London theatre critics' choice

Our theatre critics recommend the best London theatre of the moment

Alice's Adventures Underground

A flash of blue and blonde darts by you in a faded looking glass; a red knave bemoans the difficulty of finding just the right rouge for roses; a Queen screams across a tannoy about her missing tarts; a grinning Cheshire cat blinks at you sideways while a white rabbit hurries past looking anxiously at a butter-smeared watch.

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The Vaults Until Sunday August 30 2015

Against Captain’s Orders: A Journey into the Uncharted

Critics' choice

Avast! Those of you still trying to work out what the bejesus was going on in Punchdrunk’s cryptic odyssey ‘The Drowned Man’ will be relieved to discover that the latest show from the immersive theatre gurus ventures into calmer waters.There’s a catch, though: ‘Against Captain’s Orders’ is in fact the work of Punchdrunk Enrichment, the company’s learning-centric spin-off, and is running not in a hip abandoned warehouse but the basement of the Greenwich Maritime Museum.

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National Maritime Museum Until Monday August 31 2015

Bugsy Malone

Lyric boss Sean Holmes is the perfect director for the job, bringing a ruthless lack of sentiment and a gift for metatheatrical schtick to the table as he helms his theatre’s big comeback show after a two-year refurbishment

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Lyric Hammersmith Until Saturday September 5 2015

Carrie: the Musical

Critics' choice

Whether you think Stephen King’s 1974 novel ‘Carrie’ is a key feminist tract or just a spot of lurid prose, there’s no denying it’s the height of horror. Blood, death, bullying, telekinesis and abuse: it’s an unsettling mix of ‘Matilda’, ‘Misery’ and ‘Mean Girls’, and the 1988 musical, here running in London for the first time, revels in the darkness.The RSC’s original production was a notorious disaster, plagued by technical issues (a cast member almost lost her bonce) before heading to Broadway to monumentally flop.

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Southwark Playhouse Until Saturday May 30 2015

The Father

Critics' choice

It’s only at the end of Florian Zeller’s clever, unsettling play that we really understand what is going on. Which is entirely intentional: the French playwright places his audience in the same position as his protagonist, a father called Andre, who is increasingly confused about who the people that keep appearing in his life really are.

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Tricycle Until Saturday June 13 2015

Gods are Fallen and All Safety Gone

What a quiet, restrained and gently devastating piece this is! ‘Gods are Fallen and All Safety Gone’ is an exquisitely constructed two-hander, in which two male actors play a mother and daughter. Selma Dimitrijevic’s dialogue loops, stutters and repeats as these two characters behave warmly, tenderly, and angrily towards each other.

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Camden People's Theatre Until Sunday May 31 2015

Product

Critics' choice

If Mark Ravenhill’s cryptic ‘Show 6’, which just premiered at the Summerhall, is the playwright at his most obtusely experimental, then this ferocious revival of 2005’s monologue ‘Product’ is a reminder of how thrilling his work can be with a mainstream sensibility applied to it.

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Arcola Theatre Until Saturday May 23 2015

Now '15

Critics' choice

The Yard's annual festival of new talent returns. New kids on the block include Conker Group, Greg Wohead, Sleepwalk Collective, Lucy Hutson and Omar El Khairy. The festival is created through an open call for artists and from the submissions ten are chosen to participate. Each of the weeks over the ten-week festival features a double bill.

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The Yard Theatre Until Saturday June 20 2015

Shock Treatment

Critics' choice

A cult buried within a cult, ‘Shock Treatment’ is the oft-maligned, more often forgotten 1981 film follow-up to ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. It’s a deeply weird, startlingly prescient satire on the rise of reality television, rampant commodification and the cult of the everyday, talentless celebrity.

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King's Head Theatre Until Saturday June 6 2015
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The 39 Steps

Critics' choice

Current cast features Andrew Alexander as Richard Hannay and Catherine Bailey as Annabella Schmidt/Pamela/Margaret. Other parts are played by Paul Bigley and Stephen Critchlow. There's a wonderful '80s comedy sketch where one extremely effete doctor turns to another and declares, 'I learnt everything I know about women from the novels of John Buchan.' Though Buchan was aggressively heterosexual, his emphasis on a world where a chap's upper lip was as stiffly starched as his collar meant there was little room for ladies – pleasant creatures though they were – in his tales of intrigue.

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Criterion Theatre Until Saturday October 31 2015

Bad Jews

Critics' choice

'Bad Jews' transfers with the original cast to the Arts Theatre in the West End from Mar 18. This review is of the show's run at St James Theatre. Family tensions are bound to run high when a loved one dies. But in this hilarious new comedy from Joshua Harmon, you frequently wonder whether a tragic death might actually provoke a bloody murder.

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Arts Theatre Until Saturday July 11 2015

Billy Elliot the Musical

Critics' choice

Current cast features Harris Beattie, Harrison Dowzel, Redmand Rance and Kaine Ward as Billy. Six years after it first stamped, swore, and pirouetted into audiences' hearts, 'Billy Elliot the Musical' continues to mark itself out as one of the best nights in town. Both as tough as a miner's fist after a Friday night booze-up and as soaringly sensitive as one of Tchaikovsky's swans, it's a gritty story of hope that works its magic by defying sentimentality and slaying stereotypes.

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Victoria Palace Theatre Saturday May 23 2015 - Saturday December 17 2016

The Book of Mormon

Critics' choice

Brace yourself for a shock: ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Broadway-munching musical is not particularly shocking. Sure, there are ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’ and gags about baby rape – but beneath it all, this is a big-hearted affair that pays note-perfect homage to the spirit of Broadway’s golden age as much as the sounds. The strapping young Latter Day Saints missionaries in ‘The Book of Mormon’ are as cartoonish as any ‘South Park’ character, with the endearing alpha-male woodenness of the ‘Team America’ puppets.

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Prince of Wales Theatre Until Saturday August 22 2015

Death of a Salesman

Critics' choice

Theatre hipsters who view the RSC as irredeemably square might roll their eyes at the prospect of artistic director Gregory Doran’s trad revival of Arthur Miller’s ‘Death of a Salesman’, which must inevitably suffer some comparisons to the last Miller in the West End – Ivo van Hove’s Olivier-winning avant-garde ‘A View from the Bridge’, a show that would scarcely have attracted more acclaim if it had managed to keep the Tories out.

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Noël Coward Theatre Until Saturday July 18 2015

Gypsy

Critics' choice

There are moments when ‘Gypsy’ feels like a lovely indulgence. Not seen in London for 40 years, Jonathan Kent’s revival of this 1959 musical is like a collector’s loving restoration job on a beautifully-made vintage car.

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Savoy Theatre Until Saturday November 28 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Critics' choice

‘Skyfall’ director Sam Mendes’s huge new Warner Brothers musical confirms it: the hottest property in the West End right now is a grouchy, dead half-Norwegian, who loathed show-offs and spent most of his working life hiding out in a shed at the bottom of his garden. Roald Dahl probably wouldn’t have liked the whiz-popping rave that Mendes has created from his addictive kids’ book ‘Charlie and the Chocolate Factory’ – because he felt it was Charlie’s story, and any adaptation inevitably becomes the Willy Wonka show. 

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Theatre Royal Drury Lane Until Saturday June 4 2016

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time

Critics' choice

Three theatres, three casts, one major disaster and seven Olivier Awards on, the National Theatre’s adaptation of Mark Haddon’s novel about Christopher Boone, the teenage ‘mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’ remains a thing of unbridled wonder.The occasion for this re-review is the end of the enforced layoff inflicted upon ‘The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time’. The show figuratively blew the roof off when it transferred from the NT to the Apollo Theatre, but unfortunately the ageing ceiling responded by literally collapsing, necessitating a change of venue and months off.

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Gielgud Theatre Until Saturday October 24 2015

Jersey Boys

Critics' choice

Here's the 'Jersey Boys' concept. Take one gleaming back-catalogue – that of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, whose Bob Gaudio-penned songs have become so woven into the fabric of Western pop culture that it's easy to forget who actually wrote them. Next, instead of torturously extrapolating a zany plot out of the lyrics, simply make the story of 'Jersey Boys' the story of the Four Seasons. Get a top-notch book, written by Rick Elice and Woody Allen collaborator Marshall Brickman. 

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Piccadilly Theatre Until Sunday October 25 2015

Les Miserables

Critics' choice

If the second longest running show in the West End was looking a little tired, a rejuvenating orchestral facelift was just what the doctor ordered. Cameron Mackintosh's 'little girl' has shaken off that 1980s synth vibe and finally woken up to the organic noughties. This is a new, richer sound with strong operatic undertones and even the faint echoes of chamber music. Led by compelling ex-'Phantom…' Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean, this dynamic cast blows a whirlwind through the Queen's Theatre, hurtling along Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's famous melodrama. 

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Queen’s Theatre Until Saturday March 26 2016
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Billy Elliot the Musical

Critics' choice

A decade years after it first stamped, swore, and pirouetted into audiences' hearts, 'Billy Elliot the Musical' continues to mark itself out as one of the best nights in town. 

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Victoria Palace Theatre Saturday May 23 2015 - Saturday December 17 2016

Bugsy Malone

Lyric boss Sean Holmes is the perfect director for the job, bringing a ruthless lack of sentiment and a gift for metatheatrical schtick to the table as he helms his theatre’s big comeback show after a two-year refurbishment

Read more
Lyric Hammersmith Until Saturday September 5 2015

Carrie: the Musical

Critics' choice

Whether you think Stephen King’s 1974 novel ‘Carrie’ is a key feminist tract or just a spot of lurid prose, there’s no denying it’s the height of horror. Blood, death, bullying, telekinesis and abuse: it’s an unsettling mix of ‘Matilda’, ‘Misery’ and ‘Mean Girls’, and the 1988 musical, here running in London for the first time, revels in the darkness.The RSC’s original production was a notorious disaster, plagued by technical issues (a cast member almost lost her bonce) before heading to Broadway to monumentally flop.

Read more
Southwark Playhouse Until Saturday May 30 2015

The Book of Mormon

Critics' choice

Brace yourself for a shock: ‘South Park’ creators Trey Parker and Matt Stone’s Broadway-munching musical is not particularly shocking. Sure, there are ‘fucks’ and ‘cunts’ and gags about baby rape – but beneath it all, this is a big-hearted affair that pays note-perfect homage to the spirit of Broadway’s golden age as much as the sounds.

Read more
Prince of Wales Theatre Until Saturday August 22 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Critics' choice

Alex Jennings replaces Douglas Hodge as Willy Wonka from May 19 2014. ‘Skyfall’ director Sam Mendes’s huge new Warner Brothers musical confirms it: the hottest property in the West End right now is a grouchy, dead half-Norwegian, who loathed show-offs and spent most of his working life hiding out in a shed at the bottom of his garden.

Read more
Theatre Royal Drury Lane Until Saturday June 4 2016

Gypsy

Critics' choice

There are moments when ‘Gypsy’ feels like a lovely indulgence. Not seen in London for 40 years, Jonathan Kent’s revival of this 1959 musical is like a collector’s loving restoration job on a beautifully-made vintage car. With a full, jazzy orchestra doing total justice to Jule Styne’s brassy score, some beautifully Gene Kelly-ish choreography, a discretely sumptuous set, clockwork stage management, and a huge cast, it purrs like a dream.

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Savoy Theatre Until Saturday November 28 2015

Jersey Boys

Critics' choice

Here's the 'Jersey Boys' concept. Take one gleaming back-catalogue – that of Frankie Valli & the Four Seasons, whose Bob Gaudio-penned songs have become so woven into the fabric of Western pop culture that it's easy to forget who actually wrote them.

Piccadilly Theatre Tue Mar 3 - Sun Oct 25

Matilda the Musical

Critics' choice

'My mummy says I'm a miracle,' lisps a pampered mini-me at a purgatorial kiddies' birthday party at the outset of this delicious, treacly-dark family show. The obnoxious ma and pa of its titular, gifted, pint-sized heroine are not, of course, quite so doting. But 'Matilda' must be making its creators, playwright Dennis Kelly and comedian-songsmith Tim Minchin, a very pair of proud parents. Opening to rave reviews in Stratford-upon Avon before transferring to the West End in 2011 and snatching up Olivier Awards with all the alacrity of a sticky-fingered child in a sweetshop, Matthew Warchus's RSC production remains a treat.

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Cambridge Theatre Until Sunday December 20 2015

Les Miserables

Critics' choice

If the second longest running show in the West End was looking a little tired, a rejuvenating orchestral facelift was just what the doctor ordered. Cameron Mackintosh's 'little girl' has shaken off that 1980s synth vibe and finally woken up to the organic noughties. This is a new, richer sound with strong operatic undertones and even the faint echoes of chamber music. Led by compelling ex-'Phantom…' Ramin Karimloo as Jean Valjean, this dynamic cast blows a whirlwind through the Queen's Theatre, hurtling along Alain Boublil and Claude-Michel Schönberg's famous melodrama. 

Read more
Queen's Theatre Until Saturday March 26 2016

Shock Treatment

Critics' choice

A cult buried within a cult, ‘Shock Treatment’ is the oft-maligned, more often forgotten 1981 film follow-up to ‘The Rocky Horror Show’. It’s a deeply weird, startlingly prescient satire on the rise of reality television, rampant commodification and the cult of the everyday, talentless celebrity.

Read more
King's Head Theatre Until Saturday June 6 2015
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