sun 31/05/2020

theatre reviews, news & interviews

This House, National Theatre at Home review – timely revival of brilliant House of Commons drama

Rachel Halliburton

There is a line of argument that – unfairly – blames playwright James Graham for Dominic Cummings. Would Cummings, some might ask, have achieved the influence he has now if it hadn’t been for his depiction in Graham’s brilliant TV drama Brexit: The Uncivil War in which he was played as an obsessive genius by Benedict Cumberbatch? 

Theatre Lockdown Special 7: Party politics and a Broadway titan or two

Matt Wolf

The live-ness of theatre seems further away with every passing week, but at least the art form itself lives on to tantalise and entertain, whetting the appetite until such day as we are sharing an auditorium once again. National Theatre at Home continues to lead from the front with a tantalising array of offerings, this week bringing to the fore the busy James Graham in his comparative creative infancy with This House.

Larry Kramer: 'I think anger is a wonderful...

Jasper Rees

Larry Kramer, who has died at the age of 84, was the Solzhenitsyn of AIDS who indomitably reported from the gay gulags of Manhattan’s quarantined...

A Streetcar Named Desire, National Theatre at...

Aleks Sierz

The National Theatre’s triumphant march through its archive of NT Live recordings continues this week with a glorious blaze of a show. Starring...

The Understudy online review - entertaining...

Veronica Lee

A running gag in David Nicholls' novel The Understudy is that its main character is called Steve McQueen. Not that Steve McQueen, the multi-award-...

Theatre Lockdown Special 6: A prolific playwright, a timeless play, and speeches galore

Matt Wolf

A popular American star vehicle and 'Alice in Wonderland' minute-by-minute figure among the cultural bounty during the week ahead

Cats, The Shows Must Go On review - a purr-fectly theatrical experience

Marianka Swain

This filmed version of Andrew Lloyd Webber's musical captures its eccentric charms

Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre at Home review - still lively after all these years

Rachel Halliburton

Barbershop banter and the place it occupies in black male identity

Theatre Lockdown Special 5: A solo show for the ages, Ibsen refreshed, and yet more frolicsome cats

Matt Wolf

From a much-traveled one-man play to a continent-spanning National Theatre premiere, the theatrical week offers plenty so savour

Midnight Your Time, Donmar Warehouse online review – intimate and quietly moving

Aleks Sierz

Revival of 2011 HighTide hit reconceived for streaming stars Diana Quick

Antony and Cleopatra, National Theatre at Home review – Fiennes and Okonedo triumph in dragging tragedy

Laura De Lisle

A triumvirate of talent and a slick set can't in themselves speed things along

Theatre Lockdown Special 4: Little-known Lloyd Webber, prize-winning Shakespeare, and starry David Mamet

Matt Wolf

In an ever-busy week, the Donmar and Finborough join the online bustle

Re:Creating Europe, MIF Rewind review - last year's burning issue semi-dramatized

David Nice

Ivo van Hove engages British and Dutch actors to debate the urgent question of 2019

Frankenstein, National Theatre at Home review – creature discomforts

Aleks Sierz

NT Live version of this iconic tale of creative hubris features a dynamic acting duo

Theatre Lockdown Special 3: Mary Shelley twice over, Europe writ large, and one day more for a mega-musical

Matt Wolf

Sonnets galore also form part of another busy week amidst bizarre times

First Person: Sam Yates on directing a Tom Stoppard play in real time via Zoom

Sam Yates

A little-known Stoppard play comes to new life during lockdown

Take Me to the World: A Sondheim 90th Birthday Celebration, Broadway.com/YouTube review - slick, often sombre, but when funny, hilarious

David Nice

A host of Broadway stars varies the strain in classily done from-home gala

#aiww: The Arrest of Ai Weiwei, Hampstead Theatre online review – imbued with an urgent new relevance

Aleks Sierz

Howard Brenton’s docu-drama about the harassment of the Chinese artist is defiantly brilliant

Theatre Lockdown Special 2: Birthdays aplenty, songs of hope, a starry quiz - and more

Matt Wolf

Sondheim's and Shakespeare's natal days feted. Plus a chance to match wits with a knight and a dame

Tiger Country, Hampstead Theatre online review - a taut drama of NHS pressure and pain

Tom Birchenough

Nina Raine’s urgent story of hospital stress rings truer than ever today

Treasure Island, National Theatre at Home review - all aboard this thrilling adventure story

Marianka Swain

The remarkable Patsy Ferran anchors a creatively updated classic

Theatre Lockdown Special 1: Starry podcasts, late-career Shakespeare, a celebrity basement - and more

Matt Wolf

Theatre buffs have no shortage of scintillating options during our ongoing shut-in

Twelfth Night, RSC/Stratford-upon-Avon online review - inventive but underfelt

Matt Wolf

Kara Tointon leads a concept-heavy, Victorian-era Shakespeare update

Wise Children, BBC online review – beautifully bizarre

Aleks Sierz

Emma Rice’s version of Angela Carter’s last novel is a celebration of alternative families

Drawing the Line, Hampstead Theatre online review - modern history becomes dark farce

Marianka Swain

Howard Brenton's play offers a lucid account of the Partition of India

Flowers for Mrs Harris, Chichester Festival Theatre online review - a warmly open-hearted weepie

Matt Wolf

Musical adaptation celebrates British pluck, coupled with luck

Jane Eyre, National Theatre at Home review - a fiery feminist adaptation

Marianka Swain

Sally Cookson's take on Brontë is innately theatrical and ferociously resonant

Gators, Tramp Productions online review - the glittering dark

Aleks Sierz

Gloriously surreal monologue about everyday anxieties in extraordinary circumstances

Wonderland, Hampstead Theatre online review - a major play about the miners

Matt Wolf

Beth Steel award-winner makes for muscular, eerily apposite fare

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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