thu 18/01/2018

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Best Plays in London

Theartsdesk

London is the theatre capital of the world, with more than 50 playhouses offering theatrical entertainment. From the mighty National Theatre to the West End, the small powerhouses of the Donmar Warehouse and the Almeida and out to the fringe theatres, it's hard to know which to turn. Our guide is here to help you sort the wheat from the chaff. Below is our selection of the best plays on in London right now, with links to our reviews for further elucidation.

The Best Musicals in London

Theartsdesk

Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre ★★★ Disney's latest blockbuster film-turned-stage show remains airborne – just

Rita, Sue and Bob Too, Royal Court review -...

Matt Wolf

The revival that almost didn't make it into town has got the Royal Court's 2018 mainstage offerings off to a rousing start. For a while, it looked as...

Girl from the North Country, Noël Coward Theatre...

Marianka Swain

The rolling stone is now at home in the West End, as Conor McPherson’s inimitable dramatic take on Bob Dylan transfers from the Old Vic, where it...

Cirque du Soleil - OVO, Royal Albert Hall review...

Katie Colombus

For their eighth debut at the Royal Albert Hall, mesmerising French-Canadian performance art company Cirque du Soleil takes the audience on a journey...

My Mum's a Twat, Royal Court review - Patsy Ferran shines in a solo play that looks back in anger

Matt Wolf

Autobiographical debut play is sprightly but sketchy, too

Best of 2017: Theatre

Matt Wolf

Sondheim and Alexander Hamilton sang out, as did a bracing array of new plays

Hamilton, Victoria Palace review - rich, radical and ridiculously exciting

Sam Marlowe

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hugely anticipated hit musical is a massive achievement

Titus Andronicus, RSC, Barbican review - blood will out

James Woodall

A slick and youthful rendering of Shakespeare's goriest drama

The Grinning Man, Trafalgar Studios review - cool puppets but too convoluted by half

Matt Wolf

Visually alluring Victor Hugo rewrite needs to go back to the storyboard

Aladdin, Richmond Theatre review - great Dame, weak script

Veronica Lee

Christopher Biggins is back in gorgeous frocks

The Jungle, Young Vic review - physically and emotionally challenging

Aleks Sierz

New play about refugee camp life in Calais is a gruelling docu-drama

Pinocchio, National Theatre review - boy puppet lifts off, eventually

David Benedict

Look no strings: long-nosed cartoon character is humanised by a magical staging

Belleville, Donmar Warehouse review - prickly and unnerving

Matt Wolf

Imogen Poots and James Norton in terrific form as American expats living on the edge

Jack and the Beanstalk, New Wimbledon Theatre review - Al Murray's panto debut

Veronica Lee

Less than the sum of its parts

Julius Caesar, RSC, Barbican review - Roman bromance plays straight

William Ward

Angus Jackson's traditional staging opens the the Rome MMXVII season

Misalliance, Orange Tree Theatre review - smashing Edwardian comedy is a festive treat

Jenny Gilbert

Bernard Shaw curio gets its first major London revival in 30 years

The Twilight Zone, Almeida Theatre review - from hokum to humanity

David Nice

Perfectly modulated ensemble and production vary the strains of a classic TV series

Antony and Cleopatra, RSC, Barbican review - rising grandeur

Tom Birchenough

Coquetry and tragic command not quite balanced, but this steady RSC production reaches glory

Cell Mates, Hampstead Theatre review - intriguing yet opaque

Matt Wolf

Simon Gray play is better served by its cast this time round

Jack and the Beanstalk, Lyric Hammersmith review - great fun for all ages

Veronica Lee

A fresh and inventive reworking

The Box of Delights, Wilton's Music Hall review - children's classic novel transferred to stage

Saskia Baron

Matthew Kelly and Josefina Gabrielle provide double the value in John Masefield classic

La Soirée, Aldwych Theatre review - flickers of brilliance in a patchy evening

Laura De Lisle

The West End run of the cabaret variety show has everything but variety

The Melting Pot, Finborough Theatre review - entertaining morals

Katherine Waters

New York refugee drama confronts anti-semitism with humour and heart

Barnum, Menier Chocolate Factory review - a big, blowsy spectacle

Veronica Lee

Energetic retelling of the showman's story

Parliament Square, Bush Theatre, review – uncomfortable blaze of anger

Aleks Sierz

New drama about political extremism is brilliantly written – mostly

Dear Brutus, Southwark Playhouse review - a judicious mix of comedy and sadness

Heather Neill

Barrie’s grown-up fantasy gets a welcome centenary revival

The Passing of the Third Floor Back, Finborough Theatre review - the better nature of Jerome K Jerome

Tom Birchenough

Edwardian rediscovery verges towards the sentimental, but satisfyingly so

Goats, Royal Court review - unfocused and muddled

Aleks Sierz

New play about Syria is upstaged by its animal performers

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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