fri 20/07/2018

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre review - hilarious but dark, darker, darkest

Aleks Sierz

The NHS is us. For decades our national identity has been bandaged together with the idea, and reality, of a health service that is free at the point of delivery.

A Monster Calls, Old Vic - wild, beautiful theatre that beguiles and bruises

Rachel Halliburton

A raw pagan vitality animates this extraordinary story about a teenage boy wrestling with tumultuous emotions in the face of his mother’s terminal illness.

End of the Pier, Park Theatre review - thought-...

Veronica Lee

Les Dennis was once a marquee name on Saturday night television as host of Family Fortunes, but since giving up the light entertainment lark he now...

The Lehman Trilogy, National Theatre review - an...

Matt Wolf

There's surprising and then there's The Lehman Trilogy, the National Theatre premiere in which a long-established director surprises his audience and...

Alkaline, Park Theatre review - faith, friendship...

Aleks Sierz

Britain is rightly proud of its record on multiculturalism, but whenever cross-cultural couples are shown on film, television or the stage they are...

As You Like It, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - love among the bucolic hippies

Heather Neill

Earnest environmental messages underpin celebratory, musically gleeful Shakespeare

Pick of the 2018 BBC Proms: women composers first and last, blockbuster Bernstein


Our classical and opera writers choose their favourites in prospect

The Best Plays in London


From Hogwarts to that brief encounter at Milford station : theartsdesk's stage tips

Charlotte Jones: ‘Plays come from your scar tissue’

Charlotte Jones

The playwright introduces 'The Meeting', her new play for Chichester Festival Theatre

The Jungle, Playhouse Theatre review - new territory

Katherine Waters

How many deaths would you survive for a second chance?

The Lieutenant of Inishmore, Noel Coward Theatre review - Aidan Turner makes a magnetic West End debut

Matt Wolf

Martin McDonagh revival brings Poldark to the London stage, guns blazing

Imperium, Gielgud Theatre review - eventful, very eventful, Roman epic

Aleks Sierz

The RSC’s adaptation of Robert Harris’s Cicero books reaches the West End

The King and I, London Palladium review - classic musical reborn with modern sensibilities

Marianka Swain

A golden production helmed by the incomparable Kelli O'Hara

As You Like It, Shakespeare in the Squares review - an exuberant celebration of the Summer of Love

Rachel Halliburton

Infectious fun delivered by a cast bursting with boisterous talent

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare's Globe review - a chilly tale for a time of austerity

Alexandra Coghlan

Blanche McIntyre finds coherence in this uneven play but at what cost?

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Wilton's Music Hall review - a stereotype-smashing evening of pagan delights

Rachel Halliburton

The Faction brings fire and gumption to Shakespeare

Genesis Inc, Hampstead Theatre review - Harry Enfield in ungodly mess

Aleks Sierz

Huge new play about the fertility industry is rather crudely conceived

Fun Home, Young Vic review - a simply sublime musical memoir

Marianka Swain

Alison Bechdel's graphic novel becomes achingly intimate theatre

One for Sorrow, Royal Court review - imploding family drama

Aleks Sierz

Smart and powerful new play about fear, terror and prejudice runs out of steam

The Town Hall Affair, The Wooster Group, Barbican review - electric anarchy

Rachel Halliburton

Invigorating theatre: the 1971 Manhattan feminism vs Norman Mailer debate recreated

Finishing the Picture, Finborough Theatre review - projections in a realm of mirrors

Katherine Waters

Arthur Miller’s last play tells of a depressed self-sabotaging movie star failed by all around her

Kiss Me, Kate, Opera North, London Coliseum review - Cole Porter delivered in true company style

David Nice

Just a tad short on Broadway charisma, but this sophisticated production glides along

Enter theartsdesk / h Club Young Influencer of the Year award


In association with The Hospital Club's h.Club100 Awards, we're looking for the best cultural writers, bloggers and vloggers

Julius Caesar, BBC Four review - electrifying TV launch of all-women Shakespeare trilogy

David Nice

Harriet Walter and Jade Anouka are the superlative opposite poles in a perfect ensemble

English, Festival of Voice, Wales Millennium Centre review – lost in language

Owen Richards

Unique interactive performance explores the privilege of mother tongue

Notes From the Field, Royal Court review - sobering report from the frontline of race

Rachel Halliburton

Anna Deavere Smith shines her singular light on American inequality and systemic injustice

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar Warehouse review - Lia Williams makes an iconic role her own

Matt Wolf

Familiar title is reinvigorated afresh in a startling revival

Machinal, Almeida Theatre review - descending into darkness

Matt Wolf

Lesser-known American classic exerts a clinical fascination

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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