wed 11/12/2019

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Duchess of Malfi, Almeida Theatre review - a radically original perspective on Webster's tragedy

Heather Neill

This play can be a challenge for modern audiences: a woman who is ostensibly in a position of power, "a prince" in Renaissance terms, is nevertheless constrained by social expectations and a prisoner of the will of her overbearing brothers. A widow, she defies them to marry her steward Antonio in secret and tragedy ensues.

Cyrano de Bergerac, Playhouse Theatre review - James McAvoy triumphant

Aleks Sierz

Actor James McAvoy is much in demand: in the BBC's His Dark Materials he is busy saving a parallel world, while in the poetic universe of Edmond Rostand's Cyrano de Bergerac he is tasked with soothing more than one aching heart.

Fairview, Young Vic review - questioning the...

Tom Birchenough

Jackie Sibblies Drury’s Fairview comes to the Young Vic with the 2019 Pulitzer Prize for Drama under its belt, and a reputation for putting audiences...

Ravens: Spassky vs. Fischer, Hampstead Theatre...

Marianka Swain

We’ve had Chess the musical; now, here’s Chess the play. Tom Morton-Smith, who has experience wrestling recent history into dramatic form with the...

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

Heather Neill

"Dickensian" commonly means both sentimental Victorian, apple-cheeked family perfection (especially at Christmas) and abject poverty. The story of...

The Boy Friend, Menier Chocolate Factory review - fun but featherweight

Matt Wolf

Period confection in three acts could use pruning

Midnight Movie, Royal Court review - sleepless and digital

Aleks Sierz

New autobiographical play about night thoughts on bodies real and digital

The Wind of Heaven, Finborough Theatre review - a welcome, if strange, Emlyn Williams rediscovery

Heather Neill

Welsh parable of the second coming makes unusual seasonal fare

The Wolf of Wall Street, 5-15 Sun Street review - energetic but to what end?

Matt Wolf

Jordan Belfort memoirs translate unpleasantly, even unnecessarily, to the stage

White Christmas, Dominion Theatre review - breezy but bland

Matt Wolf

Seasonal entertainment is cheerful if essentially dull

My Brilliant Friend, National Theatre review - sleek spectacle almost eats its characters

David Nice

Four complex novels squeezed into a big, bold show with strong performances

The Arrival, Bush Theatre review - boys will definitely be boys

Aleks Sierz

Director Bijan Sheibani turns playwright in a fine two-hander about family

The Lion, The Witch and The Wardrobe, Bridge Theatre review – spellbinding narrative of parallel worlds

Rachel Halliburton

An electric interpretation in which the White Witch – like the devil – has all the best tunes

Henry VI, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse review - a lively vortex

David Nice

Close-knit company keeps the York and Lancaster clashes as clear and lively as it can

& Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre review - the Bard with dancefloor bangers

Sam Marlowe

The heroine seizes the mic in this Shakespeare-inspired jukebox musical

The Best Plays in London


What to see where and until when: theartsdesk's stage tips

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

Dear Evan Hansen, Noël Coward Theatre review - this social outcast will steal your heart

Marianka Swain

A stirring new musical tackles missed connections in the internet age

Measure for Measure, RSC, Barbican review - behind the times

Katherine Waters

Stratford transfer makes much of contemporary resonance but fails to deliver

Stray Dogs, Park Theatre review – no fire in this historic encounter

Rachel Halliburton

The script misses all that was distinctive about Berlin and Akhmatova's meeting

'By the end I’d lost me': Joe Simpson, mountaineer and writer - interview

Jasper Rees

The story of Touching the Void has been told and retold. Its author explores its appeal

Touching the Void, Duke of York's Theatre review - not quite high enough

Aleks Sierz

David Greig's much-lauded mountaineering story doesn't quite peak

Mary Poppins, Prince Edward Theatre review - a lavish but old-fashioned revival

Marianka Swain

Everyone's favourite nanny returns, again

The Taming of the Shrew, Barbican review - different but still problematic

Heather Neill

Gender changes provide a new perspective on the balance of power

Shadows, Coronet Theatre review - talking heads in the void

David Nice

Multimedia haunting from Norwegian company De Utvalgte in Jon Fosse's theatre-poem

The Antipodes, National Theatre review - mysterious and gently momentous

Matt Wolf

Annie Baker's latest will divide opinion but reward devotees

Sydney & the Old Girl, Park Theatre review - black comedy too melodramatic

Aleks Sierz

Family drama is occasionally entertaining, but too dark for its own good

Death of a Salesman, Piccadilly Theatre review - galvanising reinvention of Arthur Miller's classic

Rachel Halliburton

Wendell Pierce confirms a performance as exciting as any this theatrical year

God's Dice, Soho Theatre review - overlong and overblown

Veronica Lee

David Baddiel's debut play tackles a big issue

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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