thu 09/04/2020

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Gators, Tramp Productions online review – the glittering dark

Aleks Sierz

She’s an ordinary young woman, and she really doesn’t know what to think. After all, things are way out of control. She knows that the natural world is pretty fucked, and that nothing grows in the earth any more — well, at least not on her patch. She knows that the gators, the semi-aquatic reptiles that used to live in swamps, have now taken to strolling through cities. And that they fall in love with humans, and serenade them, and feel bad when they are rejected.

Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre online review - a major play about the miners

Matt Wolf

The talk is of an “economy in ruin [with] unemployment through the roof”: a précis of Britain in lockdown?

Cyprus Avenue, Royal Court Theatre online review...

Matt Wolf

One of the most blistering stage performances in recent memory gets a renewed lease on life with the streaming of the 2019 screen version, aired last...

It’s True, It’s True, It’s True, Breach Theatre...

Aleks Sierz

Artemisia Gentileschi has definitely had a hard time. Although she was an outstanding Renaissance painter in the style of Caravaggio, and the first...

One Man, Two Guvnors, National Theatre at Home...

Aleks Sierz

Armchair theatre-lovers rejoice. During the lockdown, the National Theatre is streaming a selection of its past hits for free for one week at a time...

Wild, Hampstead Theatre online review - timelier than anticipated

Matt Wolf

Mike Bartlett's 2016 play chimes with our topsy-turvy times

The Croft, Original Theatre online review – give me the remote

Aleks Sierz

Original Theatre’s tartan gothic thriller is complex but also a bit overwrought

Sondheim at 90 Songs: 5 - 'Every Day A Little Death'

Sam Marlowe

A stinging duet from 'A Little Night Music' has a savagely funny power

Sondheim at 90 Songs: 4 - 'America'

Aleks Sierz

Brilliant lyrics from the young composer offer a definitive take on migration

Sondheim at 90 Songs: 3 - 'Johanna' (Quartet Version)

Graham Rickson

Sublime ensemble number from Act Two of 'Sweeney Todd'

I and You, Hampstead Theatre review - now streaming online, this YA play is oddly pertinent

Marianka Swain

Head to Instagram for a 2018 production with plenty of 2020 shutdown wisdom

Sondheim at 90 Songs: 2 - 'Epiphany'/'A Little Priest'

David Nice

Is there a better climax to a musical first act than the terror-plus-wit in 'Sweeney Todd'?

Bubble, Theatre Uncut online review - educational, but unexceptional

Aleks Sierz

Theatre Uncut’s streamed play about social media and the woke generation is clear but slender

Sondheim at 90 Songs: 1 - 'I'm Still Here'

Marianka Swain

We're celebrating the great man's birthday with favourite numbers - mine's from 'Follies'

Sondheim at 90: adults will listen

Matt Wolf

The composer-lyricist has left an indelible legacy

The Seven Streams of the River Ota, National Theatre review - theatre at its transcendent best

Rachel Halliburton

Robert Lepage seizes on the fragments of human lives to build an epic

Love, Love, Love, Lyric Hammersmith review - a stinging revival

Matt Wolf

Mike Bartlett play remains as buoyant and biting as ever

On Blueberry Hill, Trafalgar Studios review - superb acting, specious plot

Matt Wolf

Sebastian Barry two-hander offers rich acting opportunities for two of Ireland's finest

Blithe Spirit, Duke of York's Theatre review - Jennifer Saunders in serious comedy

Aleks Sierz

Thoughtful revival of Coward classic has all the ingredients - except the laughs

Mrs Puntila and Her Man Matti, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh review - a drink-sodden slog

Fergus Morgan

Re-gendered Brecht proves a chore

Shoe Lady, Royal Court review - Katherine Parkinson is a footsore Beckettian

Aleks Sierz

Slender new monologue about struggling middle-class womanhood

Not Quite Jerusalem, Finborough Theatre review - theatrical hit from 1980 now feels flat and stale

Rachel Halliburton

Paul Kember's play doesn't sing convincingly any more

The Last Five Years, Southwark Playhouse review - an inspired actor-musician take on a cult classic

Marianka Swain

Jason Robert Brown's conceptual relationship musical gets an enriching new layer

The Revenger's Tragedy, Piccolo Teatro di Milano/Cheek by Jowl, Barbican review - fun, but not enough

David Nice

Middleton's decimation of an Italian court needs more satirical thrust

The Special Relationship, Soho Theatre review - informative, but uninspiring

Aleks Sierz

Verbatim account of transatlantic deportation is an uneven mix of fact and farce

Pretty Woman: The Musical, Piccadilly Theatre review - not so pretty, actually

Matt Wolf

Popular film romcom looks fairly icky on stage

United Queendom, Kensington Palace review - rollicking royal tale

Veronica Lee

Intriguing, enjoyable immersion in Georgian court intrigue

Sinners, Playground Theatre review - intimacy but also fear

Anthony Walker-Cook

Brian Cox turns director in an attenuated two-hander starring his wife

Women Beware Women, Shakespeare's Globe, review – wittily toxic upgrade of a Jacobean tragedy

Rachel Halliburton

In the #Metoo era, the exploitation of the female characters is particularly resonant

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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