fri 19/07/2024

theatre reviews, news & interviews

More Than One Story review - nine helpings of provocative political theatre

Helen Hawkins

A stark end-title at the end of this collection of short films sums up the dire situation the UK is in: one in five people,14 million Britons, are now living in poverty. 

Visit from an Unknown Woman, Hampstead Theatre review - slim, overly earthbound slice of writer's angst

Helen Hawkins

Who was Stefan Zweig? It's likely that it's mostly older folk who studied German literature at A-level who have encountered this superb Viennese writer in his native language, though his short story from 1922, Letter to an Unknown Woman, eventually emerged as a starry Hollywood film in 1948.

Grud, Hampstead Theatre review - sparky...

Helen Hawkins

Sarah Power, the writer of Grud, now in the Hampstead’s smaller space, is a self-confessed geek who excelled at science at school. She also...

Skeleton Crew, Donmar Warehouse review - slow...

Helen Hawkins

For a long stretch of its first half, Dominique Morrisseau’s 2016 award-winner, Skeleton Crew, seems a conventional workplace drama, though in a...

Next to Normal, Wyndham's Theatre review -...

Gary Naylor

We open on one of those suburban American families we know so well from Eighties and Nineties sitcoms - they’re not quite Homer, Marge, Bart, Lisa...

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Mnemonic, Olivier Theatre review - thanks for the memories

Demetrios Matheou

Complicité’s reflection on memory, connection and storytelling remains as potent as ever

Starlight Express, Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre review - freight is kinda great

Matt Wolf

Andrew Lloyd Webber's 1980s spectacular skates into a new era

The Marilyn Conspiracy, Park Theatre review - intriguing murder mystery

Aleks Sierz

New play about the death of the most famous American woman of the Camelot era

Mean Girls, Savoy Theatre review - standout performances save a thin score

Helen Hawkins

Fans of the film will love it, but it's like being in a pink fever dream

The Secret Garden, Regent's Park Open Air Theatre review - adaptation more edifying than beguiling

Helen Hawkins

A production with a green message for younger audiences

My Father's Fable, Bush Theatre review - hilarious and haunting family drama

Aleks Sierz

New play about secrets from the past is both funny and profound

The Bounds, Royal Court review - soccer play scores badly

Aleks Sierz

New history play about football has a flawed second half

Kiss Me, Kate, Barbican review - an entertaining, high-octane Cole Porter revival

Helen Hawkins

'Brush Up Your Shakespeare' brings the house down in a strongly cast lineup

The Taming of the Shrew, Shakespeare's Globe review - riotous comedy jars with the bitter pill of the production's message

Rachel Halliburton

This 'Shrew' has many fine elements but ultimately they don't coalesce

Miss Julie, Park Theatre review - Strindberg's kitchen drama still packs a punch

Gary Naylor

Much adapted play gets a traditional staging fuelled by electric leads

Being Mr Wickham, Jermyn Street Theatre review - the plausible, charming roué gives his version of events 30 years on

Heather Neill

Adrian Lukis revisits his disruptive character from the BBC adaptation of 'Pride and Prejudice'

Marie Curie, Charing Cross Theatre review - like polonium, best left undiscovered

Gary Naylor

Celebrated scientist is ill-served by confused and dull show imported from Seoul

Wedding Band, Lyric Hammersmith review - revelatory staging of a Black classic

Helen Hawkins

Alice Childress's 1962 play about interracial love has lost none of its richness and fire

Accolade, Theatre Royal Windsor review - orgy-loving knight makes for topical pre-election drama

Ismene Brown

Vintage Emlyn Williams play asks pokey questions about private-public tolerance

Lie Low, Royal Court review - short sharp sliver of pain

Aleks Sierz

Dublin Fringe Festival hit from 2022 comes to London’s main new writing theatre

Boys from the Blackstuff, National Theatre review - a lyrical, funny, affecting variation on a television classic

Heather Neill

The legendary small-screen drama still resonates in a new medium

First Person: LIFT artistic director Kris Nelson on delivering the best of international theatre to the nation's capital

Kris Nelson

LIFT2024 promises a characteristically broad and bracing array of global performance

The Harmony Test, Hampstead Theatre review - pregnancy and parenthood

Aleks Sierz

Taboo-tickling comedy about both conceiving a baby and life as empty nesters

Bluets, Royal Court review - more grey than ultramarine

Aleks Sierz

Katie Mitchell’s staging of Maggie Nelson’s bestseller is neither original nor beautiful

Romeo and Juliet, Duke of York's Theatre review - doomy and deathly, and much-hyped

Matt Wolf

Tom Holland reaches for the stars and makes it to the theatre's roof

Jerry’s Girls, Menier Chocolate Factory review - just a parade that passes by

David Nice

Three talented performers in a revue that doesn’t add up to much

Richard III, Shakespeare's Globe review - Michelle Terry riffs with punk bravado

Tom Birchenough

A female cast rips into toxic masculinity in a rebalanced treatment of villainy

Between Riverside and Crazy, Hampstead Theatre review - race, religion and rough justice

Aleks Sierz

Stephen Adly Guirgis’s Pulitzer-Prize winner finally makes it to London

Passing Strange, Young Vic review - exuberant pocket musical with a thoughtful core

Helen Hawkins

Giles Terera excels leading a livewire cast in an irreverent look at Black identity

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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