating" Times ★★★★


Stewart Lee is a BAFTA and Comedy Award-winning comedian and writer.  Stewart Lee’s Comedy Vehicle is in its 4th series for BBC2.  He is a regular columnist for the Observer and is probably appearing at a theatre near you soon. 


For more information and to book tickets please visit

Age guidance: 14+

Running time: approx 90 mins plus interval 

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