It can be diffiult to keep up with everything on in London’s West End, which is full of more theatre shows, musical productions and ticket offers than you can shake an interval ice cream at. So where to start? We’ve pulled together literally everything currently running in the West End, from new plays to long-running musicals, for YOUR delight.
Want to shortcut to the good stuff? Check out our pick of the top ten West End theatre shows in London.
West End theatre shows on now
Everyone from Bill Murray to the Muppets has remixed Dickens’s Victorian thriller about a grasping old miser, redeemed by three Christmas spirits who show him cautionary visions of his past, present and future. I love it in all its forms and – IM very nerdy O – the version with Kermit and his fuzzy crew will never be beaten: it rains schmaltzy tears of joy all over the competition. However, this punchy adaptation, returning for a third victory lap at the Old Vic, has a jolly good shot at the party crown. It’s staged in the round and narrated – part sung, part hollered, part acted – by a hectically costumed chorus of spirits and streetfolk with pipes, whistles and handbells. It looks like a Victorian slum party on opium, and sounds, at its heights, like a choir of angels. Big shot Old Vic boss Matthew Warchus and hit writer Jack Thorne have amped up Scrooge’s backstory with extra lashings of psychology: we see how his debt-ridden bully of a father ruined young Ebenezer's character and – moving to present and future, we see, in his profound sentimental interest in Tiny Tim, the crippled son of his unlucky clerk, how he learns to be a better father to others and to himself. I saw the show on the final night before the official opening, which is sometimes a little creaky. I really liked the in-yer-face the staging, with the chorus chucking pounds of brussels sprouts around, handing out mince pies and heartily Christmassing all over the place. But Dickens’ story needs to to
‘You lot are like a real community,’ says Victoria, Gary’s boss, when she invites herself into a birthday party at his council house on a multicultural city estate. ‘This is so nice, like you’re off the telly,’ she coos. Not for long: Gary’s circle might seem tight-knit, with his wife and best mate he’s known since school, and their neighbours popping in. But over the course of Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s new play, personal conflicts get so viciously tangled up with dormant racial, cultural and class tensions, their domestic set-up is soon more melodramatic soap opera than cosy sit-com. Gary is black; he’s been working as an electrical engineer for a decade and thinks it’s his time to get promoted to team leader. Victoria is white; she gets outrageously drunk at the party, and starts ordering Gary around, demanding he show her how to dance like a black woman, ‘shaking their big fat bottoms’. Watching Amy Morgan twerking while she sings Missy Elliott’s ‘Get Ur Freak On’ – including, yes, the n-word – is so painfully awful I think I actually yelped in the stalls. So when Victoria passes Gary over for promotion in favour of a white colleague, it’s too much for his pride to take. He quits after angrily accusing her of being a racist, puffed up on principle, but his wife Nicky – a white working-class women – is horrified. His unemployment piles the pressure on, and crushes her dreams of a better life for them and their kids. Nicky’s own lack of understanding about how to play the edu
The ‘taste of honey’ in Shelagh Delaney’s cherished play refers to the brief relationship sparked between teenager Jo (Gemma Dobson) and her sailor boyfriend, Jimmie (Durone Stokes). But it could also describe the whole of this touring National Theatre revival by Bijan Sheibani, which spills out like a sticky, sweet mess of mothers, daughters and a tiny, claustrophobic flat. One of the best choices Sheibani has made is to avoid turning the play into a hysterical screechfest. Helen (Jodie Prenger) drags her daughter from one dank bedsit to another, uprooting her from schools and streets like a bashed-up, unwanted weed. They bicker and argue constantly – one of the brilliant things about Delaney’s script is how the women make bitchy asides about ‘she’ when the other is well within hearing distance and nobody else is present – before Helen ups and leaves with a new husband shortly after they’ve relocated once again. It would be tempting to play the at-each-others-throats relationship as a drawn-out screaming match. Yet the convincing thing about this bullying and neglectful, but also co-dependent, set-up is how well-worn the insults seem. A lot of the sadness of the play comes from the suggestion of being trapped in cycles of repeated mistakes, poverty, and toxic relationships. Prenger is great as the sharp-tongued Helen, not to mention resplendent in her ’50s wiggle skirts and emerald green wedding dress. But it’s Dobson who puts in a really fascinating performance. Convent
A new staging of David Walliams' kids novel 'Billionaire Boy' is coming to London for Christmas. It's the 'Richie Rich'-esque tale of a boy who's got pots of money but no friends. Then, he scoops up a rabble of 'normal' mates and gets involved in some surprising adventures. This production is masterminded by the team behind two other popular Walliams adaptations, 'Gangsta Granny' and 'Awful Auntie'. Ages five-plus.
This kids' show gallops off the beaten track by mixing gorgeously witty design with an inventive new take on Anna Sewell's story. 'Black Beauty' follows two famous pantomime horse artists who discover a well-thumbed book, and then tell the equine tales it contains in gag-filled style, with nods to other famous fillies from racing stars to My Little Pony. It comes to Southbank Centre for Christmas 2019, after winning plenty of rosettes during its premiere at Scotland's Traverse Theatre.
Puppetry maestros Les Petits are tackling the sequel to 'Captain Flinn and the Pirate Dinosaurs', a kids' book that they turned into a swashbuckling show in 2013. 'The Magic Cutlass' promises a crowd-pleasing blend of ingenious puppetry, ridiculous dinos and piratical sea shanties. It's taking up residence in Leicester Square over Christmas. Ages three-plus.
If creators Sandi and Jenifer Toksvig can’t promise you actual snow, they can at least guarantee you’ll be fairly cold at this Christmas entertainment, which sees the Globe’s outdoor theatre receive a rare out-of-season opening. We’re a little vague on what ‘Christmas at the Snow Globe’ actually involves, but it’s aimed squarely at families, and we’re promised ‘song, laughter, mulled wine, and the magic of Christmas’, which sounds nice.
Ru Paul's Drag Race UK contestant Baga Chipz is the star attraction of this adult panto. 'Cinderella' will play the low-key Sunday slot at Trafalgar Studios in the run up to Christmas, but there's nothing unassuming about TuckShop's festive extravaganza. Writer and director Stuart Saint has penned a script that's packed with filthy puns, pop songs, and seasoned drag and kings queens.
This review is from Christmas 2018. ‘Circus 1903’ returns for Christmas 2019. We’re in a mini golden age of contemporary circus, with companies like Circa and Gandini Juggling injecting wit, ice-cool aesthetics and even (gasp!) feminism into a centuries-old genre. There’s none of that nonsense in this uber-trad homage to Barnum & Bailey-era,‘The Greatest Showman’-style spectacle. Yup, real elephants have been replaced by (rather overbilled) two giant puppets by the ‘War Horse’ guys. But otherwise, pretty much the only artistic boundaries pushed by this circus-with-all-the-trimmings are how much fun you can have at a small kid’s expense without them bursting into tears. Ringmaster David Williamson’s audience-participation scenes are some of the night’s most memorable, bringing young audience members on stage only to pop a pink elephant-shaped balloon inches from their faces (it gets magically reincarnated, of course) or to menace them with an apparently fearsome raccoon puppet. He’s an engaging host for this night of classic circus, supplementing the kid-tormenting with patter about magic and the supremacy of death-defying skill. And the show’s first scenes do a lot to suck you into the mood of a 1903 circus, with gorgeously attired performers tumbling across the stage and building a huge tent in scenes that feel a bit like the more atmospheric bits of ‘Dumbo’. But ‘Circus 1903’ quickly settles down into something much more straightforward, and periodically a bit dull. The a
Musicals don’t come much more low-key, wholesome or Canadian than ‘Come from Away’. Writers Irene Sankoff and David Hein cook up the straightforward world of the Newfoundland town of Gander using a very straightforward set of ingredients. The cast wear sensible shoes and lumberjack shirts. They tramp across a wood-decked stage that evokes the huge skies of their tiny island. They sing their way through a set of folk-tinged songs that tell stories of the five days after 9/11, when 38 planes made emergency landings on the island’s huge, disused airstrip. And it’s all totally, soul-feedingly wonderful. ‘Come from Away’ has been a massive sleeper hit across North America, Broadway included, and it’s easy to see why: it mixes down-home authenticity with the desperate intensity that comes in times of crisis. This is a moment where 7,000 temporary arrivals join a community of just 9,000 people. Logistics might not be the sexiest of topics for a musical, but one of the many surprising joys of this show is how gripping it makes things like the struggle to rustle up transport at a time when the local school bus drivers were on strike and had to be coaxed into crossing the picket line. Then there are beds, food, medication and interpreters to be sourced for passengers from across the world: one non-English-speaking couple communicates by cross-referencing Bible verses. Based closely on interviews with real Newfoundlanders, this is a picture of a community that stretches itself to bre
The Royal Ballet's big Autumn triple bill shows off three works by choreographers who've defined the company's history. First up, 'Concerto' is an austere piece by contemporary master Kenneth MacMillan. Then, 'Enigma Variations' is a distinctly British work by Frederick Ashton, staged in period costumes. Finally, Russian legend Pepita's 'Raymonda Act III' offers a one act schooling in ballet tradition.
This musical murder mystery has songs by notorious writing duo Kander and Ebb, who wrote 'Chicago' and 'Cabaret'. Unlike their other big hits beginning with 'c', 'Curtains' hasn't had a major London outing until now; director Paul Foster's touring production will mark its West End premiere. 'Curtains' first opened on Broadway in 2007, where it got mixed reviews for its unlikely blend of backstage drama and Agatha Christie-style sleuthery. It might not be Kander and Ebb's strongest work, but this revival's retro design, slick song-and-dance routines and rapid-fire wisecracks will make a case for its comeback.
It’s Cyrano de Berger-rap. It’s James rap-Avoy. It’s… perhaps more accurate to say the rhythms of Martin Crimp’s new version of classic French play ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ are closer to the languid cadences of performance poetry than actual hip hop. But undoubtedly this is your first opportunity to listen to Mr Tumnus spitting verse. And James McAvoy is great in the role: sure, the idea of updating ‘Cyrano’ in this fashion is a bit yikes on paper. But in fact, this is a ferociously good revival from Jamie Lloyd, that almost totally reclaims, reinvents and reinvigorates a play so engrimed in period camp that it can sometimes feel like a chore to even remember it exists. ICYMI: Edmund Rostand’s 1897 drama about a big-nosed, hyper-poetic French soldier who finds himself in a very complicated love triangle with his cousin Roxane and good-looking but tongue-tied fellow soldier Christian is written in rhyming verse. And with the hindsight of Martin Crimp’s scorching adaptation, it is blindingly clear that modern rhymes offer a clear and exciting way forward. Lloyd and Crimp have conjured up something pretty remarkable, the cut and thrust world of seventeenth-century France reinvented as a series of rap battle royals, or grand poetry slams. Although stripped to the bone aesthetically – Soutra Gilmour’s stark set is just a white stage and few mics – the first half in particular is vivid and teeming with ideas and life, as McAvoy’s lovelorn loon Cyrano, Eben Figueiredo’s nice-but-d
This wildly hyped Broadway hit musical is basically ‘Faust’ for high-schoolers. A nerdy, anxiety-ridden teenage boy sells his soul (well, his integrity, anyway) for the popularity and appreciation he’s spent his whole life craving. But his guilt makes every YouTube follow or Twitter retweet become excruciating – and then the whole fragile edifice comes crashing down. It’s easy to see why ‘Dear Evan Hansen’ has won so many fans since it first premiered in 2015: it mixes agonising tension with surgingly catchy songs by songwriters Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, who’ve also worked on movies ‘La La Land’ and ‘The Greatest Showman’. The standout numbers are emotive rock ballads like ‘You Will be Found’, the kind of thing you’d wave your lighter along to if the West End’s theatres weren’t imperilled enough already. But the score’s also stuffed with inspirations from emo to bluegrass, and Evan’s mum gets a gravelly howl of frustration that could be straight out of Alanis Morissette’s back catalogue. The intense emotionalism of the score is characteristic of a musical where everything’s dialled up to 11. Evan Hansen isn’t just your archetypal teen movie loser; he’s as fragile as a peeled egg, bouncing from humiliation to humiliation in a high school that’s like a machine designed to slice him up. A West End newcomer, 21-year-old Sam Tutty glows with sweat and goodness, bringing integrity to a storyline that’s somewhere between ingenious and tortuous. Evan’s mother gets him treatment
‘Everybody’s Talking About Jamie’ is a burst of joy in the heart of the West End. This new British musical, transferring from the Sheffield Crucible, is the real deal. Watch out, tired revivals: there’s a new kid in town. Inspired by a 2011 BBC documentary about a teenager who wanted to be a drag queen, the show follows 16-year-old Jamie on his journey to be himself – out of a classroom in a working-class part of Sheffield, away from the bigotry of a deadbeat dad, and into high heels. Director Jonathan Butterell’s production is a high-impact blaze of colour, combining video projections with seamless scene changes and a live band above the stage. It captures the frenetic energy of being a teenager. Every element of this show works beautifully together. The music, by The Feeling frontman Dan Gillespie Sells, is a deft mix of irresistibly catchy, pop-honed foot-tappers – try not to hum ‘And You Don’t Even Know It’, I dare you – and truthful, heart-wrenching numbers. This is Sells’s first foray into writing for musicals, but he’s always excelled at telling stories in song. He is matched by the show’s writer and lyricist Tom MacRae. Apart from notable exceptions like Punchdrunk’s ‘Doctor Who’-themed kids’ show ‘The Crash of Elysium’, he’s largely written for TV, but this works well here. His dialogue is punchy, funny and often lands with a sting. While most of the characters exist to orbit Jamie, they still have their own stories and these are crisply told. As Pritti, Jamie’
This review is from the first West End run for ‘Girl from the North Country’, in January 2018. It returns with a new cast in December 2019. Will Bob Dylan ever stop rolling? Last year he accepted the Nobel Prize for Literature. Now he’s written a West End musical. Well, kind of. He’s co-credited on this new play by Conor McPherson, which weaves excerpts of Dylan’s music together to tell a fictional story from Duluth, Minnesota, 1934 – the place of Dylan’s birth, seven years before its occurrence. It’s an interesting concept. But what’s truly thrilling about the execution of this poignant but rambling show are Dylan’s songs – and the way they sound and feel when sung in a totally different context by some of the most nerve-tingling singers I’ve ever seen on stage. The action takes place in a boarding house. Times are tough; work is very hard to come by and lynchings happen from time to time. Nick, the guy who runs it (Ciaran Hinds, wonderful) is breaking under the burden of his mortgage, his demented wife, his boozy writer son (shades of Tennessee Williams) and his adopted black daughter (Sheila Atim), who has fallen mysteriously pregnant and absolutely does not want to be married off to her father’s elderly shopkeeper pal. Passing through are a widow, a boxer on the run, a dodgy bible salesman and a couple with a learning-disabled son who doesn’t know his own strength (shades of John Steinbeck). A hard rain is gonna fall on all of them. That’s a lot of stories to t
Okay, let’s just get this out of the way. ‘Hamilton’ is stupendously good. Yes, it’s kind of a drag that there’s so much hype around it. But there was a lot of hype around penicillin. And that worked out pretty well. If anything – and I’m truly sorry to say this – Lin-Manuel Miranda’s musical about Alexander Hamilton, the first secretary of the US Treasury, is actually better than the hype suggests. That’s because lost in some of the more waffly discourse around its diverse casting and sociological import is the fact that ‘Hamilton’ is, first and foremost, a ferociously enjoyable show. You probably already know that it’s a hip hop musical, something that’s been tried before with limited success. Here it works brilliantly, because Miranda – who wrote everything – understands what mainstream audiences like about hip hop, what mainstream audiences like about musical theatre, and how to craft a brilliant hybrid. Put simply, it’s big emotions and big melodies from the former, and thrilling, funny, technically virtuosic storytelling from the latter. ‘Alexander Hamilton’, the opening tune, exemplifies everything that’s great about the show. It’s got a relentlessly catchy build and momentum, a crackling, edge-of-seat sense of drama, and is absolutely chockablock with information, as the key players stride on to bring us up to speed with the eventful life that Hamilton – the ‘bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman’ – led before he emigrated to America in 1772 as a teenager
In the unlikely event you were worried a leap to the stage for JK Rowling’s Harry Potter series would result in it becoming aggressively highbrow, self-consciously arty or grindingly bereft of magical high jinks, just chill the hell out, muggle. ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’ is an absolute hoot, a joyous, big-hearted, ludicrously incident-packed and magic-heavy romp that has to stand as one of the most unrelentingly entertaining things to hit the West End. Writer Jack Thorne, director John Tiffany and a world-class team have played a blinder; if the two-part, five-hour-plus show is clearly a bit on the long side, it’s forgivable. ‘The Cursed Child’ emphatically exists for fans of Harry Potter, and much of its power derives from the visceral, often highly emotional impact of feeling that you’re in the same room as Rowling’s iconic characters. There’s also a sense that this story of wizards and witches is being treated with the respect its now substantially grown-up fanbase craves. No disrespect to D-Rad and chums, but the leads here are in a different acting league to their film counterparts’: Jamie Parker and Alex Price are superb as battered, damaged, middle-aged versions of old enemies Harry Potter and Draco Malfoy. Sam Clemmett and Anthony Boyle are a fine, puppyish, sympathetic engine to the play as their awkward sons Albus and Scorpius, trying to escape their parents’ shadows. It is a bit of a sausage (wand?) fest in terms of the lead parts, although in the mos
Effectively An Audience With National Treasure Sir Ian McKellen, this solo show is a big, brash, old-fashioned night in which the octogenarian acting legend discusses his life, rattles through his greatest hits, and shows off a lot. True, there are no celebrity guests, but he does bring out Gandalf the Grey’s actual sword Glamdring (well, the actual prop), which is treated like a bigger star than its owner by a swooning audience member invited up to give it a heft. In many ways it’s cheesy as hell… but frankly, that’s what’s so good about it. McKellen marked his eightieth birthday by taking ‘Ian McKellen on Stage’ on an 80-date tour of the UK and Ireland, which he’s now following up with an 80-date West End run. You don’t do that if you’ve fallen out of love with the world, and the entire joyously rambling three hours speaks of a life extremely well lived. Although long established as a stage great, McKellen came late to superstardom, via Peter Jackson’s ‘Lord of the Rings’ films. He is not precious about this: he literally starts the show with a run-through of Gandalf’s confrontation with the Balrog. It’s the very definition of giving the audience what they want. It’s also a smart piece of structuring: it begins things at a clip, and it gets the least humorous material out of the way with first. Because McKellen is a very amusing man, and much as he has some serious things to tell us – about his formative love of theatre, about his regret about spending so much time in th
Keen-eyed readers may notice that this review of the laboriously entitled ‘Jeff Wayne’s Musical Version of The War of the Worlds: The Immersive Experience’ is in fact a re-review: a misunderstanding led to our first writer being invited down before the VR elements of the show were working, so I agreed to write about it again.Anyway. ‘JWMVoTWoTWTIE’ is a VR-augmented immersive theatre show that straddles two iconic properties: HG Wells’s seminal 1897 sci-fi novel ‘The War of the Worlds’, and Wayne’s 1978 prog rock album inspired by it, which has gone on to be an enduringly popular live spectacle complete with puppet Martian war machine and – in some iterations – a holographic Liam Neeson.The album’s spoken word sections offer a divergent telling of Wells’s story, with different characters and a more fragmented plot. Given the task of turning it into a coherent narrative is dotdotdot, a company specialising in tech-enhanced immersive theatre who had a hit last year with their show ‘Somnai’. Their job is to immerse us in Wells’s serious-minded alien invasion story, while incorporating Wayne’s campier embellishments: the characters, the kitschy steampunk art and – of course – the musical anthems.It doesn’t exactly work. But it’s quite good fun. Sent into the experience in small staggered groups, most of the interactions with human actors we encounter are on the comic side, meaning there can be some weird shifts in tone when the show remembers it’s supposed to be scary. At the sta
‘& Juliet’ is a heavily ironic Shakespeare rewrite based on the songs of super-producer Max Martin. And with the gift of that knowledge, I can fairly confidently state that you’ll probably like ‘& Juliet’ almost precisely as much as you expect to like ‘& Juliet’. Me, I grew up with Martin’s greatest hits: Britney Spears and Backstreet Boys dominated the radio when I was at school, and while I’ve never spent a single penny on his music, I’ve probably spent days of my life listening to it. These were Big Tunes to start with, and in ‘& Juliet’ they sound immense, reconfigured into lush new Tudor-nodding arrangements (a harpsichord features prominently). Most crucially, in a musical that Martin is heavily involved with, they’re deployed in ways that always find some emotional connection to the plot (by no means a given in a jukebox musical – *takes a long, hard stare at ‘Mamma Mia!’*). The plot is fun provided you refuse to take any of what happens seriously. It’s basically ‘Romeo & Juliet’ rewritten into a sort of woke panto. The Bard of Avon (Oliver Tompsett, channelling a mid-tier ‘Love Island’ contestant) is very pleased with himself for having written the play. But his wife Anne Hathaway (Cassidy Janson, scene-stealingly bolshy) has other ideas. She browbeats Will into allowing Juliet to survive then persuades him to let her rewrite the play as an empowering feminist road trip for Juliet and her gal (and non-binary) pals. A lot of wilfully silly, somewhat subversive, occa
Leicester Square isn’t usually known as a visitor destination for Londoners. But when Underbelly pops up its much-loved Spiegeltent there, and throws in legendary cabaret show ‘La Clique’, it’s worth a punt to venture back to tourist central. Practical tips first. Get to the show early as it’s unreserved seating. Also, avoid the front row unless you want to get drenched (more on this later). Buy a drink from the bar before you go in to find your seats: you’ll feel more in the spirit of the night with a glass of wine, I promise. The show has all the elements of cabaret you might expect: a garish host with a poor German accent, a bit of striptease, some scantily clad acrobats and a dash of fire-blowing to boot. One highlight was Zoe Marshall, an aerialist who somehow hangs from the roof only by her hair and manages to make it look rather effortless. The performance by Jamie Swan, which is a sort of ‘Magic Mike’ on water affair involving an iron-cast bathtub, also brings some much-needed uniqueness to the line-up. Swan kicks a lot of his watery spectacular into the audience so unless you’re the type who really loves the water rides at Thorpe Park, it’s best to sit a bit further back. Sadly, several of the other acts, as well as the singing throughout, didn’t deliver. They felt a little tired and passé compared to other shows of this type, though you can appreciate it’s a tough gig when you’re up against slick acrobatic operations such as Cirque du Soleil. Maybe it’s about
Well here’s an interesting question: is this production of ‘Les Misérables’ a continuation of the longest-running musical production of all time, following several months’ hiatus while its home the Queen’s Theatre underwent some much-needed maintainance work? Or it is effectively a new show? It seems super-producer Cameron Mackintosh is pretty much trying to have his cake and eat it: to all intents and purposes this is a new production of the epic Victor Hugo adaptation, first directed by Laurence Connor as a touring incarnation of the show in 2009. It’s since been rolled out globally, with London the last place in the world that you could see Trevor Nunn’s original RSC production, which finally closed in July 2019, taking the iconic revolve with it. Connor’s version is informed by Nunn’s, but not Nunn’s; nobody seems entirely sure why Mackintosh felt the need to change it, not least Nunn, who has been vocally pissed off at the whole affair. But the artwork and the ’brand’ remain consistant, and it’s the same basic idea and musical arrangements; bemusing at the entire thing is, we won’t begrudge ‘Les Mis’ one more day – or indeed, another 35 years.
Mischief Theatre have become an unstoppable juggernaut in the West End (this show is produced by JJ Abrams for heaven’s sake), and after ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ and ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’, this time it’s the turn of magic to go hilariously, well, wrong. To help bring freshness to the formula, they’ve collaborated with magic royalty, Penn & Teller, for a show about a hapless gang of magicians doing a charity event that spirals out of control.
Magic Mike on stage feels a bit like dating in London in my thirties: all the young, hot people got it on while I sat on the sidelines. But as a voyeur at this expensive strip-meets-cabaret show, there was some serious titillation: pains are taken to remind you that it has very much been made with the female gaze in mind. The romp unfolds in a faux-club built in Leicester Square’s already-slightly-seedy (in a good way) Hippodrome Casino, based upon the Xquisite strip joint from Steven Soderbergh’s surprise 2012 cinematic smash. The movie’s star Channing Tatum – whose IRL undressing escapades originally informed the film’s plot – is behind this theatrical reimagining, with London the second destination of ‘Magic Mike Live’ following a hugely successful run in Vegas. But it’s important to note that co-director Tatum (who, alas, merely lends his voice to the performance) has worked with a gender-balanced team and the sense that this is a safe space for women enshrouds the entire show, despite it being filled with semi-naked men. The plot (in the loosest sense) centres on Michelangelo – Mike to you – a waiter plucked from the crowd and trained in showing a woman a (consensual) good time by our female emcee, played by actor Sophie Linder-Lee. She sounds a bit like Jane Horrocks and makes a lot of jokes about ‘jizz’ and the tightness of her own vagina. Most of the ladies pulled to the stage for some public gyration were mega hot (so hot, it almost felt like they’d been planted
Judy Craymer's bold idea of turning the insanely catchy songs of ABBA into a musical has paid off splendidly, in every sense – box office figures for 'Mamma Mia!' are as eye-watering as its outfits. This is largely because Catherine Johnson had the sense to weave the 1970s into her script, and director Phyllida Lloyd to cast accordingly. Heroine Donna Sheridan lived the free love dream (if only because her boyfriend ran out on her), wound up pregnant and survived to see her daughter, Sophie, reject all her principles in favour of a white wedding and the kind of certainty that comes from knowing which of your mother's three consecutive lovers ought to be walking you down the aisle. If you wanted to, you could see this as a conversation about feminism. But you'll look pretty silly debating patriarchal oppression while on your feet clapping to 'Dancing Queen'. Some of the songs are oddly static, but when the choreography does get going – for instance, when Donna's friend Tanya stylishly quashes a libidinous local puppy in 'Does Your Mother Know?' – it's terrific, and makes great use of props: I wonder if the producers can assure us that no electric drills or hairdryers were harmed in the making of this musical? The current cast appear to have been chosen more for their singing voices than their serious acting ability. But who needs dramatic conviction when you have purest pop to do the convincing for you? Given the songs, a story just about solid enough to stay upright on its
For the price of a ticket to ‘Mamma Mia! The Party’, an immersive Abba-themed dinner experience set in a ropey taverna on an idyllic Greek island, you could fly out to an actual idyllic Greek island and probably find a ropey taverna playing Abba songs.Okay, there are some practical reasons why you probably wouldn’t do that on a school night. And sure, it’s not like these are the only expensive theatre tickets in town. But the fact is most London theatre shows have a bottom price of £15 or thereabouts; ‘Mamma Mia! The Party’ starts ten times higher than that.Of course, dinner theatre is a somewhat different game to theatre theatre. And the fact is that there are plenty of people who can afford it: the London debut of ‘Mamma Mia! The Party’ is a roaring sellout success already. Masterminded by Abba’s Björn Ulvaeus, it’s an established hit back in Stockholm. Which is not really a surprise: people love Abba, and ‘Mamma Mia! The Party’, though not formally affiliated to ‘Mamma Mia!’ (the blockbuster musical), is pretty much the same idea, except with the plot mostly replaced by food. After a prodigious wait to get in, we’re spirited away to an attractive, convivial mock-up of a taverna on the island of Skopelos, where the ‘Mamma Mia!’ movie was filmed. The wittiest touch of the whole production is to make it ‘post’ the film: the walls are bedecked with dodgy mocked-up Polaroids of the cast of the show posing with Meryl Streep et al, and the wafer-thin plot revolves around the pre
Much like ‘Paddington’, ‘Mary Poppins’ is a gorgeously warm kids’ story that’s burrowed deep into the hearts of Londoners of all ages. It creates a seductive myth of a city that’s awash with cheery cockneys and lovable upper-crust eccentrics who roam picturesque tree-lined streets with a spring in their step. Cameron Mackintosh’s returning 2004 musical version couldn’t look more magical; the Banks family’s Cherry Tree Lane residence becomes a giant doll’s house of wonders, opening up to reveal charming Victorian interiors and plenty of magical surprises. Writer Julian Fellowes (‘Downton Abbey’) is clearly in familiar territory here. Where the 'Paddington' movies updated the setting to a warm, inclusive vision of 21st century London, his script opts for period-drama archness. The story is a hodgepodge of the movie, PL Travers’s original books and a few ideas of Fellowes’s own: he shifts the setting back a few decades to Queen Victoria’s heyday, and makes Mrs Banks a frustrated former actress instead of a militant suffragette. The effect is jarring at first, especially if you’re a fan of the movie: many of its most memorable scenes get scrapped, like the bit where Poppins summons up a hurricane to whisk away rival nannies, or the bit with the dancing penguins and carousel horses, or the ‘I Love to Laugh’ tea party where everyone ends up giggling on the ceiling. They get replaced with much, much weirder interludes that presumably come from Travers’s original book. The kids’ su
For much of its running time, this revival of the great Athol Fugard’s play ‘"Master Harold"... and the Boys’ feels almost disconcertingly gentle. Middle-of-the-road, even. We are used to plays about apartheid-era South Africa being harrowing and bleak, dark reminders of a shameful chapter from the past. For an hour or more, Fugard’s 1982 hit – set in a Port Elizabeth tea room in 1950 – is warm and graceful. I struggled a bit with the exact point of a smattering of wife-beating jokes at the start. Mostly, it’s nice, a portrait of two black workers at the tea room – Lucian Msamati’s smart, kind, middle-aged Sam and Hammed Animashaun’s dopey younger Willie – as they practice their ballroom dance steps for an upcoming regional championship. Eventually they’re joined by Hally (Anson Boon), the bright, awkward 17-year-old son of the tea room’s white owners. Sam, who has worked for the family for years, has become something of a surrogate father to Hally, who has a fraught relationship with his real father, who is a drunk. There is a slight edge to the trio’s interactions – Hally’s mood is all over the place. But really, the first two-thirds of Roy Alexander Weise’s production has the straightforward, old-time elegance of Shelley Maxwell’s ballroom choreography. It perhaps doesn’t take an apartheid scholar to work out that eventually there is a falling out along racial lines. I’ll be vague, given that we’re basically talking about the final half-hour of the show, but what a stun
The National Theatre’s big Christmas show is a stage adaptation of the great fantasy author Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novel ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’, and to support it the man himself will be in conversation with none other than Lenny Henry, at a one-off, hour-long event in the NT’s huge Olivier Theatre. Tickets go on sale via the National Theatre website at 1pm on Tuesday October 15. A pre-signed copy of the book in included in the price. Find out more about ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’.
This new kids show is inspired by the rhyme-based mayhem of a bestselling picture book series. ’Oi Frog & Friends‘ uses puppets, songs and jokes to create the animal-filled world of Sittingbottom School, where everything has to rhyme. Ages three-plus.
If there’s a screen still flickering in the UK at the end of the world, it’ll probably be playing on loop that bit where Derek ‘Del Boy’ Trotter falls through the bar. John Sullivan’s ‘Only Fools and Horses’ has long since transformed from being just a TV show into a cultural phenomenon, annually topping those breathless audience polls as ‘Best British Comedy Ever, Ever, Ever’. It’s on that tidal wave of public adoration that this musical version of the misadventures of wheeler-dealer Del Boy, his hapless brother Rodney and their granddad, living together on a Peckham council estate at the tail end of the ’80s, sails into the West End’s Theatre Royal Haymarket. It’s co-written by Jim ‘son of John’ Sullivan and comic actor extraordinaire Paul Whitehouse (who’s also on stage as Granddad). Director Caroline Jay Ranger sets out her market stall early, as Del Boy (Tom Bennett) promises ‘plonker’ Rodney (Ryan Hutton), ‘This time next year, we’ll be millionaires.’ What follows is a blizzard of catchphrases, quotes and characters. Boycie and Marlene, Trigger, Mickey and Denzil are all crammed on stage and into the Nags Head. When Del tries hawking dodgy Eiffel Towers to the audience, he’s also selling us easy nostalgia. His battered Reliant car turns up like a guest star. It’s affectionate fun. There are some good gags – including an early tease of Del’s bar fall – and the sitcom's iconic theme tune works well as a refrain (sung by the cast) for the twinkly cheekiness of this sh
Well why not eh? If it’s clearly not going to scale the sublime heights of the films, you’d have to have a hard heart indeed to not find the idea of ‘Paddington on Ice’ at least vaguely charming. Once you’ve got over the mild shock of seeing those words in combination, the concept is pretty simple: it's a 45-minute show concerning our eponymous bear hero’s journey from deepest, darkest Peru to good old immigrant-loving Blighty. Except, you know, on ice, with his escapades brought to life by a team of award-winning international figure skaters. It’s the centrepiece of this year’s Hyde Park Winter Wonderland fun and games.
For a piglet often depicted as being rather bolshy, it turns out Peppa has a relatively undemanding definition of ‘Best Day Ever’. Spoiler alert, but said big day involves a lengthy wait at some roadworks, followed by a trip to some caves, followed by a visit to a castle. It suggests that Mummy and Daddy Pig – presumably English Heritage members – have got their eldest child well trained. Peppa Pig’s Best Day Ever’ is not a million miles away from its predecessors (‘Peppa Pig’s Surprise’, ‘Peppa Pig’s Adventure’), insofar as the bulbous puppets and costumes (probably the same puppets and costumes) representing our heroine and her pals are joined by Daisy, a peppy human interlocutor, who accompanies the Pig family on their trip and bulks out the two-part show with what feels like endless songs. It is an entertaining litany of beloved characters that never feels quite like a show: the giant puppet animals are frankly a bit weird and distant-looking, the script never achieves the subversive silliness of the cartoon, and the manifold songs feel less like necessary story padding, more like a deliberate way of reducing the need for the animal stars to carry the show. Some of the stronger bits are the ones less to do with the cartoon, more rooted in theatre tradition – a black light scene when Peppa and pals are rhapsodising about various unhealthy foodstuffs was a particular hit with the audience I saw it with. There is also a dragon, which is ridiculous – everyone knows that,
‘Richard III’ runs in rep with ‘Henry VI’. For joint review and ‘Henry VI’ listings go here.
The West End's premier piss artists are taking up residence in Leicester Square Theatre this Christmas, with a musical romp through Dickens' timeless story 'A Christmas Carol'. The casts of Sh!t-faced Shakespeare and Sh!t-faced Showtime will team up to perform a musical tale of Scrooge's festive redemption, with their signature twist: one cast member is genuinely drunk. In true improv tradition, each show is different, and the performers will go along with whatever bonkers plot twists their drunken costar dreams up.
‘Six’ returns to Arts Theatre in January 2019. This review is from August 2018. ‘Remember us from your GCSEs?’ It’s Henry VIII’s six wives – and they’ve back, bitch, to re-tell ‘her-story’ as a slick, sassy girl band. Think Euro-pop remixes of ‘Greensleeves’, Anne Boleyn spouting tweenage text-speak (‘everybody chill/it’s totes God’s will’), and K-Howard warbling #MeToo tales of gropey employers. ‘Hamilton' looms large here, and although ‘Six’ has its own moments of clever-clever hip-hop rhymes, it’s a tough comparison: this musical started life as a student show (Cambridge, obvs). But its creators, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss, have succeeded in crafting almost brutally efficient pastiche pop songs – here a ballad, there a ballsy, blinging R&B number – performed with snappy dance routines by a talented, diverse cast (and all-female band). Since inception the show seems to have been given a good lick of gloss, too; it stands up in the West End. But beneath its super-shiny surface, ‘Six’ is totes vacuous. And so basic in its feminism that it’s hard to believe it’s written by, like, actual Millennials. The whole thing is staged as a deeply unsisterly competition, each wife getting a song in which to prove they’re the biggest victim, the one who suffered the most at Henry’s hands. This is treated weirdly as comedy though, OTT shrieks and snarks escalating until they’re actually in a catfight, pulling each other’s hair. Several of the wives are characterised as dim and ditzy;
There’s been a marked decrease in the amount of new writing performed at the Globe this year: nothing in the summer season, and just one play in Michelle Terry’s second winter season. Still, that play is a bit of a coup: Ella Hickson follows up this year’s NT experiment ‘Anna’ and last year’s Time Out show of the year ‘The Writer’ with ‘Swive [Elizabeth]’, a drama that interrogates the means by which Elizabeth I used her appearance to maintain control during her intensely patriarchal era. Natalie Abrahami directs.
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 most of it is deployed ironically; beneath it all, this is a big-hearted affair that pays note-perfect homage to the sounds and spirit of Broadway’s golden age. 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. In other words, they are loveable, well-intentioned idiots, traversing the globe like groups of pious meerkats, convinced they can convert the heathen through sheer politeness. And if they have doubts, then as Stephen Ashfield’s scene-stealingly repressed Elder McKinley declares in glorious faux-Gershwin number ‘Turn it Off’, ‘Don’t feel those feelings – hold them in instead!’ His advice is ignored by the show’s heroes, narcissistic, highly strung Elder Price (Gavin Creel) and dumpy, lying Elder Cunningham (Jared Gertner). The pair are sent to Uganda in an effort to convert a village to Mormonism, a religion that essentially tells the penniless villagers how great distant America is. The locals are not keen: Price cracks and unwisely clashes with a crazed local warlord; Cunningham makes up his own version of Mormonism which involves fucking frogs to cure oneself of Aids. ‘The Book of Mormon’ is, above all, very funny, breath
If you’re a plucky producer hoping to get your new show into the Criterion Theatre, you’re flat out of luck once again. Because less than nine months after 'The 39 Steps' shuttered after almost a decade glowering over Piccadilly Circus, it’s now home to the brand new comedy by Mischief Theatre, which, if there’s any justice in the theatre world, will run for even longer. 'The Comedy About A Bank Robbery' is the latest play by the bogglingly prolific and talented team behind 'The Play That Goes Wrong' (or more accurately the 'Play That Goes Wrong' franchise) and it’s their best and funniest work yet. A genre pastiche, screwball comedy and classic farce that’s as clean and clear as its brassy branding, it spins with a manic energy from Two Ronnies-esque wordplay through surreal set-pieces to slapstick stunts prepped to bring the house down. The story of a bungled jewel heist in a sleepy Minneapolis bank branch, it features a host of hilarious but well-drawn characters who roar across the stage and tumble into disaster after disaster, each one more elegantly drawn than the last. The writers’ ability to snatch a laugh out of every line, and to intricately prime each scenario with zinging punchlines and pay-offs is stunning, as call-backs and running gags pile up into teetering edifices of absurdity. The entire cast is bang on the money, but Mischief Theatre’s own Henry Lewis and Jonathan Sayer are the standouts as booming bank manager Robin Freeboys and hapless loser (and eter
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