sat 17/04/2021

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Romeo and Juliet, National Theatre online review - a triumphant hybrid

Heather Neill

Shakespeare's enduring tale of star-crossed lovers is especially pertinent in a pandemic. The fatal plot twist depends on failed communication during an outbreak of pestilence, and one of the most famous lines is Mercutio's heartfelt, "A plague on both your houses" – clearly no idle curse.

Living Newspaper, Edition 3, Royal Court online review – bleak news, sharp words

Laura De Lisle

“The crocus of hope is, er, poking through the frost.” When he uttered that dodgy metaphor back in February, Boris Johnson probably didn’t predict that it would become the opening number of the third edition of Living Newspaper, the Royal Court’s anarchic, hyper-current series of new writing.

A Midsummer Night's Dream, SHAKE Festival...

Tom Birchenough

Just what the Zoom era has brought to theatre – to performers and audiences alike – is something we will no doubt be pondering for some while yet,...

Angela, Sound Stage online review - tender and...

Aleks Sierz

Does a subjective theatre piece encourage a subjective critical response? I think it might, especially when it’s a memory play about dementia, so...

Assembly, Donmar Warehouse online review - the...

Laura De Lisle

“Your task is to imagine the future.” That’s what the citizens of Assembly, a new streamed production performed and devised by the Donmar Warehouse’s...

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Barn Theatre online review - a dazzling adaptation

Aleks Sierz

Film version of the Oscar Wilde classic is a brilliant critique of the digital age

The Band Plays On, Sheffield Theatres online review – to Sheffield with love

Aleks Sierz

Latest show from Chris Bush is a celebration of local stoicism and wry humour

Dream, RSC online review - gaming version unleashes revolutionary potential

Rachel Halliburton

Co-production brings Shakespeare's metaphor to life

First Person: Clare Norburn on how she came to write her ambitious Zoom-era drama, 'Love in the Lockdown'

Clare Norburn

Writer-producer Clare Norburn elaborates upon her self-isolation online play

Typical, Soho Theatre online review - powerfully poetic and painful

Aleks Sierz

Film version of 2019 monologue about institutional racism is brilliant

Sherlock Holmes: The Case of the Hung Parliament review – choose-your-own whodunnit

Laura De Lisle

Playful interactive show casts audience members as amateur detectives

Barnes' People, Original Theatre Company online review - intriguing quartet of monologues revived

Tom Birchenough

Jemma Redgrave and Adrian Scarborough excel in Peter Barnes radio solos brought to screen

The Color Purple - at Home, Curve online review – life-affirming musical retelling of Alice Walker's novel

Rachel Halliburton

Celie learns how to live from the strong, rebellious women she encounters

Hymn, Almeida Theatre online review - highs and lows of a soulful brother bonding

Tom Birchenough

Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani in their skins in Lolita Chakrabarti’s new play

All On Her Own, Stream.Theatre online review - a vivid monologue on bereavement

Rachel Halliburton

Existential tension between actual and idealised selves

Romeo and Juliet, Palace Theatre, Manchester online review - futuristic and timely

Heather Neill

Innovative technology places actors virtually on the stage

Good Grief, Platform Presents online review - a little more, please

Laura De Lisle

Sian Clifford and Nikesh Patel do their best with a show that's as mercurial as grief

Shook, Papatango online review - strongly acted, but depressingly predictable

Aleks Sierz

Film version of award-winning show about young offenders has more power than plot

Love in a Wood, Jermyn Street Theatre review - stars gather remotely for a lively online presentation

Heather Neill

Free reading for charity of Wycherley's first Restoration comedy

Peter Pan: The Audio Adventure review - the perfect bedtime story

Laura De Lisle

Sharon D Clarke and Olivia Colman sparkle in delightful radio play in aid of Great Ormond Street Hospital

Dick Whittington, National Theatre at Home review - colourful and amiable entertainment

Veronica Lee

Free stream of the NT's Covid-affected pantomime

Best of 2020: Theatre

Matt Wolf

Out of pandemic-driven chaos and confusion came moments of clarity - and "Blindness"

Living Newspaper: A Counter Narrative, Royal Court online review – the news, but better

Laura De Lisle

The Royal Court’s experimental piece is political theatre at its finest and fiercest

A Christmas Carol, Old Vic online review - the bells have it once again

Matt Wolf

Andrew Lincoln invents Scrooge afresh in robust seasonal perennial

Pantomimes 2020 round-up: what's available online

Veronica Lee

Children and adults are catered for

Troy Story, RSC online review - biting off more than it can chew

Laura De Lisle

Gregory Doran's outdated vision of Greek myth is bolstered by five great performances

A Christmas Carol, Dominion Theatre review - brash and bustling and snowy, too

Matt Wolf

Dickens redux, noisily but with brio

The Comeback, Noël Coward Theatre review - frantic farce with touches of vaudeville

Veronica Lee

The Pin sketch duo's assured theatrical debut

Overflow, Bush Theatre review – fear, fury and fun

Aleks Sierz

New monologue is a shout out for trans and non-gender-conforming rights

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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