mon 23/09/2019

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Permanent Way, The Vaults review – devastating resurrection of play tackling corporate greed

Rachel Halliburton

The Permanent Way first roared its way into the national consciousness in 2003 when, after a triumphant opening in York, it toured the UK before transferring to the National Theatre.

Old Stock: A Refugee Love Story, Wilton's Music Hall review - klezmer revue is moving and inventive

Tom Birchenough

Canadian playwright Hannah Moscovitch’s “refugee musical” – now there’s a phrase you don’t expect to write – is a treat.

Big the Musical - sweet if wildly overstretched

Matt Wolf

The work isn't finished on Big, if this stage musical of the beloved 1988 Tom Hanks film is ever to, um, make it big. A Broadway flop in 1996 where...

Faith, Hope & Charity, National Theatre...

Tom Birchenough

Alexander Zeldin continues his devastating analysis of modern Britain in this culminating play of a (very loose) trilogy that started with 2014’...

Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of), Bristol Old Vic...

Mark Kidel

It is a truth perhaps not quite but almost universally accepted that Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice, beloved of GSCE English Lit examiners, and...

Amsterdam, Orange Tree Theatre review - suffocatingly mannered

Matt Wolf

A potentially compelling play is done in by its structure and an unhelpful staging

What Girls Are Made Of, Soho Theatre review - euphoric gig-theatre

Marianka Swain

Cora Bissett recalls the highs and lows of being a teenage Britpop star

The King of Hell’s Palace, Hampstead Theatre review - Chinese scandal freezes the blood

Aleks Sierz

New docu-drama about a distressing case of 1990s corruption and cover-up

For Services Rendered, Jermyn Street Theatre review – uneven revival of 1930s drama

Laura De Lisle

A mixed bag of performances from a big cast in Somerset Maugham's anti-war play

Preludes, Southwark Playhouse review - journeying into the mind of Rachmaninoff

Marianka Swain

Dave Malloy's innovative musical immerses us in a creative crisis

A Doll's House, Lyric Hammersmith review - Ibsen tellingly transposed to colonial India

Heather Neill

Tanika Gupta's layered version launches a new era

The Best Plays in London


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

First Person: Matthew Xia on why his production of 'Amsterdam' feels especially pertinent and vital now

Matthew Xia

The director sets the scene for his debut production at the helm of Actors Touring Company

Torch Song, Turbine Theatre review - impressive return for Harvey Fierstein's seminal gay drama

Tom Birchenough

Matthew Needham in lithe drag queen form opens new London venue

Chiaroscuro, Bush Theatre review - music, sweet, sweet music

Aleks Sierz

Lively gig theatre revival of a 1980s account of the black lesbian experience

Anahera, Finborough Theatre review - blistering family drama from New Zealand

Katherine Waters

A runaway child precipitates a cascade of questions with unintended consequences

A Very Expensive Poison, Old Vic review – bold evocation of a post-truth world

Rachel Halliburton

The evening is as devastatingly moving as it is bitingly funny

Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation, Royal Court review - brilliant meta-theatrical experience

Aleks Sierz

Experimental exploration of belief and determinism is touched by genius

Falsettos, The Other Palace review - affecting search for the new normal

Marianka Swain

This ambitious musical tackles the changing forms of family, romance and faith

Hansard, National Theatre review - starry argument ends poorly

Aleks Sierz

Debut play about the parliamentary ruling class is timely, but ultimately unsatisfying

The Son, Duke of York's Theatre review - a piercing drama of depression

Tom Birchenough

Florian Zeller’s play of family anguish receives a much-deserved West End transfer

Bartholomew Fair, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse review - Jonson's chaotic slice of 17th-century life

Veronica Lee

Jacobean comedy gets a rare outing

Fleabag, Wyndham's Theatre review - superb swansong for modern classic

Veronica Lee

Final outing for Phoebe Waller-Bridge as her iconic creation

The Secret River, National Theatre review - turbulent tale of Australia's past

Rachel Halliburton

A resonant tragedy of mutual incomprehension, fresh from the Edinburgh Festival

Appropriate, Donmar Warehouse review - fraught family reunion blisteringly told

Tom Birchenough

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s 2013 play is tensely dark, as well as very funny

The Doctor, Almeida Theatre review - Robert Icke's long goodbye

Aleks Sierz

Juliet Stevenson is brilliant in an ethical debate that is both thrilling and challenging

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 reviews: The Red/ Gone Full Havisham

Veronica Lee

More from the world's biggest and best arts festival

Edinburgh Fringe 2019 review: How Not to Drown

David Kettle

Autobiographical refugee story feels like a boy's own adventure

Once on This Island, Southwark Playhouse review - folkloric Caribbean musical charms

Marianka Swain

Class, calypso and warring gods feature in this enthusiastic revival

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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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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