fri 28/02/2020

theatre reviews, news & interviews

First Person: Hassan Abdulrazzak on the real-life drama behind American deportation to the UK

Hassan Abdulrazzak

You are at a party having a good time when someone gives you a glass of champagne. You take one and then another and soon the party is over. You get in the car to go home and are driving along when you see a police car in the rearview mirror: how annoying! Now you are regretting that indulgent second glass but what’s done is done. The cop gives you a breathalyzer test and you are exactly at the legal limit.

The Prince of Egypt, Dominion Theatre review - Moses musical goes big and broad

Marianka Swain

The theatre gods rained down not fire and pestilence, but a 45-minute technical delay on opening night of this substantially revised musical – a stage adaptation of the 1998 DreamWorks animated movie.

Be More Chill, The Other Palace review - more...

Matt Wolf

This latest musical theatre exercise in “geek chic” has been an American phenomenon: a show propelled by social media that developed a rabid fan base...

A Number, Bridge Theatre review - a dream team...

Matt Wolf

There are any number of ways to perform A Number, Caryl Churchill’s bleak and beautiful play about a father and three of who knows how many of his...

Pass Over, Kiln Theatre review - fierce critique...

Aleks Sierz

The Black Lives Matter movement is such an important international protest that it is odd how few contemporary plays even mention it. Since the...

La Cage aux Folles [The Play], Park Theatre review - half-cock farce

David Nice

Embarrassing period piece needs a lift from better comic timing than this

The Best Plays in London


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

Upstart Crow, Gielgud Theatre review - terrific Shakespeare spoof

Veronica Lee

Ben Elton's new comedy is a gagfest

The Visit, National Theatre review - star turn bolsters baggy rewrite

Matt Wolf

Lesley Manville rises above the prevailing muddle

The High Table, Bush Theatre review - party on in Lagos and London

Aleks Sierz

New debut play is a heartfelt account of the black lesbian experience

Leopoldstadt, Wyndham's Theatre review - Stoppard at once personal and accessible

Matt Wolf

Director Patrick Marber knits Tom Stoppard's putative swan song into a compelling whole

Far Away, Donmar Warehouse review - one for the devotees

Aleks Sierz

Revival of Caryl Churchill's brief dystopic classic is vivid but unexceptional

Nora: A Doll's House, Young Vic review - Ibsen diced, sliced and reinvented with poetic precision

Heather Neill

Stef Smith brings exhilarating spirit to a familiar classic

Collapsible, Bush Theatre review - a high-wire solo engagement

Tom Birchenough

Breffni Holahan’s bravura performance controls a monologue of mental malaise

On McQuillan's Hill, Finborough Theatre review - timely glance at Northern Irish myths and tensions

Rachel Halliburton

Joe Crilly believed in skewering the romance surrounding sectarian violence

The Taming of the Shrew, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse review - a confused and toothless mess

Alexandra Coghlan

High on concept and low on clarity, this Shrew misses its mark

Death of England, National Theatre review - furious but fabulous

Aleks Sierz

New monologue about rage, racism and national identity is simply magnificent

The Haystack, Hampstead Theatre review - a chilling surveillance state thriller

Marianka Swain

This flawed but trenchant new spy drama asks who's watching the watchers

Albion, Almeida Theatre review - more rewarding and resonant than ever

Matt Wolf

Mike Bartlett's play has deepened in accordance with our divisive times

Asking For It, Birmingham Repertory Theatre review - victim-blaming and abuse in small town Ireland

Guy Oddy

Story of sexual consent leaves the audience squirming

Endgame/Rough for Theatre II, Old Vic review - Beckett played for laughs

Marianka Swain

Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe lead a lively double bill

Persona, Riverside Studios review - Bergman masterpiece transformed into 'The Mumbling'

David Nice

One woman barely speaks, the other can't be heard and two men interfere

Kunene and the King, Ambassadors Theatre review - a Shakespearean voyage through the legacy of apartheid

Tom Birchenough

A strange meeting across the boundary of race: John Kani co-stars in his two-hander with Antony Sher

The Sugar Syndrome, Orange Tree Theatre review - pushing empathy to the limit

Aleks Sierz

Excellent revival of Lucy Prebble's disturbing debut play about illegal desire

Faustus: That Damned Woman, Lyric Hammersmith review - gender swap yields muddled results

Marianka Swain

Chris Bush's retelling has feminist urgency, but lacks dramatic coherence

Uncle Vanya, Harold Pinter Theatre review - a superlative company achievement

Tom Birchenough

Ian Rickson’s exemplary production relishes the nuances of Conor McPherson's adaptation

The Sunset Limited, Boulevard Theatre review - all talk, no theatre

Matt Wolf

Cormac McCarthy two-hander tries an audience's patience

The Welkin, National Theatre review - women's labour is a pain

Aleks Sierz

Maxine Peake struggles to make the voice of reason heard in feminist history play

Scenes with Girls, Royal Court review - feminist separatism 2.0

Aleks Sierz

New play about female friendship is refreshingly original and dazzlingly exciting

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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