tue 21/09/2021

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Is God Is, Royal Court review – blister, flare and burn, baby, burn

Aleks Sierz

God is a tricky one. Or should that be One? And definitely not a He. So when she says take revenge, then vengeance is definitely not only hers, but ours too.

Indecent, Menier Chocolate Factory review - cabaret-style depiction of a rapidly changing world

Rachel Halliburton

Indecent is a play wrapped inside a news story about stigma. Playwright Paula Vogel was at Cornell University when she stumbled on a “yellowing copy of an out-of-print translation” of Sholem Asch’s God of Vengeance.

First Person: theatre director Christopher Haydon...

Christopher Haydon

Programming a theatre during a pandemic has been like trying to nail jelly to a set of constantly moving goalposts. Government indecision meant that...

The Memory of Water, Hampstead Theatre review –...

Aleks Sierz

Memories are notoriously treacherous — this we know. I remember seeing Shelagh Stephenson’s contemporary classic at the Hampstead, when this venue...

Frozen, Theatre Royal Drury Lane review -...

Marianka Swain

Let it snow! The Broadway musical adaptation of the Disney film behemoth Frozen premiered back in 2018 and now, following Covid delays, a rejigged...

Leopards, Rose Theatre, Kingston review - a no-thrill thriller about sex and power

Ismene Brown

When the trousers come off and the handcuffs go on, the climax is the sexual politics lecture

Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, Orange Tree Theatre review - a blast from the past with lessons for today

Gary Naylor

Forty-nine years on, Fugard's anger has lost none of its ferocity

Rockets and Blue Lights, National Theatre review - strong, but inconclusive

Aleks Sierz

Poetic play about enslaved peoples and Victorian painter JMW Turner

Once Upon A Time In Nazi Occupied Tunisia, Almeida Theatre review - flawed theatre but a great experiment

Rachel Halliburton

Playwright Josh Azouz's absurdism owes as much to Sacha Baron Cohen as to Beckett

Bedknobs and Broomsticks, Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury review - dazzling Disney rewrite

Gary Naylor

Beloved Angela Lansbury film is in sure, safe theatrical hands

Edinburgh Fringe 2021: Screen 9

David Kettle

Deeply moving verbatim show from a bright new London company

Edinburgh Fringe 2021: Still

David Kettle

Frances Poet offers a luminous meditation on suffering and death at the Traverse

Cinderella, Gillian Lynne Theatre review - a spectacular show that hits and misses

Gary Naylor

A good night out, but with unrealised ambition to be rather more than that

Edinburgh Fringe 2021: Fear of Roses / Myra's Story

David Kettle

A head-spinning thriller and a heart-wrenching monologue at Assembly venues

Edinburgh Fringe 2021: Doppler

David Kettle

An elusive eco fable from Grid Iron makes glowing sense in its forest setting

2:22 A Ghost Story, Noël Coward Theatre review - unconvincing, sporadically amusing genre play

Gary Naylor

A few shocks and laughs but lacking in character-led credibility

Edinburgh Fringe 2021: Tunnels / Dandelion

David Kettle

Two shows shine in a converted army reserve centre amid a depleted festival

Constellations, Vaudeville Theatre review - multiple casts continue to shine

Ismene Brown

The gay couple and the O'Dowd option bring new laughs and tears to cosmic comedy

Paradise, National Theatre review - war, woe, and a glimmer of hope

Laura De Lisle

Kae Tempest’s urgent new adaptation of Sophocles puts women centre-stage

The Windsors: Endgame, Prince of Wales Theatre review - fitfully pointed fun

Tom Teodorczuk

Popular TV show gets a sometimes riotous stage perch

Twelfth Night, Shakespeare's Globe review - foot-stompingly good fun

Laura De Lisle

Michelle Terry is gunning for a second Olivier with her first Viola

Carousel, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - brave rewrite doesn't land

Matt Wolf

The Rodgers and Hammerstein classic has been tweaked but also flattened

Big Big Sky, Hampstead Downstairs review - a perfectly realised character study

Gary Naylor

This poignant, uplifting play is just what we need right now

Anything Goes, Barbican review - an explosion of joy

Matt Wolf

Sutton Foster makes a sensational London stage debut

Changing Destiny, Young Vic review – an epic literary discovery

Aleks Sierz

A 4,000-year-old poem reopens this venue, but is more educational than dramatic

Bagdad Café, Old Vic review - sweet but scattershot

Matt Wolf

Stage adaptation of 1987 film needs more narrative drive

Oleanna, Arts Theatre review - Mamet on power and tragedy

Aleks Sierz

David Mamet’s most controversial play retains its explosive charge

The Two Character Play, Hampstead Theatre review - tender, poetic and piercingly cruel

Alexandra Coghlan

A timely return for Tennessee Williams' long-neglected play

Lava, Bush Theatre review - poetic writing, mesmerically performed

Helen Hawkins

Debut work from Benedict Lombe is a red-hot poem of protest

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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