thu 14/11/2019

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Mary Poppins, Prince Edward Theatre review - a lavish but old-fashioned revival

Marianka Swain

It’s been 15 years since Cameron Mackintosh’s stage musical version of P. L. Travers’ Mary Poppins made its West End debut.

The Taming of the Shrew, Barbican review - different but still problematic

Heather Neill

This is one play by Shakespeare ripe for tinkering. It's well nigh impossible now to take it at face value and still find romance and fun in the bullying: the physical and psychological abuse as a supposedly problematic wife is "tamed" into submission. And there have been experiments.

Shadows, Coronet Theatre review - talking heads...

David Nice

In a flowering branch of London theatre, Norway comes to Notting Hill with what's becoming revelatory regularity, thanks to the cultural support of...

The Antipodes, National Theatre review -...

Matt Wolf

The National Theatre is forging its own special relationship with American playwright Annie Baker, having now produced three of her plays within four...

Sydney & the Old Girl, Park Theatre review -...

Aleks Sierz

Actor Miriam Margolyes is a phenomenon. Not only has this Dickensian starred in high-profile shows both here and in Australia, a country whose...

Death of a Salesman, Piccadilly Theatre review - galvanising reinvention of Arthur Miller's classic

Rachel Halliburton

Wendell Pierce confirms a performance as exciting as any this theatrical year

God's Dice, Soho Theatre review - overlong and overblown

Veronica Lee

David Baddiel's debut play tackles a big issue

A Prayer for Wings, King's Head Theatre review - claustrophobic mother-daughter drama soars

David Nice

A young carer and her mother movingly portrayed in Sean Mathias's 1985 drama

Ghost Quartet, Boulevard Theatre review - a beguiling journey into the beyond

Marianka Swain

Both mystical and alcoholic spirits infuse this wonderfully distinctive chamber musical

As You Like It, Barbican review – uneven comedy lacks bite

Rachel Halliburton

RSC transfer works best when it engages with the complex emotions of the play

The Best Plays in London


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

On Bear Ridge, Royal Court review - Rhys Ifans's tragicomic masterclass

Aleks Sierz

First Ed Thomas play for 15 years is a post-apocalyptic metaphor-fest

First Person: Simon Stephens - the contemplation of kindness

Simon Stephens

A journey to the North, into the playwright's past, provides the genesis for ‘Light Falls’, opening at the Royal Exchange

Botticelli in the Fire, Hampstead Theatre review - history mash-up burns bright

Aleks Sierz

Jordan Tannahill's queering of Renaissance art is riotously vulgar and unapologetic

Little Baby Jesus, Orange Tree Theatre review - an early play thrillingly alive for now

Matt Wolf

Arinzé Kene play from 2011 packs a renewed punch

Vassa, Almeida Theatre review - delayed opening doesn't land

Matt Wolf

Gorky play suffers an identity crisis in uneasily-pitched revival

Lungs, Old Vic review - deluxe casting and slick delivery

Sam Marlowe

Claire Foy and Matt Smith elevate Duncan Macmillan's rather toothless parenting drama

First Person: Hannah Khalil on museum as metaphor in her new play for the RSC

Hannah Khalil

The playwright on 'A Museum in Baghdad', and how she discovered the story of Gertrude Bell

Translations, National Theatre review - stunning revival of poignant tragicomedy

Rachel Halliburton

A potent anatomy of how words and power intertwine

Cyrano, Bristol Old Vic review – comedy with emotional intelligence

Mark Kidel

Tristan Sturrock's lead performance brings energy matched by depth

[Blank], Donmar Warehouse review - strong but dispiriting

Aleks Sierz

Alice Birch's new play prioritises form over content, and is depressingly reactionary

Solaris, Lyric Hammersmith review - moving and finely cerebral

Tom Birchenough

David Greig’s dream-drama of cosmic loneliness is sci-fi at its most philosophical

A History of Water in the Middle East, Royal Court review - feminist dreams and passions

Aleks Sierz

New lecture about British imperialism is energetically engaging, but rather slender

Baby Reindeer, Bush Theatre review - break, break, breaking Gadd

Aleks Sierz

Provocative one-man show about a stalker by stand-up comedian Richard Gadd is darkly exciting

Groan Ups, Vaudeville Theatre review - adding ambition and emotion to the mix

Matt Wolf

The ever-likable Mischief Theatre's latest stretches them in new if still-unfinished ways

Either, Hampstead Theatre review - funny, ingenious investigation of gender and love

Rachel Halliburton

First-time playwright Ruby Thomas is a daring and exciting new voice

Assassins, Watermill Theatre, Newbury - Sondheim musical in scalding form

Matt Wolf

Sondheim's 1990 show gets more disturbingly pertinent with every revival

Mephisto [A Rhapsody], Gate Theatre review - the callowness of history

Tom Birchenough

More manner than message in adaptation of Klaus Mann's 1930s novel

The Man in the White Suit, Wyndham's Theatre review - sparks but no combustion in this chemistry farce

Marianka Swain

An Ealing comedy film becomes an intermittently entertaining play

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.

Close Footnote

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A compulsive, involving, emotionally stirring evening – theatre’s answer to a page-turner.
The Observer, Kate Kellaway


Direct from a sold-out season at Kiln Theatre the five star, hit play, The Son, is now playing at the Duke of York’s Theatre for a strictly limited season.



This final part of Florian Zeller’s trilogy is the most powerful of all.
The Times, Ann Treneman


Written by the internationally acclaimed Florian Zeller (The Father, The Mother), lauded by The Guardian as ‘the most exciting playwright of our time’, The Son is directed by the award-winning Michael Longhurst.


Book by 30 September and get tickets from £15*
with no booking fee.

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