mon 27/01/2020

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre review - a superlative company achievement

Tom Birchenough

Uncle Vanya must surely be the closest, the most essential of Chekhov’s plays, its cast – just four main players who are caught up in the drama's fraught emotional action, and four who are essentially supporting – a concentrated unit even by the playwright's lean standards.

The Sunset Limited, Boulevard Theatre review - all talk, no theatre

Matt Wolf

Cormac McCarthy’s two-hander, premiered at Chicago's mighty Steppenwolf Theatre in 2006, has by this point been everything short of an ice ballet: a self-described “novel in dramatic form”, as one might expect from the American author of such titles as All the Pretty Horses and The Road, followed by a film made for TV directed by, and starring, Tommy Lee Jones, opposite Samuel L Jackson.

The Welkin, National Theatre review - women'...

Aleks Sierz

History plays should perform a delicate balancing act: they have to tell us something worth knowing about the past, that foreign country where they...

Scenes with Girls, Royal Court review - feminist...

Aleks Sierz

Last night, I discovered the gasp index. Or maybe just re-discovered. The what? The gasp index. It's when you see a show that keeps making you exhale...

You Stupid Darkness!, Southwark Playhouse review...

Matt Wolf

Armageddon would appear to be at the gates in Sam Steiner’s intriguing if ramshackle play, a co-production between Paines Plough and Theatre Royal,...

Rags: The Musical, Park Theatre review - a timely, if predictable, immigrant tale

Marianka Swain

Current events lend urgency to this historical work

Les Misérables, Sondheim Theatre review - join in our crusade

Aleks Sierz

New blood courses through the West End's longest-running musical

Scrounger, Finborough Theatre review - uncomfortable play tackles disability discrimination

Saskia Baron

Athena Stevens confronts the challenges faced by wheelchair-users

Magic Goes Wrong, Vaudeville Theatre review - entertaining spoof

Veronica Lee

Mischief Theatre and Penn & Teller mash-up

The Tyler Sisters, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs review – raucous celebration of sisterhood

Laura De Lisle

Quick-witted new play tackles a sibling bond in snapshots over 40 years

Celebrating the musicals of Jerry Herman (1931-2019)

David Nice

An immortal lyricist and composer leaves us plenty to be joyful about

Best of 2019: Theatre

Matt Wolf

The classics got a shake-up, while provocative new writing came mostly from America

Girl From The North Country, Gielgud Theatre review – poignant collaboration between Conor McPherson and Bob Dylan

Rachel Halliburton

Raw depiction of a community where dreams go to die

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Alexandra Palace Theatre review - JM Barrie's classic as you have never seen it before

Veronica Lee

Mischief Theatre with another enjoyable farce

Curtains, Wyndham's Theatre review - unexpectedly giddy fun

Matt Wolf

Late-arrival to the West End is broad, brash - and delightful

Snowflake, Kiln Theatre review - strong but clumsy generational war

Aleks Sierz

Mike Bartlett's Christmas cracker goes with a bang - eventually

Swive, Shakespeare's Globe review – pacy, dagger-sharp rewriting of history

Rachel Halliburton

An interrogation of power, womanhood and the mythologies with which we surround ourselves

Teenage Dick, Donmar Warehouse review - a fearlessly acted, well-intentioned mess

Matt Wolf

Mike Lew's riff on Shakespeare needs more art to go with its heart

A Kind of People, Royal Court review - multiculturalism falls apart

Aleks Sierz

Family tragedy is emotionally powerful but incomplete and unsatisfying

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre review - terrifying, magical coming of age story

Rachel Halliburton

A stunning tribute to the wild and wonderful life of the mind

Goldilocks and the Three Bears, London Palladium review - joyously filthy fun

Veronica Lee

Purists may quibble at circus-themed show

Three Sisters, National Theatre review - Chekhov in time of war

Tom Birchenough

Relocation from the Russian provinces to Sixties Biafra brings insight and immediacy

The Duchess of Malfi, Almeida Theatre review - a radically original perspective on Webster's tragedy

Heather Neill

Rebecca Frecknall directs a production which ultimately finds its heart

Cyrano de Bergerac, Playhouse Theatre review - James McAvoy triumphant

Aleks Sierz

Magnificent makeover of the French classic is a jaw-dropping success

Fairview, Young Vic review - questioning the assumptions of race

Tom Birchenough

New American drama directs a rapier wit at black stereotypes

Ravens: Spassky vs. Fischer, Hampstead Theatre review - it's game over for this chess play

Marianka Swain

The Cold War 'Match of the Century' fails to translate into compelling drama

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic Theatre review - the festive favourite mixes gloom with merriment

Heather Neill

A vigorous Paterson Joseph meets the Christmas spirits

The Boy Friend, Menier Chocolate Factory review - fun but featherweight

Matt Wolf

Period confection in three acts could use pruning

Midnight Movie, Royal Court review - sleepless and digital

Aleks Sierz

New autobiographical play about night thoughts on bodies real and digital

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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