fri 14/08/2020

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Theatre Unlocked 4: Shows in concert and a contemporary classic comes to TV

Matt Wolf

After months spent sifting amongst the virtual, I'm pleased to report that live performance looks to be on the (socially distanced) rebound.

Fanny and Stella, Garden Theatre review - a saucy slice of queer history

Sam Marlowe

In a purgatorial summer, this boisterous, camp and chaotically charming musical is a tonic. It’s a winning combination of slick and slapdash, performed before a masked, socially distanced audience in a hastily repurposed beer garden behind the Eagle pub in Vauxhall.

Blindness, Donmar Warehouse review - a...

Aleks Sierz

Wowee! Twenty weeks after the last time I set foot in a theatre, I was able to visit a venue once more. Hello again Donmar! It’s great to see you...

Imagine... My Name is Kwame, BBC One review -...

Matt Wolf

Filmed, as one would, well, imagine, prior to lockdown, Imagine .... My Name is Kwame hearkens to what now seems a bygone era of full and buzzy...

Theatre Unlocked 3: Signs of activity after a...

Matt Wolf

After a weeklong hiatus due to an absence of noteworthy material, this column is back heralding the return, as well, of something resembling live...

Scrounger, Finborough Theatre online review – autobiography meets meta-theatre

Aleks Sierz

Athena Stevens’s punchy account of how an airline trashed her wheelchair

The Merchant of Venice, BBC iPlayer review – a parable on the limits of tolerance

Laura De Lisle

Polly Findlay's 2015 take on Shakespeare's trickiest comedy pays dividends

Songs for a New World, The Other Palace Digital review - chimes with our extraordinary 'moment'

Marianka Swain

Jason Robert Brown's abstract musical offers resonant tales of the unexpected

Theatre Unlocked 2: A starry premiere and musical revival alongside Greek tragedy where it began

Matt Wolf

Empty playhouses caught on camera and an online 'Merchant' complete a typically varied week of theatrical fare

My White Best Friend (And Other Letters Left Unsaid), Royal Court review – raw but generous

Aleks Sierz

A festival of responses to the Black Lives Matter campaign is personal, political and powerful

Institute, BBC Four review – masculinity and memory in a nightmarish world of work

Sam Marlowe

Physical theatre company Gecko's debut film is compelling and technically skilled

Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain, Northampton Saints review - history made funny

Veronica Lee

Lots of bum and poo gags to keep the kids happy

Amadeus, National Theatre at Home review – wild dance at the edges of sanity

Rachel Halliburton

As Mozart, Adam Gillen erupts onto the stage as a Tourette’s tornado

Theatre Unlocked 1: George Floyd remembered, a classic transformed, and a call to action re climate change

Matt Wolf

A Broadway legend in concert lends musical buoyancy to this week's ever wide-ranging theatrical array

Blueprint Medea, Finborough Theatre online review – well-meaning but clunky update

Laura De Lisle

Updated Greek tragedy has some good ideas but doesn't fully deliver

The Deep Blue Sea, National Theatre at Home review - hauntingly elegiac portrayal of Rattigan's world

Rachel Halliburton

Helen McCrory is the broken, irreparable heart of this production

Theatre Lockdown Special 13: Early Lloyd Webber, vintage Rattigan, and a Dame or two in conversation

Matt Wolf

Medeas past and present conjoin across a characteristically eclectic theatre week

Les Blancs, National Theatre at Home review – triumphant revival of forgotten classic

Aleks Sierz

NT archive recording of Lorraine Hansberry’s last play is absolutely compelling

Toast, Lawrence Batley Theatre online review - pungent adaptation of Nigel Slater's autobiography

Rachel Halliburton

Food crimes of the Sixties and Seventies are revealed here as Michelin-starred memories

Theatre Lockdown Special 12: An American rarity, a British savoury, and fresh Apples

Matt Wolf

Nigel Slater is back, as is Richard Nelson's Apple family for a second time via Zoom

Birdsong, The Original Theatre Company online review – a gutsy experiment

Laura De Lisle

Socially distanced version of Sebastian Faulks novel clips along at a fair pace

Hamilton, Disney+ review - puts us all in the room where it happened

Marianka Swain

Lin-Manuel Miranda's groundbreaking musical gets another shot on screen

A Midsummer Night's Dream, National Theatre At Home review – a mad delight

Laura De Lisle

Nicholas Hytner makes the familiar gloriously strange in this slippery, sumptuous show

The Last Five Years, The Other Palace Digital review - socially distanced heartbreak

Marianka Swain

Jason Robert Brown's chamber musical has new lockdown resonance

Theatre Lockdown Special 11: Shakespeare-as-rave, a starlit Old Vic, and, yes, those singing nuns

Matt Wolf

Some celeb-heavy revivals and a kids-friendly showstopper feature amongst this week's lineup

Ian Holm, British film's best supporting actor

Jasper Rees

From King Lear to Bilbo Baggins - remembering the great film actor who vanquished stage fright

Small Island, National Theatre At Home review – big-hearted story hits every beat

Laura De Lisle

Andrea Levy's Windrush epic bursts triumphantly onto the stage – and our screens

Theatre Lockdown Special 10: Epic plays from the National Theatre and Broadway alongside voices raised in protest

Matt Wolf

The state of Britain then and now gets a look-in, as do animals in human form

A Midsummer Night's Dream, Shakespeare's Globe online review - a seasonal treat

Heather Neill

An inventive cast relishes the comic potential of the Elizabethan stage

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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