wed 21/03/2018

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Great Wave, National Theatre review - moving epic of global loss

Aleks Sierz

You could call it an absence of yellow. Until very recently British theatre has been pretty poor at representing the stories of Chinese and East Asian people, and even of British East Asians. In 2016, Andrew Lloyd Webber called British theatre “hideously white” and, despite the sterling work of groups such as Yellow Earth theatre company, there have been several casting controversies where white actors have played Chinese and East Asian characters.

Hamlet, RSC, Hackney Empire review - Paapa Essiedu's winning Dane

Matt Wolf

Shakespeare's death-laden play is alive and well and breathing with renewed force in Hackney, the last British stop for an RSC touring Hamlet that moves on from London to the Kennedy Centre in Washington DC in May.

Vivaldi's The Four Seasons: A Reimagining,...

Alexandra Coghlan

Vivaldi’s The Four Seasons: A Reimagining – it’s not a title that trips off the tongue. Nor one, frankly, that inspires much excitement, with its...

Female Parts: Shorts, Hoxton Hall review - women...

Katherine Waters

Hot on the heels of International Women’s Day come three monologues written, directed and produced by women showing at Hoxton Hall. It’s kind of a...

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...

Antony Sher: Year of the Mad King - extract

Antony Sher

The actor's Lear Diaries tell of his preparation to clamber up theatre's tallest peak for the RSC

Humble Boy, Orange Tree Theatre review - love, death and science in Middle England

Aleks Sierz

Spirited revival of Charlotte Jones's 2001 hit buzzes with fun

Brief Encounter, Empire Cinema review – poignant, hilarious revival

Heather Neill

Emma Rice's lauded stage version of the film returns with charm and inventiveness intact

Returning to Haifa, Finborough Theatre review - a bumpy journey into the Arab-Israeli past

Jenny Gilbert

Adaptation of Palestinian novella needs less tell, more show

Macbeth, National Theatre - Rufus Norris goes for drab, gory and tricksy

Ismene Brown

Rory Kinnear plays the homicidal Thane like a Mitchell brother on the rampage

Summer and Smoke, Almeida Theatre - exquisite renaissance of Tennessee Williams's neglected play

Marianka Swain

Patsy Ferran anchors a radiant coming-of-age tale

The Best Man, Playhouse Theatre review - Gore Vidal’s plodding presidential drama

Aleks Sierz

Martin Shaw and Maureen Lipman fail to heat up chilly political thriller

Fanny and Alexander, Old Vic review - agile but shallow Bergman adaptation

David Nice

Three strong performances weakened by miscasting elsewhere and restless soundtrack

Harold and Maude, Charing Cross Theatre review - Sheila Hancock serene in thin production

Saskia Baron

Theatrical adaptation of the 1971 cult Californian movie doesn't set the stage on fire

theartsdesk in Minsk: feasting with Belarus Free Theatre

Jasper Rees

The renowned underground theatre company confronts the past and present at home and abroad

'The greatest play ever written': translating The Cherry Orchard

Rory Mullarkey

Rory Mullarkey introduces his new version of Chekhov's masterpiece for Bristol Old Vic

Frozen, Haymarket Theatre review - star cast explores the reality of evil

Aleks Sierz

Suranne Jones, Jason Watkins and Nina Sosanya convincingly examine human darkness

The B*easts, Bush Theatre review - Monica Dolan is almost flawless

Katherine Waters

Hectic monologue from smoking, drinking, fast-talking psychotherapist about women's bodies

Angry, Southwark Playhouse review – wondrously roaring Ridleyland

Aleks Sierz

Six monologues about extreme emotions offer trips to outer space and dystopia

Girls & Boys, Royal Court review - Carey Mulligan is stunningly brilliant

Aleks Sierz

Dennis Kelly’s remarkable new monologue is a terrific experience

'These star-crossed lovers are so young': adapting Brighton Rock

Bryony Lavery

How to turn Graham Greene's novel into a play: the playwright Bryony Lavery explains

The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse review - a miniaturist masterpiece

Matt Wolf

Pitch-perfect Peter Gill revival surpasses its original

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

'Why we understand each other': Peter Gill on The York Realist

David Benedict

The playwright-director reflects on his 2001 play, revived at the Donmar and Sheffield Crucible

All or Nothing: The Mod Musical, Arts Theatre - plenty of room for ravers

Adam Sweeting

Tribute to the short but brilliant career of the Small Faces

The Divide, Old Vic review - Alan Ayckbourn’s overblown dystopia

Aleks Sierz

Epic, very long satire on religion and sexual segregation prefers comedy to tragedy

Gundog, Royal Court review - tedious and inconsequential

Aleks Sierz

New misery fest about rural life is symbolic, but lacks drama and resonance

Long Day's Journey Into Night, Wyndham's Theatre review - Lesley Manville hits ecstatic, fatal highs

Ismene Brown

A fine staging of O'Neill's family tragedy crowned by an indelible performance

Collective Rage, Southwark Playhouse review - a rollicking riot

Katherine Waters

Absurd romp through love, lust, and friendship is a knock-out

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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