sat 25/03/2017

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Kid Stays in the Picture, Royal Court, review – ‘sad, bad and sprawling’

Aleks Sierz

The beauty of fiction is that its stories have both compelling shape and deep meaning – they are dramas where things feel right and true and real. The trouble with real life is that it’s the opposite: it is messy, frequently shapeless and often meaningless.

An American in Paris review - 'stagecraft couldn't be slicker'

Jenny Gilbert

What’s in a yellow dress? Hope over experience? Reckless confidence? This is a legitimate question when the second big cross-Atlantic people-pleaser hoves into view featuring a girl in a frock of striking daffodil hue. It doesn’t take a degree in semiotics to translate this. Forget the bad stuff, people. C’mon, get happy.

The Best Musicals in London


Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre ★★★ Disney's latest blockbuster film-turned-stage show remains airborne – justAn American in Paris, Dominion...

Love in Idleness, Menier Chocolate Factory

Tom Birchenough

What's in a name? Terence Rattigan’s Love in Idleness is a reworking of his 1944 play Less Than Kind (never staged at the time, it was first produced...

Roman Tragedies, Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Barbican

David Nice

It felt good to be encountering Shakespeare at his most political with a world event to smile about, for once (hailing, of course, from this...

Stepping Out, Vaudeville Theatre

Veronica Lee

Maria Friedman's revival of frothy comedy

A Dark Night in Dalston, Park Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Michelle Collins stars in haunting account of belief and loneliness

The Miser, Garrick Theatre

Tom Birchenough

Molière at full throttle: Griff Rhys Jones and Lee Mack appeal

Romeo and Juliet, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Graham Rickson

Shakespeare with added smartphones

'Backstabbing, betrayal and love': Ryan Craig on Filthy Business

Ryan Craig

The birth of a very personal new work at Hampstead Theatre about a small family business

My Country; A Work in Progress, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

The poet laureate’s verbatim play about Brexit sinks into banality

The Best Plays in London


Shakespeare, Stoppard, wizards and more: theartsdesk's stage tips

Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, Harold Pinter Theatre

Heather Neill

Humour and vitriol contend in a tightly orchestrated production of Albee's celebrated play

Limehouse, Donmar Warehouse

Aleks Sierz

Docudrama about the 1981 Labour Party split is a treat – for politicos

I'm Gonna Pray for You So Hard, Finborough Theatre

Tom Birchenough

Conflicts in a theatre family: sharp writing in a new American two-hander

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Old Vic

Matt Wolf

Stoppard's breakout play gets a giddy 50th anniversary revival

A Profoundly Affectionate, Passionate Devotion to Someone (–noun), Royal Court Theatr

Aleks Sierz

New play by debbie tucker green is too abstract for its own good

Othello, Tobacco Factory, Bristol

Mark Kidel

Othello as Iago's tale: sex, violence and misogyny

Refugees and referendums: Ramin Gray on staging Aeschylus's The Suppliant Women

Ramin Gray

The second oldest play, adapted by David Greig for the Actors Touring Company, bursts with contemporary resonance

Ugly Lies the Bone, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

American play about virtual reality therapy is a bit thin

Othello, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

David Nice

Kurt Egyiawan's Moor takes arms against a sea of production troubles, but in vain

10 Questions for Director Ellen McDougall

Heather Neill

On directing 'Othello' at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, and taking over at the Gate

Hamlet, Almeida Theatre

David Nice

Andrew Scott, predictably unpredictable, is subject to Robert Icke's slow-burn clarity

Speech & Debate, Trafalgar Studios

Matt Wolf

Tony winner's first play couples awkwardness and charm

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Young Vic

Alexandra Coghlan

Shakespeare's comedy gets bogged down in this messy production

Twelfth Night, National Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

Tamsin Greig leads a superb cast in this giddy take on Shakespeare's classic comedy

The Girls, Phoenix Theatre

Matt Wolf

The, ahem, ladies do what they can with a show at once overfamiliar and overlong

Low Level Panic, Orange Tree Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Revival of 1980s feminist comedy is more curiosity than classic

School Play, Southwark Playhouse

Will Rathbone

Debut play makes strong and worthwhile points but lacks depth

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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