fri 22/03/2019

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Emilia, Vaudeville Theatre review - shouting for change

Aleks Sierz

Emilia Bassano Lanier is not a household name. But maybe she should be. Born in 1569, she was one of the first women in England to publish a book of poetry. And she was also a religious thinker, a feminist and the founder of a school for girls. Oh, and a mother too. And maybe, just maybe, at a long stretch, she was also the "dark lady" of Shakespeare's sonnets.

Downstate, National Theatre review - controversial but also clear-eyed and compassionate

Matt Wolf

"Some monsters are real," notes a retribution-minded wife (Matilda Ziegler) early in Downstate, Bruce Norris's beautiful and wounding play that has arrived at the National Theatre in the production of a writer's dreams.

The Bay at Nice, Menier Chocolate Factory review...

Matt Wolf

David Hare knows a thing or two about sustaining an onstage face-off. Skylight and The Breath of Life consist tantalisingly of little else and so,...

The Rubenstein Kiss, Southwark Playhouse review...

Laura De Lisle

It's an ideal time to revive James Phillips's debut The Rubenstein Kiss. Since it won the John Whiting Award for new writing in 2005 its story, of...

Richard II, Sam Wanamaker Theatre review -...

Rachel Halliburton

Richard II has become the drama of our times, as it walks us through the impotent convulsions of a weak and vain leader brought down by in-fighting...

Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre review - Tom Hiddleston anchors a bold, brooding revival

Marianka Swain

Jamie Lloyd locates the radical soul of a classic work

10 Questions for Candice Edmunds of Theatre Company Vox Motus

Thomas H Green

The Glasgow-based artistic director talks theatre with a difference

Admissions, Trafalgar Studios review - topical and whiplash-smart

Matt Wolf

Alex Kingston stars in darkly comic Off Broadway transfer

The Twilight Zone, Ambassadors Theatre review – retro wit for our new space age

Rachel Halliburton

Anne Washburn's play for the Almeida achieves lift-off in the West End

The Best Plays in London


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

Angry Alan, Soho Theatre review - superb monologue about the rise of 'meninism'

Veronica Lee

Penelope Skinner probes the men's rights movement

Waitress, Adelphi Theatre review - sweet if sometimes silly musical arrives from Broadway

Matt Wolf

Tale of female emancipation gets a necessary post-interval lift

Medea, Internationaal Theater Amsterdam, Barbican review - lacerating contemporary tragedy

David Nice

Simon Stone's homage to Euripides is faultless, while Marieke Heebink tears at the soul

Alys, Always, Bridge Theatre review - mildly perverse but rather dispiriting

Aleks Sierz

Adaptation of Harriet Lane's psychological and satirical bestseller never quite takes off

Inside Bitch, Royal Court review - brave, hilarious yet very slender

Aleks Sierz

New show about representations of women's prisons in the media is fun but pointless

We're Staying Right Here, Park Theatre review - rough and not entirely ready

Tim Cornwell

Mental distress takes centre-stage in metaphor-heavy play

The Son, Kiln Theatre review - darkly tragic

Aleks Sierz

The final part of Florian Zeller's domestic trilogy is powerfully melodramatic

The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, Lyric Hammersmith review - enchanting graphic novel

Aleks Sierz

1927 theatre company returns with its classic hit show - as beautifully compelling as ever

The Best Musicals in London


We recommend the top shows in musical theatre

Follies, National Theatre review - the Sondheim spectacular returns, better than ever

Marianka Swain

New cast members beautifully complement this definitive production

Eden, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs review - thoughtful commentary on people and principles

Laura De Lisle

Hannah Patterson's new play is based on a true story, but stands firmly on its own two feet

Equus, Theatre Royal Stratford East review - thrilling physicality

Aleks Sierz

Brilliant revival of the 1970s classic about pagan worship and repressed sexuality

Jesus Hopped the 'A' Train, Young Vic review - shards of power amidst much that is overwrought

Matt Wolf

Stephen Adly Guirgis play is best when most reflective

Tartuffe, National Theatre review - morality-heavy version of the comedy classic

Heather Neill

Brexit provides an unwelcome motor for John Donnelly's Molière-with-a-twist

Shipwreck, Almeida Theatre review - Trump-inflected fantasia mixes the polemical and the poetic

Matt Wolf

Anne Washburn's shape-shifting play won't be confined, nor will the man at its thematic centre

Keith? A Comedy, Arcola Theatre review - Molière mined for Brexit-era laughs

Tim Cornwell

Canny update of a 17th-century classic locates real laughs in today's censorious landscape

Bodies, Southwark Playhouse review - shaky revival misses the mark

Laura De Lisle

Last seen 40 years ago, James Saunders' four-hander never quite gets off the ground

Only Fools and Horses, Theatre Royal Haymarket review - rollicking remake of much-loved TV sitcom

Adam Sweeting

Lovely jubbly! The Trotters return to Peckham

All in a Row, Southwark Playhouse, review - soapy and shrill pity party

Saskia Baron

Clumsy drama tries to raise sympathy for parents with a profoundly autistic child

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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