thu 06/10/2022

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Boy with Two Hearts, National Theatre review - poignant yet humorous story of family forced to flee Afghanistan

Rachel Halliburton

It’s particularly poignant to watch this story in the knowledge that a little over a year after US-led troops withdrew from Afghanistan, women and girls are enduring a renewed repression of their rights under the Taliban. The real-life story of The Boy with Two Hearts took place in 2000 – the year before the western invasion began; to see it today is a depressing reminder of how little was achieved through that ill-thought-out venture.

James IV: Queen of the Fight, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh review - revelatory historical drama

David Kettle

"The poem is real," intones entertainer-turned-courtier Ellen solemnly as a prologue and epilogue to Rona Munro’s vivid, vibrant new James IV: Queen of the Fight, presented by Scottish producers Raw Material and Edinburgh’s Capital Theatres in association with the National Theatre of Scotland, and getting its premiere at the city’s Festival Theatre before a Scotland-wide tour.

Only an Octave Apart, Wilton's Music Hall...

David Nice

You know you’re in good company the minute these two appear on stage: they are so splendidly what they are, comfortable in their own skins and...

Iphigenia in Splott, Lyric Hammersmith review -...

Gary Naylor

It’s hard to keep up with what terms are in vogue amongst those who insist on classifying and vilifying young people, but one that you don’t hear so...

The Crucible, National Theatre review - visually...

Mert Dilek

How can this beauty arise from such ugliness? The Crucible, Arthur Miller’s 1953 drama about the Salem witch trials of 1692, is rife with unwavering...

John Gabriel Borkman, Bridge Theatre review - amusing tale of awful people

Demetrios Matheou

Simon Russell Beale is the unapologetically corrupt banker, in Ibsen's chilly tragicomedy

Jews. In Their Own Words, Royal Court review - calling out ancient prejudice

Aleks Sierz

After its antisemitic blunder a year ago, this venue makes amends

Eureka Day, Old Vic review - fun if not entirely fulfilling

Matt Wolf

Dissent in the ranks in uber-timely American comedy

The Wonderful World of Dissocia, Theatre Royal Stratford East review - wild trip gets a welcome revival

Gary Naylor

A woman confronts her neuroses in a phantasmagorical world full of fun and fear

'The first thing I do when I wake up is write.' Hilary Mantel, 1952-2022

Jasper Rees

An interview with the novelist the morning after she won the Man Booker Prize for the first time

Clutch, Bush Theatre review - new comedy-drama passes its test

Gary Naylor

After a strong start, newly commissioned play takes a wrong exit from the roundabout

Bright Half Life, Kings Head Theatre review - ups and downs of a tender lesbian love affair

Helen Hawkins

Tanya Barfield reconstructs a simple plot as an absorbing puzzle

Handbagged, Kiln Theatre review - triumphant revival of Moira Buffini's comedy

Helen Hawkins

Mrs Thatcher and Elizabeth II slug it out again in this 2013 classic

The P Word, Bush Theatre review - persecution and pride

Aleks Sierz

Two-hander about a contrasting pair of gay Pakistanis is beautifully wrought

The Snail House, Hampstead Theatre - perplexing new drama that lacks bite

Rachel Halliburton

The central character is put in the dock but has ample evidence to get out

The Two Popes, Rose Theatre review - sparkling with wit and pathos

Gary Naylor

Funny, poignant and stimulating, a delightfully welcome piece of intellectual escapism

Antigone, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - Sophocles rewritten with purpose and panache

Heather Neill

Inua Ellams adds contemporary political thrust to a well-loved classic

The Clinic, Almeida Theatre review - race and the status quo

Helen Hawkins

Dipo Baruwa-Etti pits a fiery outsider activist against the British-Nigerian middle-class

Walking with Ghosts, Apollo Theatre review - a beguiling Gabriel Byrne opens up

Demetrios Matheou

The acclaimed Irish actor adapts his memoir into a stirring one-man show

Who Killed My Father, Young Vic review - Hans Kesting excels in this solo show

Mert Dilek

Édouard Louis’s book is brought to life in a fierce performance

Silence, Donmar Warehouse review - documenting disaster

Aleks Sierz

Dramatisation of Kavita Puri’s Partition Voices is moving and compelling

I, Joan, Shakespeare's Globe review - a non-binary retelling that's as ebullient as it's irreverent

Rachel Halliburton

The fact is that Joan of Arc was, by anyone’s standards, unique

Ride, Charing Cross Theatre review - A true story of female empowerment

Gary Naylor

New musical about a barrier-breaking woman freewheels into the West End

Into The Woods, Theatre Royal Bath review - If you go down to the woods today, you're sure of a big surprise

Gary Naylor

Prepare to be dazzled and disoriented in a phantasmagorical festival of theatrical magic

Treason The Musical In Concert, Theatre Royal Drury Lane review - plenty of musical gunpowder but not enough plot

Gary Naylor

Semi-staged production shows promise - and problems

The End of Eddy, Edinburgh International Festival 2022 review - powerful but lacking compassion

David Kettle

An energetic, lithe gig-theatre adaptation of Édouard Louis’s 2014 trauma memoir can't escape the book's limitations

Edinburgh Fringe 2022 review: The Stones

David Kettle

A slow-burn gothic horror plays with our sense of reality to intelligently creepy effect

Edinburgh Fringe 2022 reviews: Ode to Joy / Wilf

David Kettle

Two plays by Scottish writer James Ley set out to shock, provoke – and provide belly laughs too

The Trials, Donmar Warehouse review - chillingly compelling

Aleks Sierz

A jury of young people hold their elders to account for climate change

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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