mon 05/12/2022

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Best of Enemies, Noel Coward Theatre review - opposites attract, sort of

Matt Wolf

Opposition (and history) are the apparent mainstays of the ceaselessly busy James Graham, and he conjoins the two to riveting effect in Best of Enemies.

The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English, Bush Studio review - an engaging debut

Helen Hawkins

The Bush studio space is proving a fruitful launch pad, not just for new writing but for new performers.

Arms and the Man, Orange Tree Theatre review - a...

Helen Hawkins

For his final bow as artistic director of the Orange Tree, Paul Miller has decided to go out with a bang, amid much giggling and snorts of laughter....

Baghdaddy, Royal Court review - Middle-Eastern...

Aleks Sierz

What is the best way of talking about the Middle East? Should plays take a documentary or verbatim approach, all the better to educate and inform, or...

Elf, Dominion Theatre review - hit musical...

Gary Naylor

Just about the three toughest tricks to pull off in the theatre are making a musical, making a family show and making characters so charming that...

Henry V, Shakespeare's Globe review - anatomy of a violent, murky world of leadership

Rachel Halliburton

The play is stripped down to expose sinister undercurrents of nationalism and honour-culture

Dinner with Groucho, Arcola Theatre review - often opaque

Helen Hawkins

Frank McGuinness's new play about T S Eliot and Groucho Marx is a poetic puzzle

A Christmas Carol, The Old Vic review - more poignant, and more joyous than ever

Demetrios Matheou

This annual rendering of the Dickens classic feels particularly resonant during the economic crisis

A Christmas Carol, RSC, Stratford review - family show eases back the terror and winds up the politics

Gary Naylor

The RSC Christmas show delivers exactly what it promises

The Sex Party, Menier Chocolate Factory review - disappointing detumescence

Aleks Sierz

Terry Johnson returns with a sex comedy that is neither sexy nor funny

Here, Southwark Playhouse review - award-winning kitchen sink drama goes down the drain

Gary Naylor

The prestige of the Papatango Prize cannot rescue a play that fails to transcend its inexplicable limitations

Super High Resolution, Soho Theatre review - the NHS at breaking point

Aleks Sierz

New play about a junior doctor on the edge is powerful and moving

Leslie Phillips: 'I can be recognised by my voice alone'

Jasper Rees

Saying goodbye to the actor famous for saying hello

From Here to Eternity, Charing Cross Theatre review - Pearl Harbour musical fails to fly

Gary Naylor

Super songs can't quite rescue an ill-focused story and sparse staging

Mary, Hampstead Theatre review - compelling study of power politics

Aleks Sierz

New play about the Queen of Scots is a bit wordy, but well worth it

‘Stripping naked the process of making theatre’: Martin Crimp talks about his latest play

Aleks Sierz

The playwright talks about 'Not One of These People', which he is performing himself, digital creativity and constraints on authorship

Tammy Faye, Almeida Theatre review - Elton John's often dazzling new musical

Gary Naylor

Plenty of heart and bite in a show illuminated by Katie Brayben's compelling performance

Elephant, Bush Studio review - stirring solo show from rising star Anoushka Lucas

Helen Hawkins

A beguiling debut play with both charm and an angry message

Something in the Air, Jermyn Street Theatre review - evocative London mood music

Tom Birchenough

Peter Gill's new memory play is a wistful recreation of gay loves lost and found

Marvellous, @sohoplace review - silly, singular and sentimental

Aleks Sierz

New West End theatre opens with a bio-drama that is joyfully silly - but a bit relentless

Blues for an Alabama Sky, National Theatre review - superb cast and production for this period hit

Helen Hawkins

Pearl Cleage's play about thwarted dreams in Prohibition Harlem gets a stellar revival

The Solid Life of Sugar Water, Orange Tree Theatre review - two-hander gets a punchy refresh

Helen Hawkins

Jack Thorne's wickedly funny play offers plum roles to two riveting disabled actors

My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican review - dazzling stage adaptation of a Japanese classic

Saskia Baron

Ingenious puppetry and music brings a classic 2-D animation to life on stage

Good, Harold Pinter Theatre review - brilliant but half-baked

Laura De Lisle

David Tennant is a bone-chillingly affable Nazi in C P Taylor's uneven look at morality

The Doctor, Duke of York's Theatre review - Juliet Stevenson will see you now

Laura De Lisle

Robert Icke's whip-smart adaptation puts identity politics on the dissection table

The Band's Visit, Donmar Warehouse review - still waters run bittersweet

Matt Wolf

Feted Broadway musical finds an apt London fit

Ravenscourt, Hampstead Theatre review - strong, but slender

Aleks Sierz

New play about therapy is powerfully emotional, but sadly predictable

The Caucasian Chalk Circle, Rose Theatre review - new production of classic proves a gruelling experience

Gary Naylor

Carrie Hope Fletcher one of few bright sparks in a tough evening for the audience

The Boy with Two Hearts, National Theatre review - poignant yet humorous story of family forced to flee Afghanistan

Rachel Halliburton

Engaging adaptation and sympathetic playing still leave viewers longing for more detail

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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