sun 21/12/2014

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Widowers' Houses, Orange Tree Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

When the Orange Tree lost all its Arts Council funding earlier this year it was hard to get too outraged. An institution that has made a niche in giving the good folk of Richmond exactly the kind of wig-and-britches, RP theatre that they like is hardly an urgent cause. But this is a new era for the Orange Tree in many ways, not least the arrival of new artistic director Paul Miller. His crisp, clean production of Shaw’s first play makes a clear statement: the costumes and the accents may not...

Eric and Little Ern, St James Theatre

Veronica Lee

The audience for this show could probably be divided into to two camps: those who fondly remember watching Morecambe & Wise on ITV or the BBC, and those who weren't even born when Eric Morecambe died in 1984. The latter group may know the double act from repeats, of course (which remind us of how great they were and how many of their successors pale by comparison), but if they are new to Eric Morecambe and Ernie Wise, then Jonty Stephens and Ian Ashpitel's show is a good entry point. It...

City of Angels, Donmar Warehouse

Sam Marlowe

Drop-dead dames, a hard-bitten gumshoe, an ambitious writer and a sleazy movie mogul: this slick, sassy 1989 musical by Cy Coleman, David Zippel and...

Almost, Maine, Park Theatre

Heather Neill

For a Christmas-weary Brit who's already had it up to here with commercial bonhomie and festive schmaltz, there were going to be barriers to overcome...

The Frozen Scream, Wales Millennium Centre

Gary Raymond

There are moments in this collaboration between performer and theatre impresario Christopher Green and best-selling novelist Sarah Waters, where,...

The Merchant of Venice, Almeida Theatre

David Nice

Las Vegas bling lethally demolished in Rupert Goold's layered Shakespeare

Henry IV, Parts One and Two, RSC, Barbican

David Nice

A charmless Falstaff and two blunt young blades in mediocre Shakespeare double bill

Golem, 1927, Young Vic

Alexandra Coghlan

Brilliant and endlessly inventive theatre from this young British company

Cats, London Palladium

Matt Wolf

The danciest British musical ever is back

Treasure Island, National Theatre

Kate Bassett

The children's classic sets sail with Arthur Darvill aboard

Cinderella, New Wimbledon Theatre

David Nice

Dallas heroine waves her wand, but the stand-up is the stand-out in classical panto

Little Shop of Horrors, Royal Exchange, Manchester

Philip Radcliffe

Puppeteers bring horrible plant brilliantly to life in the round

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Love and war in impressive saga of a Croatian family across three generations

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Edward Seckerson

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Aleks Sierz

New play about aging, love and the meaning of life is sensitive and moving

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Miriam Gillinson

Set in a Soviet prison, a subtle and slippery play captivates in parts but skimps on the fear

Saxon Court, Southwark Playhouse

Marianka Swain

Brassy office comedy recalls the early days of financial crisis

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Aleks Sierz

Excitingly relevant revival of Philip Ridley’s 2008 play about sibling rivalry and feral teenagers

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Aleks Sierz

New play about education is a gripping satire with a cast of bright eight-year-olds

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Matt Wolf

Rufus Norris staging works both on its own terms and as a bold sign of what's to come

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Marianka Swain

Revival of 1950s celebrity scandal drama is a topical triumph

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Matt Wolf

Latest film-turned-stage-musical should ask Santa for some charm

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Naima Khan

Grief takes centre-stage in striking new drama

Far Away, Young Vic Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Revival of Caryl Churchill’s dystopian classic is not quite as imaginative as it could be

A Midsummer Night's Dream (As You Like It), Dmitry Krymov Lab, Barbican

David Nice

A little bit of Shakespeare goes a long way in Russian shaggy-dog circus act

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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