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London theatre critics' choice

Our theatre critics recommend the best London theatre of the moment

Alice's Adventures Underground

Critics' choice

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 May 31 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

Circolombia

Critics' choice

Dangling from the Roundhouse’s domed ceiling, high above us, a performer caught in a spotlight calmly lets go of her rope. We gasp as she falls into darkness. Returning to the venue after rocking it a few years ago, Colombia-based circus troupe Circolombia pull this stunt twice in their new show.

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Roundhouse Until Sunday May 3 2015

Pioneer

Critics' choice

It's probably written down somewhere in an old dusty book of Edinburgh Fringe Rules that staging a big-scale sci-fi thriller with a complex set is Not Advisable. Science-focussed theatre company Curious Directive have clearly ignored all the rules, though for this breathtakingly ambitious new piece.

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Shoreditch Town Hall Until Wednesday April 22 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 Friday June 19 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 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 Until 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 Until Saturday July 25 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. 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. Despite piercing, sardonic lyrics by the great Stephen Sondheim, there is much about ‘Gypsy’ that is old fashioned, but that’s part of its charm, a sweet ride from a more elegant age.And then there are the moments when Imelda Staunton is on stage. To say her turn as hilarious, tragic, monstrous impresario Momma Rose is the best performance of her career somewhat belies the fact that it is usually decreed that Staunton has given the best performance of her career (see recent triumphs ‘Good People’ and ‘Sweeney Todd’). Nonetheless, this really is something else. Staunton certainly has the lungs and the comic chops to portray the seemingly indomitable Rose as she marches her daughters – her favourite June (Gemma Sutton) and the long-suffering Louise (Lara Pulver) – around the States in a ghastly, cloying act at the fag-end of vaudeville.But what elevates Staunton’s performance is the darkness beneath the surface: the sense of irreparable damage to her soul, the Saint Vitus’s dance of desperation she does as she resolves Louise will be her new st

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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

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
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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 Until Saturday December 19 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.

Read more
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.

Read more
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

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 Until Saturday February 13 2016
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