wed 23/10/2019

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Vassa, Almeida Theatre review - delayed opening doesn't land

Matt Wolf

Even the mighty Almeida is allowed the occasional dud and it’s sure as hell got one at the moment with Vassa. Maxim Gorky’s 1910 play (rewritten in 1935) about a matriarch in extremis some years back proved a stonking West End star vehicle for Sheila Hancock.

The Best Plays in London


London is the theatre capital of the world, with more than 50 playhouses offering theatrical entertainment. From the mighty National Theatre to the West End, the small powerhouses of the Donmar Warehouse and the Almeida and out to the fringe theatres, it's hard to know which to turn. Our guide is here to help you sort the wheat from the chaff. Below is our selection of the best plays on in London right now, with links to our reviews for further elucidation.

Lungs, Old Vic review - deluxe casting and slick...

Sam Marlowe

Playing our monarch and her husband in The Crown has made actors Claire Foy and Matt Smith into TV drama royalty, so reuniting the pair onstage...

First Person: Hannah Khalil on museum as metaphor...

Hannah Khalil

It all started in 2009 in the National Portrait Gallery. I’d had a meeting nearby so popped in to get a cuppa and stare at the beautiful rooftop view...

Translations, National Theatre review - stunning...

Rachel Halliburton

At a point in history where – yet again – a few misplaced words from English politicians could wreak havoc with Irish lives, this is a welcome...

Cyrano, Bristol Old Vic review – comedy with emotional intelligence

Mark Kidel

Tristan Sturrock's lead performance brings energy matched by depth

[Blank], Donmar Warehouse review - strong but dispiriting

Aleks Sierz

Alice Birch's new play prioritises form over content, and is depressingly reactionary

Solaris, Lyric Hammersmith review - moving and finely cerebral

Tom Birchenough

David Greig’s dream-drama of cosmic loneliness is sci-fi at its most philosophical

A History of Water in the Middle East, Royal Court review - feminist dreams and passions

Aleks Sierz

New lecture about British imperialism is energetically engaging, but rather slender

Baby Reindeer, Bush Theatre review - break, break, breaking Gadd

Aleks Sierz

Provocative one-man show about a stalker by stand-up comedian Richard Gadd is darkly exciting

Groan Ups, Vaudeville Theatre review - adding ambition and emotion to the mix

Matt Wolf

The ever-likable Mischief Theatre's latest stretches them in new if still-unfinished ways

Either, Hampstead Theatre review - funny, ingenious investigation of gender and love

Rachel Halliburton

First-time playwright Ruby Thomas is a daring and exciting new voice

Assassins, Watermill Theatre, Newbury - Sondheim musical in scalding form

Matt Wolf

Sondheim's 1990 show gets more disturbingly pertinent with every revival

Mephisto [A Rhapsody], Gate Theatre review - the callowness of history

Tom Birchenough

More manner than message in adaptation of Klaus Mann's 1930s novel

The Man in the White Suit, Wyndham's Theatre review - sparks but no combustion in this chemistry farce

Marianka Swain

An Ealing comedy film becomes an intermittently entertaining play

Shuck 'n' Jive, Soho Theatre review - a mixed bag, lots of promise

Katherine Waters

A self-described 'performative wokeness festival' doesn't quite hit sweet spot but gets close

Noises Off, Garrick Theatre review - sublime chaos in Michael Frayn's meta-farce

Marianka Swain

The West End once again hosts one of the best comedies ever written

Our Lady of Kibeho, Theatre Royal Stratford East review - heaven and hell in Rwandan visions

Tom Birchenough

Questions of faith in Katori Hall’s luminous meditation on belief, doubt and miracles

Ian McKellen On Stage, Harold Pinter Theatre review - a master relishes the joy of theatre

Heather Neill

Communicator par excellence on a journey from Gandalf to Macbeth via panto, Coronation Street and gender politics

A Day in the Death of Joe Egg, Trafalgar Studios review - tragi-comic masterpiece

Aleks Sierz

Sharp revival of Peter Nichols's taboo-busting fantasia is magnificent

'Master Harold' ... and the Boys, National Theatre review - timelessly moving

Matt Wolf

Athol Fugard's 1982 self-exorcism is searingly revived

The Watsons, Menier Chocolate Factory review - Laura Wade's inventive new play

Veronica Lee

Jane Austen redux fizzes with ideas

Macbeth, Chichester Festival Theatre review - cosmic yet closely crafted

Tom Birchenough

John Simm is a strikingly intelligent Thane in an expansively designed production

Glass. Kill. Bluebeard. Imp., Royal Court review - still experimental after all these years

Aleks Sierz

Caryl Churchill's latest offering is wonderfully bright and incisively perceptive

The Thunder Girls, The Lowry, Salford review - all-girl solidarity

Robert Beale

Relationships, alliances and hatreds as a split-up rock group meet again 30 years on

Two Ladies, Bridge Theatre review - Cvitešić and Wanamaker really rock

Aleks Sierz

Excellent acting in a play that tickles the senses by morphing from one genre to another

Blood Wedding, Young Vic review - inventive, poetic if over-stretched revival of Lorca's rural tragedy

Heather Neill

The Spanish classic with an Irish accent

Mother of Him, Park Theatre review – lean domestic drama unsure where it stands

Laura De Lisle

Award-winning play starring Tracy-Ann Oberman centred on the mother of a teenage rapist

Youth Without God, Coronet Theatre review - the chill control of nascent Nazism

Tom Birchenough

Christopher Hampton adapts von Horváth's novel about the mindset of totalitarianism

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

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A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.

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