sat 23/06/2018

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Town Hall Affair, The Wooster Group, Barbican review - electric anarchy

Rachel Halliburton

Iconoclasm, orgasms, and rampant rhetoric are all on irrepressible display in The Wooster Group’s recreation of the 1971 Manhattan debate that pitted Norman Mailer against some of the leading feminists of the day.

Finishing the Picture, Finborough Theatre review - projections in a realm of mirrors

Katherine Waters

In the early 20th century, Soviet filmmaker Lev Kuleshov spliced together images of people looking at things with a bowl of soup, a woman on a divan and an open casket. Each object represented a different emotional state – hunger, desire and grief – but each subject “looking” at the object was the exact same image, repeated. The cast-down eyes implied to be considering nourishment were the exact same eyes that appeared to stare in utter loss at death.

Kiss Me, Kate, Opera North, London Coliseum...

David Nice

First palpable hit of the evening: a full orchestra in the pit under hyper-alert Opera North stalwart James Holmes, saxophones deliciously rampant....

The Best Plays in London


London is the theatre capital of the world, with more than 50 playhouses offering theatrical entertainment. From the mighty National Theatre to the...

Enter theartsdesk / h Club Young Influencer of...


Are you a young blogger, vlogger or writer in the field of the arts, books and culture? If so, we've a competition for you to enter.The Hospital Club...

Julius Caesar, BBC Four review - electrifying TV launch of all-women Shakespeare trilogy

David Nice

Harriet Walter and Jade Anouka are the superlative opposite poles in a perfect ensemble

English, Festival of Voice, Wales Millennium Centre review – lost in language

Owen Richards

Unique interactive performance explores the privilege of mother tongue

Notes From the Field, Royal Court review - sobering report from the frontline of race

Rachel Halliburton

Anna Deavere Smith shines her singular light on American inequality and systemic injustice

The Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar Warehouse review - Lia Williams makes an iconic role her own

Matt Wolf

Familiar title is reinvigorated afresh in a startling revival

Machinal, Almeida Theatre review - descending into darkness

Matt Wolf

Lesser-known American classic exerts a clinical fascination

Monogamy, Park Theatre review - Janie Dee in dark family drama

Aleks Sierz

New comedy about a celebrity chef sometimes sizzles, but leaves a bad taste

Isabelle Huppert reads Marquis de Sade, Queen Elizabeth Hall review - virtue twinned with vice

Rachel Halliburton

Isabelle Huppert brings her customary rigour to some notorious writings

Julie, National Theatre review - vacuous and unilluminating

Matt Wolf

Vanessa Kirby leads superfluous update that is a lot more Stenham than Strindberg

Sancho: An Act of Remembrance, Wilton's Music Hall review - pure entertainment

Katherine Waters

Larger-than-life history of Charles Ignatius Sancho distilled into virtuoso one-man show

My Name is Lucy Barton, Bridge Theatre review - Laura Linney is luminous in a flawless production

David Benedict

Stage adaptation of Elizabeth Strout's novel is a one-woman tour de force

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

The Rink, Southwark Playhouse - lesser-known musical lands afresh

Matt Wolf

Eighties Broadway flop proves an Off West End knockout

The Strange Death of John Doe, Hampstead Theatre review - ambitious but not entirely successful

Aleks Sierz

Sympathetic new play about a migrant's death is well staged, but imperfectly written

Killer Joe, Trafalgar Studios review - family drama, creepy and cruel

Tom Birchenough

Hitman-cop Orlando Bloom coolly rules Tracy Letts's gothically noir world

The Two Noble Kinsmen, Shakespeare's Globe review - a breezy bromance served up slight

Matt Wolf

Late Shakespeare collaboration is by turns engaging and daft

Fatherland, Lyric Hammersmith review - loud and proud, shame about the content

Aleks Sierz

Frantic Assembly’s take on the crisis of masculinity is theatrically exciting but banal

Translations, National Theatre review - an Irish classic returns with cascading force

Matt Wolf

Brian Friel's luminous play fully lands in the National's largest space

Tartuffe, Theatre Royal Haymarket review - dual-language production loses its way

Jenny Gilbert

Parlez-vous Moliere? His greatest comedy falls flat in a bilingual version

Consent, Harold Pinter Theatre review - exhilarating

David Benedict

The stakes are high in the West End transfer of Nina Raine's play about marriage, rape and the law

Break of Noon, Finborough Theatre review - irredeemable?

Katherine Waters

Prolix play woodenly acted; its own satire?

Peter Pan, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - ensemble playing at its best

Heather Neill

The boy who never grows up flies into the First World War

The Grönholm Method, Menier Chocolate Factory - sleek and short but in no way deep

Matt Wolf

Much-travelled play contains one twist too many

The String Quartet’s Guide to Sex and Anxiety, Brighton Festival review - molto nervoso

Tom Birchenough

Calixto Bieito's melange of text and music delivers a mesmerising riff on desolation

Ian Rickson: 'I'm an introvert, I want to stop talking about myself' - interview

Jasper Rees

The director staging Brian Friel's Translations at the National talks about Ireland, England and the changing face of theatre

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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