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
Sheila (Claire Skinner) has two kids. One is Joe (Storme Toolis), her severely disabled 15-year-old daughter. The other is Bri (Toby Stephens), the middle-aged schoolteacher and amateur painter she married. Peter Nichols’s semi-autobiographical play about the family shows the offbeat style of humour Bri and, to a lesser extent, Sheila have developed to cope with providing 24-hour care to Joe since the day she was born. It premiered in 1967 and, if anything, the jokes probably sound more shocking now than they did then. It’s noticeable that the audience often respond more with awkward tittering or nervous half-laughs than booming LOLs. In many ways, that’s entirely fitting. Nichols’ work is really about the strangeness of humour. In particular, the way it was used to cover up emotion for a generation of men post-war who were encouraged to preserve the British stiff upper lip at all costs. As the wisecracking father, Stephens makes Bri a goofy man-child with an uncomfortably tense edge, like he’s on the verge of losing it and smashing all the crockery if you don’t howl at his next punch line. Along with covering everything up with a joke, Bri is intensely needy. He vies for his wife’s attention constantly, including creating petty jealousies about her pre-marital sex life and any bloke she now comes into contact with. There’s a lot that’s interesting about ‘A Day in the Death of Joe Egg’. But Simon Evans’s production is oddly unsatisfying. The stakes never feel that high
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
It feels like 2019 is the year every single hit Broadway musical of the last three years descends upon London. Following hot on the heels of ‘Waitress’, ‘9 to 5’ and ‘Come from Away’, here’s tearjerking Tony-winner ‘Dear Evan Hansen’. Written by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul, with a book by Steven Levenson, the musical concerns the eponymous troubled teen, who writes himself a series of letters to help him cope with a profoundly difficult time in his life, following the tragic death of a school friend. It will premiere in London with a British cast of mostly unknowns, with Sam Tutty – who recently made his professional stage debut in ‘Once on This Island’ at Southwark Playhouse – starring as Evan.
‘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’
The members of Mischief Theatre could presumably have all retired at 30 on the proceeds of their sleeper smash ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’, the sparky backstage farce that’s been ensconced in the West End for five years.In fact, the core company – who’ve been together for 11 years, since they met at drama school – have noticeably failed to rest on their laurels. When they’ve not been busy breaking America with their first hit, they’ve found the time to produce seasonal variant ‘Peter Pan Goes Wrong’ and stand-alone smash ‘The Comedy About a Bank Robbery’, while Penn & Teller collab ‘Magic Goes Wrong’ will be with us in the new year.They’re a genuinely heartening success story with an impressive work ethic and it’s a real shame that their new play ‘Groan Ups’ is fairly dreadful.The group have absolutely nailed the whole posh-people-getting-flustered-at-stuff-breaking thing, but ‘Groan Ups’ – which follows a group of five friends from primary school to adulthood – feels like their attempt to do a ‘proper’ play, and fairly brutally exposes their weaknesses.In the first half of Kirsty Patrick Ward’s production, the adult performers play children, first aged around six, then around 13 (weirdly they seem to be at the same school for all of this). Now I can confirm that children can be pretty funny, but the dialogue here suggest Mischief are aware what children are but have never met any. An opening sequence in which the class make an inadvertently smutty presentation about their wee
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
Not every aspiring playwright gets their debut performed on the National Theatre’s Lyttelton stage. But actor Simon Woods has. And while I suppose that’s pretty much vindicated by the fact ‘Hansard’ is mostly sold out already – admittedly probably something to do with it starring Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan – it certainly has a certain what I might politely call a ‘first playishness’ to it. The year is 1988, the setting is the large Cotswolds home of Tory MP Robin Hesketh (Jennings) and his – ooer! – left-wing wife Diana (Duncan). He spends a lot of time away on parliamentary – and possibly ‘extra-parliamentary’, wink wink – business. She is angry, bored and drinks a lot. The first hour or so (of under 90 minutes) is basically ‘Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?’ with the subtlety surgically removed and replaced by laboured ‘80s political references. I found it fairly stressful: Robin and Diana simply tear smiling strips off each other for the whole time, in a reasonably witty but very unrealistic depiction of a marriage that has foundered into exposition-heavy, not-even-that-passive aggression. Though horrible to each other, they are not necessarily horrible people. And Woods’s relatively sympathetic portrait of Robin does have something going for it: how can an essentially decent man vote for something as monstrous as Section 28? It’s an intriguing question about our recent history – even if ‘Hansard’ feels like a bit of a missed opportunity to write a play that reflec
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
Michelle Terry’s Globe Ensemble rep company still feels like it’s settling in: its two summer seasons so far have had their moments, but can broadly be summarised as good actors with weak direction. But the ensemble’s Wanamaker debut looks promising: the Globe’s still somewhat enigmatic new hire Sean Holmes (insofar as it’s not entirely clear what the former Lyric Hammersmith boss’s role at the Lyric actually is) teams up with young director Ilinca Radulian to direct what one can only assume to be a heavily edited take on Shakespeare’s three-part ‘Henry VI’, which follows the callow king’s disastrous reign, as his father’s conquests are lost to scheming and intrigue. Most of the summer’s ensemble return, including Sarah Amankwah and Helen Schlesinger, although it sadly looks like Terry herself will be ducking this and the ‘Richard III’ it plays in rep with.
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
Superstar Swedish songwriter Max Martin has probably done more to shape the contemporary pop landscape than any human being alive, with hits running from seminal ’90s smashes '…Baby One More Time’ and the Backstreet Boys' ‘Everybody’ to recent enormo-bangers like Taylor Swift’s ‘Blank Space’ and The Weeknd’s ‘Can't Feel My Face’. It’s an absolute no-brainer that a jukebox musical based around said catalogue would be a hen do-hoovering-up hoot… but what storyline to hang two decades of eclectic chart-toppers off? Here’s your answer: ‘& Juliet’ is a reimagining of the events of Shakespeare’s tragic romance ‘Romeo & Juliet’ in which Juliet opts not to top herself at the end and instead heads off to France on a roadtrip of self-discovery. It sounds unimaginably ridiculous, which is presumably the entire point. There's also some top-notch talent involved, with Martin himself co-producing a show with songs arranged by the great Bill Sherman, design by Soutra Gilmour, and Miriam-Teak Lee – who was in the original Brit cast of ‘Hamilton’ – taking on the title role. Confirmed songs so far are ‘…Baby One More Time’, ‘Everybody’, ‘Love Me Like You Do’ and ‘I Can’t Feel My Face’.
Adult cabaret pioneers La Clique have been titillating crowds for over 15 years on their unstoppable trajectory from Edinburgh fringe to the West End. This comeback show will take residence in the gorgeously mirrored Spiegeltent at Christmas in Leicester Square. Artists including sword-swallowers, jugglers, cabaret singers and comedians will serve up smut, spectacle and the odd flash of fire to light up those cold winter nights.
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
Brolly-clutching supernanny Mary Poppins is floating back into the West End in late 2019, with the return of Disney and Cameron Mackintosh's musical after an international tour, and capitalising on the recent success of the film sequel. 'Mary Poppins' will replace another Disney show, 'Aladdin', in the West End's Prince Edward Theatre. The refreshed cast is led by Zizi Strallen ('Strictly Ballroom') and Charlie Stemp ('Half a Sixpence'), plus the legendary Petula Clark (Bird Lady) and actor Joseph Millson (George Banks).
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
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
The ENO continues its quixotic mission to stage pretty much every Orpheus-inspired opera in existence with this 21st century classic. Avant garde composer Philip Glass has put a minimalist spin on this mythical narrative, full of ideas of death and immortality. ‘Orphée’ draws on Jean Cocteau’s 1950 film of the same name, so director Netia Jones will use projected footage from it in a cinema-inspired staging. Nicholas Lester and Sarah Tynan will play its central pairing, with Geoffrey Paterson conducting.
Christopher Gluck's stately 18th century opera opens the ENO's season of takes on the Orpheus myth. 'Orpheus and Eurydice' will mix distinguished musical stylings with unbuttoned dance scenes, choreographed by contemporary ballet master Wayne McGregor. Alice Coote will take the role of Orpheus (which was originally written for a castrato) opposite Sarah Tynan as Eurydice.
As the Globe Ensemble methodically makes its way through Shakespeare’s history plays, it hits upon one of the Bard's greatest hits in the form of ‘Richard III’, last seen here a few years back with Mark Rylance as a disconcertingly childlike take on the murderous monarch. As with the ‘Henry VI’ it plays in rep with, the production will be directed by Sean Holmes and Ilinca Radulian. No word yet on who will play Tricky Dicky.
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;
Yes, the world is still awful. But on the plus side, the National Theatre is currently averaging one new Annie Baker play per year, and that’s certainly something to cling on for. ‘The Antipodes’ – which has its UK premiere in a production co-directed by Baker herself and designer Chloe Lamford – is utterly, gloriously out there and will doubtless horrify some people. It is by some measure the US playwright’s most overtly surreal work to date. That’s not to say it feels any stranger than last year’s haunting epic ‘John’. But it does shed the facade of realism that has defined Baker’s previous work. Around an enormous oval table, with a very expensive-looking light fixture above it, sit eight people. They’re a mix of Brits and Americans plus an Irish PA. And they are… well, what are they doing? All that can be said for sure is they’re locked in an endless brainstorming session, though exactly what it’s for is never clear. As the play begins they’re idly tossing about names of mythical monsters; as it wears on, Conleth Hill’s bearish, indefinably menacing boss Sandy encourages them to share stories about losing their virginity, or their greatest failure. Although he looks increasingly frazzled, Sandy seems to be the only one who can actually leave the room, aside from his PA Sarah (the reliably funny Imogen Doel), who in one of many droll visual gags sports a drastically different outfit every time she pops in. There is a clear echo of Beckett or even Pinter, but the langu
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
The posters have been plastered around the London Underground for years – long enough for this show to become the most successful musical of all time – but nothing prepares you for the sheer impact of 'The Lion King's opening sequence. With the surge of 'Circle Of Life' reverberating through your chest, Julie Taymor's animal creations march on, species by species. Gazelles spring, birds swoop and an elephant and her child lumber through the stalls. It's a cacophonous cavalcade that genuinely stops you breathing. You'd think Noah's Ark had emptied onto the stage. For a global blockbuster, 'The Lion King's absolute theatricality is astonishing. Techniques from all over the world – African masks, Japanese Kabuki costumes, Malaysian shadow puppetry – are smashed together in an explosion of spectacle. It's perfect for a musical, allowing both distinct flavours and an eclectic carnival spirit. Admittedly, things deflate when it sacrifices this defiant originality for subservient approximation of the film. Timon and Pumba (Damian Baldet and Keith Bookman), though impressively like their screen counterparts, step into the savannah from a different dimension. The hyena-infested elephant's graveyard swaps menace for goofiness and the famous stampede scene, so delicately handled and moving in the film, is merely ticked off with a sigh of relief. The familiarity of the film is a root cause of the show's commercial success. But, ironically, 'The Lion King' can't afford such compromis
For its first ever family Christmas show, the Bridge Theatre bags the London transfer of director Sally Cookson’s devised adaptation of CS Lewis’s beloved kids’ fantasy novel, which ran to great acclaim at Leeds Playhouse in 2017 undr the aegis of Elliott & Harper Productions. Design for the spectacular in-the-round take on the tale of snow witches and fauns is by the marvellous Rae Smith.
Alexander Mackendrick’s 1951 film about a chemist in a northern mill town who invents an indestructible fabric is a strange piece of atmospheric post-war gothic. Notionally a comedy, it’s dark, melancholy and mainly devoid of lols. Sean Foley’s stage version is bright, upbeat and also mainly devoid of lols. It keeps the ’50s setting, adding skiffle and brothel creepers, sacks off the austerity and dials up the farce to industrial strength. Everyone bellows their lines in generic ‘northern’, there are awkward knob gags and Kara Tointon – as the mill owner’s daughter Daphne – gets to randomly resurrect one of her old ‘Strictly’ routines. It’s single-handedly saved from total crassness by Stephen Mangan. He’s not entirely convincing as idealistic chemist Sidney Stratton but he at least tries to give him a second dimension. He’s a great physical comedian, and is fun in the first half as he blows labs up and his trousers off. Mangan was the silly-ass Bertie in Foley’s much better ‘Jeeves and Wooster’. But Sidney Stratton isn’t a silly ass: he’s an unworldly genius who can’t understand why the owner of a cotton mill and an old woman who does laundry would both be horrified at the prospect of an everlasting, dirt-repelling fabric. ‘The Man in the White Suit’ is a story about how capitalism condemns every link of its food chain to co-dependency. If one fails, they all do, and in the ’50s, the UK’s textile industry was about to be history, taking whole cities down with it. That’s
Harrison Birtwhistle's contemporary take on the Orpheus story took him a whole decade to write; it's got an avant garde, non-linear approach that looks at its protagonists for every angle. Former ENO boss Daniel Kramer is at the helm of this production, the first London revival since it premiered over 30 years ago. His flamboyant take on 'The Mask of Orpheus' includes designs by outlandish costumier Daniel Lismore, who's known for his bold sculptural shapes, and features crystals provided by Swarovski. Martyn Brabbins will conduct.
I’m not sure any show ‘deserves’ to be the most successful entertainment event of all time, but I’ll hand it current holder of that title, ‘The Phantom of the Opera’ – it still works hard for its audience. Sure, chunks of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s opus have never left 1986. But whereas describing a musical as ‘stuck in the ’80s’ is usually shorthand for cheap, thin synth orchestration, nothing could be further from the truth here: the portentously swirling keyboards and crunch of hair metal guitar that powers ‘Phantom’s title song have a black hole-like immensity, sucking you in with sheer juggernaut bombast. Mostly, though, ‘Phantom…’ remains strong because its high production values haven’t been allowed to sag. The late Maria Björnson’s design is a heady barrage of ravishing costumes and lavish sets that change frequently, working in everything from pastoral jollity to an ancient Carthaginian theme on the way to the Phantom’s stunning underground lair. It’s totally OTT – in one scene the Phantom zaps at his nemesis Raul with a staff that fires actual fireballs – and anybody who describes the plot (homicidal lunatic grooms girl) as romantic should probably be put on some sort of register. But its blazingly earnest ridiculousness and campy Grand Guignol story are entirely thrilling when realised with the show’s enormous budget. And while Hal Prince’s production may have been hailed as rather gauche back in the day, in 2013 it all comes across as rather more tasteful than the a
Well you have to admire the chutzpah: the creators of long-running immersive London hit ‘The Great Gatsby’ have followed up with an interactive adptation of Jordan Belfort’s hit memoir ‘The Wolf of Wall Street’. It details how the former Wall Street trader made a colossal amount of money in the ’90s while behaving extremely poorly, before being put away for fraud for 22 months and reinventing himself as a motivational speaker. Given Belfort is chiefly famous for making millions while taking monumental amounts of drugs plus breaking the law and being jailed, it will be intriguing to see exactly what this show involves. Exact details are somewhat opaque at present, but the show will take place in a four storey building in central London that will house a recreation of various locations from the memoir. You can either play an amoral Wall Street trader or an FBI agent, which sounds noticeably less like actual fun. The tickets are pricey but there will be a £10 and £25 day-seats lottery, or VIP packages for people who want to spen Belfort-like levels of cash.
It's been decades since this skillful adaptation of Susan Hill's 1983 Gothic horror story first started setting West End audience a-shiver. 'The Woman in Black' remains perennially popular – particularly, it seems, with generally hard-to-please teenagers – which is testament to its rough-theatre appeal and the extraordinary and enduring potency, not of guts, gore or special effects, but of simple suggestion. Ageing Arthur Kipps is haunted by sinister events that befell him 30 years earlier. In an effort to exorcise his demons, he hires an actor to help him tell his story for an invited audience. As they rehearse, though, their staging itself becomes prey to supernatural visitations from the titular hatchet-faced, whip-thin, funereally garbed woman. Stephen Mallatratt's dramatisation and a deft production by Robin Herford exploit the peculiarly spooky atmosphere of an empty theatre, making us, as an audience, feel almost like spectral voyeurs. And the chills are irresistibly effective: swirling fog, a creaking rocking chair, a locked door, a pale visage looming out of the gloom. Only occasionally does the staging show its age. The projected image of the gaunt, sinister house of Kipps' tormented memory looks hopelessly cheap and crude, and a graveyard conjured with dust sheets struggles to convince, even within the low-tech aesthetic parameters of the piece. Yet the shrieks and gasps that greet the performance demonstrate that, even in the twenty-first century, this doughty
Step inside the Lyric foyer and you'll be greeted by a gleaming Michael Jackson memorial. Enter the auditorium and you'll find another in 'Thriller', a shining homage to The King of Pop. This is a sparkling, singing and shimmying conveyor belt of more than 30 of Jackson's greatest hits. It's a bit like watching an extended episode of 'The X Factor' – except the performers are actually very good and they've all picked Jacko. What really hits home in this jubilant jukebox show, which recently celebrated its thousandth performance, is the range of repertoire available. 'Thriller' is a reminder of Michael Jackson's versatility and the unique gloss he lent to pop, rock, dance and even the ballad. 'Heal the World' is crooned by a throng of suitably seraphic kids, 'Beat It' is blasted into the gods and a silver-gloved groover glides majestically through 'Smooth Criminal'. The show, held together by the loosest of narratives, begins with a selection of Jackson 5 numbers. These earlier songs are among the best of the night: pure, funky, relatively simple and uniformly upbeat. Salient facts are flashed furiously across the screens (750 million records sold worldwide!) and the show segues into Jackson's solo career. Some of these later songs are terrifyingly idiosyncratic – made and moulded for the man himself – and the lead vocalists struggle with the quirkier numbers, such as 'Jam' and 'Dirty Diana'. But it is the dancing that dazzles, no more so than Michael Duke's confident and w
Is a feelgood jukebox musical the absolute best medium to tell a story about domestic abuse? Put crudely, that is the problem at the heart of big-budget global premiere ‘Tina – The Tina Turner Musical’. The erstwhile Anna Mae Bullock’s eventful life and beloved back catalogue are perfect subjects for adaptation. But too often Phyllida Lloyd’s production struggles to make a sensitive synthesis of the two.Where ‘Tina’ undoubtedly succeeds is in the casting of its lead. Broadway performer Adrienne Warren is virtually unknown over here, but it’s instantly apparent why she was tapped up for this. She doesn’t so much imitate Turner as channel her: her technically dazzling but achingly world-weary gale of a voice feels like it should be coming out of a woman decades, if not centuries, older. And while Warren doesn’t really look anything like Turner, she perfectly captures that leggy, rangy, in-charge physicality. From a musical standpoint, she virtually carries the show, singing nigh-on every song and even giving us an encore at the end.Almost as good is heavyweight Brit actor Kobna Holdbrook-Smith, who brings a demonic charisma to the role of Ike Turner. Tina’s abusive bandleader and husband is monstrous in his self-pitying, manipulative rage, but it’s not hard to see the appeal of his raw wit and powerful sense of certainty. It is a deadly serious performance.But the talented creative team of director Lloyd and writer Katori Hall never really crack the correct way to use their lea
David Hasselhoff joins the cast of ‘9 to 5 the Musical’, in the role of Franklin Hart Jnr, from December 2 2019 until February 8 2020. Backwoods Barbie, rhinestone queen and all-round country music legend Dolly Parton has her glittering fingerprints all over this musical. She’s written all the songs, bar the iconic title track, especially for the show (this definitely isn’t a jukebox affair). She’s basically in it, as thinly disguised poodle-coiffed doppelgänger Doralee. And in case this escaped you, Parton pops up in video footage to introduce this whole bonkers confection to an audience of mad-keen fans. ‘9 to 5’ is a musical theatre version of the 1980 movie of the same name, which involves Parton, Lily Tomlin and Jane Fonda running round an office and outwitting their dastardly male boss. And although this show started out in LA in 2005, it feels (shudder) pretty post-Weinstein, with its uncompromising focus on male shitness and violent retribution. Doralee (Natalie McQueen) can’t so much as climb a stepladder without her sleazy boss theatrically ogling her – and climbing any kind of career ladder is out of the question. Meanwhile Judy (Amber Davies, of ‘Love Island’ fame) is struggling to get to grips with some delightfully ’80s office tech, including a malevolent photocopier that attacks her with sheets of paper. And Violet – played by Caroline Sheen, subbing in for an injured Louise Redknapp who returns to the role next month – is a natural leader who’s longing for t
Directed by ‘War Horse’ man Tom Morris, David Greig’s adaptation of Joe Simpson’s bestselling memoir about his desperate struggle for survival in the Peruvian Andes has already enjoyed a hit international tour. Now it moves into the West End for a winter season.
There’s a lot of big talk around ‘Variant 31’. It’s billed as an incredibly complex fear-fest, as close as you’ll get to gaming IRL, so much so that its opening was pushed back twice. And since 90 percent of my friends refused to join me prior to my visit (wimps), surely, I thought, this had to be good. And by good, I mean shit-your-pants terrifying. As we approached for our midweek slot, green lights shone through the windows with a menacing glare. Smoke bellowed from the tattered New Oxford Street building complex it’s housed in, congealing with blobs of rain and fogging up the street below. It would have been creepy if we hadn’t been waiting out there for 45 minutes while it ran behind schedule. Still, once you’re inside things ramp up. Sour-faced ‘lab staff’ thrust you into hi-tech gear – a light-up military vest with a pretend gun. Then a safety briefing happens (goal: collect points by tapping your bracelet on hidden scanners and kill zombies) and then you’re thrown into the belly of the beast, along with a burgeoning dose of hyper-vigilance. There’s a husk of a plot here. A (not so) brilliant scientist has concocted a serum to reanimate the dead. What could go wrong? Well, everything, it turns out – because his experiment went tits up and now the undead are gonna getcha. Oooooo. But despite the actors putting up a good fight (often having more fun with their elaborate deaths than we do), things are mostly one-note. Your actions don’t seem to make any difference,
Sara Bareilles and Gavin Creel will star as Jenna and Dr Pomatter for six weeks only, Jan 27 2020 to March 7 2020. Lucie Jones and David Hunter are currently playing the roles, and will return to them from March 9. This review is from June 2019, of the original West End cast. The specials board in the diner in ‘Waitress’ advertises a bacon and blueberry pie. Most of the pies in Diane Paulus’s Broadway-conquering show are allegorical: their lurid lists of ingredients are flights of fancy in the mind of Katharine McPhee’s titular heroine Jenna, a pie-making prodigy who dreams of escaping her abusive marriage. However, as far as I can tell, the show is serious about the bacon and blueberry one. Bacon. Blueberry. Individually these are reasonable things, but with apologies to American readers, I cannot conceive why anybody in their right mind would even put them on the same level of the fridge, let alone lock them inside a pastry crust. Similarly, ‘Waitress’ is made from the very finest ingredients, but often they don’t actually feel like ingredients that should have been put together. Adapted from Adrienne Shelly’s cult 2007 indie flick of the same name, ‘Waitress’ is a moving musical full of flawed, morally compromised characters of the sort you so rarely get in this type of glossy Broadway show. Everyone, on some level, lets us or themselves down: indeed, the big showstopper, ‘She Used to Be Mine’ – delivered with exquisitely controlled sorrow by McPhee – is Jenna’s bit