sat 16/10/2021

theatre reviews, news & interviews

The Cherry Orchard, Windsor Theatre Royal, review - Tolstoy meets Mrs Two Soups

Ismene Brown

The cherry orchard in Anton Chekhov’s eponymous play is a classic MacGuffin, its existence a reason to stir the sorts of resentments, fancies and identity causes that start wars and revolutions.

Macbeth, Almeida Theatre review – vivid, but much too long

Aleks Sierz

Remembering the months of lockdown, I can’t be the only person to thrill to this play’s opening lines, “When shall we three meet again?”, a phrase evocative enough to be borrowed as the first line of this year’s Wolf Alice album, Blue Weekend.

White Noise, Bridge Theatre review - provocative...

Matt Wolf

"I can't sleep": So goes the fateful opening line of White Noise, the Suzan-Lori Parks play disturbing enough to spark many a restless night in...

First Person: Rachel O'Riordan on the...

Rachel O'Riordan

The Beauty Queen of Leenane is a vicious, sad and extraordinary play. On the surface, Martin McDonagh's play, first seen 25 years ago and revived now...

The Mirror and the Light, Gielgud Theatre review...

Ismene Brown

The first two stage adaptations of Hilary Mantel’s Thomas Cromwell trilogy, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies – written by Mike Poulton, way back in...

First Person: Andrea Levy's husband recalls her path toward becoming a novelist

Bill Mayblin

A look back at the road to renown paved by the author of 'The Long Song'

Metamorphoses, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse review - punchy, cleverly reworked classic

Rachel Halliburton

Any figure in Roman mythology today would be at the pointy end of cancel culture

Hamlet, Young Vic review - Cush Jumbo flares in a low-key production

Heather Neill

Youthful Elsinore reflects life in present-day London

What If If Only, Royal Court review - short if not sweet

Gary Naylor

A beautifully staged reflection on the pain of confronting loss and the need to move on

The Normal Heart, National Theatre review - Ben Daniels triumphant

Aleks Sierz

Larry Kramer’s modern AIDS classic retains all of its passionate glory

How to Survive an Apocalypse, Finborough Theatre review - millenarian millennials

Laura De Lisle

Jordan Hall’s exploration of modern relationships provokes without fully satisfying

Curious, Soho Theatre review - a young playwright puts herself centre-stage

Helen Hawkins

Can a runaway slave help a black actress love the theatre more?

Witness for the Prosecution, London County Hall review - return of Agatha Christie's gripping courtroom drama

Heather Neill

This serpentine classic is perfectly placed in every sense

Back to the Future: The Musical, Adelphi Theatre review - a spectacular West End show to delight fans old and new

Gary Naylor

Whether you've seen the movie ten times or never, this will be a night to remember

Shining City, Theatre Royal Stratford East review - occasional sluggishness alongside a true star turn

Tom Teodorczuk

Conor McPherson play from 2004 fumbles at the finish line

The Last Five Years, Garrick Theatre review - bittersweet musical treat gets West End upgrade

Gary Naylor

Flaws remain, but audiences will lap up the melodies, singing and storyline

Blithe Spirit, Harold Pinter Theatre review - an amusing, if dated, revival of the Coward classic

Gary Naylor

Jennifer Saunders delivers a fine turn as the celebrated Madame Arcati

Black British Musical Theatre 1900-1950, Wigmore Hall review – a disappointing missed opportunity

Bernard Hughes

Lecture-recital leaves more questions than answers about an interesting subject

Camp Siegfried, Old Vic review - the banality of evil, brilliantly served up

Matt Wolf

Bess Wohl two-hander gets a superlative production

The Lodger, Coronet Theatre review - underdeveloped family drama

Laura De Lisle

Strong performances and a gorgeous set just about save a lacklustre script

Is God Is, Royal Court review – blister, flare and burn, baby, burn

Aleks Sierz

Aleshea Harris’s award-winning play is a thrillingly satirical mash up

Indecent, Menier Chocolate Factory review - cabaret-style depiction of a rapidly changing world

Rachel Halliburton

An intriguing if flawed evening, boosted by ebullient ensemble work

First Person: theatre director Christopher Haydon on how the Rose Theatre, Kingston, can bloom anew

Christopher Haydon

The former artistic director of the Gate Theatre moves his theatrical vision further west

The Memory of Water, Hampstead Theatre review – uneasy tragi-comedy

Aleks Sierz

Sombre revival of Shelagh Stephenson’s 1996 classic about three sisters

Frozen, Theatre Royal Drury Lane review - twinkling spectacle with a sincere drama at its heart

Marianka Swain

The stage version of the beloved animation looks set to become a West End staple

Leopards, Rose Theatre, Kingston review - a no-thrill thriller about sex and power

Ismene Brown

When the trousers come off and the handcuffs go on, the climax is the sexual politics lecture

Statements After an Arrest Under the Immorality Act, Orange Tree Theatre review - a blast from the past with lessons for today

Gary Naylor

Forty-nine years on, Fugard's anger has lost none of its ferocity

Rockets and Blue Lights, National Theatre review - strong, but inconclusive

Aleks Sierz

Poetic play about enslaved peoples and Victorian painter JMW Turner

Once Upon A Time In Nazi Occupied Tunisia, Almeida Theatre review - flawed theatre but a great experiment

Rachel Halliburton

Playwright Josh Azouz's absurdism owes as much to Sacha Baron Cohen as to Beckett

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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