sat 02/03/2024

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Standing at the Sky's Edge, Gillian Lynne Theatre review - heartwarming Sheffield musical arrives in the West End

Jane Edwardes

Can there be anyone from Sheffield who has not seen Standing at the Sky’s Edge, possibly several times?

Cruel Intentions, The Other Palace review - uneasy vibes, hit tunes and sparkling staging

Gary Naylor

Transgression was so deliciously enticing. Back in the Eighties when I saw Les Liaisons Dangereuses in the West End on three occasions, life was simpler – or so us straight white men flattered ourselves to believe.

The Human Body, Donmar Warehouse review - Keeley...

Helen Hawkins

Keeley Hawes onstage is something to look forward to, so rare are her appearances there. In Lucy Kirkwood’s new play, The Human Body, we are given a...

Nachtland, Young Vic review - German black comedy...

Gary Naylor

If Mark Twain thought that a German joke was no laughing matter, what would he make of a German comedy? That quote came to mind more than once...

Cable Street, Southwark Playhouse review -...

Helen Hawkins

Hot on the heels of Brigid Larmour’s updating of The Merchant of Venice to the East End in 1936, a spirited new musical across town at Southwark...

Out of Season, Hampstead Theatre review - banter as bullying

Aleks Sierz

New comedy about masculinity and music is predictable and clumsy

Shifters, Bush Theatre review - love will tear us apart again

Aleks Sierz

New play about love and memory is exquisitely written and beautifully acted

The Merchant of Venice 1936, Criterion Theatre review - radical revamp with a passionate agenda

Helen Hawkins

Tracy-Ann Oberman turns Shylock into a heroic Jewish anti-fascist

The Big Life, Stratford East review - musical brings the joy and honours the past

Gary Naylor

Revived 20 years on, this Windrush musical lands differently, but is still wonderfully entertaining

Hir, Park Theatre review - incendiary production for Taylor Mac's rich absurdist family drama

Helen Hawkins

Felicity Huffman, heading a superb cast, is a force of nature

Samuel Takes a Break... in Male Dungeon No. 5 after a long but generally successful day of tours, The Yard Theatre review - funny and thought-provoking

Gary Naylor

'We don't use the word slave round here' - 21st century tourism skewered

King Lear, Almeida Theatre review - Danny Sapani dazzles in this spartan tragedy

Mert Dilek

Yaël Farber presents Shakespeare’s blistering play with bravura

Hadestown, Lyric Theatre review - soul-stirring musical gloriously revamps classical myths

Mert Dilek

Tony-winning production lands in the West End with an astounding cast

An Enemy of the People, Duke of York's Theatre - performative and predictable

Matt Wolf

Matt Smith gives his all in unyielding adaptation of Ibsen morality play

Double Feature, Hampstead Theatre review - with directors like these, who needs enemies

Demetrios Matheou

John Logan peers behind the scenes of the film world to muse on the icky relationship between life and art

Turning the Screw, King’s Head Theatre review - Britten and the not-so-innocent

David Nice

Real-life triangle around the composer’s darkest masterpiece yields fitfully strong drama

The Hills of California, Harold Pinter Theatre - ladies' night for Jez Butterworth

Matt Wolf

Laura Donnelly once again soars in tailor-made part/s scripted by her partner

Dear Octopus, National Theatre - period rarity is a real pleasure

Matt Wolf

A pitch-perfect Lindsay Duncan leads a large and splendid cast in Dodie Smith rediscovery

Just For One Day, The Old Vic review - clunky scenes and self-conscious exposition between great songs

Gary Naylor

Saint Bob, Mrs T and a whole lot of feelgood. Oh, and mass starvation

The Picture of Dorian Gray, Theatre Royal Haymarket review - inventive rollercoaster of a revamp

Helen Hawkins

Sarah Snook gives a virtuoso performance amid a dazzling display of tech wizardry

Ragnarok, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh review - moving miniature apocalypse

David Kettle

End-of-days drama from centimetres-high clay figures, in a powerful collaboration from Scottish and Norwegian companies

Many Good Men, Tynecastle Stadium, Edinburgh review - daring but flawed provocation

David Kettle

A shocking attack kicks off an audacious experience that makes its audience complicit, in Clare Duffy's ambitious but patchy show

Fascinating Aida, London Palladium review - celebrating 40 glorious years of filth and defiance

Helen Hawkins

Age has not withered one jot the FAs' fury at the absurdities of modern life

Othello, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse review - 21st century interpretation delivers food for thought

Gary Naylor

An Othello for our times, our city

Metamorphosis, Lyric Hammersmith review - vivid images, but where's the drama?

Aleks Sierz

Lemn Sissay’s adaptation of the Franz Kafka classic is just too wordy

Bronco Billy, Charing Cross Theatre - schmaltzy musical brings the feelgood factor just when it's needed

Gary Naylor

A warm bath of gentle laughs and comforting positivity

Till the Stars Come Down, National Theatre review - exuberant comedy with a dark edge

Aleks Sierz

New play about three sisters is full of energy, but also a bit too populist for me

A Mirror, Trafalgar Theatre review - puzzle play with an empty core

Helen Hawkins

Ingenious twists can't give Sam Holcroft's play a vital sense of danger

The King and I, Dominion Theatre review - welcome return for the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic

Helen Hawkins

Bartlett Sher's intelligent reading is gorgeously staged and winningly performed

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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