wed 01/02/2023

theatre reviews, news & interviews

Two Billion Beats, Orange Tree Theatre review - lively, but overly idealistic

Aleks Sierz

Do the right thing! But doing the right thing isn’t easy – especially if you are a teen. And a female teen who is being pressurised by your mother and your school teacher. It takes courage to make the best decisions, it’s scary and it’s hard.

Othello, Lyric Hammersmith review - Frantic Assembly's high-energy take on the Moor

Helen Hawkins

Frantic Assembly’s Othello, originally co-developed with the Lyric in 2008, is back in its third iteration, and it’s still not exactly the play you studied at school or saw other companies perform. In some ways, that’s all to the good.

Sound of the Underground, Royal Court review -...

Aleks Sierz

Ever been to a queer club? You know, drag cabaret night at Madame Jojo’s, or the Black Cap or Her Upstairs. No? Well, not to worry – the Royal Court’...

Noises Off, Phoenix Theatre review - much revived...

Gary Naylor

There’s a chance – a slim one – that you haven’t seen Noises Off, Michael Frayn’s farce about a farce that, as legend has it with The Rocky...

Charlie & Stan, Wilton’s Music Hall, review...

Helen Hawkins

Imagine what would have happened if the young Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel were cabin-mates on a transatlantic liner. The Told by an Idiot company...

The Unfriend, Criterion Theatre review - dark comedy is (largely) audience-unfriendly

Laura De Lisle

Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss's collaboration somehow forgets about the laughs

Allegiance, Charing Cross Theatre review - George Takei's childhood story makes a heartfelt musical

Gary Naylor

Star Trek's Mr Sulu honours fellow Japanese-American survivors of wartime internal exile

The Art of Illusion, Hampstead Theatre review - a hit from Paris conjures up strange-but-true stories

Helen Hawkins

A cast with an infectious gift for fun give this French confection a touch of stage magic

A Streetcar Named Desire, Almeida Theatre review - Patsy Ferran rises above fussy staging

Gary Naylor

Torment, toxicity and trauma in New Orleans

Watch on the Rhine, Donmar Warehouse review - Lillian Hellman's 1940 play is still asking awkward questions

Gary Naylor

In wartime, when tough actions are needed to back up easy words, what do you do?

Best of 2022: Theatre

Matt Wolf

In an iffy year for new plays and musicals, a post-pandemic London stage returned to life

Christmas shows 2022 round-up - panto is properly back

Veronica Lee

Glittery stars and local heroes

Mother Goose, Duke of York's Theatre review - Ian McKellen returns as the Dame

Veronica Lee

Jonathan Harvey's (mostly) family-friendly script sparkles

Hakawatis: Women of the Arabian Nights, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse review - magical stories by candlelight

Laura De Lisle

Hannah Khalil's playful retelling of the 1001 Nights puts women centre stage

As You Like It, @sohoplace review - music-filled, warm-hearted celebration

Heather Neill

The first home-grown offering at this impressive new space is a playful paean to theatre

Dolly Parton's Smoky Mountain Christmas Carol, Queen Elizabeth Hall review - Scrooge goes to Tennessee

Gary Naylor

Dolly and Dickens team up for dreams and deliverance

Sons of the Prophet, Hampstead Theatre review - perfect mix of pain and comedy

Aleks Sierz

Stephen Karam’s 2011 award-winning play is a subtle exploration of suffering

Kerry Jackson, National Theatre review - new writing nadir

Aleks Sierz

April De Angelis’s latest has Fay Ripley, but precious little else

Newsies, Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre review - bombastic musical let down by its songs

Laura De Lisle

Backflipping newsboys take on press barons in this hyper-energised UK premiere of the Broadway hit

Othello, National Theatre review - ambitious but emotionally underpowered

Helen Hawkins

Clint Dyer's new take makes Othello a victim of mob mentality

Mandela, Young Vic review - baffling bio-musical

Mert Dilek

This new musical about the early life of Nelson Mandela is a mawkish misfire

Sarah, Coronet Theatre review - a one-man whirlwind

Helen Hawkins

Jonathan Slinger commands the stage in this dark, funny monologue

Hex, National Theatre review - 12 months after being sent to sleep by Covid, Rufus Norris's show is back

Gary Naylor

Victoria Hamilton-Barritt brings superstar quality and emotional depth to villainous ogre

Orlando, Garrick Theatre review - Emma Corrin is incandescent in an underwhelming adaptation

Mert Dilek

Charming performances in this watered-down version of Virginia Woolf’s novel

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

Matt Wolf

James Graham play hits the West End on the way, presumably, to Broadway

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

Helen Hawkins

Tania Nwachukwu creates a warm hour of music and memories with hidden bite

Arms and the Man, Orange Tree Theatre review - a rollicking take on Shaw's satirical classic

Helen Hawkins

Absurdly romantic notions about love and war have never been funnier

Baghdaddy, Royal Court review - Middle-Eastern magic realism

Aleks Sierz

New play about an Iraqi exile and his daughter is strong if a bit messy

Elf, Dominion Theatre review - hit musical revival slays it again

Gary Naylor

Buddy the Elf charms everyone on either side of the fourth wall

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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