wed 22/08/2018

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Edinburgh Festival 2018 reviews: Orpheus / Bottom / Backup

David Kettle

 Orpheus ★★★★  

Emilia, Shakespeare's Globe review - polemic disguised as a play

Laura De Lisle

It feels like Michelle Terry’s first summer season at the Globe has been building up to Emilia for a while now. The theme is Shakespeare and race, so Othello was something of a given. It's joined by The Winter’s Tale, as if the Emilias of these two plays have been waiting for their chance to step into the spotlight.

F Off: National Youth Theatre puts social media...

Tatty Hennessy

F Off came about off the back of a meeting I had with Paul Roseby, the artistic director of the National Youth Theatre of Great Britain. I’d come in...

The Best Plays in London


London is the theatre capital of the world, with more than 50 playhouses offering theatrical entertainment. From the mighty National Theatre to the...

The Best Musicals in London


Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre ★★★ Disney's latest blockbuster film-turned-stage show remains airborne – justBat Out of Hell, Dominion Theatre...

Greed as the keynote: Robert Carsen on the timelessness of 'The Beggar's Opera'

Robert Carsen

The director brings his contemporary take on John Gay's satire to the Edinburgh Festival

Edinburgh Festival 2018 reviews: Nigel Slater's Toast / Status

David Kettle

Two superb - and very different - examinations of what defines our identity

Edinburgh Festival 2018 reviews: Daughter / Huff / First Snow/Première Neige

David Kettle

Toxic masculinity and reflections on identity at the Fringe's newest venue

Little Shop of Horrors, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - monstrously entertaining

Marianka Swain

A blooming marvellous revival of a classic musical

Aristocrats, Donmar Warehouse review - fresh but uneven

Aleks Sierz

Anti-naturalistic revival of Brian Friel's elegiac tribute to the Catholic nobility is oddly unemotional

Homos, or Everyone in America, Finborough Theatre review - a complex pattern of glee and profundity

Tom Birchenough

Jordan Seavey's picture of New York gay life is as moving as it is witty

Edinburgh Festival 2018 reviews: Underground Railroad Game / On the Exhale

David Kettle

Racial politics and gun culture dissected in two provocative shows at the Traverse

Edinburgh Festival 2018 reviews: Coriolanus Vanishes / Check Up: Our NHS at 70 / A Sockful of Custard

David Kettle

Cycles of abuse, a health service polemic and a celebration of silliness

Silk Road (How To Buy Drugs Online), Trafalgar Studios review - Geordie chancer comes of age

Aleks Sierz

New monologue about drug dealing on the Dark Web is well written if a bit slight

£¥€$ (LIES), Almeida Theatre review - financial frolics at the gaming table

Matt Wolf

Ontroerend Goed's latest offers a cunningly immersive take on capitalism

Edinburgh Festival 2018 reviews: Ulster American / Cold Blood

David Kettle

A brutal assault on liberal values, and exquisite dance/theatre/cinema

h 100 Awards: Theatre and Performance - excellence and inclusion across the map

Matt Wolf

If the theatre is buoyant and alive, we have these artists to thank

The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville Theatre review - Sophie Thompson triumphantly tackles the handbag challenge

Heather Neill

Oscar Wilde's best-loved comedy with extra homo-erotic innuendo

Othello, Shakespeare's Globe review - André Holland shines, Mark Rylance pursues laughs

Laura De Lisle

Claire van Kampen's production is big and bold, but her husband's Iago misses the mark

Home, I'm Darling, National Theatre review - Katherine Parkinson in career-best form

Matt Wolf

Laura Wade play needs trimming but offers a bravura acting opportunity

King Lear, Duke of York's Theatre, review - towering Ian McKellen

Heather Neill

Sir Ian's Shakespeare swansong is a fast-paced, modern-dress production

Exit the King, National Theatre review - vivid, brilliant production that somehow leaves you feeling empty

Rachel Halliburton

As the manic, self-obsessed king, Rhys Ifans cuts an extraordinary figure

Spamilton, Menier Chocolate Factory review - fun if overstuffed

Matt Wolf

Gerard Alessandrini's latest is smart but needs streamlining

Brian Friel, the private playwright of Ballybeg

Jasper Rees

A celebration of the Northern Irish stage craftsman whose play Aristocrats is revived at the Donmar Warehouse

Pity, Royal Court review - whacked-out and wearing

Matt Wolf

Collegiate-style Armageddon takes over the Court mainstage

Allelujah!, Bridge Theatre review - hilarious but dark, darker, darkest

Aleks Sierz

Alan Bennett's black comedy is a howl against the privatisation of death

A Monster Calls, Old Vic - wild, beautiful theatre that beguiles and bruises

Rachel Halliburton

A fearlessly experimental, physically ingenious exploration of the text

End of the Pier, Park Theatre review - thought-provoking play about comedy and race

Veronica Lee

Les Dennis is superb as a washed-up comic

The Lehman Trilogy, National Theatre review - an acting tour de force

Matt Wolf

A newly-minimalist Sam Mendes guides an expert cast to sublime heights

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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