tue 27/07/2021

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Two Character Play, Hampstead Theatre review - tender, poetic and piercingly cruel

Alexandra Coghlan

It’s the trivia question no one ever thought to ask: where was the only Tennessee Williams play premiered outside America first performed?

Lava, Bush Theatre review - poetic writing, mesmerically performed

Helen Hawkins

What’s in a name? In Benedict Lombe’s incendiary debut play at the Bush Theatre, the answer to this question encompasses a whole continent, an entire existential experience - the Black experience, to be exact - though not in the way that "roots" stories often proceed.

Hamlet, Windsor Theatre Royal review - the age is...

Ismene Brown

So it wasn’t Cinderella but Hamlet who was first out of the post-lockdown starting blocks – Andrew Lloyd Webber’s much trumpeted musical premiere...

ANNA X, Harold Pinter Theatre review - lacking in...

Laura De Lisle

There just isn’t enough there, with ANNA X. Daniel Raggett’s production is the third and final of the RE:EMERGE season at the Harold Pinter Theatre,...

Mr and Mrs Nobody, Jermyn Street Theatre review...

Rachel Halliburton

If you’re looking for a distraction from the apocalyptic headlines that seem to be the norm right now, then it may appeal to descend into the...

South Pacific, Chichester Festival Theatre review - gloriously revived and also refreshed

Gary Naylor

Rodgers and Hammerstein classic has new relevance in a spectacular production

Last Easter, Orange Tree Theatre review - over-performative and strangely off-putting

Laura De Lisle

The lighting's gorgeous, but Bryony Lavery's drama about theatre friendships never quite clicks

King Lear, The Grange Festival review - friendship in adversity

Peter Quantrill

People, not politics, at the heart of a timeless tragedy

The Dumb Waiter, Old Vic: In Camera review - more in sorrow than in anger

Heather Neill

Thoughtful and funny revival of Pinter's two-hander

Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare's Globe review - unsatisfactory mix of clumsy and edgy

Rachel Halliburton

Too many of the messages seem reductive and irrelevant

The Invisible Hand, Kiln Theatre review - balanced on a knife edge

Laura De Lisle

Scott Karim soars in taut revival of Ayad Akhtar’s political thriller

Pippin, Charing Cross Theatre review - happy-clappy vibe

Gary Naylor

Light up a joss stick for this pared-back version of Stephen Schwartz 's 1972 musical

Wonderful Town, Quick Fantastic, Opera Holland Park review - everybody's swinging it

David Nice

Band and singers energise the brilliant entertainment of Bernstein, Comden and Green

Constellations, Vaudeville Theatre review - a starry revival

Laura De Lisle

Atim and Jeremiah flare bright, Wanamaker and Capaldi burn slow

Bach & Sons, Bridge Theatre review - humorous and deeply intelligent

Rachel Halliburton

Raine beautifully evokes how music captures the mess of life

J'Ouvert, Harold Pinter Theatre review - formless yet fabulous

Matt Wolf

Yasmine Joseph brings a blast of Carnival to the West End

Out West, Lyric Hammersmith review – not quite a hat trick

Aleks Sierz

Ambitious triptych examines the themes of Empire, race and parenthood

Under Milk Wood, National Theatre review - Michael Sheen at his most magnetic

Matt Wolf

One Welshman honours another in National Theatre return to the Dylan Thomas mainstay

Raya, Hampstead Downstairs review - a richly fraught reunion

Gary Naylor

Deborah Bruce's play puts multiple topics on the table

Happy Days, Riverside Studios review - memory, madness and melancholy

David Nice

Lisa Dwan’s infinite variety guides us through Beckett’s timeless masterpiece

After Life, National Theatre review - thanks for the memories

Helen Hawkins

Intriguing, inventive play from Jack Thorne and Headlong

Extract: David Lan's As If By Chance

David Lan

Adventures in Palestine from the memoir of the former artistic director of the Young Vic

First Person: Director Maria Aberg on drawing fresh inspiration for the future

Maria Aberg

The theatre-maker sets out her stall for an ambitious, pan-European venture

First Person: playwright Tanika Gupta on being back in the rehearsal room once more

Tanika Gupta

The writer expresses her joy at going 'Out West'

The Death of a Black Man, Hampstead Theatre review - blistering theatre with an unflinching vision

Rachel Halliburton

Uncomfortable truths beneath the poisoned patter in revival of Alfred Fagon's 1975 play

Four Quartets, Theatre Royal Bath review - Ralph Fiennes gives a compelling performance

Veronica Lee

Premiere of solo stage production of TS Eliot's work

Walden, Harold Pinter Theatre review – where’s the emotion?

Aleks Sierz

Debut play about siblings, climate change and space travel is full of ideas

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe review - a blast of colour from our post-vaccine future

Rachel Halliburton

A production that revels in the joyously absurd while hinting at the play's darker edges

Bergen International Festival, 26 May - 9 June preview - Norway meets America


The largest curated festival for music and performing arts in the Nordic region. Around 30 digital events to watch from anywhere around the world.

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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