Reviews for London Theatre and West End shows from theatre industry publication The Stage.
Here’s a selection of reviews of London shows from the theatre and arts critics at The Stage newspaper.
Anya Ryan also contributes to The Stage reviews.
See below for a full run-down of star ratings and theatre opinions about West End shows in London from The Stage.
The Trials at the Donmar Warehouse (2022)
"Timely and troubling speculative drama imagines the grim repercussions of our current climate emergency"
"Though the dialogue’s sometimes bogged down in didacticism, King pushes beyond simplistic questions of right and wrong."
"The jurors, meanwhile, are played with great commitment and focus by a young cast, many making their professional debuts as part of the Donmar Local programme, which encourages community engagement around Camden and Westminster."
All of Us at the National Theatre (2022)
"Fizzes with rage and protest"
"Martinez, who has lived with cerebral palsy all her life but prefers the term ‘wobbly’, gives a warm and funny performance as Jess, a kind-hearted therapist who thrives on helping others but struggles to ask for help herself. When Jess is forced to pointlessly have her disability reassessed (a notoriously degrading process with a limited view of the nuances of disability, so much so that there’s a petition to scrap it), she loses part of her Personal Independence Payment. As a result, a domino effect is triggered – impacting her work, social life and sense of self."
South Pacific at the Sadler's Wells (2022)
"Daniel Evans’ delicately revelatory staging is a Rodgers and Hammerstein revival for the ages"
"This is emotionally and intellectually stimulating musical theatre bliss that retains its ability to shock"
Identical at the Nottingham Playhouse (2022)
"Young twins excel in Trevor Nunn’s uneven production of Erich Kästner’s post-war children’s classic"
"Designer Robert Jones provides a sequence of glamorous Mitteleuropean backdrops, accentuated by slick video design by Douglas O’Connell. But director Trevor Nunn has never been known for brevity and this family show is no exception."
"This musical has considerable charm and real potential, but the pacing could be peppier and some more memorable tunes wouldn’t go amiss. Kästner’s novel served as an allegory for post-war reconciliation and the ending is appropriately tear-jerking, although it isn’t unreasonable to suppose that years of therapy might be on the cards once the teenage hormones kick in."
The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe at the Gillian Lynne Theatre (2022)
"There's no denying its charm"
"Inventive adaptation of the CS Lewis classic arrives in the West End"
"The production does feel tonally divided, as if it can’t quite decide whether it’s a Vera Lynn-singing nostalgic ode or a radical interpretation that recasts the Narnian resistance as climate activists. But, overall, it does a good job of telling the story with clarity and evoking the world of Narnia with style."
Sister Act at the Eventim Apollo (2022)
"[Knight] brings vocal heft and requisite presence to the role – though she’s far more engaging when inspiring her cloistered sisters to find their voices while also raising funds to save the church from crumbling than she is in more broadly comic mode."
"Saunders is a natural comic, and though her singing voice is thin, she’s not called upon to use it all that often – together, the two make an appealing double act."
"There is some heavenly ensemble work from the cast. Keala Settle, the best thing in the objectionable The Greatest Showman, deploys her powerful voice and considerable energy to Sister Mary Patrick, while Lesley Joseph revels in her role as the crabby Sister Mary Lazarus. Lizzie Bea, recently seen as Tracy Turnblad at the Coliseum, is requisitely endearing and heartfelt as novice nun Sister Mary Robert."
101 Dalmatians at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (2022)
"Energetic and fast-paced”"
After a hectic first half, the production comes into its own in the second act. As dusk falls, everything becomes a bit more magical. The narrative finds its heart with the introduction of an endearing young company that plays the four escapee puppies, and the moment where the dogs of the neighbourhood team up to help rescue them is delightfully silly – a pair of boxing boxers, a tap-dancing poodle, a swishy-tailed Afghan hound, two Gingham-clad Scottish terriers are all portrayed through lovely costume design from Katrina Lindsay.
"Despite its flaws, this is still an enjoyable show – for kids and adults alike. On a summer evening, it makes for paw-some (sorry) fun."
Jack Absolute Flies Again at the National Theatre (2022)
"Strives to be heartfelt but doesn't stick the landing"
"Entertaining but relentlessly frothy transposition of Sheridan’s comedy to wartime Britain"
"Thanks to physical comedy director Toby Park, from Spymonkey, and choreographer Lizzi Gee, there’s some nice physical business including an energetic dance sequence that Quentin steals with the aid of a ukulele. Mark Thompson’s colourful design, which mixes projections with a fold-out country house and a Nissen hut, nods towards panto but also allows for some tense scenes of the pilots on missions, the camera trained on their faces, Top Gun-style (video design by Jeff Sugg). This brings home the fact that the prospect of death was very present in their lives – the knowledge that they might not come back alive, or might be left horribly injured, is always there in the background and accounts, at least in part, for all the energetic bed-hopping, this hunger for each other."
Much Ado About Nothing at the National Theatre (2022)
"Stylish, summery and deliciously designed"
"Godwin’s style can sometimes feel aggressively slick, but for all its surface gloss this is an accessible production that hits the right beats. Parkinson is an exceptionally good fit for Beatrice and she has a wonderfully brittle chemistry with John Heffernan’s Benedick. They are both prickly oddballs, both equally insecure, though their initial combativeness soon gives way to a genuine tenderness."
"It’s a glittery, apolitical production but it’s well cast, stylish, summery stuff."
Crazy For You at the Chichester Festival Theatre (2022)
"Rollickingly fun time”
"It’s easy to see why Charlie Stemp returned to Chichester Festival Theatre for romantic comedy musical Crazy for You, after his breakout turn in the theatre’s revival of Half a Sixpence in 2016. It’s the perfect showcase for his virtuosic combination of effortless physical comedy and exceptional dancing skills, anchored by his huge charm as a stage performer."
"You’re not coming to Crazy for You for its flimsy plot, which leans heavily on the Gershwins to propel it through its inflated run time. It isn’t up there with the best of what it’s emulating. Sometimes, though, you just want a rollickingly fun time and a burst of colour. And that’s what you’ll get."
Billy Elliot The Musical at the Curve Theatre Leicester (2022)
"Ambitious revival of Lee Hall’s coming-of-age musical bursting with energy and heart"
"Artistic director Nikolai Foster handles the piece with confidence, creating a busy, boisterous world where protesters stand shoulder to shoulder in the face of state oppression and the whole town turns out for the scant comforts of the working men’s club’s Christmas party."
"New choreography by Lucy Hind often feels exhilaratingly breathless, mixing in contemporary steps – well, contemporary for the 1980s – with classical pieces to create something that feels fresh, unforced and properly unrestrained."
Peaky Blinders: The Rise reviews at the Camden Garrison (2022)
"A must-see for fans"
"Fast-paced, atmospheric, immersive show that skilfully melds quality storytelling with pure fun"
"A gritty but glamorous 1920s energy provides universal appeal, and gangster stories are ubiquitous enough in popular culture that audiences will easily be able to get involved without knowing the finer details."
"Peaky Blinders: The Rise has a real understanding of what works and how to execute it with style. It’s a must-see for Peaky Blinders fans, and there’s an awful lot to enjoy for everyone else."
Millennials at the The Other Palace (2022)
"Easy to see why it's a TikTok sensation"
"It might not get to the core of the millennial experience, but Clay’s tunes still have real style."
"There is no weak link in this cast of six, who work as well as an ensemble as they do individually. But while this is a good first outing for this new musical, it could do with digging deeper than its prettily decorated interior."
Patriots at the Almeida Theatre (2022)
"Unsettling political drama from Peter Morgan”"
"In this slow-burning overview of Russian politics through the 1990s to the early 2010s, Morgan describes a nation sliding into authoritarianism as avaricious oligarchs and amoral politicians exploit their country’s systemic corruption for personal gain."
"Morgan tells the story with methodical, cerebral coldness. While there’s a dose of suitably dry humour in the smart script, its slow pace and short, episodic scenes rarely generate enough conflict to really captivate. "
The Tempest at the Theatre Royal Bath (2022)
"Deborah Warner’s inaugural season – thanks to the pandemic – been a long time coming. But the opening show of her tenure as the theatre’s artistic director, a punkish version of The Tempest, is worth the wait."
"Ultimately, this is a production that’s most interesting in a slightly remote intellectual way, rather than emotionally overpowering. But its multi-layered cleverness and sideways-on approach to Shakespeare and traditionalism offer much to be admired"
The Seagull at the Harold Pinter Theatre (2022)
"Nuanced, quietly radical ensemble piece strips Chekhov’s dark comedy to the barest bones"
"Anya Reiss’ bleakly comic take on The Seagull remains strikingly contemporary some 10 years after its first performance. "
"Performances are uniformly gripping, the character’s clashing complications gelling together in a messy but compellingly believable whole. Making her official West End debut, Emilia Clarke captivates as aspiring ingénue Nina"
Richard III reviews - RSC Stratford at the Stratford Upon Avon (2022)
"Strong and diverse cast"
"Striking performances lend power to this bloody, melodramatic conclusion to the RSC’s civil war play cycle"
"Arthur Hughes plays the titular king with ferocity and sly playfulness"
"Gregory Doran, now artistic director emeritus at the RSC, directs the piece with verve. Bold – though unapologetically unsubtle – choices mark the production."
Mad House at the The Ambassadors Theatre (2022)
"Dark and punchy"
"Offbeat black comedy loses focus despite meaty performances from David Harbour and Bill Pullman"
"Rebeck’s characters are certainly fascinatingly flawed, full of wit, spite and open emotional wounds."
"Though it’s loaded with crisp dialogue and moments of wince-inducing viciousness, Rebeck’s script suffers from its low stakes and ponderous pace."
"David Harbour and Bill Pullman show off some grippingly jagged chemistry, nailing the acrimonious bickering and stifled affection between an impossible-to-placate elderly parent and the frustrated child who’s become their primary caregiver."
That Is Not Who I Am at the Royal Court Theatre (2022)
"Knotty interrogation of truth in fake news era"
"Urgent, unsettling thriller stands up to scrutiny despite the questionable artifice of its widely publicised gimmick"
"Director Lucy Morrison fills the play with unspoken menace. Many scenes feel warmly intimate, even hopeful on the surface, but precise deliveries and furtive glances suggest something awful gathering behind the scenes. "
A Dolls House, Part 2 at the Donmar Warehouse (2022)
"The stage-stealer is Dumezweni, whose presence is mesmerising and whose voice has an impact all on its own – deep, rich and powerful. "
"This is an invigorating production of a play that asks many-faceted questions about love, loneliness and freedom. Definitely a doll’s house that’s worth stepping into."
The Car Man at the Royal Albert Hall (2022)
"Powerful, super-heated sleaze"
"Welcome return for Matthew Bourne’s epic ballet noir"
"Matthew Bourne’s talent as a choreographic storyteller is unassailable. Through an astute combination of silent movie gesture, mime and dance, he has taken the fundamentals of ballet and brought them kicking, if not screaming, to a mass audience. "
"Of all Bourne’s ballets this is probably the trickiest to adapt to the venue’s space, given the intimate nature of the story. But it remains a work of super-heated sleaze that is as powerful as anything he has made."
The Gunpowder Plot at the Tower Vaults London (2022)
"Light but lively immersive theatre"
"Entertaining if fairly tame new immersive and digital tourist-attraction for London"
"If you’re used to the complex world-building of the likes of Punchdrunk and A Door in a Wall, or if you’re an escape-room fanatic, you’ll find this show tame by comparison. But, if you’re just dipping your toes into the immersive world, this is an easy entry point."
"A tourist-friendly immersive experience"
Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) at the Park Theatre (2022)
"An unrelenting stream of obvious jokes"
"Harry Hill’s musical about the the former prime minister is overlong and obvious"
"It’s a funny idea, turning the story of Tony Blair into a rock musical. The problem is nothing else in the show is as funny as its concept."
"The songs aren’t bad. Brown can write a tune. He takes off Gilbert and Sullivan, baroque arias, tangos, big chorus-line numbers. Some are pleasantly daft, such as the recitative set to a verbatim speech by Gordon Brown on macroeconomics. Others are catchy, including the Monty Python-esque closing number, part of a naffly serious ending that asks us to ponder our culpability in electing tossers. But competent pastiche isn’t enough, and no song earns its place or has much to say."
The Unfriend at the Chichester Festival Theatre (2022)
"Tour de force of toilet farce"
"Sherlock creators Steven Moffat and Mark Gatiss team up for a hilarious dark comedy of good manners"
"There’s a stretch of Moffat’s play that doesn’t quite hit the high leagues. The gags are there, plenty of them, but the production struggles to lift itself beyond decent TV sitcom fare. Every so often, it pulls out an absolutely glorious line delivered exquisitely by one of the cast and that’s enough to keep us going."
"But as it moves into the second act, the whole thing quickens, and by the time it reaches a tour de force of toilet farce from Shearsmith, Abbington and Marcus Onilude as a police officer negotiating some dodgy sandwiches and a downstairs loo, it’s proper gut-busting stuff."
The Glass Menagerie at the Duke of York's Theatre (2022)
"Amy Adams gives an understated performance in Jeremy Herrin’s restrained production"
"It’s all quite self-consciously stylised. Herrin is keen not to turn memory into something beautiful and elegiac, but restrained and uncomfortable instead."
"Tears seem to perpetually be welling in Adams’ eyes, although her Amanda smiles to cover it up. Even when her lines are overbearing, sometimes cruel, she delivers them in a fragile one-note, pitched somewhere between head and chest voice that seems to make her warble."
"There’s a bit of youth left to Adams’ Amanda. She isn’t just faded but faded before her time. It’s all very sad and understated, but it doesn’t always land. Some of the great lines feel like missed opportunities."
Legally Blonde The Musical at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (2022)
"Impossible not to have fun"
"It’s a statement piece with a generously Gen-Z approach that celebrates diversity of gender, ethnicity, sexuality and body shape."
"Mostly the unrestrained approach adds to the show’s inherent silliness, but sometimes it makes things look a little sloppy. The set design featuring tassels of blonde hair hanging in fringes is an ugly backdrop, with clunky chunks of set that fold or roll out of a central revolve."
The House of Shades at the Almeida Theatre (2022)
"A riveting watch from an incredibly exciting playwright – an explosive family portrait of secrets, grief, despair and division”"
"Duff is fierce as Constance, singing beautifully, dreamily quoting Bette Davis at every turn, and embodying a real, yearning ache for a life unlived. When Alistair tells Constance he could kill her, she replies: “You kill me every day.” Duff shines, but the ensemble cast is also strong, with Kelly Gough giving a moving performance as the quietly exhausted daughter Agnes."
"Although too lengthy, The House of Shades is a riveting watch from an incredibly exciting playwright – an explosive family portrait of secrets, grief, despair and division."
My Fair Lady (2022)
"Lead performances outshine the production"
"The musical’s biggest switch is Eliza’s from flower girl to lady, a transition made convincing by Amara Okereke with both her bright soprano and real warmth. Her finest moment – and of the whole production – is the show’s pivot in the masterly The Rain in Spain, in which Okereke beautifully shows Eliza’s extended understanding of how, in order to change how she speaks, she has to truly listen.
Elsewhere, she is pushed too hard by Sher’s direction that turns scenes into effortful display, so much so that the chemistry between her and Higgins is largely theoretical. Sher is so busy presenting his directorial case for everything that the actual writing – in both the scenes and songs – is, ironically, not allowed to speak."
Grease at the Dominion Theatre (2022)
"Nikolai Foster’s .. has replaced all the twee of the fan favourite with something darker."
"All the joy of Summer Nights comes rushing back with the unmistakable first notes from the orchestra pit. The dance numbers, choreographed by Arlene Phillips, are as hip-thrusting and hand-jiving as ever. But the truly affecting moments come with Foster’s considered directorial choices. As Olivia Moore begins pondering her heartbreak in a flawless delivery of Hopelessly Devoted to You, she watches, sidelined, as Danny slow-dances with another girl. And in her spats with the acidic Rizzo – a wonderfully cruel Jocasta Almgill – Moore rises to become her equal. This Sandy can hold her own."
"Though the humour in this production – with the exception of the loveably loud Mary Moore as Jan – could be cranked up a notch or two, this is a good night out. And for many, the euphoria of young love will be enough to have them dancing along to the final megamix."
Passion at the Hope Mill Theatre (2022)
"Passionate and well-paced, but overwrought"
"Beautifully realised, Ruthie Henshall-starring revival of Sondheim’s horniest musical that, while full of fire, lacks spark"
"There is passion here, the band is tight, with fantastic musical direction from Yshani Perinpanayagam and there is, as always, swirling elegiac lyricism and a stirring score in Sondheim’s music. The desire is aflame from every corner of the stage, illuminated in a rich, intelligent design by Charlie Morgan Jones, but spotlighting that lustful hunger so fully leaves no shade or nuance. There are no dark corners or barely concealed longing to show how these characters burn for each other and are ultimately consumed by the flames – everything is out in the open. While love needs no logic, a fire does need a spark."
Oklahoma! at the Young Vic Theatre (2022)
"Stark and sparse – Oklahoma with a snarl"
"Curly’s relationship with Laurey – a captivating, unsmiling Anoushka Lucas with a voice like gold – doesn’t come across as lush and romantic but slightly dark and dangerous. They’re certainly made for each other. As dislikeable as they are, they still swoon with romance in People Will Say We’re in Love."
"This isn’t simply dusting off a classic or giving it a spit and polish, it’s a complete dismantling of the show. It’s hard not to long for the good cheer we’re all so used to – it makes us feel, still, but in a different way. Uncomfortable, mostly.
"When the final number comes – "Ooooooklahoma where the wind comes sweepin’ down the plain" – there’s no joy. It’s a deeply discomfiting moment, the climax of a production that starts with community and ends with complicity, twisting those two strands more and more tightly together until they can’t be undone."
Much Ado About Nothing at the Shakespeare's Globe Theatre (2022)
"Sunshine after a hard winter"
"The wartime setting, at times, feels a bit like dressing, primarily an excuse to strew the stage with accordions and eye-pleasing gowns, but Bailey – director of the Globe’s famously bloody Titus Andronicus – has a strong understanding of the space and this is a production of clarity as well as charm. The focus is on romance, the mood upbeat; the overall effect elegant, if a little restrained."
"The overall breezy tone means that the sudden shifts into darkness feels more marked – Beatrice’s injunction to kill Claudio causes audible gasps and Leonata’s turn against her daughter feels particularly brutal. The fact that it’s her mother condemning Hero makes it all the more chilling. But this darkness is quickly banished – it is not this show’s main aim - in a production intent on spreading good cheer and warm feeling, a little sunshine after a hard winter."
Macbeth at the Longacre Theatre (2022)
"Stripped back and overstuffed"
"Daniel Craig and Ruth Negga give strong performances in a stylistically overstuffed production"
"[Amber] Gray is riveting. She may be half his size, but she is Macbeth’s peer with a strength and nobility in her delivery. Yet, she brings a tenderness that elevates Banquo’s betrayal. Dillon, however, feels adrift."
Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre (2022)
"It remains phenomenal"
"Thirteen years on, Jerusalem remains an extraordinary experience anchored by an incredible performance from Mark Rylance."
"Jerusalem is the greatest play and Mark Rylance’s performance the greatest performance of the year. Of the decade. Of the 21st century."
Funny Girl at the August Wilson Theatre (2022)
"Mayer’s respectful rendering serves the text well enough and features a star turn from Beanie Feldstein but, while she’s a skilled comedian, she sometimes struggles to fill Brice’s unique shoes. "
"Harvey Fierstein has revised the musical’s book, increasing the Arnstein role and restoring some cut songs. But the show remains an uneven one. "
"Feldstein smartly avoids Streisand mimicry. With a talent for physical comedy, she is a lovable goofball whose main concern is making the audience laugh with her. Wide-eyed and imploring, her Fanny thrives on the audience’s adulation. But Feldstein can’t quite turn down her brightness when her character faces setbacks. The role also calls for a roof-raising voice and, while Feldstein hits the notes, there’s a thinness in her expression. Her character and emotions come through less when she’s singing, which is unfortunate in this song-heavy show."
The Corn is Green at the National Theatre (2022)
"Precision-tooled acting from Nicola Walker"
"Nicola Walker leads a stunning cast in Dominic Cooke’s smart revival of Emlyn Williams’ autobiographical play."
"On a technical level, the production stuns, with Christopher Shutt’s sound and Charles Balfour’s lighting designs on stark display, while ULTZ’s design layers itself slowly into a complete world, cornered by descending staircases like entrances to a pit."
"As the industrious improver Miss Moffat, every syllable a bark, the peerless Nicola Walker condenses the Lyttelton until it’s like we’re watching a TV close up. As she comes to realise that, for all her to-a-fault dedication to the improvement of others she has, along the way, forgotten to show any kind of affection to Morgan, Walker shows immense control over the way she metes out that affection. It’s precision-tooled acting."
Marys Seacole at the Donmar Warehouse (2022)
"Nadia Latif’s direction is, however, fussy to the point of distraction. The staging excludes the audience, and the creation of some scenes requires the actors to shuffle a range of cumbersome props through the aisles, which pulls focus from the action.
"It’s a shame because the performances are jewel-like. Déja J Bowens makes a confident professional debut as Mamie. Meanwhile, Kayla Meikle steps into her first leading role with the wise energy beyond her years. But it is Llewella Gideon’s delivery of Duppy Mary’s final monologue that stays with you. It arrives just at the right moment with a quiet ferocity that makes you sit up in your seat."
The Burnt City at the One Cartridge Place (2022)
"Ambitious, intoxicating – simply nothing else like it"
"Punchdrunk’s new show features heady, brilliant storytelling that resists easy interpretations"
"The Burnt City is both an attempt at perfecting the format Punchdrunk is known for – richly designed, inventively choreographed and deeply immersive experiences – and a knowing riff on it. It won’t be for everyone, but there is simply nothing else like it."
"The Burnt City stands apart in terms of its ambition and beauty. Its intoxicating, clever storytelling asks you to rein in the desire to be omnipotent and play a while among the gods and monsters."
Scandaltown at the Lyric Hammersmith (2022)
"None of its blows land strongly"
"Stirling best understands how to handle the material, pitching her performance at the right heightened level, arch and acid in equal measure with flashes of humanity, and Goulding’s MP gets to go on an emotional journey of his own, but the playing elsewhere is variable and the pacing of Rachel O’Riordan’s production regularly saps the snap out of the lines. Too often, where it needs to be tight, it’s baggy."
Zorro The Musical at the Charing Cross Theatre (2022)
"Energy, talent and excitement"
"Durham’s production is a celebration of storytelling and he has gathered a diverse and multi-talented cast to pull it together. Benjamin Purkiss, last seen on this stage in Broken Wings, has the presence and stamina to master the title role. His Diego is a quick-witted clown, but in hero mode as Zorro, Purkiss oozes charisma. Vocally he seems a little challenged by the score, but his Zorro is bold, playful and loyal. Luisa is an equally complex character with a fiery temper. Paige Fenlon is excellent here, delivering the show’s standout original number The Man Behind The Mask with passion and emotional clarity. Between them stands Alex Gibson-Giorgio, a towering, tortured Ramon, gradually overwhelmed by jealousy and shame."
The 47th at the The Old Vic (2022)
"Bertie Carvel is magnificent"
"Mike Bartlett’s new blank verse play about the 2024 US presidential election is not always satisfying but front and centre is a stupendous turn from Bertie Carvel as Donald Trump"
"Designer Miriam Buether’s set combines Dr Strangelove’s war room with an expensively anonymous hotel lobby, onto which, at one point, a golf-cart trundles. Rupert Goold capably marshals the large cast and the very plotty plot but, at times, the play’s twisty ambition works against it. The first half establishes a lot of themes and threads that it can’t resolve in a satisfying fashion, narrative elements are terminated abruptly and moments you feel should be chilling are oddly downplayed – though Cherrelle Skeete, as nurse talking about her mother’s lonely death from Covid-19, adds a welcome emotional note to the play’s later stages. It’s Carvel who leaves the biggest impression, bestriding the production in a magnificent and grimly apposite fashion."
Anyone Can Whistle at the Southwark Playhouse (2022)
"A revival that celebrates diversity"
"Sondheim described his show as a “cartoon”, which seems a fitting description for Rankcom’s fantastically silly retelling. Sitting on either side of a pastel pink catwalk, we watch from two banks of seats as the “cookies” strut along in a perfectly pitched chorus. But, we are more than mere observers here – we’re part of Rankcom’s civilisation too. Audience members are selected randomly to read from pieces of paper. One joins a conga line in celebration, while another is used in place of a chair for the mayoress to perch on. Though a bit bumpy at times, this is a refreshing restaging."
Straight Line Crazy at the Bridge Theatre (2022)
"Big, lively characters"
"Maybe the biggest flaw is the underuse of Helen Schlesinger as Jane Jacobs. Often mentioned in the same breath as Moses, the journalist became his nemesis in the 1960s. Hare foregrounds her at the beginning of the play and then almost entirely forgets about her. Deeply examined and given more space, these elements would elevate the play."
"Meanwhile, Fiennes eats it all up. He moves monumentally, one great slab, like the slabs of concrete Moses erected across New York, his spine always straight, a tower block of a man, relishing the great declamatory chunks Hare has supplied."
"It’s the cast, really, that sustains an interesting, flawed portrait of a man who built bridges as fast as he burned them."
Cock at the Ambassadors Theatre (2022)
"Frank and funny"
"Taron Egerton and Jonathan Bailey star in a stylish, savage but surface-skimming production of Mike Bartlett’s play about sexual identity"
"For a relatively short play – it runs to one hour and 45 minutes without an interval – it manages to say a lot about the way people in relationships exert a hold over one another, about desire and control and the power plays we conduct with those we love or, at least, claim to love, in a way that’s frank and funny and, at times, wince-inducingly cruel."
"But while it works on its own terms, it’s a difficult play to watch without an awareness of what it omits. While bisexuality is mentioned, it’s done so in a throwaway fashion with a faint expression of distaste. John describes his identity as a “stew”. And yet the play suggests there are only two possible outcomes to his dilemma, which makes it feel more dated than it is. The narrative is driven by John’s fluidity and yet recoils from it (something that also anchors it in time). Despite the best efforts of the cast, the characters always feel primarily like sexual chess pieces engaged in a game in which there can be only one victor."
Maria Friedman & Friends - Legacy at the Menier Chocolate Factory (2022)
"Exudes energy like a firework"
"An indulgence, she calls it, and that’s the nail on the head really. For anyone who loves Sondheim, Hamlisch or Legrand – preferably all three – the hit list intercut with backstage anecdotes from Friedman’s relationships with the composers is soul sustenance. That indulgence will be just as alienating for anyone else; there’s a lot of "then Steve told me I was the best singer he’d ever heard and put me on a plane to New York".
"Friedman’s voice has occasional lapses, usually in the quieter passages, with notes that emerge awkwardly. It’s when songs reach their climaxes that she can comfortably belt. There’s always a sense that her huge personality and the set list of giant songs – Being Alive, The Way We Were – are desperate for a bigger room; the intimate parts are less effective."
"This irrepressible celebration, especially when sung by the younger singers, is a comforting reminder that the work is still with us and it’s in safe hands."
The Collaboration at the The Young Vic (2022)
"Humanises artistic icons"
"For a play about mould-breakers, it’s structurally and dramatically formulaic, but McCarten has a real knack for humanising icons – for digging beneath the image to reveal the flaws, the contradictions and emotional complexity. He tackles big themes with a lightness of touch – the always blurred boundary between art and commerce, an artist’s ownership of their own image – and while there are arguably places where the play could dig deeper, it has a real warmth to it and resists sentimentality. Though it is set near the end of both men’s lives – Warhol would go first from medical complications, Basquiat soon after from a drug overdose – its lens is trained on their lives."
The Music Man at the Winter Garden Theatre (2022)
"We’re left wanting more. Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster don’t quite gel in a restrained revival with moments of exuberant dance"
"The resulting production, which boasts a top-notch team chock-a-block with Tony winners, including Hugh Jackman and Sutton Foster, is relatively muted, though it has moments of razzle-dazzle stage exuberance and comic appeal. When the cast is not dancing, the show feels oddly reserved and too much like the earthy cornfields of Iowa that dominates the show’s design. We long for more theatrical oomph."
Bring It On: The Musical at the Queen Elizabeth Hall (2021)
"Lin-Manuel Miranda’s early high school cheerleading musical is enlivened by some superb choreography"
"Transgender performer Jal Joshua excels as the hip-swishing La Cienega, bending their body into eye-watering splits, sashaying across the stage in It Ain’t No Thing and performing what can only be described as incredible ‘hair gymnastics’ in the National finals."
"The production’s greatest asset is Fabian Aloise’s flawless choreography, and although all the big stunts are saved for the end, they are well worth the wait."
Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club (Playhouse Theatre) (2021)
"Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley are sublime"
"But Frecknall’s direction doesn’t let style sideline substance. Perhaps her strongest play is the careful balance she maintains in terms of the Nazis as metaphor and as literal Nazis. This is a production specifically about antisemitism and the rise of fascism in 1930s Germany. It’s also about attacks on sexuality, gender, ethnicity and religion – or any other marker of identity at any other time."
Best of Enemies at the The Young Vic (2021)
"Taut political docudrama showcases thrillingly combative performances from leads David Harewood and Charles Edwards"
"Director Jerremy Herrin – who previously collaborated with Graham on the equally astute political drama This House – gives the show a poised, polished presentation. His large cast circulates purposefully through the space, shifting personas as slickly as the action shifts between distant locations, momentarily channelling notable figures from the tense era. Andy Warhol photographs guests at a cocktail party, Walter Cronkite ponders journalistic responsibility, and Enoch Powell incites populist bigotry even as civil rights activists demonstrate in the streets."
A Chorus Line at the Curve Leicester (2021)
"Nikolai Foster’s new production of the bittersweet backstage musical is vivacious"
"The ensemble delivers quite a husky rendering of Marvin Hamlisch’s score (Emily Barnett-Salter’s outspoken Sheila is particularly throaty), which suits the rawness of the orchestrations. In the non-dancing role of director Zach, Adam Cooper shows that the way he can be fatherly when he wants to be doesn’t compensate for the physical and emotional labour (frankly, bullying) that he demands of his aspirants. As his former lover, the overqualified Cassie, Carly Mercedes Dyer is excellent dancing The Music and the Mirror, if too shouty when trying to persuade Zach to give her a chance to start over."
The Book of Dust at the Bridge Theatre (2021)
"A rollicking adaptation"
"At the Bridge rather than the Olivier, on stage rather than in a book, Hytner and adapter Bryony Lavery have quite a challenge to make the story satisfying on its own terms while nestling into a wider mythology. They mostly rise to it."
"Puppeteered paper daemons with illuminated heads catch the strange magic of human souls in animal form. Some disappoint, like Mrs Coulter’s golden monkey daemon, but others – the three-legged hyena of the deranged Gerard Bonneville – bring chills. The hideous empty cackle of Julie Atherton as the hyena’s puppeteer paired with the oleaginous charm of Pip Carter’s perverted Bonneville make for a grimly memorable antagonist."
"While Lavery’s adaptation rollicks along entertainingly, with an unrelenting sense of forward motion from Hytner and many moments that stun, it seems in conflict less with its forebears and more with itself, stripping away too much to feel epic and yet still slightly lost in having to explain its expansive mythology."
The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the Duke of York's Theatre (2021)
"Darkness and dreamlike strangeness"
"Capturing the darkness and dreamlike strangeness of Neil Gaiman’s bestselling 2013 novel, The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a pacy fantasy thriller occasionally overloaded by its own ambitious exuberance."
Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) at the Criterion Theatre (2021)
"Uproarious and irreverent"
"It’s good fun, even if the pacing feels a bit off at times and some of the gags are a tad over-indulgent. Austen’s exquisitely delicate yet biting use of language is deliberately blunted and the internal becomes external."
"Ana Inés Jabares-Pita’s gorgeous set design perfectly matches the enchantingly pretty pink-and-cream Criterion Theatre auditorium"
Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical at the Lyric Theatre (2021)
"Brims with unbridled charm"
"It’s a relief to report that this new show about the life of the great Bob Marley, father of reggae, Rastafari prophet and preacher of one love, does justice to its subject"
"[Arinzé Kene] gives a towering performance in the central role"
Frozen The Musical at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (2021)
"A huge determiner of Frozen’s success comes down to the casting of Anna and Elsa, the princesses of fictional Scandinavian kingdom Arendelle, who fall out, reconnect and discover themselves – one of whom has an uncontrollable ability to turn things into ice.
Samantha Barks is ideal as Elsa, bringing a sense of interiority and inner conflict to the unhappy princess; she’s all grace and poise in her regal gowns and remains very still, as if by allowing herself to move at all she would buckle under the weight of her icy curse and her duty to the throne."
Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre (2021)
"Amusing, unexpected, enjoyable"
"It’s the cast that carries the show: Carrie Hope Fletcher takes the lead and stomps around the stage in DMs with a brilliant ease. She catches the timing of Fennell’s comic lines, and her voice is ideal: strident, loud and occasionally fragile."
"If I could watch three hours of Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as the evil Stepmother, I gladly would. In a succession of elaborate costumes that seem to make her spine buckle and bow, she channels Cruella de Vil and Hyacinth Bucket, adding a 40-a-day wheeze. She is a straining, hunching grotesque, and a blast of pure pantomime joy every time she totters gurningly on stage."
Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre (2021)
"Distinctly lacking in magic"
"When so many top-drawer creatives are trying to cast different spells, no wonder the enchantment doesn’t work. You’ve got Julian Fellowes trying to cram in characters and scenes from the books, and Richard Eyre’s A-to-B direction chafing against co-director Matthew Bourne’s ballet moves, which jar with Stephen Mear’s choreography."
"George Stiles and Anthony Drewe have provided new songs that fill long, forgettable stretches alongside the Sherman Brothers’ iconic original compositions, tunes etched in the cultural consciousness. Stiles and Drewe’s music is frustratingly bland, the lyrics worse, with every tedious couplet in service of the rhyme, rather than story, sentiment or character."
"Each creative does his own thing, and the result is a series of set-pieces that don’t mesh. There’s no joined-up thinking."
Anything Goes at the Barbican Theatre (2021)
"It's delightful, It's delicious. Sutton Foster makes her London debut in a sumptuous production of the classic Cole Porter musical"
"Though Sutton Foster is the big draw here, Nicole-Lily Baisden, Carly Mercedes Dyer and Samuel Edwards also dazzle in Kathleen Marshall’s production of the Cole Porter classic. The show combines star pull with sheer talent, topping things off with a sheen of stunningly slick comedy. It’s delightful, it’s delicious, etc."
Les Miserables at the Sondheim Theatre (2020)
"It’s really quite magnificent. When you combine the new production with the renovated theatre, the experience is completely different from anything that came before. While it is a huge shame the original production no longer exists, this ‘new’ version keeps the show alive. It’s angstier, angrier, with a little dose of psychological realism and crucially, considering it has been scaled back in so many ways, there’s no less sense of spectacle."
Cirque Du Soleil - Luzia at the Royal Albert Hall (2020)
"Luzia is fresh and invigorating""
"The corporate soullessness that has anaesthetised many productions has been replaced by something approaching joy."
"Beautifully designed with a huge petalled disc at the rear representing the sun and the moon and orange marigolds carpeting the edge of the stage, Luzia also benefits from a superb band of musicians."
"The Swing to Swing climax is spectacular and thrilling. Performers leap across from two fairground swing boats with increasingly complex and dangerous moves. The moment when two girls crossed over in mid air brought a collective gasp from the audience. Now that’s what I call a true circus moment."
Magic Goes Wrong at the Vaudeville Theatre (2020)
"Mischief theatre's entertaining fusion of magic and comedy"
"Funny and entertaining, if under-powered, fusion of magic and comedy. Though it doesn’t hit the highs of some previous Mischief outings, it remains a solidly entertaining show, from a company evidently keen to test itself, and, for once, there are a few sweet instances where everything goes right."
Cyrano de Bergerac at the Playhouse Theatre (2019)
"Words are everything in Jamie Lloyd’s stripped-down and shaken-up Cyrano"
“Martin Crimp’s adaptation plays fast and loose with Edmond Rostand’s 1897 play about a monumentally-nosed soldier-poet, trading Alexandrine verse for the rhythmic delivery of slam poetry”
“McAvoy, speaking for the most part in his Scottish accent, curls his tongue around the couplets, revelling in their rhythmic intricacy. Yes there are times when Lloyd’s production feels like it’s striving too hard to generate a hip, post-Hamilton vibe, but it tempers this with a sense of humour “
& Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre (2019)
"The apotheosis of the jukebox musical"
"Having covered all three Schuyler sisters in Hamilton, The Stage Debut Award winner Miriam-Teak Lee now gets to shine in her own right – and, bloody hell, does she. Her voice is something to be reckoned with. At one moment, during her performance of Roar, she exudes a pure electric charge."
DEAR EVAN HANSEN at the Noel Coward Theatre (2019)
"Powerful, moving and superbly performed"
"As shown in The Greatest Showman, Pasek and Paul have cracked the formula for four-chord pop songs; songs with a golden touch that means they’ll be audition numbers for the rest of time. Yes, a couple of those in second act are mawkish, but the rest are superb."
The Girl Who Fell at the Trafalgar Theatre (2019)
"Well acted and sensitively written, if overloaded exploration of grief and guilt"
"Sarah Rutherford’s exploration of the aftermath of a teenage suicide boasts impressively nimble dialogue."
"There are more narrative twists than are necessary – all the new things we learn about these characters begin to feel slightly silly."
A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg at the Trafalgar Theatre (2019)
"Engaging but too-clean revival"
"Engaging but too-clean revival of Peter Nichols’ frank, funny and wrenching play about parenting a disabled child”
"It is a bold play, rejecting sentimentality at every turn. Some scenes are wrenching, others provocative"
"In Simon Evans’ incongruously glossy revival, Toby Stephens...embraces the Vaudevillian nature of Nichols’ play”
"The way the lighting cues signal emotional shifts feels heavy-handed"
“The anguish in the writing doesn’t always come across; the secondary characters are played very broadly”
“The production never comes close to replicating the rawness and daring – the shit and the spit – of the play itself.”
Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Al Hirschfeld Theatre (2019)
"If we must have jukebox musicals, I only wish they were all as vivacious and utterly exhilarating as this"
"the great skill of director Alex Timbers and his book writer John Logan, adapting Luhrmann and Craig Pearce’s original screenplay, is to fold other songs brilliantly into the narrative"
"The polish with which it is all executed makes for a breathtaking spectacle. Thanks to gorgeous performances from Karen Olivo and Aaron Tveit as the unhappy lovers, it also has a heartbreaking human dimension, which echoes La Boheme in its tragic inevitability. Tveit lends an astonishing, impassioned rock roar of a voice to tear into Sting’s Roxanne; Olivo has a sultry grace but also immense vocals as she tears into a medley that includes Diamonds Are Forever, Diamonds Are a Girl’s Best Friend, Material Girl and Single Ladies. A huge ensemble features stand-out turns from Danny Burstein as the club’s MC and Tam Mutu as the aristocratic rival"
Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium (2019)
"It’s a massive blast of joy"
"Lloyd Webber and Rice wrote it for a school choir. It makes so much sense for children, and for a childlike sense of fun and innocence, to be the driving force. It gives the show a purpose that a lot of other stale productions have failed to find."
"The design sort of builds from nothing; at the start it's a couple of sheets hung up by the corners to look like sand dunes. By the interval, we've got 10ft tall, gold-plated, guitar-playing sphinxes – the power of the children's imagination. There are starbursts of rainbow colours, unsubtle and childlike, matching those qualities in Lloyd Webber's music."
"Connor really does not know what to do with the women in the ensemble. There's an equal gender split – great – and a really diverse cast, too – also great – but the men get to play actual characters, while the women have nothing to do except being never fully clothed and dancing sexily."
"At the centre is narrator Sheridan Smith in a glittering tracksuit treating us to two hours of cheeky, perfectly timed comedy. There are so few entertainers like her, and she makes such a massive change from the cloyingly sweet school teacher narrators that have usually corralled the kid chorus in Joseph. Instead, she’s like a naughty babysitter, or some anarchic imp, dreaming up this bright and silly world as she goes along."
Wife at the Kiln Theatre (2019)
"It’s remarkable, both structurally and stylistically."
"The more familiar you are with A Doll’s House, the better you’ll be able to appreciate the scope, sophistication and fierce intelligence with which Samuel Adamson’s new play interrogates Ibsen’s themes of personal freedom and domestic imprisonment in an LGBT+ context."
"Adamson’s dialogue is effervescent and authentic throughout, ideas flowing almost as fast as the words."
The Starry Messenger at the Wyndham's Theatre (2019)
"Broderick and Eleazar are both brilliant, as is the always excellent Jim Norton, as a straight-talking old man on his deathbed. It’s a shame that Elizabeth McGovern, as Mark’s wife, Anne, gets pretty short shrift."
Sergei Polunin at the London Palladium (2019)
"Obnoxious, tedious and uncomfortable - the paying public shouldn’t be prey to him."
"Strap yourself in for some hollow sentiment and hubris – ballet’s enfant terrible Sergei Polunin is back in town. The Ukrainian dancer’s most recent egregious antics include homophobic, misogynist and fat-phobic Instagram rants that got him fired from a guest spot at the Paris Opera Ballet. Plus a paean to Putin."
"Still, this latest venture at the Palladium proves that the stream of bankrolling and indulgence that keeps Polunin afloat hasn’t yet run dry."
Betrayal at the Harold Pinter Theatre (2019)
"Stylish, intimate and superbly performed"
"All three actors are at ease with the rhythms of Pinter's language and at filling the spaces between their words with meaning, be it loss, longing or recrimination. There's an ease and chemistry between them as a company."
"Tom Hiddleston is disconcertingly convincing as the kind of man who casually talks about giving his wife a bashing and who is a total bastard to waiters yet is also capable of being charming and perceptive. He's a very responsive performer, at his best when interacting with others, and he's pretty remarkable here; the moment when he stares silently at Emma, sadly, desperately, is wrenching."
"It all plays out against Soutra Gilmour's achingly tasteful, minimalist set, an ecru canvas, beautifully lit by Jon Clark, that slowly moves forward, intensifying the claustrophobia. "
Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre, (2019)
"Sweet as the best homemade pie"
"It’s really wonderful, with the sweetness, crispness and comfort of the best homemade pie, and boasts one of the best scores to be written in recent years."
"the music by the many-times Grammy nominated singer-songwriter Sara Bareilles: perfectly constructed pop songs with a conversational feel, full of piano-driven riffs and jam-packed with baking metaphors. Bareilles is the consummate queen of hooks. Every song is instantly singable, each with beautifully melodic tunes full of unexpected intervals."
"Paulus very skilfully directs the scenes with husband Earl (Peter Hannah). The threat of violence is always latent, but only barely displayed. We don't need to see physical violence to recognise an abusive, coercive, incredibly toxic relationship."
"The ending is conveniently swift and certain, resolving many its problems with a dusting of sugar. But the show is never too sickly sweet not to have serious points to make, and to make them forcefully."
9 to 5 The Musical at the Savoy Theatre (2019)
"his is very much of the more is more school of musical theatre."
"McQueen’s Doralee has the same irresistible positivity and sweetness of Parton, not to mention a superb Southern drawl. She’s Parton’s spitting image, albeit four foot taller. Davies overdoes the ditziness a bit, but Sheen is just brilliant. It’s like the role was made for her, and there’s certainly no sign she jumped into it last minute."
"The show as a whole is fun, if gaudy and silly .... It’s still very entertaining, and after all these years (almost 40 of them) it feels, depressingly, necessary."
All About Eve at the Noel Coward Theatre (2019)
"A stylish but functional production"
"Though Van Hove’s adaptation sticks pretty closely to the original, it strips a lot of the joy and wit out of it. The result is glossy, but functional and superficial."
"The casting of Anderson as Margo is one of the production’s greatest strengths. She is simultaneously brittle and radiant, poised yet fragile, while Dolan, as a woman who inadvertently sabotages both her friend’s career and her own marriage, provides another reminder of what a great actor she is."
True West at the Vaudeville Theatre (2018)
"A wickedly funny revival"
"This comes through in the performances of Game Of Thrones’ Kit Harington and singer-songwriter-actor Johnny Flynn. They’re both giving the finest stage performances of their careers to date, but you get the sense that they’re both having enormous fun too."
Clueless - The Musical at the The Alice Griffin Jewel Box Theatre (2018)
'A capable cast can’t save a tonally mismatched and awkwardly staged musical production of the popular 1990s film.'
'The nostalgia factor is undermined by contrived lyrics, heavy-handed direction, and some very odd design choices. It feels more like a parody rather than a homage. The production has a winking self-awareness that eats away at the original’s warm heart.'
'Cameron is darling and perky as Cher, though her performance reads uncomfortably younger than a high schooler, while the rest of the cast looks creepily older.'
Fiddler On The Roof at the Meniere Chocolate Factory (2018)
"Trevor nunn's tight, trad revival"
'Nunn is a master of musicals, and one who knows the Menier space well. He builds a bustling village from nothing, whips up whirlwinds of motion and noise in split seconds, and makes the Menier’s dungeon-theatre look vast and liveable in, almost, with huts of wood and a yard of compacted dust.'
'It’s great to see Judy Kuhn on a London stage as Tevye’s wife Golde. She and Nyman get their rapport just right, which makes for a really sweet version of Do You Love Me. Kuhn’s face is full of confusion and agonising as this brand new concept of ‘love’ creeps into her marriage to Tevye.
But it’s Nyman is without a doubt the best thing about this tight, trad revival.'
Hole at the Royal Court Theatre (2018)
‘Ellie Kendrick’s flawed but ferocious debut play reverberates with feminist rage’
‘Rage and frustration blaze throughout this play – but so does hope. It’s a riotous, ragged, wild thing with the glimmer of magnificence among its flailing and its flaws.’
Billionaire Boy at the NST City, Southampton (2018)
"Irreverent, funny new hit British musical"
“Irreverent, fantastically funny and hit-heavy new musical based on David Walliams’ monster-selling novel”
"Walliams’ ever-so-slightly savage humour and his penchant for meaty, monosyllabic surnames – Grub, Spud, Spite – mark him out as a natural successor to Roald Dahl."
Hadestown at the National Theatre (2018)
"Stunning new folk opera"
"Anais Mitchell’s folk musical is much more than just the love story."
"Dialogue melts imperceptibly into song. Lines that start as spoken end up in full chorus and Mitchell’s stomping folk songs sound timeless. Chavkin oversees some great visual set pieces, particularly making use of the Olivier’s revolve. At one point Hades, Persephone and wafts of haze get sucked into the drum, descending into hell."
Company at the Gielgud Theatre (2018)
"An astonishing reinvention"
"Stephen Sondheim and Marianne Elliott unite for an astonishing reinvention of a classic musical.
Marianne Elliott has gone beyond that. Her neon-flooded, gender-bended production is more a reinvention than a revival – and it’s a revelation. Bobby, male in the original, is female Bobbie here."
"The show feels like it could have been written yesterday, rather than 48 years ago, and is contemporary right down to the Starbucks keep-cups that characters drink from. Every modification makes sense, and finds a new resonance."
"What do you call a revival that makes a show seem brand new? Company 2018 is more than a clever concept."
"Elliott has managed to take a 48-year-old musical that spoke to its time and made it speak precisely to us, now.”
Killer Joe at the Trafalgar Studios (2018)
"An unpleasant revival of a nasty play"
"Despite Bloom’s protestations, one thing is for sure: there is nothing remotely feminist, empowering or timely in watching a woman forced to simulate oral sex on a chicken leg in a production written and directed by men."
"Even putting aside the play’s toxicity for the moment, under Evans all the acting is so painfully mannered that the cast forgets to be human, despite the pedigree of excellent actors such as Steffan Rhodri and Neve McIntosh".
"Richard Howell’s lighting, big blocks of primary colours like the glare from a TV, is striking and sits well on Grace Smart’s detailed trailer set. That’s about it for the positives."
"If the production wants to make that point, it needs to be much more certain of itself. Confused about whether it’s comic or not, farce or horror, its cast of grotesques, acted to their extremest edges, encourages laughter more often than revulsion. That’s a queasy directorial decision.”
Tina - The Tina Turner Musical at the Aldwych Theatre (2018)
"Yes, it’s a jukebox musical. And no, it’s not imaginatively told, galloping straightforwardly through Tina Turner’s life and works from childhood to the peak of her fame in 1988."
"But two things make this new West End mega-musical incredible: one, her life story – the fact that the unwanted daughter of poor black sharecroppers in racist small-town Tennessee became Tina Turner; two, Adrienne Warren as Tina."