fri 25/05/2018

theatre reviews, news & interviews

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.

Ian Rickson: 'I'm an introvert, I want to stop talking about myself' - interview

Jasper Rees

Ian Rickson’s route into theatre was not conventional. Growing up in south London, he discovered plays largely through reading them as a student at Essex University. During those years he stood on a picketline in the miners’ strike, and proudly hurled the contents of an eggbox at Cecil Parkinson. He is a lifelong supporter of Charlton Athletic.

As You Like It / Hamlet, Shakespeare’s Globe...

Tom Birchenough

There’s a distinct feeling of back to basics to this opening double bill at the Globe under the theatre’s new Artistic Director Michelle Terry. The...

Effigies of Wickedness, Gate Theatre review -...

Alexandra Coghlan

The show’s subtitle – “Songs banned by the Nazis” – is a catchy one, and somewhere under the confetti, the stilettos, the extravagant nudity, the...

Life and Fate / Uncle Vanya, Maly Drama Theatre,...

David Nice

Towards the end of the Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg's Life and Fate, a long scene in director Lev Dodin's daring if necessarily selective...

Red, Wyndham's Theatre - Mark Rothko drama paints a vivid picture

Marianka Swain

Alfred Molina gives a towering performance as the self-absorbed artist

Describe the Night, Hampstead Theatre review - epic take on the mythology of Putin

Jenny Gilbert

A not-very-brief history of Russia's relationship with lies and lying

Problem in Brighton, Brighton Festival review - comic but patchy rock show

Thomas H Green

David Shrigley's 'fun musical event' succeeds about half the time

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Brighton Festival review - a dynamic dedication to an artist's muse

Katie Colombus

and the perfect love story

Nightfall, Bridge Theatre, review - moving but over-exposed

Aleks Sierz

Sad and intimate play about rural life gets a bit lost in this large theatre

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IOU Rear View, Brighton Festival review - imaginative odyssey around town

Thomas H Green

Mind-massaging travelogue of theatre, poetry and site-specific visual experience

Building the Wall, Park Theatre review - the nature of nightmare

Katherine Waters

Different Americas clash in engrossing two-hander set in Texas prison

NoFit State Circus present Lexicon, Brighton Festival review - a wild eye-boggling jamboree

Thomas H Green

Vivid big top action makes a hugely enjoyable opener to Brighton Festival 2018

An Ideal Husband, Vaudeville Theatre review - unsettled evening leaves blood on Wilde's drawing-room furniture

Alexandra Coghlan

A strong cast can't quite pull off the author's most political play

Picks of Brighton Festival 2018 by writer-director Neil Bartlett

Neil Bartlett

The playwright and novelist on what's making him head for the Brighton Festival 2018 box office

Mood Music, Old Vic review - riveting critique of the music biz

Aleks Sierz

Joe ‘Sunny Afternoon’ Penhall’s triumphant new play about the music industry really rocks

Chess, London Coliseum review - powerfully sung but still problematic

Matt Wolf

Eighties musical remains a melodically rich muddle

Nine Night, National Theatre review - Jamaican family drama full of spirit

Aleks Sierz

New comedy about a West Indian wake is lively, but a bit undercooked

The Writer, Almeida Theatre review - deconstruction run rampant

Matt Wolf

Romola Garai gives a storming performance in deliberately tricksy Ella Hickson play

10 Questions for Sharon Smith of Arts Collective Gob Squad

Thomas H Green

Sharon Smith of the Berlin-based Gob Squad talks age, Oscar Wilde and Nicki Minaj

Absolute Hell, National Theatre review - high gloss show saves over-rated classic

Aleks Sierz

Energetic revival of Rodney Ackland’s best play exposes many of its faults

The Prudes, Royal Court review - hilarious but frustrating sex show

Aleks Sierz

New two-hander about sex is wise and funny, but fails to achieve a climax

Strictly Ballroom: The Musical, Piccadilly Theatre review - largely naff

Matt Wolf

Stage version of the Baz Luhrmann film is a bloated cartoon

Kathleen Turner: Finding My Voice, The Other Palace review - a familiar name in freshly exciting form

Matt Wolf

The screen and stage star invents herself anew, this time in song

Rasheeda Speaking, Trafalgar Studios review - unsettling comedy, thorny racism

Tom Birchenough

Bravura performance from Tanya Moodie in sharp new American drama of racial discord

Bat Out of Hell, Dominion Theatre review - the Meat Loaf musical returns, batty as ever

Marianka Swain

The booming behemoth is right at home in We Will Rock You’s old digs

Tina, Aldwych Theatre review - new Tina Turner bio-musical is simply OK

Marianka Swain

Powerhouse Adrienne Warren is the saving grace of a show that plays it safe

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

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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