mon 16/01/2017

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Wish List, Royal Court Theatre

Aleks Sierz

You could call it the Corbynisation of new writing. In the past couple of years, a series of plays have plumbed the lower depths, looking at the subject of good people trapped in zero-hour contracts and terrible working conditions. Like Ken Loach’s dreary film, I, Daniel Blake, these plays have integrity, but very little dramatic content. Market leaders of this new fashion are two plays devised under the direction of Alexander Zeldin, Beyond Caring and Love.

The Kite Runner, Wyndhams Theatre

Jenny Gilbert

Khaled Hosseini's 2003 bestseller ticks all the boxes as an A-level text. A personal story with epic sweep, it interweaves the bloody recent history of Afghanistan with a gripping family saga.

The Best Plays in London


Buried Child, Trafalgar Studios ★★★★ Ed Harris gives a masterclass in Sam Shepard's gothic family drama. Until 18 FebCinderella, London Palladium...

Interview: Claire Foy, Netflix queen

Jasper Rees

It was a good night for British thespians at the 2016 Golden Globes. The stars of The Night Manager – Tom Hiddleston, Hugh Laurie and Olivia Colman...

The Trackers of Oxyrhynchus, Finborough Theatre

Jenny Gilbert

When a leading fringe theatre starts the year with a production whose gender ratio is 8:1 in favour of men, it had better have a good reason. When...

Best of 2016: Theatre

Matt Wolf

Several National Theatre knock-outs, a corker or three at the Court, and Billie Piper packed a wallop

Christmas Book: When Broadway Went to Hollywood

David Nice

Ethan Mordden's latest opinionated guide has plenty of entertainment value

Art, Old Vic

Sarah Kent

Acerbic revival of Yasmina Reza's bitterly funny comedy exploring male friendship

Saint Joan, Donmar Warehouse

Aleks Sierz

Revival of Shaw classic is a tour de force for Gemma Arterton

Mary Stuart, Almeida Theatre

David Nice

Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams electrify as four Schiller queens

theartsdesk in Cape Town: Summer of nostalgia

Boyd Tonkin

In a divided nation, holiday season shows look back to harsher but more hopeful times

Love's Labour's Lost/Much Ado About Nothing, RSC, Theatre Royal Haymarket

Alexandra Coghlan

These sunny comedies are rich in delight but lacking in darkness

Dreamgirls, Savoy Theatre

Edward Seckerson

Sensational! It's been worth the long wait for the girl group musical to reach London

Cinderella, London Palladium

Veronica Lee

Welcome return of pantomime to this iconic venue

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

Love, National Theatre

Tom Birchenough

Family desperation simmers, then erupts in Alexander Zeldin's devastating social drama

Hedda Gabler, National Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Top director Ivo van Hove makes an uneven Southbank debut

Fleabag, Soho Theatre

Aleks Sierz

Phoebe Waller-Bridge’s television hit returns to the stage – and still rocks

Wild Honey, Hampstead Theatre

Matt Wolf

Early Chekhov begins strongly, then falls away

She Loves Me, Menier Chocolate Factory

Matt Wolf

Bijou Broadway title proves supremely winning

Seasons of love: Rent 20 years on

Jasper Rees

Jonathan Larson died before his musical struck gold. Was there more to come?

Strictly Ballroom, West Yorkshire Playhouse

Graham Rickson

High on visual thrills, low on subtlety: Baz Luhrmann's debut film returns to the stage

Once in a Lifetime, Young Vic

David Nice

Moving pictures and crisp talk as Richard Jones tackles a Broadway comedy

10 Questions for Director Christopher Luscombe

Jasper Rees

The master of ceremonies who is bringing his double bill of Shakespearean comedy to the West End

Peter Pan, National Theatre

Heather Neill

Sally Cookson brilliantly reinvents a Christmas favourite to hook in all ages

When Sam Shepard was a Londoner

Jasper Rees

The great American playwright, back in the West End with 'Buried Child', spent three formative years in London. Those who were there remember

Buried Child, Trafalgar Studios

Jenny Gilbert

Ed Harris gives a masterclass in Sam Shepard's gothic family drama

This House, Garrick Theatre

Ismene Brown

Sharp Seventies political farce comes suddenly bang up to date

The Little Matchgirl, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

Tom Birchenough

Hans Christian Andersen made contemporary, infused with Emma Rice's trademark brio

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.

Close Footnote

Subscribe to

Thank you for continuing to read our work on For unlimited access to every article in its entirety, including our archive of more than 10,000 pieces, we're asking for £2.95 per month or £25 per year. We feel it's a very good deal, and hope you do too.

To take an annual subscription now simply click here.

And if you're looking for that extra gift for a friend or family member, why not treat them to a gift subscription?

Advertising feature



Get a weekly digest of our critical highlights in your inbox each Thursday!

Simply enter your email address in the box below

View previous newsletters

latest in today

Mr Swallow - Houdini, Soho Theatre

Nick Mohammed doesn't do things by halves as his chatty airhead alter ego Mr Swallow. Forgot the scholarly approach of finely research biographies...

CD: Nadia Rose - Highly Flammable

The flaming pigtails say it all. More St Trinian’s than gangsta, the 23 year-old Croydon rapper Nadia Rose presents (mostly) the lighter...

Le Grand Macabre, LSO, Rattle, Barbican

The Big Mac – as in Ligeti's music-theatre fantasia on the possible death of Death – is here to stay. Back in 1990, three critics (I was...

Sunday Book: James Lee Burke - The Jealous Kind

In the heat of a Texas summer, Aaron Holland Broussard comes of age. It’s 1952:  the two world wars still cast their long shadows and, far...

Reissue CDs Weekly: Roy Acuff

In 1942, Roy Acuff set up Acuff-Rose Music in partnership with Nashville-based songwriter and talent scout Fred Rose. The new publishing company...

CD: Petite Meller - Lil Empire

God knows we need originality in pop, and French singer Petite Meller delivers it. At least, she does visually, which, in 2017, is 50 percent of...

Written on Skin, Royal Opera

There’s a passage in Martin Crimp’s impeccable libretto for Written on Skin that describes a page of illuminated manuscript. The ink, he...

Interview: Marius de Vries, musical director of La La Land

La La Land needs no further introduction. A homage to the golden age of the movie...

Sound of Musicals with Neil Brand, BBC Four

"Oh what a beautiful morning! Oh what a beautiful day!" Curly the cowboy sang in the opening scene of Oklahoma!, the first...