wed 19/06/2019

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Citysong, Soho Theatre review - big writing, big heart

Aleks Sierz

Irish playwright Dylan Coburn Gray's new play won the Verity Bargate Award in 2017, and his reward is a fine production of this beautifully written account of one Dublin family over several decades. It is a light-touch epic which is partly a humorous account of ordinary people's daily lives, partly a meditation on time and partly a social history of changing attitudes to family, and to sex, over the years in Ireland.

Napoli, Brooklyn, Park Theatre review - lacking substance

Katherine Waters

According to their mother, Luda (played by Madeleine Worrall, pictured below), each of the three sisters (pictured top) in Napoli, Brooklyn, bears one of their father’s admirable traits. Tina (Mona Goodwin), the oldest, who left school early to earn money for the family in a factory job, has his strength.

Franco Zeffirelli: 'I had this feeling that...

Jasper Rees

"I am amazed to be still alive. Two hours of medieval torment.” Franco Zeffirelli - who has died at the age of 96 - had spent the day having a lumbar...

While the Sun Shines, Orange Tree Theatre review...

Matt Wolf

Terence Rattigan completists, and count myself among them, will leap at the chance to see a rare production courtesy the Orange Tree Theatre of While...

Sweat, Gielgud Theatre review - searing drama of...

Tom Birchenough

There’s a joke early on in Sweat, Lynn Nottage’s superlative drama about American working lives, in which a lively bar-room conversation turns to the...

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Bridge Theatre review – gender-juggling romp

Rachel Halliburton

Nicholas Hytner's vivacious 21st-century take shines like a disco glitterball

The Best Plays in London


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

First Person: Matt Henry on fulfilling 'a dream come true' to play the legendary singer Sam Cooke

Matt Henry

The Olivier Award-winning alumnus of 'Kinky Boots' shifts gears to tell a vibrant story of 1960s America

Bronx Gothic, Young Vic review - fervid intensity

Tom Birchenough

Okwui Okpokwasili’s solo performance piece is an astounding piece of theatre

The Knight of the Burning Pestle, Cheek by Jowl/Pushkin Theatre, Barbican review - theatre satire updated

Tom Birchenough

Declan Donnellan riffs on Beaumont’s meta-comedy in flavoursome Russian

Education, Education, Education, Trafalgar Studios review - politics and pupils, mayhem and music

Katherine Waters

The future of education seen from 1997 and 2019

Wife, Kiln Theatre review - queer epic is joyful and intense

Aleks Sierz

Decade-hopping story about sexual identity also celebrates the art of theatre

King Hedley II, Theatre Royal Stratford East review - concentrated, enveloping drama

Tom Birchenough

Lenny Henry tops a strong cast in August Wilson’s 1999 play of African American identity

The Starry Messenger, Wyndham's Theatre review - Matthew Broderick gets all cosmic

Matt Wolf

Kenneth Lonergan's Off Broadway play trades heavily on deadpan as it crosses the pond

Rutherford and Son, National Theatre review - authentic northern tale

Aleks Sierz

Revival of Githa Sowerby's 1912 classic of industrial patriarchy is worthy but inaccessible

User Not Found, The CoffeeWorks Project review - solo play set in a café offers food for thought

Matt Wolf

Dante or Die's latest is mirthful and mournful in turn

Berlin: True Copy, Brighton Festival 2019 review - tricksy forgery masterclass

Thomas H Green

Superbly conceived and crafted multimedia theatre piece about art forgery

Our Town, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review – small-town tale that raises profound existential questions

Rachel Halliburton

A moving antidote to fast-paced narratives and rampant individualism

The Lehman Trilogy, Piccadilly Theatre review - stunning chronicle of determination and dollars

Rachel Halliburton

A simultaneously sweeping and intimately human production

Superhoe, Brighton Festival 2019 review - a darkly vital one-woman show

Thomas H Green

Nicôle Lecky's raw, persuasive play about sex work, social media and female empowerment

ANNA, National Theatre review - great thriller, shame about the tone

Aleks Sierz

Intriguing Cold War thriller is thoroughly immersive, but lacks a convincing sense of history

First Person: Ellen McDougall on finding the commonality in the American classic 'Our Town'

Ellen McDougall

The director explains what drew her to the season-opener this summer at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park

Gravity & Other Myths: Backbone, Brighton Festival 2019 review - eyeboggling and very human circus show

Thomas H Green

Australian troupe dazzle with balletic acrobatics, stunning precision and teamwork

salt., Royal Court review - revisiting the Atlantic slave trade

Aleks Sierz

One woman's journey to explore the slave trade is both personal and provocative

White Pearl, Royal Court review - comic racial stereotypes

Aleks Sierz

New satire about the cosmetics industry and race is only mildly funny

My Left Right Foot: The Musical, Brighton Festival 2019 review - foul-mouthed comic brilliance

Thomas H Green

Scottish production that reaps comedy gold from society's awkwardness about disablity

Orpheus Descending, Menier Chocolate Factory review - Tennessee Williams scorcher needs more firepower

Matt Wolf

Troubled but tantalising Williams play doesn't entirely land this time around

Henry IV Parts 1 & 2/Henry V, Shakespeare's Globe review - helter-skelter ensemble history trilogy

Heather Neill And David Nice

Doubling, humour and an outstanding female Henry V

The Firm, Hampstead Theatre review - ferociously funny exploration of gang culture

Rachel Halliburton

Roy Williams revival looks beyond the headlines to see the codes, complexity and camaraderie of crime

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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