London theatre critics' choice

Our theatre critics recommend the best London theatre of the moment

Closer

Critics' choice

Is ‘Closer’ the best play about London ever written?It’s not so much that Patrick Marber’s 1997 masterpiece has a fine eye for the nooks and crannies of the old City, though there is that – the play and 2004 film have pretty much made obscure Victorian memorial Postman’s Park famous.

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Donmar Warehouse Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday April 4 2015

Game

Critics' choice

‘Game’ is about as high-concept as mainstream theatre gets, a short, experimental show that’s like a cross between a series of ‘Big Brother’ and Iain Duncan Smith’s wettest dream.Radically reformatting the Almeida, Sacha Wares’s production of Mike Bartlett’s new play seats the audience in four ‘zones’ around a house with one-way see-through walls and microphones that relay sounds inside to headphones we’re issued with. A young working-class Liverpudlian couple, Ashley (Mike Noble) and Carly (Jodie McNee) move in.

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Almeida Theatre Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday April 4 2015

Grimm Tales

Critics' choice

The scariest thing about these six short adaptations of the Brothers Grimm’s more off-piste fairytales is the price tag: £45 is a hell of a lot to fork out for what is, essentially, a fairly stripped-back evening of high class but no frills storytelling. Not that you can’t see where the money’s going: the show’s new South Bank home the Bargehouse has been ravishingly decked out. And there are more stories – and all completely different stories – than when it premiered at Shoreditch Town Hall last Easter.

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Bargehouse Until Saturday April 11 2015

Play Mas

Critics' choice

The Orange Tree Theatre’s Lazarus-like resurgence continues with this superb revival. Mustapha Matura’s 1974 play is a deeply and darkly funny exploration of Trinidad before and after the Caribbean island’s independence from Britain in 1962. It sweeps you up and leaves you breathless.

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Orange Tree Theatre Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday April 11 2015

The Royale

Critics' choice

Bam! ‘The Royale’ is a real knockout, a relentlessly gripping boxing drama that sees Bush Theatre boss Madani Younis really flex his directorial muscles. US writer Marco Ramirez’s play is a fictionalised but thematically accurate account of the rise of Jack Johnson (1878-1948), the first African American heavyweight champion of the world, and the first black man to be allowed to box for that title.

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Bush Theatre Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday April 18 2015

Sprint Festival

Critics' choice

Camden People's Theatre's excellent festival of unusual and unexpected theatre returns to London for a month this March. It's one of the best showcases for up and coming fringe and quirky artists in the capital. This year includes a piece exploring the death of Russian spy Alexander Litvinenko ('The Litvinenko Project' Mar 10-13), a piece looking at online identity and the controversial internet activity of Tory party chaiman Grant Shapps ('Don't Hate the Rich Be One of Them' Mar 7) and a new work-in-progress from madcap company 'Action Hero' ('Wrecking Ball' Mar 28).

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Camden People's Theatre Until Sun Mar 29
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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 Monday March 30 2015 - 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 Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday May 30 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 Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday December 19 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 Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday July 25 2015

The Broken Heart

Critics' choice

Once more the exquisite surroundings of the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse provide a backdrop for the most craven of emotions in this witty, assured revival of John Ford’s turbulent classic. 'The Broken Heart' opens with a happy and carefree Orgilus carrying his betrothed love Penthea onto the stage and embracing her. Moments later black hooded men violently separate the couple.

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Sam Wanamaker Playhouse Tuesday March 31 2015 - Saturday April 18 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 Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday June 4 2016

Clarence Darrow

Critics' choice

He could have given us his Lear or Prospero or Antony; he might have wrapped up with the sort of new American plays he’s championed over the last decade; or perhaps a collaboration with one of the leftfield directors (Yael Farber, Ian Rickson) he so thrillingly let into his theatre last year.

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Old Vic Until Saturday April 11 2015

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 Monday March 30 2015 - 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 Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday September 26 2015
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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 Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday December 19 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 Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday July 25 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 Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday June 4 2016

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

Made In Dagenham

Critics' choice

Much like the epithet ‘the best David Bowie album since “Scary Monsters”,’ describing a show as ‘the best British musical since “Matilda”’ is becoming one of those platitudes that sounds a bit less enthusiastic every time it’s trotted out.Nonetheless: ‘Made in Dagenham’ is the best British musical since ‘Matilda’, a funny, messy, surprisingly idiosyncratic movie adaptation that’s powered by a lot of heart, a lot of jokes, a fair few clichés and a fantastic performance from screen star Gemma Arterton.

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Adelphi Theatre Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday April 11 2015

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. 

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Queen's Theatre Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday September 26 2015

War Horse

Critics' choice

Five years on, the National Theatre's 'War Horse' has become ubiquitous. The toast of the West End and Broadway, as I write this it's sold out at the New London Theatre for the next two months – by contrast, you can book to see 'Matilda' next week. Its enormous success has negated the impact of Arts Council funding cuts on the NT, to the extent that the show has started to be singled out by some commentators as an example of 'safe' post-credit crunch programming.

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New London Theatre Monday March 30 2015 - Saturday February 13 2016
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