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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, Southbank 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, Greenwich Until Monday August 31 2015

Bugsy Malone

Critics' choice

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, Hammersmith Until Saturday September 5 2015

A Number

Critics' choice

Metaphorically holding up a mirror to society is one thing. Here’s a piece of theatre that challenges each audience member to look themselves directly in the eye. Michael Longhurst’s production of Caryl Churchill’s 2002 play about cloning is staged, by designer Tom Scutt, within a mirrored box.

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Young Vic, Southbank Until Saturday August 15 2015

The Trial

Critics' choice

Kafka’s endlessly malleable satire about a man arrested for an unspecified crime is reimagined as a roiling Freudian psychodrama by director Richard Jones and playwright Nick Gill. And while wags will declare this two-hour, no interval, unabashedly avant-garde show to itself be a bit of a trial, the fact is that its sometimes pummelling otherness is offset by two towering acting performances: Rory Kinnear, at the peak of his powers, and rising star Kate O’Flynn.

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Young Vic, Southbank Until Saturday August 22 2015
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1984

Critics' choice

Headlong’s adaptation of George Orwell’s ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ is such a sense-overloadingly visceral experience that it was only the second time around, as it transfers to the West End, that I realised quite how political it was.

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Playhouse Theatre, Trafalgar Square Until Saturday September 5 2015

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, Soho Until Saturday October 31 2015

The Beaux' Stratagem

Critics' choice

You wait nearly a decade for one new Patrick Marber play, and then three turn up in one year

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National Theatre, Southbank Wednesday August 5 2015 - Sunday September 20 2015

Bend It Like Beckham

Critics' choice

Like the England mens’ team at their very best, ‘Bend It Like Beckham’ – the West End’s latest musical adaptation of a hit Britflick – is about 50 percent nervously wondering where this is all going, and 50 percent pure euphoria. And that’ll do me.Moans first: it starts slowly, and the songs are so-so. Composer Howard Goodall is revered in musical nerd circles for his skill and subtlety, but the man doesn’t do catchy.

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Phoenix Theatre, Soho Until Saturday October 24 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, Victoria Until Saturday December 17 2016

Briefs: The Second Coming

Critics' choice

Wow. There’s really no other ejaculation worthy of this show.

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London Wonderground, Southbank Wednesday August 5 2015 - Sunday September 27 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. 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, Leicester Square Until Saturday August 22 2015

The Car Man

Critics' choice

What a deliciously lubricious spectacle Matthew Bourne’s ‘auto-erotic thriller’ ‘The Car Man’ is. Created in 2000, this dirty mash-up of Bizet’s ‘Carmen’ and film noir classic ‘The Postman Always Rings Twice’ has to be one of his strongest works, so it’s a joy to see it return to the Sadler’s Wells stage (the first time since 2007).

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Churchill Theatre, Beckenham, Kent Until Sunday August 9 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Critics' choice

A luminous roller-coaster ride of colour, spectacle and fantastical happenings, Sam Mendes’s stage version of Roald Dahl’s adored children’s book is still as entertaining as ever, two years and a couple of casts down the line. And though a lot of that comes down to the show’s garishly-hued stage tricks, it’s also due to the main attraction.

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Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Aldwych 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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Apollo Shaftesbury, Soho Until Saturday February 13 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, Victoria Until Saturday December 17 2016

Bugsy Malone

Critics' choice

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, Hammersmith Until Saturday September 5 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, Leicester Square Until Saturday August 22 2015

Charlie and the Chocolate Factory

Critics' choice

A luminous roller-coaster ride of colour, spectacle and fantastical happenings, Sam Mendes’s stage version of Roald Dahl’s adored children’s book is still as entertaining as ever, two years and a couple of casts down the line. And though a lot of that comes down to the show’s garishly-hued stage tricks, it’s also due to the main attraction.

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Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Aldwych 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, Strand 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, Soho 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, Leicester Square Until Sunday May 29 2016

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, Chinatown Until Saturday March 26 2016
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