fri 24/02/2017

theatre reviews, news & interviews

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Young Vic

Alexandra Coghlan

“The nine men’s morris is filled up with mud, and the quaint mazes in the wanton green for lack of tread are undistinguishable.” Titania may mourn the landscape withered by her conflict with Oberon, but games and mazes hold no interest for director Joe Hill-Gibbins.

The Best Plays in London


London is the theatre capital of the world, with more than 50 playhouses offering theatrical entertainment. From the mighty National Theatre to the West End, the small powerhouses of the Donmar Warehouse and the Almeida and out to the fringe theatres, it's hard to know which to turn. Our guide is here to help you sort the wheat from the chaff. Below is our selection of the best plays on in London right now, with links to our reviews for further elucidation.

Twelfth Night, National Theatre

Alexandra Coghlan

Everybody’s a little bit gay in Simon Godwin’s giddy new Twelfth Night at the National Theatre. From Andrew Aguecheek, vibrant in candy-coloured...

The Girls, Phoenix Theatre

Matt Wolf

Why? That's the abiding question that hangs over The Girls, the sluggish and entirely pro forma Tim Firth-Gary Barlow musical that goes where Firth's...

Low Level Panic, Orange Tree Theatre

Aleks Sierz

The 1980s were a great decade for British women playwrights. During those Thatcher-dominated years, Caryl Churchill produced two world-class...

School Play, Southwark Playhouse

Will Rathbone

Debut play makes strong and worthwhile points but lacks depth

The Wild Party, The Other Palace

Marianka Swain

Gin, skin and sin in a scorching production of a slight musical

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

See Me Now, Young Vic

Aleks Sierz

Real sex workers take the stage for a brilliantly devised show

The Winter's Tale, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

David Kettle

A wonder-filled, child's-eye view of Shakespeare from director Max Webster

Richard III, Schaubühne Berlin, Barbican

David Nice

More or less a one-man show, but the denouement justifies everything

A Clockwork Orange, Park Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Stage version of dystopian classic returns – lively but cartoonish

Travesties, Apollo Theatre

Ismene Brown

Adjust your brain, and give in to Tom Stoppard's howlingly funny play

10 Questions for Actor Conleth Hill

Jasper Rees

He's George to Imelda's Martha, Varys in 'Game of Thrones', and an acting genius

Beware of Pity, Complicite & Schaubühne Berlin, Barbican

David Nice

Zweig's tale of moral equivocation becomes a tense radio-play with optional visual extras

The private life of Stefan Zweig in England

Jasper Rees

His great novel 'Beware of Pity' is being staged at the Barbican. Who was Zweig, and the woman with whom he committed suicide?

10 Questions for Actress Phoebe Fox

Jasper Rees

Cumberbatch's queen, Mark Strong's guilty secret, and now she's pocket Olivia to Tamsin Greig's Malvolia

The Pitchfork Disney, Shoreditch Town Hall

Aleks Sierz

Jamie Lloyd tackles Philip Ridley’s modern classic - with terrific results

The Glass Menagerie, Duke of York's

Jenny Gilbert

Tennessee Williams' first masterpiece gets the John Tiffany touch

Sex with Strangers, Hampstead Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New drama about literary ambition is neat, but not disturbing enough

The White Devil, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Alexandra Coghlan

This pitch black production of Webster's revenge tragedy is pitch perfect

Dirty Great Love Story, Arts Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Hit rom-com show is laugh-out-loud funny, but also a bit thin

Us/Them, National Theatre

Matt Wolf

Startling hour-long play mixes the poignant and the playful

Death Takes A Holiday, Charing Cross Theatre

Marianka Swain

The Grim Reaper seeks the meaning of life in this lush but ludicrous musical

Top Trumps, Theatre 503

Matt Wolf

America's new president gives rise to galvanic, sometimes scary theatre

Winter Solstice, Orange Tree Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New play about the cultivated face of fascism is fascinating if flawed

Picnic at Hanging Rock, Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

David Kettle

Terror of the brutal rawness of nature in Malthouse Theatre's masterful stage adaptation

Wish List, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

New play about casual work is thinly written and lacks drama

The Kite Runner, Wyndhams Theatre

Jenny Gilbert

Adaptation of Khaled Hosseini's bestseller is not built to soar

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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