fri 18/08/2017

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Festival and Fringe 2017 reviews round-up


Wondering what on earth to choose between as you tramp the streets of the festival? These are our highlights so far.STANDUPAthenu Kugblenu, Underbelly Med Quad ★★★ Strong debut hour of political and identity comedy

Edinburgh Festival 2017 reviews: Meet Me at Dawn / The Shape of the Pain / Wild Bore

David Kettle

 Meet Me at Dawn ★★★★★

King Lear, Shakespeare's Globe - Nancy...

Alexandra Coghlan

Every play is a Brexit play. This much we have learnt in the year since the referendum. But in Nancy Meckler’s hands the Globe’s new King Lear...

The Majority, National Theatre review – a...

Aleks Sierz

A new plague is sweeping British theatre: audience participation. Instead of just sitting back and enjoying the show, your visit to a venue is now...

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 reviews: Pike St / Box...

David Kettle

Pike St ★★★★ London-based theatre company Paines Plough’s pop-up touring venue Roundabout has been a regular Edinburgh Fringe fixture for the past...

Christopher Shinn: 'I did not know if I would be alive and someone wanted me to write a play'

Christopher Shinn

The playwright explains the gestation of Against, his new play for the Almeida Theatre starring Ben Whishaw

Edinburgh Festival 2017 review: The Divide

David Kettle

Alan Ayckbourn's vast dystopian fantasy feels cosy rather than alarming

Proms 34 & 35 review: Oklahoma!, John Wilson Orchestra - music triumphs, words and drama suffer

David Nice

Lopsided results in faithful reconstruction of Rodgers and Hammerstein's groundbreaker

Edinburgh Fringe 2017 reviews: Adam / Eve / Nassim

David Kettle

Three compelling shows on identity - gender and otherwise - at the Traverse Theatre

Edinburgh Festival 2017 reviews: Rhinoceros / Flight

David Kettle

Zinnie Harris's new version of Ionesco, and Vox Motus take on the subject of migration

h.Club 100 Awards: Theatre and Performance - is this a new golden age for the stage?

Matt Wolf

If this is a great era for theatre, it is not only welcome but necessary

Apologia, Trafalgar Studios review – Stockard Channing shines bright as a 1960s radical

Aleks Sierz

Broadway legend Stockard Channing dominates this family drama

The Best Plays in London


From Angels in America to Harry Potter: theartsdesk's stage tips

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

Coming Clean, King's Head Theatre / Twilight Song, Park Theatre reviews - gay-themed first and last plays falter

David Nice

Kevin Elyot's 1982 debut has value, but his swansong should have stayed in the dark

When Sam Shepard was a Londoner

Jasper Rees

The great American playwright, who has died aged 73, spent three formative years in London. Those who were there remember

Road, Royal Court review - poetry amidst the pain

Matt Wolf

John Tiffany leads Jim Cartwright's debut play towards the sublime

The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Menier Chocolate Factory review – more than feel-good summer fun

Peter Quantrill

Musical with its finger on the pulse of the 1980s and its heart in the right place

Mosquitoes, National Theatre review - Olivias Colman and Williams dazzle amid dramatic excess

Matt Wolf

Lucy Kirkwood play fusing science and familial disarray is as exhausting as it is enlightening

Girl from the North Country, Old Vic review – Dylan songs hit home, the rest is weirdness

Bella Todd

Conor McPherson meets Bob Dylan in the Depression-era dustbowl with disconnected results

Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Apollo Theatre review - Sienna Miller lets rip

Matt Wolf

Starry cast lay bare body and soul in Tennessee Williams classic

Olivia Williams interview: 'Are you on drugs?' 'No I've just spent the day acting'

Jasper Rees

The actress summoned to Hollywood who lived to tell the tale, wittily

Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare's Globe review - swaggering Shakespeare with a comic Spanish accent

Alexandra Coghlan

It's fiesta time in Matthew Dunster's colourful new show

Dessert, Southwark Playhouse review - undercooked and overwrought

Matt Wolf

Oliver Cotton's new play, directed by Trevor Nunn, begins well before succumbing to absurdity and hysteria

A Tale of Two Cities, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre review - it was the longest of times

Susan Sheahan

Dickens adaptation succumbs to the didactic

Enter theartsdesk's Young Reviewer of the Year Award


In association with The Hospital Club's h.Club 100 Awards, we're launching a new competition to find a brilliant young critic

'You win in the end!' Deborah Bruce introduces her play 'The House They Grew Up In'

Deborah Bruce

How a new play at Chichester Festival Theatre was inspired by a conversation overheard in a café

Bodies, Royal Court review – pregnant with meaning

Aleks Sierz

New drama about surrogacy is rich in metaphor and fraught with conflict

Queen Anne, Theatre Royal Haymarket review - slow, long and dull

Alexandra Coghlan

Helen Edmundson's new history play gets bogged down in period detail

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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