wed 27/01/2021

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Peter Pan: The Audio Adventure review - the perfect bedtime story

Laura De Lisle

The blurb for Peter Pan: The Audio Adventure, Shaun McKenna’s new adaptation of JM Barrie’s classic, tells us, with a hi

Dick Whittington, National Theatre at Home review - colourful and amiable entertainment

Veronica Lee

In a much-depleted and truncated pantomime season that withered on the vine, the National Theatre's debut production of Dick Whittington lasted only four performances before the show was cancelled; it has now released this recording, which will be available throughout the current lockdown.

Best of 2020: Theatre

Matt Wolf

"Goodbye": The single word lingered heavily in the air last March 16, as the scripted closing both of the terrific Southwark Playhouse revival of The...

Living Newspaper: A Counter Narrative, Royal...

Laura De Lisle

Edition 2 of Living Newspaper: A Counter Narrative, an experimental new piece of online theatre from the Royal Court, doesn’t mess around. Within...

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic online review - the...

Matt Wolf

As proof that you can't have too much of a good thing, consider the return of Matthew Warchus's buoyant production of A Christmas Carol, now marking...

Pantomimes 2020 round-up: what's available online

Veronica Lee

Children and adults are catered for

Troy Story, RSC online review - biting off more than it can chew

Laura De Lisle

Gregory Doran's outdated vision of Greek myth is bolstered by five great performances

A Christmas Carol, Dominion Theatre review - brash and bustling and snowy, too

Matt Wolf

Dickens redux, noisily but with brio

The Comeback, Noël Coward Theatre review - frantic farce with touches of vaudeville

Veronica Lee

The Pin sketch duo's assured theatrical debut

Overflow, Bush Theatre review – fear, fury and fun

Aleks Sierz

New monologue is a shout out for trans and non-gender-conforming rights

The Dumb Waiter, Hampstead Theatre review - menace without a hint of mirth

Matt Wolf

Taut Pinter revival sacrifices the play's darkly comic underlay

Nine Lessons and Carols, Almeida Theatre review – spiky portrayal of a world turned upside down

Rachel Halliburton

Skilfully interwoven accounts of a life in which togetherness is forbidden

A Christmas Carol, Bridge Theatre review - deluxe seasonal storytelling

Aleks Sierz

The Dickens classic, as adapted by this venue’s artistic director, shakes its holly

GHBoy, Charing Cross Theatre review - drugs and sex but no rock 'n' roll

Matt Wolf

Paul Harvard's ambitious debut play needs further focus

The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Bristol Old Vic/Kneehigh/Wise Children online review – ravishing vision of Chagall's early life

Rachel Halliburton

An ingenious depiction of the artist's gravity-defying love

What a Carve Up!, Barn Theatre online review – ingenious whodunnit

Aleks Sierz

Film adaptation of Jonathan Coe’s 1994 bestseller is a postmodern masterpiece

15 Heroines, Jermyn Street Theatre online review - putting the women back into Greek myth

Laura De Lisle

Scorching adaptation of Ovid is a welcome theatrical respite from lockdown

Death of England: Delroy, National Theatre review - a furious if fleetingly seen sequel

Matt Wolf

Opening and closing night were the same for vital solo show

Little Wars, Union Theatre online review - richly emotional, but formulaic

Aleks Sierz

Lillian Hellman meets a handful of other female greats in an imaginary dinner party

Nine Lives, Bridge Theatre review - engaging if slim finale to ambitious solo season

Matt Wolf

Sparky solo play leaves you wanting yet more

The Great Gatsby, Immersive London review – a warm and electric tribute to the book

Rachel Halliburton

It's a true achievement to feel the chemistry of a cast whirring into action again

Quarter Life Crisis, Bridge Theatre review – slender and superficial

Aleks Sierz

Return of one-woman show about growing up is disappointingly thin

Hermione Lee: Tom Stoppard, A Life review - the last word on a theatrical wordsmith

Matt Wolf

Capacious biography pins down an elusive subject

Nights in the Garden of Spain & Miss Fozzard Finds Her Feet, Bridge Theatre review - potent mix of pain and comedy

Matt Wolf

Essential series of Alan Bennett stage pairings comes to an end

Playing Sandwiches & A Lady of Letters, Bridge Theatre review - the darkness dazzles, twice over

Matt Wolf

Masterclasses make up a mighty hour of theatre

Sunnymead Court, Tristan Bates Theatre review - a lovely lockdown romance

Laura De Lisle

Socially distanced dramedy is short and sweet, with a knockout performance from Remmie Milner

An Evening with an Immigrant, Bridge Theatre review – poetic and engaging

Aleks Sierz

Masterly revival of Inua Ellams’s 2016 autobiographical one-man show

The Cheeky Chappie, The Warren Outdoors review - entertaining drama about risqué comic Max Miller

Veronica Lee

Jamie Kenna brings Brighton favourite to life

The Shrine & Bed Among the Lentils, Bridge Theatre review - loneliness shared, with wit and melancholy

David Nice

Monica Dolan and Lesley Manville are peerless in this Alan Bennett double bill

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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