mon 06/07/2020

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Les Blancs, National Theatre at Home review – triumphant revival of forgotten classic

Aleks Sierz

Lorraine Hansberry’s debut, A Raisin in the Sun, was the first drama written by a black woman to be produced on Broadway, where it opened in 1959. It is now an American classic, but it’s her last play, Les Blancs, that in the current context of the Black Lives Matter movement and resistance to institutional racism both in the US and UK feels even more relevant.

Toast, Lawrence Batley Theatre online review - pungent adaptation of Nigel Slater's autobiography

Rachel Halliburton

I knew what a Howard Hodgkin painting would look like before I ever saw one because of Nigel Slater. There’s a recipe in one of his very early books, Real Cooking, for “A creamy, colourful, fragrant chicken curry” which he candidly admits is “seriously unauthentic”, with ingredients that will leave some purists “really pissed-off”.

Theatre Lockdown Special 12: An American rarity,...

Matt Wolf

Can this weekly lineup really now be three months old?  As we move towards at least some degree of relaxation on the social restrictions that...

Birdsong, The Original Theatre Company online...

Laura De Lisle

Birdsong, Sebastian Faulks’ best-selling First World War novel, has been adapted quite a few times in its twenty-seven years. First came the TV...

Hamilton, Disney+ review - puts us all in the...

Marianka Swain

The movie adaptation of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s In the Heights was meant to hit cinemas this summer, but, in response to Covid-19, has been put back to...

A Midsummer Night's Dream, National Theatre At Home review – a mad delight

Laura De Lisle

Nicholas Hytner makes the familiar gloriously strange in this slippery, sumptuous show

The Last Five Years, The Other Palace Digital review - socially distanced heartbreak

Marianka Swain

Jason Robert Brown's chamber musical has new lockdown resonance

Theatre Lockdown Special 11: Shakespeare-as-rave, a starlit Old Vic, and, yes, those singing nuns

Matt Wolf

Some celeb-heavy revivals and a kids-friendly showstopper feature amongst this week's lineup

Ian Holm, British film's best supporting actor

Jasper Rees

From King Lear to Bilbo Baggins - remembering the great film actor who vanquished stage fright

Small Island, National Theatre At Home review – big-hearted story hits every beat

Laura De Lisle

Andrea Levy's Windrush epic bursts triumphantly onto the stage – and our screens

Theatre Lockdown Special 10: Epic plays from the National Theatre and Broadway alongside voices raised in protest

Matt Wolf

The state of Britain then and now gets a look-in, as do animals in human form

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe online review - a seasonal treat

Heather Neill

An inventive cast relishes the comic potential of the Elizabethan stage

The Madness of George III, National Theatre at Home review – a powerful, elegant depiction

Rachel Halliburton

A story told with the wit and elegance of a tune played on a harpsichord

Theatre Lockdown Special 9: Alan Bennett revisited, and so is Oz

Matt Wolf

Some familiar titles, a 1913 rarity and a show in which the audience plays its part

Reasons To Be Cheerful, Graeae review - raunchy working-class nostalgia

Aleks Sierz

Film version of a loud and proud 2017 tribute to Ian Dury and the Blockheads

Coriolanus, National Theatre at Home review – gritty 21st century update

Rachel Halliburton

The power of the mob still resonates in a production that speaks powerfully to our times

Theatre Lockdown Special 8: A film star plays tough, and several familiar titles are examined anew

Matt Wolf

Tom Hiddleston reminds us of his stage roots, as does Christopher Walken as Captain Hook

This House, National Theatre at Home review – timely revival of brilliant House of Commons drama

Rachel Halliburton

James Graham acutely perceives the obsessions and motivations of our times

Theatre Lockdown Special 7: Party politics and a Broadway titan or two

Matt Wolf

Early James Graham joins various Broadway legends, Irving Berlin and Jerry Herman amongst them

Larry Kramer: 'I think anger is a wonderful useful emotion'

Jasper Rees

Remembering the AIDS activist who wrote The Normal Heart and the screenplay for Women in Love

A Streetcar Named Desire, National Theatre at Home review - world on fire

Aleks Sierz

NT Live recording of this classic Young Vic production is genuinely unmissable

The Understudy online review - entertaining adaptation of David Nicholls' novel

Veronica Lee

Nice in-jokes and smart observations about actors

Theatre Lockdown Special 6: A prolific playwright, a timeless play, and speeches galore

Matt Wolf

A popular American star vehicle and 'Alice in Wonderland' minute-by-minute figure among the cultural bounty during the week ahead

Cats, The Shows Must Go On review - a purr-fectly theatrical experience

Marianka Swain

This filmed version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical captures its eccentric charms

Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre at Home review - still lively after all these years

Rachel Halliburton

Barbershop banter and the place it occupies in black male identity

Theatre Lockdown Special 5: A solo show for the ages, Ibsen refreshed, and yet more frolicsome cats

Matt Wolf

From a much-traveled one-man play to a continent-spanning National Theatre premiere, the theatrical week offers plenty so savour

Midnight Your Time, Donmar Warehouse online review – intimate and quietly moving

Aleks Sierz

Revival of 2011 HighTide hit reconceived for streaming stars Diana Quick

Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre at Home review – Fiennes and Okonedo triumph in dragging tragedy

Laura De Lisle

A triumvirate of talent and a slick set can't in themselves speed things along

Theatre Lockdown Special 4: Little-known Lloyd Webber, prize-winning Shakespeare, and starry David Mamet

Matt Wolf

In an ever-busy week, the Donmar and Finborough join the online bustle

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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