sat 27/11/2021

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Four Quartets, Harold Pinter Theatre review - brilliant Fiennes breathes air and physicality into Eliot's work

Rachel Halliburton

Words flow like water in TS Eliot’s Four Quartets, shimmering with allusion, swirling and eddying with the ideas and fractured philosophies of a poet at the height of his powers.

A Christmas Carol, The Old Vic review - not quite a festive-season cracker

Gary Naylor

Four years and a Broadway run on from its Old Vic debut, director Matthew Warchus and writer,Jack Thorne are still throwing everything they can at one of the most familiar stories, and characters, in English literature.

Manor, National Theatre review – ambitious, but...

Aleks Sierz

After all the tides of monologue plays have ebbed, British new writing is now paddling in the pools of state-of-the-nation drama. At the Royal Court...

The Comedy of Errors, RSC, Barbican review -...

Alexandra Coghlan

“Am I myself?” At the tangled centre of Shakespeare’s comedy of two pairs of identical twins, servant Dromio asks the question on which everything...

Death of England: Face to Face, National Theatre...

Aleks Sierz

One of the absolute highpoints of new writing in the past couple of years has been the Death of England trilogy. Written by Roy Williams and Clint...

Little Women The Musical, Park Theatre review - broad brush comedy redeemed by a talented cast

Rachel Halliburton

Musical adaptation of Louisa May Alcott classic is enjoyable but undemanding

The Wife of Willesden, Kiln Theatre review - a saucy ode to Brent

Laura De Lisle

Zadie Smith's updated Chaucerian tale has a spring in its step and a twinkle in its eye

Rare Earth Mettle, Royal Court review - one long unsatisfying slog

Aleks Sierz

Al Smith’s new play was jinxed before it started - and it never really recovers

Straight White Men, Southwark Playhouse review - an exciting Korean-American playwright arrives in the UK

Helen Hawkins

Hilarious and probing satire from Young Jean Lee

A Merchant of Venice, Playground Theatre review - Shylock supreme in a pared-down production

Tom Birchenough

The intensity of studio theatre only fitful in Bill Alexander's updated adaptation

Vanya and Sonia and Masha and Spike, Charing Cross Theatre review - Tony-winning play checks out Chekhov

Gary Naylor

Super London debut for Russian-inspired Broadway comedy

Remembering Henry Woolf, Harold Pinter's oldest friend

Jasper Rees

The school friend who commissioned, directed and acted in Pinter's first play

little scratch, Hampstead Downstairs review - a maverick director surpasses herself

Helen Hawkins

Katie Mitchell hits a new career high

Footfalls & Rockaby, Jermyn Street Theatre review - Beckett up close and personal

Gary Naylor

Double bill finds the Irish master at his most raw

The Seven Pomegranate Seeds, Rose Theatre, Kingston review - misogynist Euripides stands corrected

Ismene Brown

Pierce Brosnan's James Bond finds a daft but apt place in Euripidean rewrite

Sessions, Soho Theatre review – intense, but inconclusive

Aleks Sierz

Powerful play about masculinity in crisis fails to reach a satisfying resolution

Milk and Gall, Theatre 503 review - motherhood in the age of Trump

Gary Naylor

No-holds-barred comedy lays bare the unsentimental side of parenting

The Choir Of Man, Arts Theatre review - old school hits in an old school pub

Gary Naylor

Lots of songs and lots of sugary sentimentality

The Sugar House, Finborough Theatre review - appealing but uneven family drama

Mert Dilek

Alana Valentine's play about crime and poverty in Australia receives a spirited production

The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Duke of York's Theatre review - pure theatrical magic

Laura De Lisle

Spellbinding adaptation of Neil Gaiman's novel reminds us of the terror and beauty of childhood

Pride & Prejudice* (*sort of), Criterion Theatre review - bursting with wit, verve, and love

Laura De Lisle

Bombastic karaoke adaption of Jane Austen classic gives the spotlight to the servants

Old Bridge, Bush Theatre review - powerful, poetic and profound

Aleks Sierz

New play about love during the Bosnian war is beautifully written and compelling

Brian and Roger: A Highly Offensive Play, Menier Chocolate Factory review - not for the squeamish

Helen Hawkins

The Menier opens its new second stage with this podcast-turned-play

'Night, Mother, Hampstead Theatre review - despair in sotto-voce

Tom Birchenough

Stockard Channing is hurting and hurtful in revival of Marsha Norman's piercing 1983 drama

The Magician's Elephant, Royal Shakespeare Theatre review - family musical doesn't fully deliver

Gary Naylor

An elephant awakens an emotionally shattered town

albatross., Playground Theatre review - interconnected intimacies

Mert Dilek

An adroit cast does justice to Isley Lynn's complexly woven narrative

A Place for We, Park Theatre review - perceptive, but rather flabby

Aleks Sierz

New play about gentrification could be regenerated with a make-over

Royal Opera House lullabies for Little Amal

David Nice

Near the end of her long journey, our refugee gets a welcome her real-life kin are denied

Vanara, Hackney Empire review - fine singing, but a plodding book and one-pitch score in this new musical

Gary Naylor

Two tribes feud over fire in a post-apocalyptic world's last surviving forest

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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