sat 01/04/2023

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Drive Your Plow Over the Bones of the Dead, Complicité, Barbican review - murder in the forest

Mark Kidel

Complicité, the adventurous theatre company led today by Simon McBurney, one of its founders, is now 40. Over the last four decades, McBurney and his collaborators have changed the face of theatre.Rooted in the training of Jacques Lecoq, along with Robert Lepage, Ariane Mnouchkine and others, they have created work that combines poetry and intelligence, illuminating the stage in a way that combines the inspiration of the best story-telling with the play of the imagination.

Berlusconi, Southwark Playhouse Elephant review - curious new musical satire

Gary Naylor

One wonders if Ricky Simmonds and Simon Vaughan pondered long over their debut musical’s title. Silvio might invite hubristic comparisons with Evita (another unlikely political leader), but Berlusconi feels a little Hamilton - too soon? They went with the surname of their anti-hero which appears a mite unwieldy on the playbill.

Black Superhero, Royal Court review - ambitious,...

Aleks Sierz

The act of idol worship is, at one and the same time, both distantly ancient and compellingly contemporary. Whether it is Superman, Wonder Woman or...

Dance of Death, National Theatre of Norway,...

David Nice

You don’t have to be Scandinavian to act out Strindberg’s fantastical extremes at the highest level, but I’ve not seen any British performers come...

The Way Old Friends Do, Park Theatre review -...

Aleks Sierz

Is it a good idea to work with your spouse? The Way Old Friends Do, a love letter to ABBA tribute bands – which premiered at the Birmingham Rep...

Marjorie Prime, Menier Chocolate Factory review - superbly acted chiller about a contemporary crisis

Helen Hawkins

Pulitzer finalist asks how good an ally is modern technology

Further Than the Furthest Thing, Young Vic review - small island longings

Aleks Sierz

Empathetic revival of Zinnie Harris’s 2000 play about a lost world

Guys and Dolls, Bridge Theatre review - exuberant new production of the 1950 masterpiece

Helen Hawkins

Nicholas Hytner and a crack cast deliver a fresh take on the classic musical

Under the Black Rock, Arcola Theatre review - political thriller turns soapy

Gary Naylor

Evanna Lynch heads up wan troubles-themed dark comedy

Shirley Valentine, Duke of York's Theatre review - Sheridan Smith slays it

Matt Wolf

Willy Russell's play gets a renewed lease of life

The New Electric Ballroom, Gate Theatre, Dublin review - fantasy and memory hauntingly interwoven

David Nice

Enda Walsh's second drama on now about ritualised isolation is mesmerising

The Great British Bake Off Musical, Noel Coward Theatre review - blue-chip cast lift daft confection

Helen Hawkins

It's more adult panto than mature musical, with the sauce liberally ladled on

Brilliant Jerks, Southwark Playhouse review - busy three-hander casts a biting glance toward Uber

Tom Teodorczuk

Joseph Charlton's 2018 play revived on the back of his subsequent West End success

Sleepova, Bush Theatre review - sweet coming of age play with a soft centre

Helen Hawkins

A vivacious cast are great fun to hang out with

The Winter's Tale, Shakespeare's Globe review - clever concept never quite catches fire

Alexandra Coghlan

Two theatres, one concept, but no lasting sparks from Shakespeare's tragi-comedy

Truth's a Dog Must to Kennel, Battersea Arts Centre review - King Lear goes virtual

Aleks Sierz

Tim Crouch’s latest show intriguingly deconstructs theatre in a post-truth world

Oklahoma!, Wyndham's Theatre review - radical reimagining adds plenty but achieves less

Gary Naylor

Ambitious but misconceived take on musical theatre landmark outstays its welcome

The Walworth Farce, Southwark Playhouse Elephant review - dysfunctional Irish myth-making

David Nice

Four spot-on performances confirm that Enda Walsh's queasy thriller is here to stay

Grenfell: System Failure, Playground Theatre review - if this doesn't make you angry, nothing will

Laura De Lisle

Second instalment of urgent documentary drama condemns the system that let the tower burn

Women, Beware the Devil, Almeida Theatre review - bewitching, up to a point

Demetrios Matheou

Rising star Lulu Raczka offers an ambitious if erratic tale of witchcraft and civil war

Trouble in Butetown, Donmar Warehouse review - entertaining and warmhearted

Aleks Sierz

History play about an African-American GI in Cardiff never really takes off

Akedah, Hampstead Theatre review - long-separated sisters reunite to battle over their past

Helen Hawkins

Michael John O'Neill's debut stirs up questions but not emotions

Medea, @sohoplace review - Sophie Okonedo is commanding in a dated version of the Greek tragedy

Mert Dilek

Dominic Cooke's otherwise uneven production boasts formidable performances

Standing at the Sky's Edge, National Theatre review - razor-sharp musical with second-act woes

Gary Naylor

Chris Bush and Richard Hawley write a love letter to a friendly and flawed hometown

Duet for One, Orange Tree Theatre review - poignant two-hander gets an updated reprise

Helen Hawkins

Affecting revival of Tom Kempinski play about an ailing musician and her therapist

Sylvia, Old Vic review - great leads, rambling story

Gary Naylor

Sylvia Pankhurst suffers for her commitment to votes for women and to socialism

Graceland, Royal Court review - quiet desolation is too literary

Aleks Sierz

Subtle monologue about a toxic relationship lacks dramatic punch

Winner's Curse, Park Theatre review - Clive Anderson takes to the boards

Helen Hawkins

The dark arts of diplomacy get a makeover as a comedy workshop

Phaedra, National Theatre review - stunning acting in stunning show

Aleks Sierz

Hotshot auteur Simon Stone creates a dazzling new myth for our times

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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