Theatre

Find the voice, find the character: Steve Nallon as Margaret Thatcher

Even those who reviled Thatcher will be moved, appalled and astonished: Dead Sheep at the Park reviewed

Theatre

Dead Sheep is a curious dramatic half-breed that examines Geoffrey Howe’s troubled relationship with Margaret Thatcher. Structurally it’s a Mexican bean. It leaps all over the 1980s and it keeps shifting genre from cabaret to tragedy via cheesy political satire.… Read more

Stephen Mangan, John Rogan, Miles Jupp and Deborah Findlay in Rules For Living at the Dorfman, National Theatre, London. Photo: Tristram Kenton

Nicholas Hytner’s sod-you farewell: Rules for Living at the Dorfman reviewed

Theatre

Experts are concerned that Alan Ayckbourn’s plays may soon face extinction. Fewer than 80 of these precious beasts still exist in their natural habitat, so theatre-goers will be cheered to know that the National Theatre has created a genetically identical… Read more

Emma Thompson in Sweeney Todd Photo: Tristram Kenton

Blunt and bloody: ENO's Sweeney Todd reviewed

Theatre

A wicked deception is sprung in the opening moments of this New York-originated concert staging of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler’s Sweeney Todd. The English National Opera orchestra, liberated from the pit, is duly assembled on stage at the London… Read more

Bad Jews, St James Theatre

Bad Jews at the Arts Theatre reviewed: strange, raw, obsessive and brilliant

Theatre

Bad Jews has completed its long trek from a smallish out-of-town venue to a full-scale West End berth. Billed as a ‘hilarious’ family comedy it opens on a low-key note in a New York apartment where three cousins have gathered… Read more

Zoë Wanamaker as Stevie Smith

Shrapnel at the Arcola works for the slayers, not the slain

Theatre

Quite a hit factory these days, the Hampstead Theatre. The latest candidate for West End glory is Hugh Whitemore’s bio-drama about Stevie Smith. Not an obvious choice. The script, from the 1970s, recreates the atmosphere of Stevie’s life with effortless… Read more

The Cutting of the Cloth, Southwark Playhouse

Radiant Vermin at the Soho Theatre reviewed: a barmy little sketch posing as a revolutionary satire

Theatre

Philip Ridley is best known as the screenwriter of The Krays, in which Gary and Martin Kemp played Ronnie and Reggie as a pair of tanned and lisping choirboys. Ridley loves to bang his own gong. And he’s got enough… Read more

Simon Darwen as Peter and Siubhan Harrison as Eloise in ‘The Armour’

The Armour at Langham Hotel reviewed: three new playlets that never get going

Theatre

One of last year’s unexpected treasures was a novelty show by Defibrillator that took three neglected Tennessee Williams plays, all set in hotel rooms, and staged them in suites at a five-star dosshouse in central London. The Langham Hotel, an… Read more

Class act: Nancy Carroll in Patrick Marber’s ‘Closer’ at the Donmar Warehouse. Photo: Johan Persson

Why George Bernard Shaw was an overrated babbler

Theatre

When I was a kid, I was taught by a kindly old Jesuit whose youth had been beguiled by George Bernard Shaw. The provocative ironies of ‘GBS’ were quoted everywhere and he was, for several decades, the world’s leading public… Read more

How I Learned to Drive at Southwark Playhouse

Muswell Hill reviewed: a guide on how to sock it to London trendies

Theatre

Torben Betts is much admired by his near-namesake Quentin Letts for socking it to London trendies. Letts is one of the few individuals who enjoys the twin blessings of a Critics’ Circle membership card and a functioning brain so his… Read more

How to Hold Your Breath: Maxine Peake and Christine Bottomley Photo: Manuel Harlan

How to Hold Your Breath, Royal Court, review: yet more state-funded misanthropy

Theatre

‘We hate the system and we want the system to pay us to say we hate the system.’ The oratorio of subsidised theatre rises, in triumphant blast, at the Royal Court whose current empress Vicky Featherstone has chosen to direct… Read more

The Separation Photo: Ed Clark

A tatty new theatre offers up a comic gem that’s sure to be snapped up by the BBC

Theatre

New venue. New enticement. In the undercroft of a vast but disregarded Bloomsbury church nestles the Museum of Comedy. The below-stairs space wears the heavy oaken lineaments of Victorian piety but the flagstones have been smothered with prim suburban carpeting,… Read more

Intelligent design: Olivia Vinall as Hilary in ‘The Hard Problem’

Tom Stoppard’s The Hard Problem review: too clever by half

Theatre

Big event. A new play from Sir Tom. And he tackles one of philosophy’s oldest and crunchiest issues, which varsity thinkers call ‘the hard problem’. How is it that a wrinkled three-pound blancmange sitting at the top of the spinal… Read more

My Night With Reg Photo: Johan Persson

My Night With Reg at the Apollo Theatre reviewed: a great play that will go under without an interval

Theatre

Gay plays crowd the theatrical canon. There are the necessary enigmas of Noël Coward, like The Vortex or Design For Living, which are slyly aimed at an audience of knowing code-breakers. There are the proud, defiant (and rather tedious) pleas… Read more

Bull Photo: Simon Annand

Young Vic’s Bull, review: a new Mike Bartlett play to bore you into catalepsy

Theatre

A knockout show at the Young Vic. Literally. The stage has been reconfigured as a boxing ring to make Mike Bartlett’s play, Bull, feel like a sporting fixture. This is a common conceit, even a cliché, but here it’s done… Read more

Tree, The Old Vic Illustration: Lizzie Stewart

Old Vic’s Tree: Beckett plus Seinfeld - plus swearing

Theatre

‘Fucking hell. You twat. Fuck off. Fuck. Fuck.’ These dispiriting words are the opening line of Tree, a newish play by the lugubrious comic Daniel Kitson, whose stand-up show once transported me into the heavenly arms of Lethe. His script… Read more

Paul Barritt’s stunning design for ‘The Golem’ resembles ‘a ketchup-splattered bumble bee’

Young Vic's Golem: its status as a cult hit fills me with troubled wonder

Theatre

The Young Vic produces shows that please many but rarely me. Its big hit of 2014, A Streetcar Named Desire, won virtually every prize going apart from the one it deserved: the year’s deadliest assault on a much-loved classic. The… Read more

3 Winters  Photo: Ellie Kurttz

National Theatre’s 3 Winters: a hideous Balkans ballyhoo

Theatre

A masterpiece at the National. A masterpiece of persuasion and bewitchment. Croatian word-athlete Tena Stivicic has miraculously convinced director Howard Davies that she can write epic historical theatre. And Davies has transmitted his gullibility to Nicholas Hytner, who must have… Read more

Slick, handsome and richly costumed: ‘Mother Goose’ at the Hackney Empire

Panto season has arrived - and even the kids are turning their nose up at it

Theatre

‘What is a panto?’ I asked my companion at the Hackney Empire’s Saturday matinee. ‘It’s basically a really bad play,’ said Coco, aged five and three quarters. She was there with her older brother and my son to help me… Read more

Adam Brown in Saxon Court by Daniel Andersen. Photo: Richard Lakos

A workplace revenge comedy from the Ricky Gervais school of humour

Theatre

When to launch? For impresarios, this is the eternal dilemma. Autumn is so crowded with press nights that producers are heard to sigh, ‘The market’s full. There’s no room.’ When the glut abates in late November, the same producers sob,… Read more

Poverty ogling: Stephanie Street and Meera Syal in ‘Behind the Beautiful Forevers’

The National’s latest attempt to cheer us up: three hours of poverty porn

Theatre

Bombay is now called Mumbai by everyone bar its residents, whose historic name (from the Portuguese for ‘beautiful cove’) has been discarded for them by their betters. Near the airport a huge advertising board bearing the slogan ‘Beautiful Forever’ overlooks… Read more

Soloman and Marion

Norman Mailer’s wife comes out of the shadows

Theatre

‘It’s not as bad as I thought it would be,’ said Norman Mailer to his wife, Norris Church, after reading the first chapters of a novel she wrote in the 1970s. It took her decades to recover from this accolade… Read more

Gemma Arterton leads the way in Made in Dagenham Photo: Alex James

Yanks buy stacks of tickets in the West End. Why is Made in Dagenham so rude to them?

Theatre

Go slow at Dagenham. The musical based on the film about a pay dispute in the 1960s starts as a sluggish mire of twee simplicities. We’re in Essex. Grumbling Cockney wage slaves inhabit cramped but spick-and-span council flats. Russet-cheeked kiddiwinkies… Read more

Jonah and Otto Photo: Jack Sain

An inept dud penetrates the Park Theatre’s dross-filters - and I blame Beckett

Theatre

Jonah and Otto is a lost-soul melodrama that keeps its audience guessing. Where are we? The Channel coast somewhere. Indoors or out? Not sure. Near a church maybe? Violence barges in. Jonah, a mouthy scruff, shoves a knife in the… Read more

Oppressed by the set in ‘Neville’s Island’

Neville's Island: a play from the era of Men Behaving Badly - when women were seen as exotic excrescences

Theatre

Start with a joke. Neville’s Island. Get it? Laughing yet? Are your ribs splitting into pieces? It’s a cracker, isn’t it? Well it’s a pun, at least, on Devil’s Island. Tim Firth’s play, regarded as a modern classic, premiered 22… Read more

Jane Horrocks as the slovenly matriarch still fond of her bullying husband George (‘East is East’ playwright Ayub Khan Din, left)

Is London's West End Jewish enough for David Baddiel’s musical The Infidel?

Theatre

David Baddiel has turned his movie, The Infidel, into a musical. The set-up is so contrived and clumsy that it has a sweetness all its own. A golden-hearted London cabbie, named Mahmoud, discovers that he was adopted at birth and… Read more

Harriet Walter as King Henry

Donmar's Henry IV: Phyllida Lloyd has nothing but contempt for her audience

Theatre

The age of ‘ladies first’ is back. Phyllida Lloyd reserves all the roles for the weaker sex, as I imagine she thinks of them, in this hybrid play assembled from Henry IV (i) and (ii). It’s a twin-layered production that… Read more

Stage rage: Kristin Scott Thomas as Electra

Were the cast of the Old Vic’s Electra clothed by Oxfam?

Theatre

First, a bit of background. Conquering Agamemnon slew his daughter, Iphigenia, in return for a fair wind to Troy. This rather miffed his wife, Clytemnestra, who bashed his head in with an axe when he came swaggering home. Her retribution… Read more

Evita at the Dominion Photo: Darren Bell

Will Marti Pellow attract enough tipsy hen parties to Evita to flog all 18,000 seats?

Theatre

Tim and Andy are back. Their monster hit Evita opens the fully refurbed and re-primped Dominion Theatre, which is built on the scale of an airport terminal and needs a big production to fill it. This is a beautiful version… Read more