tue 27/09/2016

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Imogen, Shakespeare's Globe

David Nice

What's in a name? Imogen has a softer music to it than Cymbeline, the only one of Shakespeare's plays in which the title character is marginal, and the daughter certainly dominates in a way that her regal father doesn't. So Cymbeline Renamed, as half the subheading of Matthew Dunster's bold production puts it, is fine.Reclaimed, though, from what? There's no need to shift any of Shakespeare's centres of gravity, and Dunster doesn't. True, this "heavenly Imogen" is more earth than air, and Maddy...

Pilgrims, The Yard Theatre

Aleks Sierz

At its best, theatre is great at putting resonant metaphors on stage. And, as Elinor Cook’s new play abundantly proves, the activity of mountain climbing seems very promising as a metaphor for masculine endeavor. All that effort, all that heaving, all that straining. Blood and sweat and sometimes tears. And then the question: why do men want to stand on top of the world? And is it just men who have this urgent need for power and dominion? Although Pilgrims is a rather short and small play, it...

Good Canary, Rose Theatre, Kingston

Jenny Gilbert

Very occasionally the playing of a play leaves a deeper impression than does the play itself. This is the case with Good Canary, a lippy, sweary...

The Greater Game, Southwark Playhouse

Veronica Lee

Michael Head's new play is based on the book They Took the Lead by Stephen Jenkins, which tells the true story of events at Clapton Orient (now...

No Man's Land, Wyndham's Theatre

Marianka Swain

We are lost in the wood. In the limbo state between dream and reality, memory and present, youth and age, companionship and seclusion, life and death...

Six of the best: Theatre


McKellen and Stewart's haunting 'No Man's Land' leads theartsdesk's stage tips

First Person: 'Leaving the house can feel like walking into battle'

Veronika Szabo

In 'War Paint', four women transform themselves for a night out. A performer explains how

Who's afraid of Edward Albee?

Jasper Rees

Remembering the playwright who fearlessly looked under the surface of the American Dream

Things I Know To Be True, Lyric Hammersmith

Marianka Swain

Love hurts in Andrew Bovell's shattering family portrait

The Alchemist, RSC, Barbican

Alexandra Coghlan

A pacy production finds the anarchic energy in Jonson's city satire

Torn, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Sizzling family drama is very powerful, but too complicated for its own good

Doctor Faustus, RSC, Barbican Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

A punky Faustus that swaps psychology for religion

Jess and Joe Forever, Orange Tree Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New coming-of-age play is quirky, funny, moving and theatrically thrilling

The Inn At Lydda, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Alexandra Coghlan

A clever concept loses its way in this uneven new play

The Emperor, Young Vic

David Nice

Perfectly paced two-hander about Haile Selassie's impact on court and country

Labyrinth, Hampstead Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Drama about 1970s South American debt is too long, too derivative and too predictable

Revolt. She Said. Revolt Again., Shoreditch Town Hall

Aleks Sierz

Alice Birch’s third-wave feminism is both thrilling and messy (in a good way)

The Entertainer, Garrick Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Kenneth Branagh’s final show in his West End season is slick but a bit lite

They Drink It in the Congo, Almeida Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New drama about the Congo is absorbing, but too long, too messy and too complex

Edinburgh 2016: Angel by Henry Naylor/ Horse in Careful/ Lucy McCormick: Triple Threat

Veronica Lee

Theatre highlights from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Edinburgh Festival 2016: Alan Cumming/ The Glass Menagerie/ Mark Thomas

David Kettle

Theatre highlights from the second week of the world's biggest arts festival

Groundhog Day, Old Vic

Matt Wolf

Stage version of Bill Murray film catapults Broadway's Andy Karl to stardom

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

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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