sun 04/12/2016

theatre reviews, news & interviews

When Sam Shepard was a Londoner

Jasper Rees

Sam Shepard came to live in London in 1971, nursing ambitions to be a rock musician. When he went home three years later, he was soon to be found on the drumstool of Bob Dylan's Rolling Thunder tour. But as soon as he arrived in London was waylaid by the burgeoning fringe scene, and the rock god project took a back seat.

Buried Child, Trafalgar Studios

Jenny Gilbert

What stroke of prescience brought two Sam Shepard plays to London in the very month America voted for Trump? The kind of people we’re learning to call the disenfranchised have been Shepard’s focus for the last 40 years, and now they’re global news. In Fool for Love (which there’s still time to catch at the pop-up venue Found III) he exposed the grubby truth behind the working-class alpha-male ideal.

This House, Garrick Theatre

Ismene Brown

This House arrives in the West End with magic timing - a comedy about the farcical horrors of being a government with a wafer-thin majority,...

Peter Pan, National Theatre

Heather Neill

The cry "Let's pretend" must have been heard often when J M Barrie played with the Llewelyn Davies boys in Kensington Gardens or at Black Lake...

The Little Matchgirl, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Tom Birchenough

For anyone disposed to treat the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse as hallowed ground – and such issues have gained much currency at the Globe recently...

'Hamlet’s actors are kings of infinite space'

Kelly Hunter

As her touring Hamlet reaches London, director Kelly Hunter reflects on packing Elsinore into a suitcase

10 Questions for Playwright James Graham

Jasper Rees

The author of This House on the arcane world of Parliamentary whips

Nice Fish, Harold Pinter Theatre

Marianka Swain

Mark Rylance is waiting for cod-ot in this absurdist trifle

Six of the best: Theatre

Theartsdesk

Potter, Pinter and murder: theartsdesk's stage tips

The Children, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Drama about generational tension and nuclear disaster is metaphor-heavy and lacks energy

Shakespeare Trilogy, Donmar at King's Cross

James Woodall

'Tempest' time: Phyllida Lloyd's ambitious Shakespeare cycle reaches completion with his final play

The Best Musicals in London

Theartsdesk

We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

King Lear, RSC, Barbican

Tom Birchenough

Antony Sher runs the full delivery gamut in Gregory Doran's distinguished production

Half A Sixpence, Noel Coward Theatre

Matt Wolf

A star is born but the show still creaks

An Inspector Calls, Playhouse Theatre

Jenny Gilbert

Stephen Daldry's makeover of the JB Priestley classic is back, and misses its mark

The Sewing Group, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New drama about our desire for a simpler life is intriguing, but flawed

School of Rock: The Musical, New London Theatre

Matt Wolf

Andrew Lloyd Webber's transatlantic transfer is a blast

'What would it feel like to watch women sew?'

EV Crowe

EV Crowe introduces 'The Sewing Group', her new Royal Court play set just before the Industrial Revolution

Removal Men, The Yard Theatre

Tom Birchenough

Tight, nervous tragicomedy with an original take on immigration issues

10 Questions for Actor David Troughton

Heather Neill

The RSC stalwart, Gloucester in Gregory Doran's production of King Lear, talks politics, blinding and cricket

Lazarus, King's Cross Theatre

Edward Seckerson

David Bowie musical crosses the Atlantic, its intrigue intact

The Royale, The Tabernacle (Bush)

Aleks Sierz

Welcome return of boxing drama, which is thrilling if a bit hard to follow

Cymbeline, RSC, Barbican

Tom Birchenough

New Brexit tones give novel direction to Shakespeare's late romance

All My Sons, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Ismene Brown

Miller's morality play fights to be relevant in the Trump era

King Lear, Old Vic

Heather Neill

Glenda Jackson returns to the stage as an authoritative Lear, gender irrelevant

F***ing Men, The Vaults

Aleks Sierz

Joe DiPietro’s cult hit is enjoyable, but rather predictable in form and content

Dead Funny, Vaudeville Theatre

Veronica Lee

Terrific revival of Terry Johnson's modern classic

The Last Five Years, St James Theatre

Edward Seckerson

Jason Robert Brown's two-handed song cycle is a knockout

Fool for Love, Found111

Jenny Gilbert

Sam Shepard's incest play makes a fine swansong for a pop-up venue

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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