sat 25/05/2024

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Richard III, Shakespeare's Globe review - Michelle Terry riffs with punk bravado

Tom Birchenough

There’s a fierce, dark energy to the Globe’s new Richard III that I don’t recall at that venue for a fair while. The drilled cast dances seemed more frenzied, and there are more of them, and for once let’s start with a shout-out for James Maloney’s musical score. It’s a thing of some wonder, ranging from jazz palpitations and wiry strings to the throbbing beats of intrigue that riff on the rapid action of the “troublous world” unfolding beneath the musicians’ balcony.

Between Riverside and Crazy, Hampstead Theatre review - race, religion and rough justice

Aleks Sierz

It’s often said that contemporary American playwrights are too polite, too afraid of giving offence. But this accusation can’t be levelled at Stephen Adly Guirgis, whose dramas – from Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train in 2002 to The Motherfucker in the Hat in 2011 – are dirty-tongued and often fiercely emotional.

Passing Strange, Young Vic review - exuberant...

Helen Hawkins

From New York’s Public Theater, the venue that nurtured Hamilton, comes another estimable pocket musical, Passing Strange. It was first staged in...

Fawlty Towers: The Play, Apollo Theatre review -...

Adam Sweeting

There are many definitions of bravery, and taking on the challenge of embodying John Cleese as Basil Fawlty in Cleese’s own stage adaptation of...

People, Places and Things, Trafalgar Theatre...

Demetrios Matheou

It’s unusual for a play to be revived with its original director and star, let alone a decade after they premiered the piece. But here we are, with...

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Withnail and I, Birmingham Rep review - Bruce Robinson’s 1987 film makes for a theatrical hit

Guy Oddy

Withnail and Marwood fix up the Jag and head for Birmingham

Sappho, Southwark Playhouse Elephant review - a glitzy celebration of sapphic love

Jane Edwardes

Too much camp and not enough content in this tribute to the Greek poet

Twelfth Night, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - burlesque overwhelms the darker notes in this mixed revival

Heather Neill

Queer themes and music take centre stage in a café setting

Multiple Casualty Incident, The Yard Theatre review - NGO medics in training have problems of their own

Gary Naylor

Sami Ibrahim's play examines ethics in a war zone, but pivots to a gimmicky love story

Spirited Away, London Coliseum review - spectacular re-imagining of beloved film

Gary Naylor

Growing up with Chihiro/Sen is overwhelming, enlightening and beautiful

Laughing Boy, Jermyn Street Theatre review - impassioned agitprop drama

Saskia Baron

Strong ensemble work highlights the plight of people with learning disabilities

Minority Report, Lyric Hammersmith Theatre review - ill-judged sci-fi

Demetrios Matheou

Philip K Dick’s science fiction short story fares far better on screen

Two Strangers (Carry A Cake Across New York), Criterion Theatre review - rueful and funny musical gets West End upgrade

Jane Edwardes

A Brit and a New Yorker struggle to find common ground in lively new British musical

Testmatch, Orange Tree Theatre review - Raj rage, old and new, flares in cricket dramedy

Gary Naylor

Winning performances cannot overcome a scattergun approach to a ragbag of issues

Banging Denmark, Finborough Theatre review - lively but confusing comedy of modern manners

Helen Hawkins

Superb cast deliver Van Badham's anti-incel barbs and feminist wit with gusto

London Tide, National Theatre review - haunting moody river blues

Aleks Sierz

New play-with-songs version of Dickens’s 'Our Mutual Friend' is a panoramic Victori-noir

Machinal, The Old Vic review - note-perfect pity and terror

David Nice

Sophie Treadwell's 1928 hard hitter gets full musical and choreographic treatment

An Actor Convalescing in Devon, Hampstead Theatre review - old school actor tells old school stories

Gary Naylor

Fact emerges skilfully repackaged as fiction in an affecting solo show by Richard Nelson

The Comeuppance, Almeida Theatre review - remembering high-school high jinks

Aleks Sierz

Latest from American penman Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is less than the sum of its parts

Richard, My Richard, Theatre Royal Bury St Edmund's review - too much history, not enough drama

Laura De Lisle

Philippa Gregory’s first play tries to exonerate Richard III, with mixed results

Player Kings, Noel Coward Theatre review - inventive showcase for a peerless theatrical knight

Helen Hawkins

Ian McKellen's Falstaff thrives in Robert Icke's entertaining remix of the Henry IV plays

Cassie and the Lights, Southwark Playhouse review - powerful, affecting, beautifully acted tale of three sisters in care

Gary Naylor

Heart-rending chronicle of difficult, damaged lives that refuses to provide glib answers

Gunter, Royal Court review - jolly tale of witchcraft and misogyny

Helen Hawkins

A five-women team spell out a feminist message with humour and strong singing

First Person: actor Paul Jesson on survival, strength, and the healing potential of art

Paul Jesson

Olivier Award-winner explains how Richard Nelson came to write a solo play for him

Underdog: the Other, Other Brontë, National Theatre review - enjoyably comic if caricatured sibling rivalry

Heather Neill

Gemma Whelan discovers a mean streak under Charlotte's respectable bonnet

Long Day's Journey Into Night, Wyndham's Theatre review - O'Neill masterwork is once again driven by its Mary

Matt Wolf

Patricia Clarkson powers the latest iteration of this great, grievous American drama

Opening Night, Gielgud Theatre review - brave, yes, but also misguided and bizarre

Matt Wolf

Sheridan Smith gives it her all against near-impossible odds

The Divine Mrs S, Hampstead Theatre review - Rachael Stirling shines in hit-and-miss comedy

Gary Naylor

Awkward mix of knockabout laughs, heartfelt tribute and feminist messaging never quite settles

Power of Sail, Menier Chocolate Factory review - alternately stiff and startling

Matt Wolf

Paul Grellong play delivers in its final passages

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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