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
'All of Us' is postponed due to Covid-19 Francesca Martinez has made a name for herself as an actor, a comedian, and an outspoken campaigner on disabled rights; she has cerebral palsy, and delivered a powerful speech against government cuts on BBC's Question Time. Now she's adding another string to her bow by writing her debut play 'All of Us'. She'll star in it as a woman whose life is on the brink of being dismantled by austerity politics.
If you’re going to bring another revival of Noël Coward’s ‘Blithe Spirit’ to the West End just a few years after Dame Angela Lansbury, World Treasure, took on the scene-stealing role of Madame Arcati, you’re going to need some canny casting. Cue Jennifer Saunders appearing here as the medium who Charles and Ruth invite over for japes, but who then inadvertently invites Charles’s dead first wife Elviria to stay. Warring couples like Charles and Ruth are frequently haunted by their past relationships in Noël Coward’s comedies (see ‘Private Lives’). In ‘Blithe Spirit’, it’s literal. But the supernatural realm is basically just a bigger drawing room. Elvira’s spectral gatecrashing is an excuse for some drawn-out jabs at youthful delusions of romance. While Madame Arcati is haplessly channelling Elvira and the spirit of a little girl with a cold, Saunders seems to be channelling Margaret Rutherford (who also played the character in 1945) with her scenery-chewing performance. She’s a robust bustle of beige knitwear, physical comedy and conspicuous quirks. It’s an off-the-peg ‘Ab Fab’ sketch: funny but a little too familiar. As haplessly clumsy maid Edith, Rose Wardlaw’s ‘Exorcist’-inspired possession generates some proper laughter towards the end of the play. As Ruth, Lisa Dillon – who does a lot of heavy-lifting here – turns the line ‘He’s driving her to Folkestone’ into sparkling comic resignation. She catches the absurd mundanity. Generally, though, Richard Eyre’s staging is onl
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 break
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 f
‘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’s best
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. (
'Hamlet' is postponed due to Covid-19 Director and playwright Jude Christian has turned her hand to everything from experimental theatre starring live piglets to Lyric Hammermith's annual panto. ‘Hamlet’ – which she adapts and Tinuke Craig directs – will doubtless see her at the lighter end of the spectrum; it's a Shakespeare adaptation aimed at primary aged kids, with plenty of spooky adventures. Ages eight-to-12.
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 most
'Jenůfa' is cancelled due to Covid-19 Czech composer Janácek created grittily realistic operas that are grounded in the realities of early 20th century rural life. 'Jenůfa' follows two women who try to conceal an illicit pregnancy in a small town, exploring themes of romance and reputation. Claus Guth directs this Royal Opera staging, the latest in its string of new Janácek productions. Karita Mattila and Asmik Grigorian will sing its central roles.
Hot on the heels of Ian McKellen’s autobiographical show, here’s one from his old mucker Dame Judi Dench. ‘I Remember It Well’ probably isn’t going to be quite as theatrical an affair as ‘Ian McKellen On Stage’, but is, rather, an ‘in conversation’ between Dench and her pal Gyles Brandreth that will run at the Bridge Theatre for 13 nights. There’s no explicit clue to the contents and how much the show is going to change night-by-night, but it two hours it’ll be pretty substantial as these sorts of nights go, and naturally it will all be based around one the most extraordinary careers in British acting, from acting opposite Laurence Olivier and originating the UK role of Sally in ‘Cabaret’, on to winning Oscars, Oliviers, starring in ‘James Bond’, and much more. Public booking opens at 10 on Feb 19.
‘& 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, occasi
Perhaps it doesn’t have the superhuman dexterity of ‘Arcadia’ or the paradigm-shifting audacity of ‘Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead’, but ‘Leopoldstadt’ still sees Tom Stoppard end his career on a high – if this really is his final play (as the 82-year-old has suggested it might be). Certainly, it’s an infinitely better way to call it quits than his last outing, ‘The Hard Problem’, a laboured light comedy that elicited wall-to-wall ‘mehs’ at the National in 2015. This weighty work about the rise and fall of Vienna’s Jewish community is unafraid to look and feel like a serious piece of legacy-building. It follows the sprawling, extended Merz family, who are what you might call Jewish intellectuals, living in the tumultuous first half of the twentieth century. When we first meet them, in 1899, they’re free citizens of the Austro-Hungarian empire, a place where Jews have been legally emancipated for over a century. Leopoldstadt itself was once Vienna’s ghetto – now just a distant folk memory of a less enlightened age. By the final scene, set in 1955, this huge family has been mostly eradicated. Though fictional, it’s based on autobiography: Stoppard only discovered late in life that his own family was Jewish, and that that was why they’d fled Hitler’s advance into their native Czechoslovakia. His mother had kept him in the dark for decades about his heritage, reasoning that this would protect him if the dark times returned… but history catches up with you, as Stoppard’s s
I would seriously question whether any other show on the planet bar ‘Les Misérables’ could get away with junking its original production and carrying on as if nothing had changed. But ‘Les Mis’ could be transposed to space, or underwater, or to the height of the Hittite empire and it would basically be the same show as long as the singing was on point. In case you missed it: the world’s longest-running musical that’s still playing shut for six months recently while the Sondheim Theatre (née Queen’s Theatre) was renovated by proprietor and producer Cameron Mackintosh. It has returned, not in the original Trevor Nunn RSC production, but a new(ish) one from Laurence Connor and James Powell that has already been rolled out around the globe, with London the last bastion of the ‘classic’ ‘Les Mis’. The ditching of the original has caused disgruntlement in certain quarters: hardcore stans distraught that the exact show they grew up with no longer strictly exists; and the original creative team, notably director Nunn, who understandably feel a little betrayed by the whole affair. All I can say is: yup, I really dug the old revolving stage too, but its loss is bearable. The songs are the same, the score is the same (accepting that it was tweaked to make it a bit less ’80s a few years back), the costumes are the same, many of the current cast are veterans of the original production, and the text is still Nunn and John Caird’s adaptation of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil’s o
Erstwhile young scamps Mischief Theatre have spun their pleasant ‘Noises Off’ knock-off ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ into a veritable empire: not only is the original backstage farce still going strong on the West End and off-Broadway, not only do they have another sizeable long-runner in ‘The Comedy About a Bank Robbery’, and not only do they now have an actual BBC1 TV show in the form of ‘The Goes Wrong Show’, but they’ve also won a whole host of US celebrity fans, including JJ Abrams – who co-produced this latest show – and magicians Penn & Teller, who’ve helped them write it.And it’s… okay. There is something charmingly unchanging about the core Mischief players, who are presumably now all millionaires several times over but always attack each new venture with the pure elan of a fledgling university sketch troupe. They’re both winsome and limited, and ‘Magic Goes Wrong’ feels caught at a strange crossroads between Mischief’s bumbling Englishness and Penn & Teller’s edgier interjections.The plot is pretty much contained in the title: neurotic magician Sophisticato (Henry Shields) is throwing a charity magic gala in his late father’s memory, and he’s rustled up some truly terrible acts to perform, notably Henry Lewis’s hack mentalist The Mind Mangler, and Dave Hearn’s entertaining The Blade, an amusing send-up of faux-edgy ‘alt’ magicians.That this somehow stretches on for two-and-a-half-hours without really having a plot is not ideal, not least because the ambling pace burie
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 pl
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 prem
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’ supp
‘4000 Miles’ was four weeks into its rehearsals when the coronavirus epidemic made continuing impossible. The production has been postponed to a non-specified date. There are no explicit promises on casting (how could there be) but as the Old Vic is saying all previously purchased tickets will be honoured, one might assume Timothée Chalamet will remain with the show, whenever it happens. Holy heck! It’s only the UK stage debut for that there Timothée Chalamet, horrifyingly gifted young heartthrob young US star of – if you’ve been hiding under a rock or something – ‘Call Me By Your Name’, ‘The King’ et al. He’ll be paired with venerable Brit great Eileen Atkins to star in the Old Vic’s major revival of Amy Herzog’s ‘4000 Miles’, which follows 91-year-old grandmother Vera as she spends a month living with her hippyish grandson Leo in her West Village apartment. Warchus himself will direct.
We never actually see the two men speak to each other – but they overlap, in time, in space, and in each other’s tragedies. Christy and PJ spend 20 years together sharing a prison cell in Dublin’s Mountjoy Prison. Each speaks to the audience, telling their story as if they’re taking our hands and leading us along the path that led to their incarceration. And not to give the slow-spooling plot away, but it is pretty clear from the start that their crimes will be as entwined as their punishments. ‘On Blueberry Hill’, named after the Fats Waller song which makes an affecting appearance, was written by novelist and playwright Sebastian Barry for Irish company Fishamble, and has already been seen around Ireland, as well as in Paris and New York. And there are times when you feel you’re witnessing the craft of a novelist, rather than the playwright. There are many gorgeous turns of phrase, and Barry writes with beautiful insight about how emotions can become almost too huge to bear. Although he has his characters lament the inadequacy of words to describe our most intense human feelings – love, grief – they actually speak with the sort of lyrical eloquence and radiant romantic nostalgia that makes people in the audience give little satisfied sighs now and then. It’s luminous stuff: PJ, recalling a secret trip to an island with a gay lover, describes ‘armies of sunlight and shadows advancing and retreating everywhere’; Christy recalls his wife, as ‘so pretty she was walking in her o
There’s been a feeling of doom in the air for months now. It’s hard not to do anything but think about the coronavirus headlines. It’s therefore a mark of how powerful Stephen Laughton’s ‘One Jewish Boy’ is that, for the hour-and-a-half, I think of nothing but the scenes in front of me. ‘One Jewish Boy’ tells the story of Jesse (Robert Neumark-Jones) and Alex (Asha Reid). They are flawless distillations of a certain type of Londoner – Laughton’s ear for their performative smart-arse dialogue is humorous, occasionally hilarious. Between 2012 and 2020, during which they date, get married, have a baby, fight constantly and eventually consider divorce, Jesse and Alex run at each other with matching high-octane comedy and fury. They are different in very important ways. Alex is a mixed-race woman from Peckham. Jesse is a middle-class Jewish man from Highgate who, a year or so into their relationship, is the victim of a brutal antisemitic attack. Race, class, gender, identity and trauma are embedded like shards of glass in their very selves, and often the considerable pain Alex and Jesse are in makes it impossible for them to fully empathise with the pain of the other. In one early scene, Alex mocks the concept of inherited trauma; in the very same scene, Jesse lights Hanukkah candles, celebrating a ritual of a people oppressed throughout history. Her response to his re-evaluation of his identity following the attack can be generally classed as impatient. But Jesse himself is flawe
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 show’s
Nobody goes to a Katie Mitchell show to have fun. Nobody sees an Alice Birch play for the lols. They are serious people, who make serious theatre, much of it seriously depressing. And yet the British duo's latest collaboration for Berlin’s revered Schaubühne is an absolute blast. Maybe that’s not totally unexpected: the source material for ‘Orlando’ is, of course, Virginia Woolf’s ebullient 1928 novel about a gender-swapping immortal, born in Elizabethan England and living on for hundreds of years. Nonetheless, you wouldn’t bet against director Mitchell and writer Birch mining it for melancholy. In fact they’ve gone the other way: this ‘Orlando’ is a riotous, rude and very knowing post-gender romp that gives serious thought to the question of how Woolf might have gone about her story if she absolutely DGAF what society thought. What that mostly means is: loads of shagging! It’s implied in Woolf, of course, but made very explicit here. Indeed, the Elizabethan scenes have a distinct sex comedy vibe to them as Jenny König’s irresistible-on-several-levels Orlando – at this stage male – proceeds to bang the entire court, including Queen Elizabeth herself, who is for whatever reason first seen dining topless. We’re not in totally uncharted territory: Mitchell uses her trademark live video techniques. That is to say, while the play is performed live (with a couple of pre-recorded sequences), we mostly watch the action on a large screen, which shows intricately assembled close-up vi
Yes, it is a big mistake. Yes, it is a huge mistake. It wafted over from Broadway on a miasma of bad reviews, so I was braced for this musical version of the clearly quite dated 1990 Julia Roberts smash to be a touch problematic. In fact, ‘Pretty Woman: The Musical’ is so witless that it defies any serious attempt to scrutinise its politics. Telling the story of Edward, a ruthless businessman whose life is changed on a visit to LA after he picks up Vivian, a free-spirited hooker, it is in fact no more about capitalism or sex work than it is about sports cars or cruise liners – all of these things are just plot points as Gary Marshall and JF Lawton’s book hauls itself wearily through its ‘Pygmalion’-like paces. The film, of course, had Julia Roberts and Richard Gere to style it out. With the best will in the world, leading man Danny Mac is no Gere. But he doesn’t have much to work with. His Edward is a respectful, teetotal, pleasant guy whose only discernible personality traits are a fear of heights and being a remorselessly destructive vulture capitalist, something that is vaguely intimated as being down to daddy issues, but goes unexplored. By the same token, Aimie Atkinson can hardly hold a candle to Roberts. But her Vivian is winningly goofy and the clear highlight of the production. Yet bulked out with songs, the whole set-up is baffling. Edward hires Vivian for six days on the grounds that he needs a dinner date, and a live-in hooker is less hassle than a girlfriend;
'Rare Earth Mettle' is postponed due to Covid-19 In the dazzling salt flats of Utah, a British doctor with a radical plan to save the NHS clashes with a Silicon Valley billionaire with a radical plan to halt climate change in this new play from Al Smith, last seen at the Royal Court with his headspinningly clever debut play ‘Harrogate’ back in 2016. Court regular Hamish Pirie directs a cast of Carlo Albán, Marcello Cruz, Arthur Darvill, Lesley Lemon, Racheal Ofori, Genevieve O'Reilly, Golda Rosheuvel and Rick Warden.
Royal Ballet's triple bill is cancelled due to Covid-19 Royal Ballet's Spring triple bill is an energetic mix of contemporary works that showcases these dancers' athleticism. First, there's the military intensity of Wayne MacGregor's 'Live Fire Exercise'. Then, it's Christopher Wheeldon's 'Corybantic Games', inspired by sports from the Ancient world. The night concludes with George Balanchine's 'Prodigal Son', a fiery narrative of rebellion and reconciliation.
Liam Scarlett's 'Swan Lake' was due to return to Royal Opera House in Spring 2020, but has been cancelled due to Covid-19. This review is from its May 2018 premiere. The Royal Ballet’s previous production of 'Swan Lake' had served the company for 30 years. It was time for a refresh – but what a daunting task to come up with a new version of the world’s most loved ballet. Luckily, the RB’s artist in residence Liam Scarlett has risen to the challenge. The setting (a royal court in 1890s Mittel-Europe) and all the important bits of Ivanov and Petipa’s iconic choreography are left intact – the respect for tradition and Tchaikovsky’s luminous score are evident. Scarlett has made his mark with clean lines and clear storytelling. A new prologue explains the princess Odette’s transformation into a swan. Act I is divested of happy peasants, maypole dance and comedy drunk. Instead, we have the sorcerer Von Rothbart hiding in plain sight as a Rasputin-like court adviser to the mourning Queen, and her son, Prince Siegfried, consumed with gloom at being forced to marry. Act II has been restored to every little girl’s ballet fantasy by having all the swan maidens in tutus instead of fussy knee-length skirts – what a difference it makes to be able to see the intricacies of leg and footwork of the massed rank of corps dancers. Even the national dances of Act III, properly framed, now make some sort of narrative sense, and when Von Rothbart’s dastardly Odile/Black Swan deception is revealed,
German director Tatjana Gürbaca is at the helm of this new ENO production of 'Rusalka', Dvořák’s opera about a love-lorn water nymph. In an echo of 'The Little Mermaid', she yearns to be human so she can be with a handsome prince. American soprano Corinne Winters will sing the title role, alongside David Butt Philip as her love interest. Antony Hermus conducts.
‘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; some a
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, breathing
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 eternal
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 compromises. I
Mozart's frothy comedy of romantic entanglements is getting an edgy update, thanks to theatre director Joe Hill-Gibbins's new production for ENO. Hill-Gibbins' controversial back-catalogue includes a 'Midsummer Night's Dream' at the Young Vic that played on a giant heap of mud, and a voyeuristic 2014 take on 'Powder Her Face' for ENO. If the trailer for 'The Marriage of Figaro' is anything to go by, he's opted for a relatively restrained modern dress take on this classic opera - one that's packed with familiar tunes.
At the end of this elegant Agatha Christie thriller, the newly uncovered homicidal maniac steps into a sinister spotlight and warns everyone never to reveal his or her identity. The production recently celebrated its 60th birthday and although Wikipedia and Stephen Fry have both blown the murderer's cover, there is a remarkable conspiracy of silence over 'The Moustrap'. The real mystery of the world's longest-running theatre show is not whodunit but, in its currently mediocre state, whydoit at all? 'The Mousetrap's ticket prices are the only element of this show that isn't stuck fast in the 1950s – although the actors' strained RP does make the odd break for the twenty-first century. Otherwise, this is a walking, talking piece of theatre history and – at £39 for a full-price stalls seat – the most expensive museum exhibit in London. Christie's neat puzzler of a plot is easier to defend. It has defied the inevitably mummifying process of more than 25,000 performances and still possesses an uncanny precision worthy of the mistress of murder's chilling geriatric creation, Miss Marple. In the 60 years since it premiered, its premise, in which six Cluedo-like middle-class stereotypes are imprisoned by snow in a country house while they try to fathom which of them is a raving murderer, has become a cliché, just as the authorities' response to adverse weather conditions (skiing coppers? In Berkshire?) have become a nostalgic memory. It's fascinating to glimpse the ghost of Peter Cot
‘The Prince of Egypt’ is the plucky, earnest underdog of ’90s animated movies: not even a celeb-heavy cast and a score of Stephen Schwartz bangers could save it from back-of-the-video-cabinet, cult flick oblivion. Until now? Well, sort of. This massive new stage show probably won’t add substantially to the film’s fanbase, but it’s a pacy, powerfully sung showcase for songs like ‘When You Believe’.Schwartz’s son Scott brings the ancient story of two Biblical brothers to the stage with dust-raising chaotic energy. Massive digital backdrops summon up the grandeur of its Ancient Egyptian setting with the monolithic graininess of ’90s PlayStation graphics. In front of them a huge, tumbling cast of physical theatre performers act as both the pyramid-building Hebrew slaves, and as the underdressed physical theatre incarnation of the story’s many ambitious plot points. There’s nothing this agile, ragged, bikini-clad crew can’t lend a kind of clumpy ’90s eroticism to. Sexy chariot race? Check. Sexy burning bush? Check. Sexy river of blood? Check.Philip LaZebnik’s book isn’t quite as limber. He pads the film’s taut story of Moses and Rameses’s rivalry with clumsy new scenes. The worst ones attempt to fill out these men’s relationships with their wives in disappointingly retro fashion, with Moses and Rameses bonding over their other halves being ‘difficult’. Here, Tzipporah becomes an Esmeralda-esque figure who specialises in hip-weaving dance movies and one-note defiance. She and Moses
A busy 2020 for the Jamie Lloyd Company kicks off with the West End debut of Emilia Clarke, who’ll be trading in dragon riding and romantic encounters with ghosts for the role of vain young actress Nina in Chekhov’s first great play ‘The Seagull’, in a version by Anya Reiss (presumably the same one that played at Southwark Playhouse in 2012, starring a young Lily James). She’ll be joined by an excellent cast of Danny Ashok (Medvedenko), Robert Glenister (Sorin), Tom Rhys Harries (Trigorin), Daniel Monks (Konstantin), Tamzin Outhwaite (Polina), Patrick Robinson (Dorn), Seun Shote (Shamrayev), Indira Varma (Arkadina), and Sophie Wu (Masha). As with the other two shows in the season (‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ and ‘A Doll’s House’), there will be free tickets available to first-time theatre-goers and £15 tickets reserved for under-30s, key workers and those receiving job seeker’s allowance and other government benefits. As ever, Lloyd directs and Soutra Gilmour designs.
‘The Taming of the Shrew’ has been cancelled as a result of the coronavirus epidemic. There’s probably a German word for the precise feeling of frustration you get watching Globe artistic director and world-class Shakespearean actor Michelle Terry sat on stage, not playing one of the thorniest parts in Shakespeare. Especially given that, in this bizarre take on ‘The Taming of the Shrew’, her husband, Paul Ready, is Petruchio: it was not unreasonable to expect that she might play his warring partner Kate. But then, Maria Gaitanidi’s befuddling version of Shakespeare’s problem(atic) play makes much of being an ensemble piece: according to the programme notes, casting wasn’t decided till late on in the process, once the company had thoroughly explored the text’s ‘mythic’ potential. Hmmm. I guess it works for Anthony Neilson – but you can’t help but pity the actors who had to learn some of these parts at short notice. Still, it’s hard to figure out quite why they alighted on Melissa Riggall to play Kate. The character is variously described as wild, raging, loud, angry; Riggall’s performance is static and unreactive, prettily demure and ever so well-spoken. She sounds more like she’s delivering a particularly earnest stanza on ‘Poetry Please’ than sparring waspishly. Initially I wondered if this would be the point – a new concept, revealing how society judges women on ridiculous standards of behaviour, even when they’re blamelessly completely bland. But everything in the programm
'The Visit' is postponed due to Covid-19 It is, make no mistake, absolutely wonderful to have Tony Kushner back doing plays again after a decade or so of doing diversionary stuff like writing massively successful Oscar-winning films. It’s maybe a little infuriating that it happened to be with this play: there is enough going on in Jeremy Herrin’s luxury Olivier revival of Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s dark 1956’s satire ‘The Visit’ that having a new version from the world’s least concise playwright (the first preview was allegedly well over four hours) can sometimes feel distracting. The main thing it’s distracting from is Lesley Manville’s performance. The Brit icon is absolutely phenomenal as Claire Zachanassian, an impossibly wealthy US businesswoman who returns to her crumbling New York state hometown of Slurry in 1955 with a modest proposal. She’ll recapitalise the town to the tune of a billion dollars – but only if the townspeople murder the childhood sweetheart who abandoned her 45 years ago, Al (Aussie star Hugo Weaving – solid, though this sort of everyman role isn’t the thing that really allows an actor to let rip). Manville is as good as it gets: her Claire is a sort of mad mix of Anna Wintour, Donald Trump, Darth Vader (half of her body has been replaced with metal) and a belligerent five-year-old. She’s a monster. A petty, cynical half-robot chiefly motivated by a burning desire for revenge via the medium of extreme capitalism. She is also visibly still the wounded yo
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 lit
Due to the coronavirus outbreak, ‘Thriller Live’ has concluded its length West End run, which was already due to end April 26. 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