Musicals and theatre in London

Your guide to plays and musicals in the West End and the best of London shows. Theatre reviews, tickets and offers

Theatre

Olivia Vinall interview

If you don’t know Olivia Vinall now, you soon will. She is the National Theatre’s rising star and is playing the lead in ‘The Hard Problem’, the first new Tom Stoppard play in nine years.

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London theatre calendar

Find a theatre show for any month of the year with our calendar view of the biggest plays in London 2015

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Cheap West End theatre tickets

We'll help make sure the hottest tickets in town are the cheapest, too

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The best London musicals

It had fantastic reviews when it opened – but is it still kicking after five cast changes? 

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London theatre critics' choice

These are the shows that got our critics talking

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Latest theatre reviews

Theatre

The Ruling Class

Hotshot director Jamie Lloyd has built up a lot of goodwill with his populist, sleb-heavy seasons at Trafalgar Studios. And he cashes that goodwill in with a shot out of left-field: half-forgotten playwright Peter Barnes’s ‘The Ruling Class’, a play that’s presumably never been revived because it is, frankly, fucking nuts.A cracked, filthy social satire that comes across like Joe Orton throwing himself howling into the abyss, it’s a much bigger ask of audiences than anything else Lloyd has staged here. But the director has quite the contacts book, and his old mucker James McAvoy – whose ‘Macbeth’ opened Lloyd’s first Trafalgar season in 2013 – is on hand to guarantee brisk business.McAvoy is there for more than that, though: he flings himself into the role of insane aristocrat Jack, 14th Earl of Gurney with a demon’s vigour. Jack starts off believing he’s Jesus and ends up convinced he’s Jack the Ripper; in between he crucifies himself, gets into a fight with another bloke who also believes he’s Jesus, unicycles topless (this actually happens) and attempts to commit a spate of murders. It’s not the sort of performance that wins awards: it’s about as heart-warming as an ice sculpture of a puppy being stamped on. But it might just get him offered the gig as the next Timelord: with a compelling/repellent mixture of aristocrat arrogance, childish enthusiasm and plummy camp, he’s just fascinatingly, brilliantly weird.But his weirdness shifts, and that’s the key to the play. Hauled

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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Theatre

The Hard Problem

There is only one playwright on the planet who could change the way you think about human existence in 90 minutes and leave you wishing there was a bit more to his new play. And that playwright is the great Tom Stoppard.‘The Hard Problem’ comes with an almost unfair weight of expectations: it’s Stoppard’s first play in nine years; it follows 2006’s ‘Rock ’n’ Roll’, which WAS an unqualified success; and there is, face facts, every chance that it’ll be the 77-year-old’s final stage work.‘The Hard Problem’ follows Hilary (Olivia Vinall), a young psychology researcher who is attempting to unravel the riddle of whether there is such thing as a truly good person – something she has personally attempted to be ever since a trauma in her teens.Much of the play is set at the Krohl Institute, a high-powered research centre where Hilary is hired and taken in under the wing of the eccentric Leo (Jonathan Coy), a cranky professor who rejects better qualified candidates because he likes her spirited – some might say naive – determination to pick away at the questions science seems incapable of answering. Namely, the hard problem: if existence is only matter, what is consciousness?And there’s, er, not really much more to the plot than that: Hilary occasionally indulges in bickering sexposition with Damien Molony’s hunky cynic Spike; there is a slightly hard to swallow (though partly justified) resolution to her trauma; and in the background the economy tanks. Vinall is a compelling actor, an

Time Out says
  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Theatre

Hello/Goodbye

Fans of the Richard Curtis school of rom com – set in a la la land of infantile pseudo reality – may be taken in by Peter Souter’s almost insufferable homage to the writer of ‘Notting Hill’ etc. Transferring from the Hampstead’s downstairs theatre, it’s about a young couple who meet after buying the same flat. Following the Curtis method, it’s kooky stereotype time: she is a wild, sexed-up hooray Henrietta; he is a nerdishly obsessive and emotionally constipated collector from Liverpool.The set up itself beggars belief: it’s surely impossible for two parties to buy the same flat let alone turn up with a set of keys. Even if this has happened in a parallel universe, what follows is calculatedly facile with conversations about collecting toys from Macdonalds, before stripping off to cool down. Then, in the second half, we’re expected to believe they have been married ten years. It is, in short, an inane fantasy sustained by wishful thinking that passes for ‘love actually’ in the Curtis cosmos.Tamara Harvey’s production follows Souter’s writing, matching the predictably cute characters with a studiously realistic performance around a thrust stage to make it seem more ‘intimate’. In turn, designer Lucy Osborne does her bit to make it seem more real with a kitchenette fitted with working hob for frying an egg and ciabatta sandwich.As the kooky girly, Miranda Raison is sexy, infuriating and loveable, but to what end? Characters like her’s do not toss themselves at stay at home nerd

Time Out says
  • 2 out of 5 stars
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Theatre

Dara

Where do we find stories about Pakistan… that also affect us in Britain? That’s a question outgoing NT artistic director Nicholas Hytner has asked, and this is the epic and often highly affecting response. ‘Dara’ is a story that both Shakespeare and the Greek tragedians would have enjoyed tackling – a tale of strife between the two seventeenth century Mughal princes Dara and Aurangzeb, filled with ambition, betrayal, and at least one gorily severed head. Originally written in 2009 by Pakistani playwright Shahid Nadeem, it’s been adapted by Tanya Ronder, and addresses vital questions both about Islam’s historic role and its place in the modern world.On Katrina Lindsay’s beautiful set – which divides the stage into three and echoes Mughal architecture with crenellated arches and intricate metal screens that work like veils – we first see Zubin Varla’s Dara begging an Afghan chieftain for sanctuary. In this establishing scene we learn all we need to know about Dara’s defiant spirit, the affection he has inspired in others, and the ravages his murderous brother Aurangzeb has wrought across the Mughal empire. The philosophical divide in Dara is between two interpretations of Islam – Prince Dara’s Sufi-influenced, tolerant, humane response and Prince Aurangzeb’s ascetic, vengeful interpretation, easily identifiable with today’s fundamendalist mentality. Aurangzeb proves the strategic victor – and we are gently invited to ask how that event might have impacted on the world order tod

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Theatre tickets and offers

The Book of Mormon

Buy tickets for the smash hit show from the creators of South Park!

Time Out says
  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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War Horse

Book now to see the the toast of the West End and Broadway

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  • 5 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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The Lion King

No booking fee!

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Les Miserables

Book now for the second longest running show in the West End

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Wicked

No booking fees on second and thrid priced tickets

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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The best of theatre

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West End theatre shows

Here's the full scoop on the best shows in London's West End

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Children's theatre in London

Our list should help inform any decision on the next family day out

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Shakespeare plays in London

Shakespeare's Globe and beyond – here's where to watch the best plays by the Bard in London

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Latest theatre interviews

Get the lowdown from the biggest stars of the London stage

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What's on at

Theatre

Old Vic

The combination of double-Oscar winner Kevin Spacey and top producer David Liddiment at this 200-year-old Waterloo theatre continues to be a commercial success – though Spacey's controversial artistic leadership has frequently come under critical fire. Still, the Old Vic's a great place to catch high-profile actors – Ian McKellen, Robert Lindsay and Neve Campbell have all trod its boards. David Mamet's 'Speed-the-Plow' thrilled audiences in 2008 and was followed by a winning revival of Alan Ayckbourn's 'The Norman Conquests' – a show that saw the venue spectacularly remodeled into a theatre-in-the-round. Summer 2009 heralded the first of Sam Mendes's The Bridge Projects, an Anglo-American collaboration between Mendes, the Old Vic and Joseph V Melillo's Brooklyn Academy of Music, that enticed Ethan Hawke to the British stage for its Shakespeare/Chekhov double bill.

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National Theatre

The concrete-clad, 1960s modernist grandmother of them all: no theatrical tour of London is complete without a visit to the National, whose three auditoriums – Olivier, Lyttelton and Cottesloe – offer a rolling repertory programme, often with a choice of several productions in a week. The National Theatre may have once had a fiercely inaccessible reputation, but the arrival of maverick artistic director Nicholas Hytner in 2003 rocked theatreland as he set about changing the venue's staid ethos with daring productions such as 'Jerry Springer the Opera' and an ambitious adaptation of Phillip Pullman's 'His Dark Materials'. The change of tack proved a success, attracting audiences of mixed race, age and class – and Hytner's budget £10 Travelex-sponsored tickets still help pull in the crowds in the summer season. The home stable for Michael Morpurgo's 'War Horse', which opened here in 2007 and went on to break West End records, the National is now developing a reputation for family-friendly blockbusters, cue its current production of Mark Haddon's 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time'. Meanwhile the National Theatre Live initiative has extended the theatre's reach by broadcasting high-publicity productions such as Danny Boyle's role-swapping smash-hit 'Frankenstein' and the comedy 'One Man, Two Guvnors', which introduced James Corden to the stage, live to Picturehouse Cinemas. A recent run of the post-modern musical 'London Road' proved it hasn't lost its edge. You

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  • 3 out of 5 stars
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Young Vic

The Young Vic finally returned to its refurbished home in The Cut in 2007 with acclaimed community show ‘Tobias & the Angel’. As you would expect, it’s got more verve and youthful nerve than the grown-up Old Vic down the road and attracts a slightly younger more multicultural – yet still discerning – crowd. Director David Lan’s eclectic programming of rediscovered European classics has proved popular with the critics, while a stage adaptation of DBC Pierre’s ‘Vernon God Little’ was standing ovation material. Three venue spaces – the main house and studio spaces Maria and Clare – allow for flexible scheduling and more intimate works such as Tarell Alvin McCraney’s moving ‘The Brothers Size’. The Young Vic also provides its Waterloo home with a popular split-level bar and restaurant complete with an open-air balcony terrace.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Royal Court Theatre

A hard-hitting theatre in well-heeled Sloane Square, the Royal Court has always placed emphasis on new British talent – from John Osborne’s ‘Look Back in Anger’ in 1956, to the discovery of numerous playwrights over the past decade: Sarah Kane, Joe Penhall and Conor McPherson among them. Artistic director Dominic Cooke has always injected plenty of politics into the programmes and successfully decreased the age of his audiences too. This is where you’ll find rude, lyrical new work set on the London streets by first-time playwrights like Bola Agbaje and the more established but no less cool Mark Ravenhill. Split between two floors – with the mid-capacity Jerwood Theatre Downstairs and the studio-style Jerwood Theatre Upstairs – the Royal Court also houses an excellent bookshop geared towards theatregoers and a café bar with a weighty menu serving up more than your average bag of peanuts.

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Shakespeare's Globe

The original Globe Theatre, where many of William Shakespeare's plays were first staged and which he co-owned, burned to the ground in 1613 during a performance of 'Henry VIII'. Nearly 400 years later, it was rebuilt not far from its original site, using construction methods and materials as close to the originals as possible. Shakespeare’s Globe has been an unbridled success, underpinned in part by its educational programme (you can drop in for talks and readings) and its commitment to faithfully recreating an original ‘Shakespeare in performance’ experience from April to October. The open-air, free-standing Yard is the best bet for those after complete authenticity – the absence of seating may test your stamina but tickets are excellent value – while the Middle and Upper Galleries afford a (marginally more comfortable) atmosphere of their own. The only thing that tends to mar a performance is the theatre’s somewhat noisy, flight-path location. In the UnderGlobe beneath the theatre is a fine exhibition on the history of the reconstruction, Bankside and its original theatres, and Shakespeare's London. Guided tours of the Shakespeare's Globe theatre run throughout the year. If the Bard is not your bag, look out for various seasonal festivals that take place on the riverside area outside the Globe Theatre. For more information about visiting the Globe Theatre, head to www.timeout.com/outdoor-theatre-faqs

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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Lyric Hammersmith

A beacon of culture in Hammersmith, the Lyric's distinctive look is largely down to a fusion of the building's 1970s structure, the theatre's Victorian heritage and a modern interior.

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  • 4 out of 5 stars
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