tue 29/09/2020

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Sunnymead Court, Tristan Bates Theatre review - a lovely lockdown romance

Laura De Lisle

The first words of Sunnymead Court, a new play at the Tristan Bates Theatre, are ominous. “We are transitioning from human experiences to digital experiences.” Oof. Thankfully, this isn’t another gloomy lockdown drama about the evils of Zoom quizzes – it’s the story of an unlikely romance between two women who live metres from each other, but have never spoken. 

An Evening with an Immigrant, Bridge Theatre review – poetic and engaging

Aleks Sierz

When the history of British theatre’s response to COVID-19 comes to be written, the names of two men will feature prominently: Nicholas Hytner and Nick Starr.

The Cheeky Chappie, The Warren Outdoors review -...

Veronica Lee

It’s fitting that there’s another run of Dave Simpson’s terrific play about Brighton’s favourite son, Max Miller (aka The Cheeky Chappie), at this...

The Shrine & Bed Among the Lentils, Bridge...

David Nice

Monologues and duets rule the stage right now. We can only dream of the day when theatre steps up to the classical music scene’s boldness and manages...

The Outside Dog & The Hand of God, Bridge...

Rachel Halliburton

For some of us, it doesn’t take a lockdown to imprison us in our own hellish little world. Since his first series of dramatic monologues, broadcast...

Rose, Hope Mill Theatre online review - a performer at her peak

Matt Wolf

Maureen Lipman in fearless form in Martin Sherman's discursive solo play

'I loved being a dresser': Sir Ronald Harwood, Oscar-winning writer, dies at 85

Jasper Rees

A memorial interview with the playwright and scriptwriter who enjoyed a remarkable Indian summer

C-o-n-t-a-c-t, Musidrama review - a beautifully bonkers promenade

Laura De Lisle

Real-life theatre bounces back with this lovely meander through grief and loneliness

Three Kings, Old Vic: In Camera review - Andrew Scott vividly evokes generational pain

Marianka Swain

This new livestreamed monologue explores family and the burden of inheritance

Sleepless, Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre review - love from afar in this amiable musical

Marianka Swain

A standard screen-to-stage transfer, but hugely welcome post-lockdown

One Enchanted Evening, Glastonbury Abbey review - concert of West End show tunes

Veronica Lee

Magnificent backdrop of ruins for fundraiser

Beat the Devil, Bridge Theatre review – Ralph Fiennes delivers an arresting account of Covid-19

Rachel Halliburton

Theatre itself become an act of rebellion against the microbe

Declan, Traverse Theatre online review - compressed and compelling

Matt Wolf

Traverse Theatre two-hander transfers well to the screen

A Little Night Music, Opera Holland Park review - wasn't it bliss?

Matt Wolf

For one night, we were part of a full-on theatrical experience once again

Alice, A Virtual Theme Park review – down the technological rabbit hole

Laura De Lisle

Bonkers Zoom production is ideal for kids, but leaves adults wanting more

Theatre Unlocked 4: Shows in concert and a contemporary classic comes to TV

Matt Wolf

A New York duo celebrates Sir Noël; Samuel Beckett bewitches and bewilders once again

Fanny and Stella, Garden Theatre review - a saucy slice of queer history

Sam Marlowe

This rambunctious fringe musical serves up a fascinating true story with charm and pizazz

Blindness, Donmar Warehouse review - a beautifully haunting parable

Aleks Sierz

Simon Stephens and Juliet Stevenson create the perfect installation for our times

Imagine... My Name is Kwame, BBC One review - interesting but incomplete

Matt Wolf

Profile of Young Vic artistic director could go still further

Theatre Unlocked 3: Signs of activity after a long siesta

Matt Wolf

Theatre comes to life, albeit gently, and some familiar names crop up online

Scrounger, Finborough Theatre online review – autobiography meets meta-theatre

Aleks Sierz

Athena Stevens’s punchy account of how an airline trashed her wheelchair

The Merchant of Venice, BBC iPlayer review – a parable on the limits of tolerance

Laura De Lisle

Polly Findlay's 2015 take on Shakespeare's trickiest comedy pays dividends

Songs for a New World, The Other Palace Digital review - chimes with our extraordinary 'moment'

Marianka Swain

Jason Robert Brown's abstract musical offers resonant tales of the unexpected

Theatre Unlocked 2: A starry premiere and musical revival alongside Greek tragedy where it began

Matt Wolf

Empty playhouses caught on camera and an online 'Merchant' complete a typically varied week of theatrical fare

My White Best Friend (And Other Letters Left Unsaid), Royal Court review – raw but generous

Aleks Sierz

A festival of responses to the Black Lives Matter campaign is personal, political and powerful

Institute, BBC Four review – masculinity and memory in a nightmarish world of work

Sam Marlowe

Physical theatre company Gecko's debut film is compelling and technically skilled

Horrible Histories: Barmy Britain, Northampton Saints review - history made funny

Veronica Lee

Lots of bum and poo gags to keep the kids happy

Amadeus, National Theatre at Home review – wild dance at the edges of sanity

Rachel Halliburton

As Mozart, Adam Gillen erupts onto the stage as a Tourette’s tornado

Theatre Unlocked 1: George Floyd remembered, a classic transformed, and a call to action re climate change

Matt Wolf

A Broadway legend in concert lends musical buoyancy to this week's ever wide-ranging theatrical array

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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