mon 21/01/2019

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Unreturning, Theatre Royal Stratford East review - hymn to home

Aleks Sierz

Nadia Fall is a good thing. Her appointment as the artistic director of this venue, with her first season having begun in September last year, has been widely seen as part of a new wave of cultural leaders who are expected to shake up the country's theatre. Already, her building has enjoyed a hipster-inspired cool facelift.

The Daughter-in-Law, Arcola Theatre review - searing simplicity

Tom Birchenough

There’s a stark power to Jack Gamble’s production of DH Lawrence’s The Daughter-in-Law, which has transferred to the Arcola’smain stage after an acclaimed opening run in the venue’s downstairs studio last May.

Stop and Search, Arcola Theatre review - a murky...

Tim Cornwell

A road tunnel through the Alps, stretching underneath Mont Blanc: Tel (Shaun Mason) is ploughing home to London in a borrowed Merc, strung out and...

Rosenbaum's Rescue, Park Theatre review -...

Rachel Halliburton

Theatrical alchemy is eternally slippery. On paper Rosenbaum’s Rescue at the Park Theatre looks like an excellent proposition – a play that switches...

Approaching Empty, Kiln Theatre review - more...

Aleks Sierz

Write what you know, says the adage, and that's exactly what playwright Ishy Din has done with his new play, Approaching Empty, now at the Kiln in...

Coming Clean, Trafalgar Studios review - Kevin Elyot play has lost the pathos if not the plot

Matt Wolf

1982 play needs sharpening in this shallow revival of a revival

Time Is Love/Tiempo es Amor, Finborough Theatre review - sultry yet static

Tim Cornwell

Ché Walker play provides a lively platform for the formidable Sheila Atim

Aspects of Love, Southwark Playhouse review - discourse keeps passion at bay

Marianka Swain

An intimate Andrew Lloyd Webber revival lays bare both strengths and weaknesses

The Best Plays in London


What to see where and until when: theartsdesk's stage tips

Pinters Five and Six, Harold Pinter Theatre review - superlatively acted esoterica

Matt Wolf

The Pinter season gallops into the home stretch, with Rupert Graves and Jane Horrocks leading the charge

Best of 2018: Theatre

Matt Wolf

American titles were everywhere but British plays and the classics got a look-in, too

Sweat, Donmar Warehouse review - America at once fractured and fractious

Matt Wolf

Lynn Nottage's Pulitzer Prize-winner emerges even more strongly in London

The Tragedy of King Richard II, Almeida Theatre review - Simon Russell Beale leads revelatory interpretation

Rachel Halliburton

Shakespeare's study of flawed leadership becomes a parable for our age

Caroline, or Change, Playhouse Theatre review - Sharon D Clarke is superlative

Veronica Lee

West End transfer for Tony Kushner's musical about race and poverty

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

The Box of Delights, Wilton's Music Hall review - captivating adaptation of John Masefield's darkly thrilling novel

Rachel Halliburton

Justin Audibert's production excels at portraying the book's alchemical qualities

The Tell-Tale Heart, National Theatre review - bloody good fun as well as bloody

Matt Wolf

Anthony Neilson's latest is a Poe-faced delight

Aladdin, New Wimbledon Theatre review - enjoyable but underpowered

Veronica Lee

Paul Merton makes his pantomime dame debut

Epiphoni Consort, Reader, St Paul's Covent Garden review - historical drama with seasonal spirit

Bernard Hughes

Musical enactment of the 1914 Christmas Truce showcases superb choral singing

The Convert, Young Vic review - Africa's electric cry for justice

Aleks Sierz

Thrilling revival of Danai Gurira's 2012 play about Christianity and imperialism

The Cane, Royal Court review - hey teacher, leave them kids alone

Aleks Sierz

Mark Ravenhill's comeback play is a brilliant account of the abuse of power

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time, Piccadilly Theatre review - back for a heart-tugging encore

Tim Cornwell

Award-winning adaptation of Mark Haddon's novel retains its ingenuity and pathos

The Merry Wives of Windsor, RSC, Barbican review - panto Shakespeare

Tom Birchenough

A love it or leave it production that sends the RSC on its laboured way to Essex

The Double Dealer, Orange Tree Theatre review - high spirits and low morals

Matt Wolf

Congreve's Restoration-era rarity is boisterous to a fault

Aladdin, Hackney Empire review - Clive Rowe returns as the Dame

Veronica Lee

Susie McKenna creates fast-paced fun in a busy mix

Nine Night, Trafalgar Studios review - hilarity and heartbreak

Tom Birchenough

Natasha Gordon joins the company as her debut drama transfers from the National

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic review - Dickens adaptation returns, depth and mince pies intact

Tim Cornwell

Last year's festive-season hit, re-cast, continues to enchant

Doctor Faustus, Sam Wanamaker Theatre review - female Faustus reaps rich rewards

Rachel Halliburton

A deceptive lightness of tone brings new resonance to the text

True West, Vaudeville Theatre review - sizzling take on seminal Sam Shepard

Matt Wolf

Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn go hell for leather as savagery-prone siblings

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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