The Guardian

The Guardian & The Observer – London Theatre Reviews

London theatre reviews from the UK newspaper The Guardian & The Observer.

Here’s a selection of reviews of London shows from the theatre and arts critics at The Guardian newspaper.

The chief theatre critic at The Guardian is Arifa Akbar.

Susannah Clapp writes reviews for the Observer, the Sunday edition of the Guardian.

Mark Lawson also writes reviews for the Guardian.

See below for a full run-down of star ratings and theatre opinions about West End shows in London from The Guardian and the Observer.


The Trials at the Donmar Warehouse (2022)

★★★

"Tomorrow’s children hold us to account for climate crimes"

"In a near-future world on fire, a jury of 12 young people listen to testimony from the ‘dinosaur’ generation"

"This courtroom drama has a compelling conceit, though it ends up slightly repetitive, and perhaps doesn’t fully develop its dystopian horror until the third and final defendant gives her testimony. But it holds us in its grip intellectually, and there is a complex interplay of arguments between the jurors, who grapple with ethical dilemmas and ideological positions involving justice, revenge and the possibility of forgiveness."

"Under Natalie Abrahami’s direction they all bring immense spirit, with a particularly controlled performance from Honor Kneafsey as the head juror, while Francis Dourado is strong as an often lone defender of those on trial. Taya Tower has a good, nervy presence while Charlie Reid is convincingly annoying in his part as a stroppy teen."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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All of Us at the National Theatre (2022)

★★★

"Disablism, austerity and therapy-speak fuel Francesca Martinez’s jolting drama"

"There are startling, sparkling episodes in All of Us, revelatory moments when you hear and see experiences new to the stage of the National, which is working hard to expand the repertoire of the lives it projects."

"A play that sets out rightly to challenge the idea of normality, justly to take on government negligence, weakens its accomplishments by turning drama into dilemma."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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All of Us at the National Theatre (2022)

★★★★★

"Francesca Martinez’s urgent call for radical empathy"

"Personal, political and polemical, this intensely moving play about disability and austerity challenges preconceptions"

"As Francesca Martinez’s urgent, funny and intensely moving play begins, two women – one with cerebral palsy (“I prefer ‘wobbly’”), the other able-bodied – arrive for a therapy session. We might assume the disabled woman is the patient but in the first of many reversals of expectation, it’s not so. Jess (Martinez) is the compassionate therapist … yet she can’t follow her own advice and expose her fury, need and vulnerability."

David Jays, The Guardian
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Great British Bake Off - The Musical at the Everyman Theatre Cheltenham (2022)

★★★

"Sweet treat with a soggy bottom"

"The TV show invites a large helping of satire but Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary serve up a sugary plot with over-egged characters"

"Perhaps worried about prioritising style over substance (the ultimate Bake Off sin), Jake Brunger (book and lyrics) and Pippa Cleary (music and lyrics) – who recently worked together on a musical adaptation of Adrian Mole – have over-egged their plot and tied the show together with a sickly sweet love story."

"The best moments come from the woefully underused John Owen-Jones and Rosemary Ashe in the spoof roles of judges Phil and Pam. In Slap It Like That, Owen-Jones chucks about a piece of strudel like his life depends on it and handles Cleary’s music with such respect and skill that it suddenly sounds 10 times richer under his control. I’d Never Be Me Without You is a brilliant oddball duet and suggests how fun this musical might have been with less sugar and a larger serving of satire."

Miriam Gillinson, The Guardian
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Identical at the Nottingham Playhouse (2022)

★★★★

"Trevor Nunn takes on The Parent Trap, with songs"

"This earnest musical, which features three sets of real twins across its cast, has a deeply moving pay-off"

"This is an implausible musical, and you may spend the overlong first half feeling underwhelmed. But the ending is deeply moving – proof of sorts that master technicians are at work."

"It takes a while to get the engine going, but once it’s at full speed, you relax knowing the best in the business have built this machine. This will surely transfer, tighten and become a firm family favourite."

Nick Ahad, The Guardian
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Identical at the Nottingham Playhouse (2022)

★★★★

"A new musical of The Parent Trap has its own special effect"

"The casting of twins as the separated sisters adds a frisson to Trevor Nunn’s elegant production of the twice-filmed tale, with pitch-perfect music by George Stiles"

"Stuart Paterson’s book follows the novel in setting the action in Munich and Vienna of 1950. While the period look is entrancing, some lingering, last-century attitudes jar: the calculating, man-catcher portrayal of the composer’s ballerina girlfriend, in particular, strikes a sour note. George Stiles’s new music, though, is emotionally pitch-perfect, now bright, now dark, now surging joyously, coupled with witty lyrics from Anthony Drewe. Direction, as might be expected from Trevor Nunn, is elegant and performances are both sharp and warm, but the production’s greatest strength is the magic of the identical girls."

Clare Brennan, The Observer
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The Tempest at the Shakespeare's Glob (2022)

★★★

"The bard in budgie smugglers"

"Sean Holmes’s gleefully comic take is a riot of holiday colour and fun, featuring luminous lilos, stag do bantz and a playful Prospero in eyewateringly tight trunks"

"Academics have long agonised about how to categorise The Tempest but director Sean Holmes’s gleefully eccentric production is unequivocally comic. The great magician Prospero wears exceedingly tight bright yellow swimming trucks – and nothing else – for much of the show. Blow-up lilos feature heavily. Cheeky ad-libs and contemporary song choices, including a particularly raucous rendition of Three Lions, tear strips through Shakespeare’s text. It’s a rag-tag concoction but, in its best moments, it’s a riot."

"The energy stays consistently high but what’s missing is the magic – and the power and grace that the suggestion of sorcery lends to Shakespeare’s language. Prospero’s book of spells is bound together with a Tesco bag and Prospero himself only feels commanding in the play’s dying moments. It’s a shame because there’s a rough-hewn playfulness about Ferdy Roberts that might have made for an unsettling Prospero, with a frightening kind of magic at his fingertips."

Miriam Gillinson, The Guardian
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The Tempest at the Shakespeare's Glob (2022)

★★★

"Sean Holmes takes enjoyable liberties with his party island Tempest"

"Ferdy Roberts’s entertaining Prospero is an intemperate old beach boy who talks too fast in tight, sunshine-yellow swimming trunks. This is a show that abjures magic, trading it in for nicely engineered laughs."

"You wouldn’t want every Tempest to be as breezy, but there is a fine clarity to the lighthearted storytelling. In particular, it reminded me of the extent to which this is a play about dredging – about weird and not always wonderful human finds, washed up by the sea and needing to be scrutinised, pondered over and understood."

Kate Kellaway, The Observer
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The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe at the Gillian Lynne Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"A new-look Narnia delivers deep magic"

"It boasts breathtaking ensemble work, in particular the transitions between the art deco wardrobe and the snowy world beyond, filled with billowing parachute silk."

"Samantha Womack is terrific as the witch (a more subtle despot than Cruella) and I noted with interest the stonily depressed look on her face – tyranny as mental affliction."

Kate Kellaway, The Observer
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The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe at the Gillian Lynne Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"A dark, riveting revamp"

"This exhilarating production of CS Lewis’s timeless tale delivers spellbinding spectacle, wartime drama and perfect puppetry"

"This captivating production takes the wartime framing of CS Lewis’s tale and bleeds it across the fantasia. It is still, in spirit, a children’s story but contains all the grit and gore of war and feels far darker than the 1950 novel."

"Samantha Womack’s White Witch is all hard edges and glaring looks yet resists becoming a pantomime villain."

"The pace has a stately grandeur; nothing is rushed and some scenes come to feel a little inert. The siblings, played efficiently by adult actors, are a little featureless at first but these are quibbles in a show that is orchestrated masterfully."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Chasing Hares at the Young Vic (2022)

★★★★

"Factory drama moulds its own subversive power play"

"Sonali Bhattacharyya intriguingly exposes the exploitative dynamics of the global gig economy through the lens of a Bengali jatra theatre group"

"This drama about the gig economy and the workers trapped inside it plays out like a thriller. Sonali Bhattacharyya’s fast, witty script finds an original way to tell the global backstory of the zero-hours workforce, joining up the dots from child labour in West Bengal to unethical working conditions in Britain."

"The story has some too-neat parallels between West Bengal and the UK and it is perhaps too sentimental in its ending, but this is easily forgiven when weighed up against its emotional power and intelligence."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Chasing Hares at the Young Vic (2022)

★★★

"Globalisation’s effect on an Indian factory makes for touching drama"

"It is a play that is unkempt in parts and would benefit from a little extra grooming. The subject matter is not new, yet comes across as pleasingly fresh. And the urgent speech at the end, in which Prab’s daughter Amba, boldly played by Saroja-Lily Ratnavel, speaks up for British workers, is spot on."

Kate Kellaway, The Observer
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Sister Act at the Eventim Apollo (2022)

★★★

"Beverley Knight and Jennifer Saunders bring the laughs as rebel nuns"

"Jennifer Saunders is the main draw, bridling and bristling as Mother Superior. There is nothing funnier here than the moment when Saunders, slumped in her chair as she anticipates the latest bout of choral caterwauling, is startled by the sisters’ new-found tunefulness. "

Ryna Gilbey, The Guardian
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101 Dalmatians at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (2022)

★★

"Puppyish enthusiasm can’t save a patchy production"

"This family musical and adorable puppets will keep the kids happy, but parents might wish they could go walkies"

"Thank God for Kate Fleetwood’s Cruella de Vil (fur, stilettos, big wigs), who plays her part for kicks at first but brings a baroque darkness later on and channels the sinister energy of her creepy Disney cartoon forebear. It is hammy, and sometimes panto-ish, but it works."

"The show certainly improves as it goes along, and it works best as a children’s show: my two young nieces stayed hooked throughout on press night. So, perhaps a crowd-pleaser for the kids but one which may leave some parents wanting to go walkies."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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101 Dalmatians at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"Douglas Hodge’s new Dodie Smith musical is spot on"

"... a perfect post-lockdown choice for London’s ever-swelling, dog-doting crowd (of whom I am one)"

"Kate Fleetwood’s Cruella De Vil is cruel and vile to the max, vaping in an ominous grey fur cape, boasting that she is a social influencer. “Sit! I am not a woman who takes no for an answer!” she shrieks at the dogs. The music is tunefully poppy and in the splendid Für Fur, Cruella confesses what makes her tick."

Kate Kellaway, The Observer
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Jack Absolute Flies Again at the National Theatre (2022)

★★★

"Mrs Malaprop’s a loose cannon in Richard Bean’s Battle of Britain take on Sheridan"

"Quentin, shiny as a creature on a carousel, brings admirable zip to the flinging-herself-around physical comedy (which requires her to do the splits while playing the ukulele) and to the verbal slips – “flatulence will get you everywhere” – that define her character. The trouble is that Bean so overeggs her speech with errors that the lines can scarcely breathe."

"The drama does not have the freewheeling expansiveness of his other adaptation, One Man, Two Guvnors, nor the bravura savagery of his England People Very Nice. The jokes are there, all right – but it’s as if they’re coming in to land in an adjacent room."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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Much Ado About Nothing at the National Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"Screwball Shakespeare goes with a swing"

"John Heffernan shines brightest as a dorkish Benedick; Katherine Parkinson’s Beatrice is wry and cute but she is, surprisingly, not at her finest in comedy mode."

"The production does not, perhaps, plunge deeply enough into the play’s darkness, and no one actor commands our attention, but they all form a very able ensemble."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Much Ado About Nothing at the National Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"Shakespeare’s comedy is the gift that keeps on giving"

"As the hate-to-love, love-to-hate couple, John Heffernan and Katherine Parkinson give separately striking performances. Heffernan begins as a desultory discontent and subtly accretes layers of intelligence. Parkinson, wildly poised, gradually grows a heart, her face shining with surprised tears. However, they give off few sparks when together: their exchanges do not fuel the play. The energy is more diffused."

"Some of the play’s more disturbing moments go missing, but the glide of the action is delectable."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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Crazy For You at the Chichester Festival Theatre (2022)

★★★★★

"Spine-tingling musical is a giddy thrill"

"Instantly infectious melodies, superb choreography and irresistible comedy are met with astonishing performances in this lovable show"

"... here is a spine-tingling production with instantly infectious melodies, irresistible physical comedy and punning wisecracks (Ken Ludwig’s book zings). The crowning glory is the choreography – a whirligig of tap, ballroom, chorus-line and balletic movement, all effortlessly athletic, which makes this as much a show of dance as song."

"The production’s original choreographer, Susan Stroman, also directs and turns what might have been a long show with wooden characters into spectacular entertainment, oiled by astonishing performances from Charlie Stemp as the New York wannabe dancer Bobby and Carly Anderson as tough cookie Polly."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Crazy For You at the Chichester Festival Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"Who can resist Gershwin?"

"Development and detail is all in the swelling voices and frisking toes of Carly Anderson and Charlie Stemp. Anderson goes brightly (if disappointingly) from dungareed can-do to all-over frockiness; Stemp – the linchpin of the evening – tap-dances on a small silver tray, patters over tiny tables, spins and leaps and sparkles. Together, they dance into delight: first squaring up with hoedown elbowing, then swooningly back-bending in a waltz."

"This is a revival, not a rethink"

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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Peaky Blinders: The Rise reviews at the Camden Garrison (2022)

★★

"Immersed in a criminally flimsy plot"

"Fans of the TV series may enjoy the period detail and atmosphere, but this immersive show is frustratingly light on story and drama"

"Lovers of the TV series may be content to drink in the period detail and atmosphere. But it has none of the slick intelligence of that show."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Patriots at the Almeida Theatre (2022)

★★★

"Peter Morgan’s compelling study of Russian dissidence"

"Rupert Goold’s production is ultimately entertaining but choppy, taking time to settle before its power struggles gain intensity."

"But the play resets itself in the second half, dropping the Dead Ringers-style wisecracks and gathering potency, gripping stillness and tension."

"The show-stealing performance is Will Keen’s saturnine Putin who emerges as the greatest and most sinister force on stage. "

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Tempest at the Theatre Royal Bath (2022)

★★★★

"Deborah Warner’s grimy island engrosses and disgusts"

"The veteran director’s arrestingly visceral production honours the sheer strangeness of Shakespeare’s late play"

"Nicholas Woodeson is sideways casting for Prospero. One of British theatre’s unsung heroes, he’s a witty character actor too rarely cast as top banana."

"Cerebral and always vocally lucid, the production is in some ways puritanical, with a distrust – even disgust – for the body’s baser impulses."

David Jays, The Guardian
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The Seagull at the Harold Pinter Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"Woodchip-walled Chekhov is hypnotic"

"Jamie Lloyd’s radical, stripped-back, strangely gripping production, using Anya Reiss’s cool adaptation, might well be aspiring to Konstantin’s ideal of creating a new theatrical form. This is not Chekhov as we know it, nor theatre as we know it, certainly not in the West End. "

"This is a maverick show that, like Oklahoma! at the Young Vic, proves how dangerous and daring a revival can be"

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Richard III reviews - RSC Stratford at the Stratford Upon Avon (2022)

★★★

"Shakespeare’s supervillain breezes through the bloodbath"

"Arthur Hughes is the scheming sociopath in a production of magisterial stagecraft that builds to a powerful climax"

"Hughes’s Richard is every bit the schemer, dead-eyed and unmoved by the body count he leaves on the way to the throne, but he also has a smarmy mischief about him"

"It gives a strange note to his villainy. He does not always seem vicious enough, even when he is giving orders to kill former allies."

"This production shines in its aesthetics and stagecraft, which has a magisterial splendour."

"It is a shame the visceral power of the play comes so late but these climactic moments bring the full force of the drama’s eeriness and emanate Richard’s fear and desperation."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Mad House at the The Ambassadors Theatre (2022)

★★★

"David Harbour and Bill Pullman spar in dark family psychodrama"

"Under the direction of Moritz von Stuelpnagel, the first half seems like a particularly savage episode of Frasier"

"There are some sharp lines in Rebeck’s script, though the serrated humour is not as blistering as it strives to be."

"Too much is thrown in without enough depth or structural coherence; there are echoes of King Lear as Daniel uses threats of disinheritance to keep his three children in line, even as two – Nedward and Pam (Sinéad Matthews) – scheme for the lucrative deeds of his house. Pam is particularly flat in her villainy, which seems like a motor for the plot."

"Performances are magnificent across the board"

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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That Is Not Who I Am at the Royal Court Theatre (2022)

★★★

"A revelatory drama about identity theft is let down by its thriller plot"

"At its best, Lucy Morrison’s production spins between many modes of visionariness and fabrication. Here are lies by government and by lovers, crackpot theories (get rid of HIV by doing downward dog) and prescient fears. Mental disturbance merges with proportionate anxiety"

"As a doomed couple, Jake Davies and Siena Kelly are exceptionally natural and nuanced, shrugging in and out of affection, daily concern, apocalyptic alarm."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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That Is Not Who I Am at the Royal Court Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"All is not what it seems in tricksy thriller about truth and power"

"One play reveals another in a tangled web that pits the Home Office against two Guardian blind-daters"

"That Is Not Who I Am is a clever front for Rapture, a brilliantly tricksy new production by Lucy Kirkwood."

"A heady production with stellar performances, Rapture is a thriller, a trickster, and an absolute romp."

Kate Wyver, The Guardian
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The Southbury Child at the Chichester Festival Theatre (2022)

★★

"A vicar picks an odd hill to die on"
"Even-handed to a fault, Stephen Beresford’s new comedy coasts by on sub-Alan Bennett humour and the odd eye-roll at wokeness. But its hero’s stance on balloons beggars belief"

"Jennings is delightfully witty and urbane but that’s part of the problem: the way Beresford has written David, it is impossible to believe that someone so equitable would be intransigent in the face of grief."

" Instead of conveying any inner turmoil, the play coasts by on sub-Alan Bennett humour (insulted in Londis, David hopes there’s a Waitrose in heaven) and the odd eye-roll at wokeness."

Ryan Gilbey, The Guardian
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A Dolls House, Part 2 at the Donmar Warehouse (2022)

★★★

"Noma Dumezweni is a compelling lead in Lucas Hnath’s sequel, which is well drawn but a little too tightly controlled"

"There is something a little too controlled about Hnath’s play, as if the characters are being held up for careful study but never quite let off their leash. It’s only in the closing scenes that things begin to feel freer and more reachable. Nora talks with a low, humming intensity about how long it took to find her voice and, in a moment of perfect vulnerability, she is completely herself – and a little bit of all of us."

Miriam Gillinson, The Guardian
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A Dolls House, Part 2 at the Donmar Warehouse (2022)

★★★

"Lucas Hnath’s sequel to the Ibsen classic is intriguing rather than revelator"

"This Doll’s House is a hybrid: it uses 21st-century idiom – “I’m pissed off at you” – while taking off from the conditions of Ibsen’s lifetime, with maids and clerks and very clear guidelines for how to behave as a respectable married female."

"This is an intriguing, not a transporting play. Patricia Allison is silvery and sharp as Nora’s daughter – independent from her mother but strikingly conventional; June Watson is magnificent as the beaky housekeeper. James Macdonald’s finely focused production pushes home – on the eyes as well as the ears – every twist of the debate. Like spectators at a boxing ring, the audience sit around the action. "

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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Jitney at the Old Vic Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"A taut, tense tale of Black injustice in 1970s America"

"A stylish rework of the August Wilson character-study sees a standout performance from Wil Johnson as the put-upon head of the titular cab station"

"Tinuke Craig’s beautifully realised production creates a microcosm of defiance and dashed dreams"

Kate Wyver, The Guardian
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Jitney at the Old Vic Theatre (2022)

★★★

"August Wilson’s taxi-stand drama has developed new flavour with age"

"Punctuated by the constant ringing of the phone, and by the minute-by-minute flinging open and banging shut of the office door, the action, though ferocious, imperilled and urgent, has the intricate timing and the near balletic quality of a French farce. August Wilson never ceases to surprise."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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The Car Man at the Royal Albert Hall (2022)

★★★★

"Steamy dance thriller with a supercharged engine"

"Bourne’s 1950s potboiler has been beefed up for a larger venue. The result is classy, trashy – and deeply serious"

"The Car Man is a steamy, pulp-fiction take on the opera Carmen."

"Bigger! bolder! beefier..What this vast auditorium loses – some pressure-cooker intensity, some dramatic detail – the production makes up for. The fantastically versatile, multilevel set cleverly incorporates a live orchestra and billboard screens; it can switch scenes at the flick of a light switch, and extends along a thrust stage down which the dancers can parade or hurtle. The amplified music combines numbers from Rodion Shchedrin’s Carmen Suite with sound effects, so that it serves as both orchestral score and cinema soundtrack."

"The lead dancers carry the story with full-bodied conviction, but the entire cast seem to relish their roles in a work that is outrageously melodramatic and deeply serious, classy and trashy, manipulative and sincere. Like Luca himself, The Car Man brazenly gets to have it both ways."

Sanjoy Roy, The Guardian
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The Gunpowder Plot at the Tower Vaults London (2022)

★★★

"A thrilling live adventure is marred by moments of bewildering VR in this immersive voyage back to 1605"

"In the belly of the vaults – a grid of tunnel-like corridors and boiler rooms – we meet prisoners such as William (Lucas O’Mahoney), who is barefoot, black-eyed and shackled by a terrifying hooded guard. William looks at us blinkingly before he is led away and confirms us as fellow Catholic dissenters. There is also our companion, Thomas (Cormac Elliott, very characterfully played), a cheeky caped spy who appears sporadically, calls us “bastards” and works for the crown. Something of a Jacobean Indiana Jones, he helps us navigate the perils of these tunnels and delivers us to his boss, Lady Cecil (Kalifa Taylor), who recruits us as spies to thwart Fawkes’ plot."

"There are three VR headset moments to augment our experience, the first of which did not work for everyone in my group. The last, which traces the mythology around Fawkes in the centuries following his execution, is especially disappointing – not in the graphics but in the rather vague points it seeks to make."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Park Theatre (2022)

★★★

"Harry Hill puts the party into politics"

"Co-written by Hill and Steve Brown, this is a messy jamboree-bag of songs and silliness that pokes enjoyable fun at the messianic ex-PM"

"Baker just about holds together a production with the jamboree-bag messiness of a student revue or a children’s party (there is balloon modelling courtesy of Peter Mandelson). The 10-strong cast, dressed uniformly in Blair’s suit and red tie, play everyone from Neil Kinnock to Diana, Princess of Wales (a standout turn from Madison Swan). "

Ryan Gilbey, The Guardian
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Britannicus at the Lyric Hammersmith (2022)

★★★★

"Political drama is deadly serious but full of sass"

"Timberlake Wertenbaker’s take on Racine’s version of ancient Rome is replete with power-crazed emperors, deadly poison and juicy family politics"

"Atri Banerjee’s thrilling production brings this Roman family into a modern-day court and shows us how old stories can be made terrifically new, with enough fearless imagination."

"Every performance is fabulous. So is Rosanna Vize’s stage design"

"Is it a penetrating or complicated enough study of power? It doesn’t matter because it is irresistible as a piece of theatre – a production of immense confidence and sass, and one that will leave you simultaneously chilled and chuckling."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Unfriend at the Chichester Festival Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"Cringe-tastic "

"Gatiss’s brisk directing doesn’t permit lags or reflection and the rollicking pace plays to the strengths of cast and text alike. Simkins gives a bravely unshowy performance calling on reserves of skill and stamina. Barber breathes new life into a dynamic – devil-may-care American tutoring prim Britons – which feels vaguely played-out."

"This is Shearsmith’s evening, though, his paroxysms of awkwardness becoming ever more finely calibrated as the hysteria escalates."

"It’s a pity Abbington isn’t given a larger share of the physical comedy, remaini

Ryan Gilbey, The Guardian
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The Glass Menagerie at the Duke of York's Theatre (2022)

★★

"Amy Adams’s West End debut fails to find its heart"

"Tennessee Williams’s story of yearning, passion and despair never puts us under its spell in Jeremy Herrin’s production"

"Tennessee Williams’s narrator begins by speaking of all the ways a “memory play” conjures its effects: dim lighting, sentimentality, a lack of realism. This production uses those artifices and also boasts central star casting in Amy Adams, yet stops short of putting us under its spell."

"The play is pervaded by a sense of abandonment – first that of the absent father who has walked out on the Wingfield brood and then Tom’s own flight at the end. But we do not feel the emotional weight of the latter’s decision to leave. Nor do we pick up on tenderness between siblings."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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ABBA Voyage at the ABBA Arena (2022)

★★★★★

"Jaw-dropping "

"Any sense you’re not actually in the presence of the band dissolves during a setlist of crowd-pleasing hits"

"The effect is genuinely jaw-dropping. Watching the four figures on the stage, it’s almost impossible to tell you’re not watching human beings: occasionally, there’s a hint of video game uncanny valley about the projections on the giant screens either side of the stage, but your attention is continually drawn to the human-sized avatars."

"Voyage is the kind of triumph that’s destined not merely to run and run but be repeatedly copied."

Alexis Petridis, The Guardian
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ABBA Voyage at the ABBA Arena (2022)

★★★★

"A dazzling retro-futurist extravaganza"

"Stepping back in time and into the future, Abba astound with a mind-bending virtual comeback show of hits, uncanny dance moves and no-expense-spared Swedish class"

"Abba astound with a mind-bending virtual comeback show of hits, uncanny dance moves and no-expense-spared Swedish class"

"... the most enduring pleasure of the whole endeavour is exactly how uncheesy Voyage is; how it is not a Madame Tussauds with go-faster stripes. A kind of Scandinavian classiness is built into everything from the building’s exterior pine construction on up to the tunes themselves, in which stoicism and good sense barely hide the unbridled misery of a series of leave-takings."

Kitty Empire, The Guardian
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Legally Blonde The Musical at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"Joyously camp revamp is in the pink"

"An overhaul of the original’s gender politics, plenty of Gen-Z touchpoints and a big dollop of kitsch make this musical an irresistible cocktail"

"Bowman gives an incredibly strong performance, although Nadine Higgin, as the salon worker, Paulette, nearly steals her thunder with her raunchy magnetism and powerful voice."

"This is a tongue-in-cheek production that comes with a megawattage of kitsch and to some degree sends up the genre of the high-school musical. Characters are pancake flat, reaching beyond stereotype into cartoonishness"

"Campness dominates, with nasal American high-school accents, teenage squeals and deliberate overacting."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Murder On The Orient Express at the Chichester Festival Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"A first-class ride all the way"

"Henry Goodman gives us every inch of Hercule Poirot’s dandiness and comedy in this exemplary adaptation of Christie’s ingenious murder mystery, but also gets every note of the character’s vast intelligence and pain"

Mark Lawson, The Guardian
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The House of Shades at the Almeida Theatre (2022)

★★★

"Anne-Marie Duff gives a toxic tour de force"

"Beth Steel’s large canvas reflects brawny ambition and magnificent fearlessness as the dead walk alongside the living and the surreal interrupts the real. It is a kitchen-sink drama that incorporates state-of-the-nation politics, and the generational damage within family life is shown largely through its women.

‘It’s an energy’ … Beth Steel.
"You don’t have to be invited – you do it’: Beth Steel on her working-class family epic"

"Directed by Blanche McIntyre, the play emanates a retro sitcom vibe at the start but detours into Dennis Potter territory, with hallucinatory scenes, seductive and dreamlike, often with song."

"While the script is strong, its realisation is bumpy, with uneven pacing and some scenes that are a little too short to hold potency. Actors double up down the ages to good effect, and there is further doubling on stage as characters from the past feature in parallel with their elder counterparts. "

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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My Fair Lady  (2022)

★★★

"Perfectly elegant, ever so sedate"

"This garlanded production of Alan Jay Lerner and Frederick Loewe’s musical, fresh from Broadway, is the definition of a comforting night out at the theatre. It glides from one well-loved song to the next on an elegantly twirling set designed by Michael Yeargan."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Passion at the Hope Mill Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"Thrilling singing in a rousing Sondheim reboot"

"Ruthie Henshall and Kelly Price shine in a sophisticated and intimate staging of Stephen Sondheim’s 1994 musical"

"the singing is excellent and the off-stage band bright and strident, creating a suitably impassioned show."

Mark Fisher, The Guardian
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Oklahoma! at the Young Vic Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"An invigorating take on Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic"

"This modern, sexy and unsettling show injects thrills into a familiar musical, making it feel newly minted"

"How to rewrite Rodgers and Hammerstein’s classic musical without changing a word? It turns out all you need do is make us really watch, and really listen. In immersing the audience in the action (with some spectators sat at stage-side tables) and highlighting tricky scenes and characters that are often hastily brushed over, directors Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein have created a modern, sexy and unsettling show. And as for the music? The score sounds so revitalised it might’ve been written yesterday."

Miriam Gillinson, The Guardian
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Old Friends at the Sondheim Theatre (2022)

★★★★★

"A glorious all-star memorial service"

"This was a glorious memorial service, each of the tunes a eulogy, every eulogist either a current star (Judi Dench, Bernadette Peters, Imelda Staunton, Clive Rowe) or a likely future one (the cast swelled by young actors and drama school students.)"

"In anthology shows, as in sport, selection is central. Some of the 41 songs demanded inclusion. Friedman brings piping hot comedy and vocal clarity to Mrs Lovett’s lethal recipes, A Little Priest, from Sweeney Todd. Written for a woman in early middle age, Send in the Clowns, as reprised by Dench at 87, becomes hauntingly valedictory, lines such as “this late in my career” now echoing those in I’m Still Here, in which Petula Clark, two years Dench’s senior, confirmed Sondheim’s genius in writing songs that fit a show but a standalone performer can make their own."

"Generically, it’s a concert rather than a fully staged show, but with props and costumes it feels seriously rehearsed. Rob Brydon and Haydn Gwynne find sharply fresh line readings in The Little Things You Do Together, the marital battle from Company. Among flourishes of choreography (Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear) is reshaping the usually solo Broadway Baby for a chorus line of 10 top musical women, led by Julia McKenzie, on stage for the first time since the 1990s."

Mark Lawson, The Guardian
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Much Ado About Nothing at the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (2022)

★★★

"Gaiety abounds in the Globe’s great garden party"

"Lucy Bailey’s ambling production of Shakespeare’s comedy, set in northern Italy on the eve of Mussolini’s defeat, exudes pastoral elegance and feels like the start of summer"

"The production as a whole seems to want to stick to gaiety and gambolling. Even the play’s central schemer, Don John (Olivier Huband), has deadpan humour. It works to create a consummately summer comedy, its lightness carrying an edge of our own post-lockdown lifting of the clouds."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Macbeth at the Longacre Theatre (2022)

★★★

"Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga soar but there’s magic missing"

"Sam Gold’s inventively staged take on the classic tragedy has its moments but there’s something missing at the centre"

"There is shock – short, sharp – and surprises and some playful, inventive staging, but little that feels truly risky or dangerous. The conflicts are external, not internal. “It feels good,” Thornton teases in that opening speech, “to cast a little spell”. Yet, despite the charms and potions, there’s not so much magic here."

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian
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Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"Mark Rylance’s riveting return as ‘Rooster’ Byron"

"Problematic gags limit the power of Jez Butterworth’s layered drama about myths and Englishness but the lead performance still astonishes"

"Its language predates #MeToo and Black Lives Matter – and it shows. There is a limp joke about dressing up in a burqa, another about Nigerian traffic wardens. There are references to women as “slappers”, “bitches” and fat wives. Byron boasts of his conquests and talks of pinching bums, while Ginger states: “I don’t actually have GCSE maths but I do have a great big hairy cock and balls.” Bizarrely, this gets some laughs on opening night."

"The play’s ideas around myth and identity are lyrical but do not fully cohere. Ultz’s astonishing set opens up to bacchanalian detritus outside Rooster’s caravan – empty bottles, a mucky sofa, a disco ball tied to a tree and even live chickens. But it is uncomfortable to see the St George’s Cross emblazoned on the curtain at the start and then a flag hung around the back of the caravan. That flag has, since Jerusalem’s first staging in 2009, continued to be associated with the far right, and the play’s bigger dewy-eyed ideas around Englishness carry a queasy proximity to the romanticised narrative that has been co-opted by the right.

"But any disagreement around the treatment of its themes cannot take away from its drama and the soaring central performance. Is it the greatest play of our times? Not in my view. But Rylance’s Rooster is surely the greatest performance of the century."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"Jodie Comer on formidable form in roaring drama"

"The Killing Eve star makes a masterful West End debut in Suzie Miller’s play about sexual assault and the legal system"

"Comer delivers. She roars through Suzie Miller’s script. The play roars, too, sometimes too loudly in its polemic, but Comer works overtime to elevate these moments."

"Comer’s performance compensates for the clompy-footed parts of Miller’s script, which falls into a loudly lecturing tone at the end. But Prima Facie’s final messages are urgent in highlighting who our laws fail to protect. If they are delivered in hammer blows, there is power in hearing them spoken on a West End stage, and Comer manages to infuse breath-taking emotional drama in every last word."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Funny Girl at the August Wilson Theatre (2022)

"Move Over, Barbra. Welcome, Beanie. A New Star Is Born."

"Like everyone else, I arrived at this refurbished classic dragging anxiety, trepidation and a show-me attitude with me, one eyebrow arched and wondering if this roly-poly newcomer was a misguided fool or the bravest kid in show business."

"One of several things accomplished by the newly revised book by Harvey Fierstein and the nimble direction of Michael Mayer in the shoes once filled by Garson Kanin is the shuffling around of the musical numbers. You don’t have to wait until the end of the first act for “People” or feel the thrill when your heart skips a beat on the passionate “Don’t Rain on My Parade”. They knock your socks off before the intermission. By that time, the star’s hidden magic hits you squarely in the heart in ways you didn’t see coming."

"She’s not the reincarnation of Barbra, and, wisely, no pale imitation, either (close but no cigar). She can’t sing like Streisand, although her voice is beautiful and clarion-clear, and musically, it hits the top of the second balcony without even trying. I think it’s safe to say she lacks both the same comic timing and the coldly calculated genius. But she does have one thing her legendary predecessor in the role did not have—a sweet, warm truthfulness that makes her more accessible. She’s familiar, comfortable in her skin, like an old friend. You’re wary and cautious at first, but she grows on you, like a lichen. By the time the intermission seamlessly arrives, you’re in love."

Rex Reed, The Observer
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The Corn is Green at the National Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"An inspirational heart-warmer in praise of good education"

"Emlyn Williams’ 1938 play is a kind of Billy Elliot of the Valleys: the old-fashioned but hugely entertaining and affecting story of a Welsh miner’s son who escapes his class-bound home town with the help of a bold schoolteacher"

"Dominic Cooke’s revival deploys a quirky theatrical device in which the playwright, Williams (Gareth David-Lloyd), is a character on stage who is constructing his story before the audience. This device cannot quite disguise the old-fashioned nature of the story or dampen its sentimentality, but it brings clever humour and is beguiling in its own right."

"Cooke’s direction is supremely well-paced and all of the performers have impeccable comic timing. Walker is delightful to watch, both in her angry exchanges with the supercilious Squire (Rufus Wright, excellently doltish), which bring sparky satire, and in her initially brusque attitude towards Davies’s sweet, laconic Evans."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Marys Seacole at the Donmar Warehouse (2022)

★★

"Mystifying drama about caring through the ages"

"Despite strong performances, Jackie Sibblies Drury’s play zigzags so much that it overshadows the remarkable life at its centre"

"The point about care and economic slavery is a crucial one, but the mother’s diatribe takes in the entire breadth of “white man terror” (from white supremacy to police violence) and it feels like a play speaking aloud all the racial ills of society in one gasping breath, using this character, and its finale, as a mouthpiece.

"She [Mary Seacole] is made gloriously flesh and blood by Kayla Meikle, a magnetic force who speaks in patois (or “patwah” as it is written in the script). Meikle keeps us hanging on her every word as she narrates a story that jumbles up character and chronology on Tom Scutt’s non-naturalistic stage, but does not carry a big enough payoff. The cast as a whole excels, playing multiple parts with deliberately overblown emotions and archness."

"It also leaves us with a sense that the figure of Mary Seacole is a vehicle used to explore our current-day issues too nakedly rather than a study of a singular life and its forgotten achievements."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Burnt City at the One Cartridge Place (2022)

★★★

"Spectacle eclipses story in siege of Troy epic"

"This immersive retelling of Greek tragedies is stylish and atmospheric but lacks narrative momentum and its scattered scenes can be frustratingly arcane"

"The immense space and its immersive elements are impressive – we really feel as if we are in a bombed-out city, travelling through its grime and crumbling grandeur. Even the bar is immersive, with its own Cabaret-style decadent and risque performances, with magnificent singing by Kimberly Nichole."

"There is an increasingly exhausting feeling in this three-hour show of moving around the circuit of rooms in search of more performers, more story. Some of the longer and more dynamic scenes, when they come, are enthralling. In the most powerful moment a group of men move towards a desperate huddle of Trojan women, one of whom is strung up, half-naked and bloodied. The terror and tragedy – of female sacrifice and male violation – pervades the vast room, which looks like a gladiator’s ring. It could be a scene from Pat Barker’s magnificent and horrifying The Silence of the Girls, though it uses no words. Its emotional power lands like a punch and shows us that this company can orchestrate fantastically potent human theatre."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Burnt City at the One Cartridge Place (2022)

★★★★★

"The immersive theatre trailblazers return with an all-consuming vision of the siege of Troy"

"The current embracing of all things classical – the National has just announced that a large-scale adaptation of The Odyssey will take place across the country next year – involves a search for a vocabulary that can encompass arbitrary and predictable terrors: blows from the gods and cycles of revenge horror. The Burnt City, a vision of the siege of Troy, draws on Aeschylus’s Agamemnon and Euripides’s Hecuba. It is not so much a re-enactment as a response to these works."

"Driving narrative is not Punchdrunk’s strong suit. Actually, the more driving (as in their 2009 It Felt Like a Kiss) the less original. They are creators of distilled moments. Crossing a border checkpoint into Troy, reimagined as a hub of decadence, you can see the Hotel Elysium (“no refunds”), a room in a tenement building with a half-eaten supper congealing in a Baby Belling, and a woman writhing in all-over leather as she waits for her dealer; Willow Weep for Me is playing. Almost most impressive are the apparently redundant rooms, places that might have been left as sketches but are meticulously realised: a taproom that has kegs of “Styx” and “Hades”; a pottery shop with rows of tiny clay figures of Poseidon and Athena. The most static scenes can contain an inward energy: magnificently, they urge you to look for the past that has made them."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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Scandaltown at the Lyric Hammersmith (2022)

★★★

"Smut and silliness in modern Restoration comedy"

"Mike Bartlett’s rambunctious capers with types including Lady Susan Climber and Matt Eton MP are great fun if not exactly stinging satire"

"However, the pace and wit sag after the interval, the final revelations are not dynamic enough and the mystery around an offensive outfit worn by Lady Climber has no payoff. In its story it contains shades of Henry Fielding’s Bildungsroman, Tom Jones, which was recently adapted into the musical What’s New Pussycat? but that show was far more effective in its comic revelations, twists and pacing.

Still, there is fun and fine acting along the way and as Bartlett instructs, it is all joyfully silly stuff."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Zorro The Musical at the Charing Cross Theatre (2022)

★★★

"Swordplay, seduction and castanets"

"The whiff of hamminess is never absent from the Zorro story and here both script and performances are endearingly alive to a sense of the ridiculous"

"All of the key ingredients of a classic Zorro storyline are present in this musical, from the cruel villain oppressing the peasants in a Los Angeles pueblo to the sultry-slash-feisty love interests our masked hero must choose between. And it’s presented with flamenco flair, with songs by the Gipsy Kings, those enduring monarchs of Latin pop, set to an original story by Helen Edmundson (Small Island) and lyricist Stephen Clark (Martin Guerre)."

"The women command the stage, including a five-strong female chorus whose impassioned lament for their broken village is the show’s most powerful moment. There’s huge verve, too, in the full-company numbers, courtesy of a couple of the Gipsy Kings’ most famous tunes, to the accompaniment of actor-musicians playing trumpets, fiddles and accordion."

Emma John, The Guardian
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The 47th at the The Old Vic (2022)

★★★

"Bertie Carvel is devilishly good but this Trumpian satire feels too soon"

"Mike Bartlett’s script turns US politics into Shakepearean comedy but falls oddly flat despite magnetising performances"

"Donald Trump’s inner circle has, in Mike Bartlett’s satire, turned into a Shakespearean court of a near future in which the former president is back in the game. The script, best in its granular moments of comedy, blends billionaire pomp with political chicanery, dynastic family drama and blank verse."

"There are some delightful lines in Bartlett’s script nonetheless and it is in these moments that the play sparkles: an incarcerated Trump in an orange jumpsuit gives his jailtime a PR spin by claiming it will endow him with a “cool Mandela feel” in the eyes of the people. His slanging matches and put downs of Biden, who he calls an “elderly wizard”. His eulogy of Machiavelli’s The Prince although he admits he hasn’t read it all because it was too long: “Someone summed it up, and it made sense.” And the moment when Harris tells Trump that his legacy is a farce: “You will be mocked if ever you will be remembered,” she says, and this play proves her point."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Anyone Can Whistle at the Southwark Playhouse (2022)

★★★★

"Sondheim flop gets a blazing revival"

"This elusive curiosity – whose original production in 1964 closed on Broadway after nine performances – finds brilliant new contexts for its absurdist story"

"Jordan Broatch, in their professional debut, is a blazingly engaging Hapgood, and Chrystine Symone gives soaring performances of the title number and Trumpets, making us glad Sondheim saw sense over that song’s excision, while Alex Young’s Mayor, adept at physical and vocal comedy, nails truths about political liars."

Mark Lawson, The Guardian
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To Kill A Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre (2022)

★★★★

"Harper Lee would approve of snappy Sorkin update"

"Rafe Spall is a dignified Atticus Finch in Aaron Sorkin’s smooth and confident adaptation, which finds modern-day resonances in the 1960 classic about racial injustice in the American south"

"The drama of the courtroom, as a whole, is when this production comes most fully alive, the testimonies of both Bob and Mayella Ewell (Patrick O’Kane and Poppy Lee Friar respectively, both sensational) are filled with tension, anger, betrayal and disbelief. There are modern-day resonances of Trump’s left-behinds in their characterisations that feel utterly real and uncontrived; both father and daughter sneer at Atticus’s intellectual elitism and could be today’s forgotten populists of the rust-belt."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Straight Line Crazy at the Bridge Theatre (2022)

★★★★★

"Ralph Fiennes enthrals as the man who shaped New York"

"Fiennes heads an electrifying cast in David Hare’s dynamic portrait of Robert Moses, an aggressive yet visionary urban planner who refused to back down"

"Nicholas Hytner’s populous production, with multi-location sets by Bob Crowley, continues the director’s trick, at his new venue, of somehow carrying on as if he has the budgets and resources previously available to him at the National."

"This is Hare’s most dramatically gripping and politically thoughtful play since The Absence of War three decades ago and provides another acting triumph for Fiennes which, in scenes where the urban monarch broods and rages over maps of his American kingdom, is a preview of the King Lear that is surely soon to come."

Mark Lawson, The Guardian
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The Human Voice at the Harold Pinter Theatre (2022)

★★

"Ruth Wilson fails to connect in Jean Cocteau’s tale of despair"

"Ivo van Hove’s production divests this drama of emotional power and momentum, keeping us at arm’s length"

"That drama is not captured here, nor its tension. The director Ivo van Hove also adapts Cocteau’s script and manages to divest it of its raw emotional power and momentum. It becomes as stripped and sterile as the empty glass box of a set, designed by Jan Versweyveld, which seems to keep us at arm’s length with its clinical inscrutability."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Cock at the Ambassadors Theatre (2022)

★★★

"Jonathan Bailey and Taron Egerton locked in a love triangle"

"Jade Anouka’s character causes an existential earthquake in Marianne Elliott’s stylised revival of Mike Bartlett’s comedy about sexual identity"

"It all combines into a slightly mystifying non-naturalism that is at once flamboyant and no-frills. And where the theatrical tics in Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s staging of Death of a Salesman gave the play an astonishing invention and power, the stylised elements here do not service this play’s meanings but seem like playful add-ons."

"One of the most powerful scenes comes at the end, in John’s childishly sulky intransigence, and here Cock’s drama ultimately reveals itself not as a contest between heteronormativity and gay partnerships, or a play about the right to resist one fixed identity, but a far more old-fashioned love triangle with a selfish, destructive and cruel figure at its centre."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Maria Friedman & Friends - Legacy at the Menier Chocolate Factory  (2022)

★★★

"Who’s up for a cabaret lock-in?"

"Looking back at the work of Sondheim, Hamlisch and Legrand, with glorious songs and personal stories, this is a mixed bag of a show"

"Her voice is crystalline, quivering, silky, deep or high, as the song requires it; it is filled with all the hope and youth of a wannabe in Broadway Baby and driven by mournful knowing in Losing My Mind."

"There are solos and group numbers, the latter coming together gorgeously in Hamlisch’s I Hope I Get It and in Legrand’s The Windmills of Your Mind. But the various elements make for a mixed bag of a show: partly a look back to three extraordinary legacies, with Sondheim at the centre, and also something of a “Maria Friedman show”, with stories about her life, family, struggles and career highs. This is charming but sometimes cheesy in its self-celebratory tone."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Collaboration at the The Young Vic (2022)

★★★

"Warhol and Basquiat mix paint and trade blows"

"Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope excel as the art world legends in Anthony McCarten’s account of a fractious friendship"

"An ebullient production under Kwame Kwei-Armah’s direction (there is even a live DJ though, oddly, the music is only cranked up in between scenes), it has two star turns in the central performances and a spectacular set from Anna Fleischle: paint-splattered floorboards and white brick walls which recreate the look of a loft studio. Duncan McLean’s magnificent projections conjure the New York skyline on semi-diaphanous panels."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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The Music Man at the Winter Garden Theatre (2022)

★★★

"Hugh Jackman dazzles in uneven Broadway show"

"The actor enthusiastically sings and dances through a big-budget version of the much-loved musical but the show around him isn’t always on his level"

"Throughout the swiftly paced production, Jackman looks like he’s been raring to go. As Hill, a con artist disguised as a traveling salesman who moves in on a small Iowa town, selling the promise of civic improvement through musical instruments, uniforms and band instruction, Jackman is appropriately snaky and cynical – when he’s not pretending to be an upstanding musical impresario, of course. But when he brings a signature number like 76 Trombones or a smaller one like Gary, Indiana to a close, there is unmistakable joy in his eyes; at times, facing the rapturous crowd reactions, he looked as if he might burst out laughing with glee."

"It’s tempting to say that for the rest of this production director Jerry Zaks can’t match the star power at its center, but that’s not quite it – not exactly. Sutton Foster plays the buttoned-up librarian Marion, who is immediately suspicious of Hill but starts to see the good in him even before he does, and she emerges as a formidable match for her co-star. This is particularly noticeable in the second act, which she periodically rescues the killer song score from its first-act front-loading."

Jesse Hassenger, The Guardian
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Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre (2022)

★★★

"Wonderfully Wild"

"With pyrotechnics, a looming elephant, scenery to die for and a cast with energy to burn, this revival only falters when it tries to update the tunes"

Kate Wyver, The Guardian
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Bring It On: The Musical at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (2021)

★★★

"Lin-Manuel Miranda leads the cheer"

"Love Island’s Amber Davies tops a charismatic cast, including Olympic gymnast Louis Smith, in a spirited show co-created by the Hamilton man"

"Amber Davies plays chief cheerleader Campbell who is ready to lead her school’s squad into competition when she is transferred to Jackson High – rumoured to be rough and, disastrously, without a cheerleading team. The first act is vigorously put across with power-pop and hip-hop, plus a couple of bland ballads that lower the temperature, in a show co-written with Amanda Green (lyrics) and Tom Kitt (music) that is slickly delivered, if occasionally generic and too neat. But let it boil and wait until the top of the second act for the show-stopper It’s All Happening, which has Miranda’s unmistakable sense of the moment and rise-up attitude, complete with exhilarating harmonies and blissful raps (some delivered by Smith)."

"Davies, who has lines that chime with her Love Island success, gives Campbell a spirited sense of determination and gradual depth, though her romance with Randall (Connor Carson) never catches fire. Vanessa Fisher richly delivers Danielle’s songs, Chloe Pole impresses as a fabulously self-involved queen of snark and Chelsea Hall is a riot as Bridget, who dresses up as her team’s piratical parrot mascot. Making her professional debut, Hall has charisma to spare in a performance that really does makes you cheer."

Chris Wiegand, The Guardian
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Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club (Playhouse Theatre) (2021)

★★★★

"Eddie Redmayne is electric in this blinder of a show"

"Redmayne and Jessie Buckley ‘Willkommen’ us into this Weimar-era Berlin nightclub for an evening of flamboyance, menace and magnetism"

"It does not matter that Redmayne’s voice is drowned out by the orchestra at times. He gives an immense, physicalised performance, both muscular and delicate, from his curled limbs to his tautly expressive fingertips."

"Tom Scutt’s stage design is expressionistic and imaginative: a train journey is represented by a model train revolving around the outer part of the three-tiered, circular stage. “Tomorrow Belongs to Me” has miniature model men standing to attention on the revolve, replaced by real men in its reprise, which is infused with ominous, stomping movements and a martial drum beat, prefiguring the terror to come."

"Redmayne creeps around the fringes of the stage when he is not performing, watching scenes from afar. If this show is sold on his star turn, we get more than our money’s worth with his blinding performance – in this blinder of a show."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Best of Enemies at the The Young Vic (2021)

★★★★

"James Graham’s superb study of media and politics"

"David Harewood and Charles Edwards go head-to-head as William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal respectively in an enthralling play based on a 1968 TV debate"

"At one very enjoyable level, Best of Enemies is – in the line of earlier Graham work and Peter Morgan’s Frost/Nixon – historical karaoke, recreating verbatim choice ideas and insults from the studio duels. The roar of complex thoughts and challenges to orthodoxy is so enthralling that it makes Radio 4’s Today programme sound like CBeebies.

But Graham and director Jeremy Herrin (with characteristic pace and clarity) crucially give this media archaeology a contemporary framing. The most striking modernity is casting. Charles Edwards’ Vidal delivers a near-perfect soundalike and acceptable lookalike, while Buckley, who can be seen as the epitome of a privileged white right-winger, is portrayed by the black British actor David Harewood. He exactly captures every aspect – drawl, lolling posture, facial tics – of the Republican’s awkward broadcasting persona, except for one element in the room."

Mark Lawson, The Guardian
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West Side Story  (2021)

★★★★★

"Spielberg’s triumphantly hyperreal remake"

"Steven Spielberg’s West Side Story 2.0 is an ecstatic act of ancestor-worship: a vividly dreamed, cunningly modified and visually staggering revival. No one but Spielberg could have brought it off, creating a movie in which Leonard Bernstein’s score and Stephen Sondheim’s lyrics blaze out with fierce new clarity. Spielberg retains María’s narcissistic I Feel Pretty, transplanted from the bridal workshop to a fancy department store where she’s working as a cleaner. This was the number whose Cowardian skittishness Sondheim himself had second thoughts about. But its confection is entirely palatable."

"[Ansel] Elgort and [Rachel] Zegler are a more real pair than Richard Beymer and Natalie Wood in the original: but they have the same fundamental innocence and quaint pre-pop, pre-youth-culture 60s unworldliness. West Side Story is contrived, certainly, a hothouse flower of musical theatre, and Spielberg quite rightly doesn’t try hiding any of those stage origins. His mastery of technique is thrilling; I gave my heart to this poignant American fairytale of doomed love."

Peter Bradshaw, The Guardian
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A Chorus Line at the Curve Leicester (2021)

★★★★

"A thrilling combination of sharp moves and snappy tunes"

"What a thrill, then, to see the deep Curve stage flooded with talented dancers, delighting in one of musical theatre’s most enthralling openings. And 5, 6, 7, 8: off they go, driven on by the irresistible brassy attack of Marvin Hamlisch’s score, rehearsing jazz and ballet combinations, supporting each other. As the group is whittled down, Zach calls on the remaining hopefuls to divulge personal truths while Cassie waits to privately confront him with hers."

"Nikolai Foster’s production, with a tight band and crisp choreography by Ellen Kane, extensively uses live video projection as a camera operator weaves among the dancers. It ramps up the intimacy of some of their stories and accentuates how wannabe movie star, Bobby, is literally ready for his closeup, but could do more to capture the sweaty exhilaration of being among a company of dancers."

Chris Wiegand, The Guardian
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The Book of Dust at the Bridge Theatre (2021)

★★★★

"A theatrical marvel. Nicholas Hytner brings a dazzling wizard’s touch to this adaptation of Philip Pullman’s fantasy tale"

"The stage is action-filled with one dangerous turn after another, which reflects the spirit of the original faithfully, albeit unleavened by the deeper philosophical ruminations in the book. The production only falls short of perfection for those who find themselves flagging at Pullman’s – rather than Hytner’s – breakneck pace and plotting."

"What is more remarkable is the production’s ability to keep closely to Pullman’s earth-bound and realistic brand of fantasy. Just as in Hytner’s previous production, the daemons are puppets (kingfishers, lemurs, badgers, each as gorgeous as the next). Designed and directed by Barnaby Dixon, they are a marvel and glow from within like luminous origami. They seem like Jungian projections rather than airy, fantastical creatures."

"Here is the ultimate Christmas show – with sacrilegious twists."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Wicked at the Apollo Victoria Theatre (2021)

★★★

"Friends of Dorothy may be diverted by this musical prequel to The Wizard of Oz. But, although it has been a hit in New York, it seems all too typical of the modern Broadway musical: efficient, knowing and highly professional but more like a piece of industrial product than something that genuinely touches the heart or mind."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the Duke of York's Theatre (2021)

★★★★

"Neil Gaiman’s monsters will leave you cowering"

"Shapeshifting creatures take centre stage in Katy Rudd’s production that terrifyingly evokes childhood nightmares and family trauma"

"this is a genuine rarity – a show that enthrals all generations without patronising any"

Claire Allfree, The Guardian
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Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) at the Criterion Theatre (2021)

★★★★

"Rough-hewn but joyous musical take on the classic novel works in everything from Carly Simon to Chris de Burgh"

"As far as McArthur’s script goes, the (*sort of) in the title is key, with comedy that is hearty and upfront in place of Austen’s sly satire although it captures the essence of the book."

"The show has the spirit of fringe theatre and its rough-hewn, riotous nature might have sat at odds with this West End venue but it proves a natural fit with just the right balance between scrappiness and careful orchestration."

"However inconceivable a production it sounds, with its karaoke numbers and its silliness, it creates something new and joyous from the old."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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A Christmas Carol - A Ghost Story at the Nottingham Playhouse (2021)

★★★

"Mark Gatiss’s witty dash through Dickens"

"Gatiss’s delayed rework amps up the ghostly effects while drawing out the overlooked dark comedy in the classic tale"

"Other atmosphere-building exchanges – of an impoverished mother singing to her child, of street crowds – are too many, too short, and feel like pauses to the story. Some key moments feel too fleeting and don’t carry enough emotion, including Tiny Tim’s deathbed scene. But when the human drama slows down, it gains an emotional catch, such as a romantic pause between Belle (Aoife Gaston) and the young Scrooge, and the final scene between Scrooge and Bob Cratchit (Edward Harrison); we wish for a few more of these."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical at the Lyric Theatre (2021)

★★★

"It’s the music that carries the emotional weight in this tale of love, loss and roots rock, starring the superb Arinzé Kene"

"Clint Dyer’s pulsating production has the spirit of a staged concert with spoken scenes tucked in between the songs, and with the emotional freight of the story carried in its celebrated music. Sometimes this means that character and dialogue are sacrificed but the music is infectious – and there is a central performance from Arinzé Kene that soars and tingles the spine."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Back to the Future at the Adelphi Theatre (2021)

★★★

"The car’s the star: this is a splashy theatre-film mashup, with gravity-defying effects, cute quirks and offbeat gags"

"The cast appear to imitate their film counterparts: Olly Dobson’s sweet, hapless, Marty McFly looks and acts like Michael J Fox and Hugh Coles’s George McFly replicates the gestures of his original, as do Marty’s mother, Lorraine (Rosanna Hyland), and the school bully, Biff (Aidan Cutler). Roger Bart’s “Doc” Emmett Brown begins the same way but his characterisation grows distinctive quirks and he ends up as an even more off-the-wall creation than Christopher Lloyd’s zany original."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Frozen The Musical at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (2021)

★★★★★

"Stunning musical extravaganza creates its own magic"

"Beyond the visual thrills and powerful ballads, this adaptation brings an unexpected depth to the relationship between two tortured sisters"

"Gradually, however, it grows to become its own magical thing, with some charming inventions and a few new songs (the best of which is an audacious comic number, appearing out of nowhere to satirise the Nordic notion of hygge as naked characters conga out of a sauna). What is more surprising than the uniformly storming singing voices and the theatrical razzmatazz is the sense of a real, beating heart in the relationship between the two tortured sisters."

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre (2021)

★★★★★

"Not so much a ball as a blast"

"The original story and book by Emerald Fennell have heart and a torrent of barbed wit, exposing the faulty morals in traditional fairytales without scrimping on glittering trimmings. David Zippel’s crystalline lyrics are attuned to Fennell’s dialogue, cheekily satirical yet wistful and uplifting too."

"In the first of several superb solos, Bad Cinderella, Carrie Hope Fletcher owns the rebellious reputation Cinders has been given. Sneering and raging, she is another of Lloyd Webber’s outsiders and akin to Dewey Finn in School of Rock. Belleville’s prim musical motifs recall those for the elite institution where Finn caused chaos. Fletcher slips brilliantly into her character with winning appeal, her despair revealed in Unbreakable, which evokes Close Every Door from Joseph."

Chris Wiegand, The Guardian
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Jersey Boys at the Trafalgar Theatre (2021)

★★★★

"Four Seasons story still hits all the high notes"

"The doo-wop musical returns to the West End: a cracking true tale of mob connections, bad debts, prison spells and soaring success, with a seemingly endless catalogue of hits"

"Some jukebox musicals treat the songs as a jumping off point for fantasy. Jersey Boys – returning to the West End, where it first ran from 2008 to 2017 – is the opposite, just the band’s own story, soundtracked by the songs as Bob Gaudio and Bob Crewe wrote them."

Lyndsey Winship, The Guardian
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Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre (2021)

★★★★★

"Stageful of sugar is a rapturous delight"

"Zizi Strallen is excellent as the buoyant nanny in Eyre’s chippy and enduring show, which also calls on Julian Fellowes, Matthew Bourne and Petula Clark"

"I was rather grudging in my praise when I first saw this musical in 2004. Richard Eyre’s production, based on the PL Travers stories and the Disney movie and supplementing the Richard and Robert Sherman songs with new ones by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, was more remarkable for its clinical efficiency than its pulsating joy. Either the show, which has enjoyed a long UK tour, has changed or I have: it now strikes me as rapturously pleasurable."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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The Phantom of the Opera at the Her Majesty's Theatre (2021)

★★★★

"The music of the night is back"

"A new cast refreshes Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical, its pop melodies, maximalist designs and unconventional romantic lead standing the test of time."

"The show has a dedication to analogue theatrical effects, from trapdoors and smoke to a skull-topped cane shooting fireballs, and, sure, there’s something hokey about the Phantom playing gondolier in the boat to his subterranean lair. But the late Maria Björnson’s maximalist designs, from vivid masquerade ball to Degas-style ballet dancers, set the tone for old-school fantasy. Go big or go home, as they say."

Lyndsey Winship, The Guardian
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Anything Goes at the Barbican Theatre (2021)

★★★★★

"Sutton Foster dazzles in Cole Porter’s fizzing tonic for our times"

"This 1934 show is Depression-era escapism fit for post-Covid times. If you want to remove yourself from the world for a few hours, this is the place to do it."

"The main thing to know is there’s Sutton Foster, the US actor already won a Tony for her performance as Reno Sweeney on Broadway. The show revolves around her full-beam lustre. She can belt and growl like a brassy broad (Ethel Merman originated the role) or let her voice ring pure and clear. She can play moments of vulnerability but most of all she’s just having fun, rattling out dance numbers, leading the chorus, getting a kick out of the show..."

Lyndsey Winship, The Guardian
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Anything Goes at the Barbican Theatre (2021)

★★★★★

"Sutton Foster dazzles in Cole Porter’s fizzing tonic for our times"

"This 1934 show is Depression-era escapism fit for post-Covid times. If you want to remove yourself from the world for a few hours, this is the place to do it."

"The main thing to know is there’s Sutton Foster, the US actor already won a Tony for her performance as Reno Sweeney on Broadway. The show revolves around her full-beam lustre. She can belt and growl like a brassy broad (Ethel Merman originated the role) or let her voice ring pure and clear. She can play moments of vulnerability but most of all she’s just having fun, rattling out dance numbers, leading the chorus, getting a kick out of the show..."

Lyndsey Winship, The Guardian
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Les Miserables at the Sondheim Theatre (2020)

★★★★★

" Just hear these people sing!"

"With a cast that never misses a note, the West End’s longest-running musical proves a haunting and thrilling inspiration"

"This new version is less showy than the original; no longer a spectacle to lean back and admire but, instead, something more truthful and, ultimately, more moving. The battles, the poverty, the degradation and the danger: all feel more relevant and real."

Miriam Gillinson, The Guardian
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Cirque Du Soleil - Luzia at the Royal Albert Hall (2020)

★★★★

"The Canadian company’s colourful Mexican-flavoured show is full of heart-stopping skill, dreamy lyricism and visual whimsy"

"On such a grand scale, there’s inevitably a level of generic anonymity, here backed by Mexican-flavoured world muzak and a bit too much clown filler. But Luzia is one of the company’s stronger shows and also brings surprises and engaging, tongue-in-cheek characters"

"Most joyfully awesome to witness is the swing-to-swing: two huge swinging platforms that acrobats launch themselves between, twirling, twisting or just seemingly floating, suspended high in the sky. This is the effortless, heart-stopping skill you go to see Cirque for – the times when bigger really is better."

Lyndsey Winship, The Guardian
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Magic Goes Wrong at the Vaudeville Theatre (2020)

★★★

"A fun night out"

"There’s real magic to enjoy alongside the tomfoolery. Stunts and tricks go awry in this slapstick romp, though the running gag makes it hard to conjure suspense."

 "A fun night out, then – even if the chainsaw that slices Sophisticato’s mother in two is the closest it ever gets to a cutting edge."

Brian Logan, The Guardian
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Cyrano de Bergerac at the Playhouse Theatre (2019)

★★★★

"Lloyd’s production makes you see an old play with fresh eyes"

“This is a Cyrano that dispenses with conventional spectacle, colourful costumes and visual flummery. Given that Rostand set out in 1897 to provide an antidote to naturalistic drama this may seem perverse. But Lloyd’s production makes you see an old play with fresh eyes and the opening image, in Soutra Gilmour’s stark design, of Cyrano staring fixedly at himself in a mirror, turns Rostand’s comedy into a study in physical and linguistic self-regard.”

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Jagged Little Pill at the Broadhurst Theatre (2019)

★★★★

"Alanis musical hits Broadway with a bang"

"Oscar-winning screenwriter Diablo Cody has brought Alanis Morissette’s music to the stage with a contrived yet hugely entertaining show"

"On Broadway, Jagged Little Pill harnesses the hyperemotionalism of its source to shake off the cynicism and formulaic strictures of the typical jukebox musical. Yes, its plot is shaky and contrived, its songs – and there are so, so many of them – histrionic. It seizes on enough hot-button issues – sexual assault, the opioid epidemic, internet addiction, workaholism, misogyny, sex and gender identity, and OK, sure, gun violence, too – to singe the first row. It is, indisputably, too much and that too muchness is what makes it so watchable."

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian
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& Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre (2019)

★★

"Pop mogul Max Martin's bizarre jukebox bonanza"

"Songs of the prolific Swedish tunesmith are shoehorned into a silly Shakespeare-derived story for this misguided West End musical"

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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& Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre (2019)

★★★★

"The bard goes bubblegum"

"A fun, feminist makeover of Romeo and Juliet chooses life – with a great pop soundtrack"

"The amusing twists and turns are bolstered by seismic pop hits by the Swedish super-producer and writer Max Martin. The play weaves a selection of his best-known tracks, including hits he created for Britney Spears (...Baby One More Time and Oops!... I Did It Again), Ariana Grande (Break Free, Problem) and Kesha (Blow). Each song is performed earnestly but with the sense that everyone is aware how hilariously the songs intersect with the narrative..."

"& Juliet packs a lot of fun into its sharp, witty story of self-discovery. Its best message? That bubblegum pop, far from being manufactured filler, is a worthy accompaniment to the greatest of storytellers."

Gregory Robinson, The Observer
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DEAR EVAN HANSEN at the Noel Coward Theatre (2019)

★★★★

"High-school musical captures agonies of youth"

"Sam Tutty shines as the lonely student who fabricates a friendship with a dead boy, but this award-winning musical has plot holes"

"The music and lyrics by Benj Pasek and Justin Paul – who collaborated on the movies La La Land and The Greatest Showman – are good enough to overcome the occasional holes in the story."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Groan Ups at the Vaudeville Theatre (2019)

★★★

"This is more a study of the life that goes pear-shaped"

“From age six to 30, Mischief Theatre’s engaging band of classmates bicker and play but rarely test the assumption that character is formed in childhood”

“Instead of The Play That Goes Wrong, this is more a study of the life that goes pear-shaped”

“It proves fitfully enjoyable but is overshadowed by works that have ploughed the same theatrical furrow”

“The problem is that drama depends on change whereas this play argues that we mature without ever growing up”

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Lungs at the The Old Vic (2019)

★★★★

"Claire Foy and Matt Smith shine in climate crisis drama"

"Duncan Macmillan’s two-hander is a frenetic portrait of flawed love in a flawed world, exposing the neuroses of a modern couple who struggle to put their principles aside and their existential crisis is as much about sexual politics as it is about the environment.”

“Rob Howell’s set design, like the original, is minimalist to the extreme, empty but for a solar-panelled floor and two tiles on opposite sides propped up by rock crystals – a sly satirical reminder of the couple’s fashionable, new age environmentalism.”

“Foy and Smith manage the switches of mood and tone with a virtuosity that verges on ostentatious, and there are very few off-moments in pace. It is only the last sequence, in which times speeds up and characters, present and imagined, grow up, age or die within seconds, which feels rushed, gimmicky and riddled with cliche.”

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
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Vassa at the Almeida Theatre (2019)

★★★

"Siobhan Redmond is impressive"

"Siobhan Redmond is impressive as a tyrannical mother trying to rescue her debt-ridden family in Tinuke Craig’s strangely rootless production"

“Bartlett and Craig, however, strip it of any historical context to give us a blackly comic account of the destructive nature of the profit-driven family.”

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg at the Trafalgar Theatre (2019)

★★★★

"Peter Nichols' classic has rare truth"

“Excellent performances from a cast including Toby Stephens and Claire Skinner”

“Clarence Smith is very funny as a do-gooder who believes money can fix everything”

“While Nichols’s play may have lo

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Solaris at the Lyric Hammersmith (2019)

★★★★

"Love and loneliness collide in best take yet on sci-fi classic"

“David Greig’s adaptation...Although rooted in the novel, it takes bold and rewarding liberties with character and plot”

“consummately staged by Matthew Lutton...bringing a human scale to the otherworldly seascapes and arid spaceship interiors created by designer Hyemi Shin”

“With its sharp, cinematic cuts and rumbling waves of sound, Solaris troubles and tantalises.”

Mark Fisher, The Guardian
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Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (2019)

★★★

"Not only critic-proof, but maybe also story-proof."

"Moulin Rouge is one of those shows that is not only critic-proof, but maybe also story-proof. In Alex Timbers’s production, with a book by John Logan, the characters are so thinly drawn that they disappear behind their corsetry and the love triangle so lopsided that it defies most laws of geometry. Any subtext has been shoved into a push-up bra and short shorts. It doesn’t matter."

"About that duke: Mutu is a charismatic actor and his scenes with Olivo are taut and charged. Tveit, a handsome face attached to a rich lyric tenor, has by contrast all the sexual charisma of a baked potato. His scenes with Olivo seem friendly, nothing more. He wants them to run off together – and what? Have a picnic?"

"That lack of chemistry should kill Moulin Rouge. It doesn’t. Why? Well, to put it in words that make as much sense as anything in Logan’s book: “Giuchie, giuchie, ya ya da da / Giuchie, giuchie, ya ya here.” No one has bought a ticket expecting credible psychology or depth of character."

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian
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Jean Paul Gaultier Fashion Freak Show at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (2019)

★★★★

"A fabulous fiesta of fabric and flesh"

"Lucha libre masks, conical bras, banana skirts – this voguing, strutting, dancing celebration of the fashion designer’s life and influences is a lot of fun"

"Jean Paul Gaultier’s Fashion Freak Show may be all about clothes, but there’s as much flesh as there is fabric here; it’s as much a celebration of bodies and sensuality and sexual freedom as it is a fabulously fun romp through the French designer’s life and career."

Lyndsey Winship, The Guardian
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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium (2019)

★★★★

"Sheridan Smith and Jason Donovan bring charisma to a jubilant revival"

"I first saw this show in 1972 when it was a modest 40-minute musical playing at Edinburgh festival. Now it is a two-hour spectacle. What keeps the show alive is its delight in simple storytelling, the bounce of Tim Rice’s lyrics and the merry eclecticism of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s score, which embraces country and western, calypso, French chanson and Elvis-style rock. "

"Sheridan Smith and Jason Donovan bring charisma to a jubilant revival – but neither can match the young dreamer at its centre"

"The discovery is Yarrow, who plays Joseph as a naive dreamer slowly waking up to his prophetic gifts. He stops the show with his rendering of Close Every Door, which he delivers with rising anguish."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Wife at the Kiln Theatre (2019)

★★★★

"Rousing look at 60 years of sexual identity"

"Adamson’s discrete episodes are held together by two things. One is the familial link between the characters. The other, even more crucial, is the idea that we are still wrestling with the problem Ibsen confronted in a pioneering way: how to balance personal freedom with equality in relationships. Adamson suggests we are a long way off achieving this."

"The play is alive, endlessly curious, inventively staged by Indhu Rubasingham, with six excellent actors assuming multiple roles."

"You could argue that Adamson is better at capturing homosexual than heterosexual relationships, but the great quality of his play is that it shows we are still waiting for the miracle promised at the end of A Doll’s House and that the quest for the ideal continues."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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The Starry Messenger at the Wyndham's Theatre (2019)

★★★

"Kenneth Lonergan’s tale of astronomy and midlife misery makes fine use of an A-list cast but never truly explodes into life. Sam Yates directs with due care but, for all its perceptiveness, I felt Lonergan’s play would work even better on the screen.”

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Sergei Polunin at the London Palladium (2019)

★★

"The bad boy of ballet’s self-absorbed mixed bill is unlikely to win over his detractors"

"It’s a cabaret of inelegant clowning, weakened by a disjointed movement style and misogynist undertones. There’s a commendable intensity to Polunin’s tortured characterisation, though his technical performance seems half-hearted, a muster of spiritless leaps and off-kilter fouettés. Kobborg is a sturdy nemesis, but the supporting ensemble of mimes look under-rehearsed, fumbling their timing as they lurch from poker-faced to fancy-free."

"As much as the public loves a redemption arc, it’s hard to imagine Polunin achieving this with such a naked lack of self-awareness."

Sara Veale, The Observer
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Sergei Polunin at the London Palladium (2019)

★★

"Storm, stress and sweet torment
"

"Ballet and B-movies collide as Sergei Polunin revives Russian villain Rasputin, suffers with Nijinsky, and tackles toxic masculinity with a pineapple.

A world away from the norms of British ballet, the B-movie, scenery-chomping style is rollickingly enjoyable, though perhaps more as failed seriousness than intended effect."

Sanjoy Roy, The Guardian
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Betrayal at the Harold Pinter Theatre (2019)

★★★★

"Hiddleston is superb in haunting drama of deception"

"Of the many versions of the play I've seen over the past 40 years this one goes furthest in stripping the action of circumstantial detail."

"As Emma and Jerry meet for a drink long after their relationship is over, we are aware of the gaunt, unforgiving presence of Tom Hiddleston as Emma's husband, Robert, in the background. In the Venetian scene where Robert first learns of Emma's affair, Charlie Cox's Jerry is both physically and spiritually present."

"The great gain... is that the focus is on the play's psychological intricacy and on the acting. Hiddleston, especially, is superb in conveying Robert's unhealed emotional wounds.

"Ashton also subtly brings out Emma's capacity to love two men simultaneously. She suggests a free spirit yet one capable of exquisite tenderness: even when forced to confess her adultery, her hand gently traces Robert's forearm as if softening the blow and reminding him that her passion is still intact. "

"The revelation of this excellent production is its reminder that betrayal is never-ending and that the one deceived forever haunts the imagination."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre, (2019)

★★★

"Bittersweet Broadway musical served warm in the West End"

"Initially, the show struck me as raucous and improbable. Bareilles' lyrics often get lost under an over-loud onstage band and I couldn't wholly believe in the plight of the pregnant protagonist, Jenna, a waitress and classy pie cook in a typical American diner...But I found myself warming to Jessie Nelson's book and to the vigour of the songs.

"The performances, in Diane Paulus's lively production, are very much part of the show's appeal. Katharine McPhee, from the original New York cast, endows Jenna with a vulnerability, kindness and inbuilt sadness that only finds release in her extramarital fling: she also delivers her big climactic solo with real verve."

"....a show that has a fair share of schlock but a genuinely warm heart."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Come From Away at the Phoenix Theatre (2019)

★★★

"Relentless niceness in tale of post-9/11 Canadian kindness"

"This musical about plane passengers diverted to Newfoundland on 11 September has plenty of heart but not enough bite"

"The songs, which have a folk-rock feel, are good and Christopher Ashley’s direction and Kelly Devine’s musical staging ingeniously use rearranged chairs to evoke both a suffocating plane cabin and the diverse spaces opened to the visitors: there is one heartstopping moment when the passengers, hitherto kept in the dark about events in New York, gaze in silent horror at TV images of the Twin Towers. In a 12-strong ensemble, there are also striking performances from Rachel Tucker as a trailblazing female pilot, Robert Hands and Helen Hobson as loners who find love in unlikely circumstances and Jenna Boyd and Cat Simmons as two women united by maternal anxiety. The show could hardly be better done even if, as a work of art, I found it lacking in complexity and argument."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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9 to 5 The Musical at the Savoy Theatre (2019)

★★★

"Slick and stylish Dolly Parton period piece"

"This beloved revenge fantasy is as subtle as a sledgehammer but its advocacy of workplace equality makes it hard to dislike"

"The show itself is unashamedly a period piece and .. it is stylishly put across in Jeff Calhoun’s production."

"Caroline Sheen, as the office supervisor, sings and dances with great verve and she is well supported by Natalie McQueen as Doralee, Amber Davies as Judy and Bonnie Langford as the closeted sex queen. Given the unenviable task of playing the lecherous chief exec, Brian Conley invests the character with the right tongue-in-cheek excess."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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All About Eve at the Noel Coward Theatre (2019)

★★★

"Classic Hollywood updated with technical wizardry"

"Gillian Anderson and Lily James give fine performances but this version of the 1950 film might be a little too clever for its own good"

"This is a show that reeks of chic. Yet, for all its skill, I found myself admiring its cleverness more than relishing its drama."

"a clever, mixed-media hybrid that never achieves the emotional pull of first-rate drama."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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All About Eve at the Noel Coward Theatre (2019)

★★★

"Van Hove’s paraphernalia is there – the cameras circling the stage, the video screen capturing and magnifying the action. But Anderson is a strong enough actress not to be lost in all that. She doubly proves her strength: she is not, like Davis, a swaggerer; she is a scalpel, who does not volcanically implode but slowly peels away her defensive layers. "

"In the title role, James fares less well. She exhibits presence but small range. She is too obviously manipulative at the beginning, too simply nasty at the end; her mouth too constantly on the curl."

"The production is too entranced with glamour to be sinister, the space insufficiently claustrophobic for quarrels to be threatening. There is a more haunting show circling this enjoyable, glitzy one."

Susannah Clapp, The Observer
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True West at the Vaudeville Theatre (2018)

★★★

"Kit Harington and Johnny Flynn are good, if slightly mismatched, as the brothers in Sam Shepard’s haunting play"

"Enjoyable as Matthew Dunster’s revival is, I felt the play works best in small theatres and that the central pairing doesn’t achieve a perfect balance."

"Even if the central casting leaves something to be desired, it remains a pungent Shepard’s pie."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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The Cher Show at the Neil Simon Theatre (2018)

★★★

"Broadway musical is a mixed bag of pop excess"

'A jukebox ode to the megastar contains some dazzling numbers but suffers from some clumsy storytelling.'

'Only rarely do the songs tell the story. Mostly they’re slotted in as emotional punctuation (Half Breed, Bang Bang), but frequently they pop as little more than fan service. The Beat Goes On is successfully repurposed to detail Cher’s time on Broadway and in Hollywood, but otherwise the best numbers are the ones that dispense with story entirely, like Ain’t Nobody’s Business, which begins as a song about network censorship and then segues into a hallucinatory Bob Mackie fashion show.'

'Though there are three Chers, it’s clear from the opening number that Block, with her tigress contralto and comic authority, is the goddess of this particular trinity. Diamond is sweet and Wicks is sharp and they’re fine singers both, but their roles are secondary – inevitable if you imagine the singer’s life as a teleological gallop toward self-actualization.'

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian
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The Cher Show at the Neil Simon Theatre (2018)

"If We Could Turn Back Time, We’d Skip The Cher Show"

"To hear her tell it, Cher struggled most of her life to be taken seriously. When her name flashed in the trailer for 1983’s Silkwood, audiences in the theater apparently laughed. She recalls the jeers. I’m not sure whether The Cher Show corrects this perception, or if it’s part of the problem. While this fleshly, bespangled jukebox musical seems to worship its purple-voiced pop icon, it dances stubbornly on the surface of her phenomenon, rendering her a wry, camp cipher."

"Its three leading ladies are working their bethonged butts off. All three rock Bob Mackie’s ridiculous, salacious frocks and finesse the script’s lurching motion from sincerity to silliness. The costumes are a hoot: miles of midriff and retro eye candy that would be ugly if it weren’t hilarious."

"The show lacks heart, and heart is what Cher has in abundance. That’s how she survived—which I doubt The Cher Show will be able to do past six months."

David Cote, The Observer
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Clueless - The Musical at the The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (2018)

★★

'Movie fans will hear all of their favorite lines– “As if!” “Way harsh!” “You’re a virgin who can’t drive” – and see most of their favorite outfits.'

'The cast is enthusiastic. Will Connolly as stoner Travis and Megan Sikora as a couple of teachers are especially fine.'

Alicia Silverstone, the movie’s Cher, was so effortlessly likable and so sweet in her scheming, she neatly dodged any dumb blonde stereotypes. Cameron is charming, but she lacks that ridiculous magnetism, which makes her smarts an open question and her stakes awfully low.'

Alexis Soloski, The Guardian
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Clueless - The Musical at the The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (2018)

'The Way Harsh Truth About ‘Clueless, The Musical’: It Stinks'

'Teen princess Cher Horowitz and her friends sing familiar melodies with dummy lyrics that are truly dumb.'

'In the end, the creative team is both too faithful to the screenplay (one bad-driving scene is plenty) and too irreverent with the pop spirit of the period. Both are shortchanged, and we get neither a compelling stage play nor songs that anyone could fall for.'

David Cote, The Observer
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Fiddler On The Roof at the Meniere Chocolate Factory (2018)

★★★★★

"Musically, geopolitically, emotionally, this Fiddler raises the roof."

'Although much-loved and often revived, Fiddler on the Roof has been charged with excessive sentimentality and piety. But, as Trevor Nunn’s magnificent revival amplifies, the show daringly contrasts lightness and darkness.'

'The terrifying resurgence of antisemitism makes the musical cruelly topical once more, and the final sequence of the villagers fleeing invokes other forced diasporas. Characteristically, Nunn roots the lines in vivid social and physical detail.'

Matt Lawson, The Guardian
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Hole at the Royal Court Theatre (2018)

★★★

‘Ellie Kendrick livens up her inventive debut with astrophysics and ancient Greek myth – but it could use more concrete argument’

‘It is odd, original, inventively staged by Helen Goalen and Abbi Greenland from RashDash, and vigorously performed by its six-strong cast. But in its fury, it leaves little room for doubt, argument or internal challenge.’

‘What I craved was some more concrete notion as to how women, in practice, are to revolutionise and reshape the future.’

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Billionaire Boy at the NST City, Southampton (2018)

★★★

“Jon Brittain’s musical adaptation of David Walliams’s tale of Joe Spud, the richest boy in the country, has plenty to sing about”

“Children in the audience were so rapt they even clamoured for the lettuce leaves Raj (Avita Jay) throws them instead of sweets.”

Clare Brennan, The Guardian
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Hadestown at the National Theatre (2018)

★★★★

"A beguiling fable for today"

"There are some cracking songs in Rachel Chavkin and Anaïs Mitchell’s haunting journey through the underworld"

"What strikes me most is its tendency, like its hero, to look backwards as well as forwards. Hadestown’s starting point is the classical legend of the poet-musican Orpheus, who descends into the underworld to rescue his beloved Eurydice."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Company at the Gielgud Theatre (2018)

★★★★

"Sex-switch Sondheim proves a heavenly fling"

"Company is one of the great grown-up musicals. However, where Harold Prince’s 1970 production was vertical, Elliott’s is horizontal. The original had a split-level chrome and Plexiglas set that captured the frenzy, anxiety and isolation of life in Manhattan."

"Company was the first musical I saw on Broadway and has always had a special place in my affections. It is gratifying to see it not just being revived but also intelligently reimagined."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Translations at the National Theatre (2018)

★★★★★

"A flawless take on Friel's culture-clash masterpiece."

"Brian Friel’s play about the infinite mysteries of language is richly realised in a meticulous Ian Rickson production, with excellent performances from a strong cast."

"Friel’s masterly play is steeped in irony and itself beautifully written. My own favourite line comes when a ragged old Irish Homer worshipper, asked by Owen if he is well, simply replies: “Dodging about. There is, however, no dodging about in Rickson’s production, which feels both large and intimate."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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My Name Is Lucy Barton at the Bridge Theatre (2018)

★★★★

"Elizabeth Strout’s novel works outstandingly on stage, thanks to sole performer Linney’s nuanced command of the narrative."

"Linney switches easily between different modes. She talks to us, the audience, with warmth and ease. When she characterises Lucy’s mother, prattling on about the marital misfortunes of sundry relations, her voice acquires a rasping, midwestern edge."

"You can see the story in several ways but it is partly about the enforced loneliness of the writer who, at the same time, reinforces our common humanity. Linney, as a performer, has mastered the art of public solitude and gives you the uncanny feeling that you are listening not to an invented story but a slice of lived experience.”

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Killer Joe at the Trafalgar Studios (2018)

★★★★

"Orlando Bloom's hitman-cop is queasily gripping."

"This revival of Tracy Letts’s violent play about a grotesquely dysfunctional family keeps the audience uncomfortable."

"However uncomfortable the play makes you, Letts keeps you hooked from the outset.Letts’s play is like a blackly comic parody of a whole raft of family dramas."

"I admit to feeling uneasy at the play’s use of female nudity – though, possibly in the interests of gender equality, we also get to see Bloom’s bare bottom – and Simon Evans’s production overplays the atmospheric thunder and lightning and undercooks the comedy. It is, however, extremely well acted. Sophie Cookson admirably suggests that Dottie’s seeming simplicity conceals a sharp-eyed awareness, Adam Gillen captures her brother’s borderline hysteria born out of a thwarted incestuous passion while Steffan Rhodri as their father and Neve McIntosh as their stepmother nicely mix the dim and the deceitful."

"Cleverly plotted and queasily gripping, Letts’s play offers a prophetic portrait of a society that, in its reliance on the small screen, is in danger of entertaining itself to death.”

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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Tina - The Tina Turner Musical at the Aldwych Theatre (2018)

★★★★

"Whirlwind Turner tribute leaves you breathless"

"As bio-musicals go, this is as good as it gets. The show rests on the shoulders of Warren, who is rarely off stage and who is simply astonishing. Above all, she captures the fact there is not one Tina Turner but several. Warren shows how Tina develops and changes as a singer and how, in moving to rock stardom, she retains her ferocious energy while introducing occasional notes of plangent melancholy."

"What is striking is the way the songs – and there are 23 of them – are used in a variety of ways. Sometimes they are there to advance the narrative, as when Tina steps into the breach in the recording studio and rescues a session by singing A Fool in Love."

"At other times, they demonstrate her capacity for reinvention: in River Deep, Mountain High she follows Phil Spector’s injunction to stick to the melody rather than relying on the kind of aggressive fervour encouraged by Ike."

"The tricky role is that of Ike, and Kobna Holdbrook-Smith skilfully counters his monstrosity by suggesting that he never got his due as a pre-Elvis rock’n’roll pioneer and that he was a product of a culture that encouraged male swagger: you don’t like Ike but you begin to understand him. That, however, is the mark of a production by Phyllida Lloyd that is both intelligent and consistently good to look at."

Michael Billington, The Guardian
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