tue 02/09/2014

theatre reviews, news & interviews

First Person: Disabled artists take on the world

Jo Verrent

The audience comment I most want to hear during next week's Unlimited Festival is: this show has transformed my perception of disability. We got that over and over and over during the first Unlimited Festival, which ran as part of the Cultural Olympiad in 2012. And I want that again. It’s all about making people understand that disability isn’t a negative, awful experience, just a facet of life that can give you as much as it apparently appears to take away. In fact, it just gives you more...

Toast, Park Theatre

Caroline Crampton

Richard Bean has had a busy year, and it isn’t over yet. Great Britain, his bawdy play about press ethics and police corruption, is transferring to the West End after hitting the spot at the National. Pitcairn, a new piece about the aftermath of the mutiny on the Bounty, will shortly arrive at the Globe after turning heads at the Chichester Theatre. And Made in Dagenham, a musical version of the 2010 film for which Bean has provided the book, looks likely to be one of the West End highlights of...

Crystal Springs, Park Theatre / Little Stitches,...

Naima Khan

Here's a fun fact: this year the Merriam-Webster dictionary added a new definition for the noun "catfish". As well as the amphibian, a catfish now...

The Lion, St James Theatre Studio

Matt Wolf

This has been a busy season for Off Broadway musicals crossing the pond to London, from Dessa Rose and Dogfight to Forbidden Broadway and See Rock...

See Rock City & Other Destinations, Union...

Marianka Swain

Shared yearning for a place to belong is not a revelatory concept, nor is it given new dimension in this gently saccharine piece, yet although the...

Six of the best: Theatre


Let the right Mormons in: a bit of everything in theartsdesk's tips

Dogfight, Southwark Playhouse

Marianka Swain

This irresolute jarhead musical is a lover, not a fighter

Jezebel, Soho Theatre

Marianka Swain

Irish sex comedy plays it safe with cosy sitcom laughs

Edinburgh Fringe 2014: Cuckooed/ The Carousel/ Julie Burchill: Absolute Cult/ So It Goes

Veronica Lee

More from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Lauren Bacall: 'Just put your lips together and blow'

Matt Wolf

The screen made her, but she would become a stage tigress, not least when she sang

The James Plays, Edinburgh Festival Theatre

Veronica Lee

Rona Munro's enthralling history cycle bursts with Scottish regal life

Lady Windermere's Fan, King's Head Theatre

Caroline Crampton

Oscar Wilde's comedy of Victorian morals receives an uneven update to the 1930s

Sommer 14 - A Dance of Death, Finborough Theatre

Marianka Swain

A new German play offers an incendiary view on the root causes of global war

Opinion: The Tricycle were right over the UK Jewish Film Festival

Fisun Güner

An arts organisation for once takes an ethical stand and are unjustly pilloried for it

Ursula Martinez: My Stories, Your Emails, Purcell Room

Hanna Weibye

Smart show about stripping and the internet

My Night with Reg, Donmar Warehouse

Sam Marlowe

Exquisite play about AIDS movingly revived after playwright Kevin Elyot's death

First Person: 'Thomas Bernhard? I love him'

Peter Eyre

The actor Peter Eyre introduces the German rarity he is bringing to the Edinburgh Festival

10 Questions for Actress Celia Imrie

Sebastian Scotney

The versatile actress and author celebrates the act of stepping into the unknown

Prom 21: Kiss Me, Kate, John Wilson Orchestra

Sebastian Scotney

A meticulously planned, well staged and ambitiously resourced performance

A Streetcar Named Desire, Young Vic

Demetrios Matheou

Gillian Anderson seems born to play Blanche DuBois, in this inventive and intense rendering of the Williams classic

Porgy and Bess, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre

David Nice

Production obstacles stop Gershwin's great score and a valiant cast from shining

A Bright Room Called Day, Southwark Playhouse

Marianka Swain

Tony Kushner’s play chronicling Nazi ascent in Germany lacks punch

Natural Affection, Jermyn Street Theatre

Siobhan Murphy

Slice of American esoterica appears stilted in UK debut

The Nether, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New play about paedophiles and the internet is visually dazzling, but just a bit too nice

Shakespeare in Love, Noël Coward Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A joyous, ebullient adaptation whose real romance is with theatre itself

Holy Warriors, Shakespeare’s Globe

Aleks Sierz

New play about the Crusades fails to communicate the lessons of history

Medea, National Theatre

Heather Neill

An updating of Euripides which retains its mythical power

'Gimme a vodka and a floorplan': Elaine Stritch remembered

David Benedict

Brief encounters with the legendary New York diva

The Importance of Being Earnest, Harold Pinter Theatre

David Nice

Or the importance of doing Wilde gracefully, in sensitively handled play-within-a-play

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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