sun 10/12/2023

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Homecoming, Young Vic Theatre review - Pinter's disturbing masterpiece is given a low-key revival

Heather Neill

As the audience enters, thick mist envelopes the thrust stage and jazz music fills the theatre. The set, designed by Moi Tran, consists of a sparsely furnished but spacious room, backed by a staircase. It is a place in the past but also anywhere and any time, both naturalistic and imaginary.

Dreaming and Drowning, Bush Theatre - dense and intense monologue about Black queer identity

Helen Hawkins

Kwame Owusu’s 55-minute one-hander does just what it says on the tin: it features a young student who dreams he is drowning. But its brevity is no bar to its being a dense and intense experience, worthy winner of last year’s Mustapha Matura Award.

Infinite Life, National Theatre review -...

Helen Hawkins

A sun deck with seven pale-green padded loungers is the latest setting for the latest National Theatre premiere from American playwright Annie...

£1 Thursdays, Finborough Theatre review -...

Gary Naylor

It’s 2012 and the London Olympics might as well be happening on the Moon for Jen and Stacey. In fact, you could say the same for everyone else...

A Sherlock Carol, Marylebone Theatre review -...

Aleks Sierz

It’s an elementary fact that Dickens sells at this time of year — look at all the perennial Christmas Carols sprouting up everywhere. But if grumpy...

Macbeth, The Depot, Liverpool review - Ralph Fiennes leads a conventional production in an unconventional space

Gary Naylor

Touring show lands first in Liverpool with a terrifying relevance

Peter Pan Goes Wrong, Lyric Theatre review - adult panto delivered as jolly chaos

Helen Hawkins

Mischief Theatre’s sight gags are faultlessly timed, though the verbals need a trim

The House of Bernarda Alba, Lyttelton Theatre review - dazzling darkness

Demetrios Matheou

Harriet Walter is a toweringly monstrous matriarch in Lorca’s tale of cruelty and repression

Odyssey: A Heroic Pantomime, Charles Court Opera, Jermyn Street Theatre review - topsy-turvy Homer

David Nice

Five heroic women and two instrumentalists go Hellenic, with panache

A Christmas Carol, The Old Vic review - older, wiser, and yet more moving

Matt Wolf

Christopher Eccleston is a Scrooge for the ages

The Witches, National Theatre review - fun and lively but where's the heart?

Matt Wolf

Roald Dahl adaptation is busy to a fault but lacks emotion

Oh What A Lovely War, Southwark Playhouse review - 60 years on, the old warhorse can still bare its teeth

Gary Naylor

Blackeyed Theatre's touring production has its pros and cons, but is never less than entertaining

Ghosts, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse review - a claustrophobic descent into purgatory

Demetrios Matheou

Hattie Morahan returns to Ibsen, for another round of unhappy families

She Stoops to Conquer, Orange Tree Theatre review - much-loved classic rumbustiously updated

Heather Neill

A familiar comedy provides Jeeves and Wooster-period Christmas fun

The Mongol Khan, London Coliseum review - unique operatic spectacle utterly overwhelms flaws in pacing and story

Gary Naylor

Take its limitations on trust and this Mongolian epic proves the best value in town

Passing, Park Theatre review - where do we go from here?

Laura De Lisle

A British-Indian family celebrate their first Diwali, with mixed results

Feeling Afraid As If Something Terrible Is Going To Happen, Bush Theatre review - charismatic stand-up routine

Aleks Sierz

Samuel Barnett performs a sizzling monologue about sex and fatal attraction

Shakespeare: Rise of a Genius, BBC Two review - the Bard's soul bared in hybrid drama-documentary

Gary Naylor

Speculation and facts woven into a compelling portrait of a singular man

The Time Traveller's Wife, Apollo Theatre review - blockbuster 2003 novel does not quite land as blockbuster 2023 musical

Gary Naylor

Powerhouse performances and visual effects let down by unambitious book and lacklustre songs

Nineteen Gardens, Hampstead Theatre Downstairs review - intriguing, beautifully observed two-hander tilts power this way and that

Gary Naylor

With echoes of Beckett and Chekhov, a grown-up play for grown-ups

Mates in Chelsea, Royal Court review – silly rather than satirical

Aleks Sierz

New comedy about toffs and tycoons is disappointingly juvenile and weak

Backstairs Billy, Duke of York's Theatre review - starry and gently subversive, too

Matt Wolf

The West End gets a much-needed shot in the arm

To Have and To Hold, Hampstead Theatre review - funny but flawed

Aleks Sierz

Richard Bean’s new comedy about old age occasionally glows, but stays lukewarm

The Interview, Park Theatre review - Martin Bashir's comeuppance

Aleks Sierz

Princess Diana’s BBC soul-searching makes for a slender docu-drama

FLIP!, Summerhall Edinburgh review - sassy, satirical parable

David Kettle

A Faustian fable of online influence crackles with energy and attitude

King Lear, Wyndham's Theatre review - Kenneth Branagh helms a pared-down tragedy

Mert Dilek

Shakespeare meets Game of Thrones in an efficient but emotionally stilted production

1984, Hackney Town Hall review - Room 101 shapeshifts into 2023, but remains as terrifyingly plausible as ever

Gary Naylor

The immersive experience makes us both victims of, and perpetrators in, an all too familiar perversion of truth

Trueman and the Arsonists, Roundhouse Studio review - new warnings in old lessons

Gary Naylor

When Simon Stephens' take on Max Frisch's classic play hits, it hits hard

Boy Parts, Soho Theatre review - not subversive enough

Aleks Sierz

New adaptation of Eliza Clark’s highly praised novel lacks a genuine heart of darkness

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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