sat 23/02/2019

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Equus, Theatre Royal Stratford East review - thrilling physicality

Aleks Sierz

There is no doubt that Peter Shaffer's Equus is a modern classic. But does that justify reviving this 1973 hit play in our current social circumstances? And what can it say to us today?

Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, Young Vic review - shards of power amidst much that is overwrought

Matt Wolf

An entirely electric leading performance from the fast-rising Ukweli Roach is the reason for being for revisiting Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, back in London for the first major production since the late Philip Seymour Hoffman brought his acclaimed Off Broadway premiere of it to the Donmar in 2002.

Tartuffe, National Theatre review - morality-...

Heather Neill

Here's a recipe for a successful National Theatre production: take a well-loved classical comedy, employ an outstanding young director and a talented...

Shipwreck, Almeida Theatre review - Trump-...

Matt Wolf

Just when you think you may have heard (and seen) enough of Donald J Trump to last a lifetime, along comes Anne Washburn's ceaselessly smart and...

Keith? A Comedy, Arcola Theatre review - Molière...

Tim Cornwell

Breathe in the love and breathe out the bullshit. After the Arcola Theatre's founder and artistic director Mehmet Ergen read Keith? A Comedy, a wild...

Bodies, Southwark Playhouse review - shaky revival misses the mark

Laura De Lisle

Last seen 40 years ago, James Saunders' four-hander never quite gets off the ground

Only Fools and Horses, Theatre Royal Haymarket review - rollicking remake of much-loved TV sitcom

Adam Sweeting

Lovely jubbly! The Trotters return to Peckham

All in a Row, Southwark Playhouse, review - soapy and shrill pity party

Saskia Baron

Clumsy drama tries to raise sympathy for parents with a profoundly autistic child

Cyprus Avenue, Royal Court Theatre review - Stephen Rea is utterly compelling

Veronica Lee

David Ireland's dark, absurdist comedy about identity

The Best Plays in London


What to see where and until when: theartsdesk's stage tips

Gently Down the Stream, Park Theatre review - gay history sifted for compact drama

David Nice

Martin Sherman has the excellent Jonathan Hyde telling true tales

Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre review - a necessary corrective to our traumatic times

Matt Wolf

9/11-themed musical crosses the Atlantic, its capacious heart intact

Agnes Colander, Jermyn Street Theatre review - Naomi Frederick shines in 'new' Granville Barker

Heather Neill

A rediscovered early work by a giant of 20th century theatre focuses on a woman's struggle for independence

9 to 5 the Musical review - Dolly Parton's film returns as retooled version of a Broadway flop

Matt Wolf

More like nein to five, as beloved movie is reduced to substandard panto at the Savoy

The Lady from the Sea, Print Room at the Coronet review - freedom to choose?

Katherine Waters

Engrossing Anglo-Norwegian production has some strong performances

Berberian Sound Studio, Donmar Warehouse review – improves the original

Rachel Halliburton

This dark comedy raises disturbing questions about sound and intimacy

The American Clock, Old Vic review - Arthur Miller's musical history lesson drags

Marianka Swain

Rachel Chavkin's creative revival can't quite tame this sprawling epic

All About Eve, Noel Coward Theatre review - less a bumpy night than an erratically arresting one

Matt Wolf

Gillian Anderson and a superb Lily James headline Ivo van Hove's latest celluloid deconstruction

Brighton Festival 2019 launches with Guest Director Rokia Traoré

Thomas H Green

The south-coast's arts extravaganza reveals its 2019 line-up

The Price, Wyndham's Theatre review - David Suchet stands supreme

Tom Birchenough

Powerful production of Arthur Miller's play of fraternal discord, past pain

The Good Person of Szechwan, Pushkin Drama Theatre, Barbican review - slick Russian Brecht

David Nice

Musically strong, if persistent, this production has a star protagonist

Trevor Nunn: 'I'm amazed by Harley Granville Barker's prescience and extraordinary modernity'

Sir Trevor Nunn

The veteran director introduces the London premiere of the English dramatist's heretofore unknown play, 'Agnes Colander'

Blue, Chapter Arts Centre review - heartbreak in the family home

Owen Richards

Farce and tragedy are evenly balanced in new play from Wales

Pinter Seven, Harold Pinter Theatre review - elaborations of anxiety

Tom Birchenough

The season's closing pairing presents Danny Dyer and a radio revelation

Home, I'm Darling, Duke of York's Theatre review - Katherine Parkinson rules the roost

Tim Cornwell

National Theatre transfer hits the West End sweet spot

The Cherry Orchard, Pushkin Drama Theatre, Barbican review - stunning absurdist Chekhov

Rachel Halliburton

Sex and technology run like faultlines through this work

Beast on the Moon, Finborough Theatre review - drama of familial displacement packs a quiet punch

Tim Cornwell

American play from mid-'90s resonates afresh today

Superhoe, Royal Court review - smart, sassy, and full of feeling

Aleks Sierz

Bright new monologue about coming of age in the Instagram era really rocks

Cost of Living, Hampstead Theatre review - tough but tender

Tom Birchenough

Adrian Lester compels in new American drama about care and connection

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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