fri 19/04/2019

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Sweet Charity, Donmar Warehouse review - Sixties style over substance

Marianka Swain

For her swansong, departing Donmar Artistic Director Josie Rourke goes Swinging Sixties in this stylish but flawed revival of the Cy Coleman, Dorothy Fields and Neil Simon musical.

Three Sisters, Almeida Theatre review - middle of the road with flashes of magic

Aleks Sierz

About a year ago, director Rebecca Frecknall electrified this venue with an award-winning revival of Tennessee Williams's Summer and Smoke, rescuing the play from obscurity and showcasing the star qualities of actor Patsy Ferran.

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...

A German Life, Bridge Theatre review - Maggie...

Aleks Sierz

Maggie Smith is not only a national treasure, but every casting director's go-to old bat. Now 84 years young, she is our favourite grande dame, or...

Pah-La, Royal Court review - complex ideas, wild...

Aleks Sierz

Theatre can give a voice to the voiceless – but at what cost? Abhishek Majumdar, who debuted at the Royal Court in 2013 with The Djinns of Eidgah –...

After Edward, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse review - delightfully risky

Rachel Halliburton

A soaringly irreverent postmodern caper through shifting attitudes to homosexuality

Wilderness, Hampstead Theatre review - stark portrait of modern divorce

Laura De Lisle

Strong performances and snappy lines make this bleak drama sing

Top Girls, National Theatre review - dazzlingly perceptive classic

Aleks Sierz

Enjoyable high-definition revival of Caryl Churchill's 1982 feminist classic

The Crucible, The Yard Theatre review - wilfully over-stirred

Tom Birchenough

Arthur Miller’s possession drama staged for spectacle

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

Grief Is the Thing with Feathers, Barbican Theatre review - Cillian Murphy soars and sweeps

Aleks Sierz

Adaptation of Max Porter's contemporary classic gets the big-stage treatment

Fiddler on the Roof, Playhouse Theatre, review – energetic production whips up an emotional storm

Rachel Halliburton

A spikily poignant reminder of humanity in politically dark times

Local Hero, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh - captivating musical with a harder edge

David Kettle

New staging brings the iconic 1983 movie's themes and characters into sharper focus

The Phlebotomist, Hampstead Theatre review - thought-provoking dystopian thriller

Aleks Sierz

Resonant new play about genetics is well-written and excitingly staged

Mary's Babies, Jermyn Street Theatre review - rollercoaster investigation of early fertility treatment

Heather Neill

Two-hander provides multifarious acting opportunities but insufficient focus

The Life I Lead, Park Theatre review - pleasant enough but lacks bite

Tim Cornwell

Solo play looks back blandly at the celebrated screen dad in 'Mary Poppins'

Blood Knot, Orange Tree Theatre review - defining apartheid-era drama delivers afresh

Matt Wolf

Athol Fugard's seminal 1961 play hasn't lost its potency

Emilia, Vaudeville Theatre review - shouting for change

Aleks Sierz

Triumphant, if crude, West End transfer of a heartfelt account of a Renaissance woman

Downstate, National Theatre review - controversial but also clear-eyed and compassionate

Matt Wolf

Bruce Norris's ever-provocative play puts people first, labels second

The Bay at Nice, Menier Chocolate Factory review - David Hare talkfest takes intermittent wing

Matt Wolf

Penelope Wilton and Ophelia Lovibond face off in revival of little-known 1986 play

The Rubenstein Kiss, Southwark Playhouse review - slick spy drama doesn't quite come together

Laura De Lisle

Excellent performances aren't enough to cover the holes in this fictionalised account of the Rosenbergs

Richard II, Sam Wanamaker Theatre review - electrifying mixed-race all-female production

Rachel Halliburton

Adjoa Andoh is a magnetic Richard with her hawk-like glare and vigorous swagger

Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre review - Tom Hiddleston anchors a bold, brooding revival

Marianka Swain

Jamie Lloyd locates the radical soul of a classic work

10 Questions for Candice Edmunds of Theatre Company Vox Motus

Thomas H Green

The Glasgow-based artistic director talks theatre with a difference

Admissions, Trafalgar Studios review - topical and whiplash-smart

Matt Wolf

Alex Kingston stars in darkly comic Off Broadway transfer

The Twilight Zone, Ambassadors Theatre review – retro wit for our new space age

Rachel Halliburton

Anne Washburn's play for the Almeida achieves lift-off in the West End

Angry Alan, Soho Theatre review - superb monologue about the rise of 'meninism'

Veronica Lee

Penelope Skinner probes the men's rights movement

Waitress, Adelphi Theatre review - sweet if sometimes silly musical arrives from Broadway

Matt Wolf

Tale of female emancipation gets a necessary post-interval lift

Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, Barbican review - lacerating contemporary tragedy

David Nice

Simon Stone's homage to Euripides is faultless, while Marieke Heebink tears at the soul

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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