Critics - Clive Davis

Clive Davis – The Times London Theatre Critic

Selected reviews by Clive Davis, chief theatre critic of The Times.

Clive was appointed chief theatre critic of The Times in 2020, taking over from Ann Treneman. He works alongside Dominic Maxwell, deputy theatre critic and theatre commissioning editor of The Times.

He has more than thirty years of journalism experience, having been a regular freelance writer for The Times, The Sunday Times, The Independent, Daily Express, New Statesman and Weekly Standard, covering music, radio, theatre and comedy. He started his career as a reporter and editor at West Indian World newspaper in Haringey, before joining the BBC as a news trainee.

Clive Davis is a media fellow at the Hoover Institution, Stanford University.

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Henry V (2022)

★★★

"A back-to-basics staging"

"Here’s a Shakespearean chronicle reduced to basics by a young cast. Squeezed into the confines of the Sam Wanamaker, Holly Race Roughan’s production thrusts us into a cramped and chaotic battlefield. There are moments of visual poetry, even if Roughan can’t always resist talking down to us."

"Oliver Johnstone gives an assured performance as Henry, but this is a king, sporting what looks like a secondhand overcoat, who is a smouldering mess of half-suppressed neuroses."

"Azusa Ono’s sepulchral lighting adds to the sense of claustrophobia. As does the eerie period music by Max Pappenheim, the strings creating drone effects that evoke the buzzing of flies hovering above corpses.:

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A Sherlock Carol (2022)

★★★★

"A very merry mashup of Dickens and Doyle"

"As a murder mystery, it’s a tad convoluted, admittedly, yet the production delivers plenty of Victorian atmospherics, with the stylish, multi-tasking cast adding leering glances and a soupçon of grown-up pantomime."

"... if the plotting scatters loose ends, Shanahan’s production hustles us along cheerfully enough, adding some carol singing along the way. Anna Louizos’s skeletal period set sits nicely in an intimate venue that is a new addition to the capital’s landscape. Above all there’s genuine chemistry between Caplan and James, as they demonstrate on their re-creation of the first meeting between Holmes and Watson in A Study in Scarlet. Perhaps they could be let loose on another, more conventional case before too long."

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The Sex Party (2022)

★★

"Snogging and stereotypes in Terry Johnson’s limp Islington farce"

"The first thing to point out is that, this being a British play, the mood is as erotic as a giggly Tupperware soirée"

"Part of the problem is that it’s hard to warm to any of these one-dimensional people. There’s even less to admire in Timothy Hutton’s seedy, ponytailed American wheeler-dealer, who turns up with a Russian vamp (Amanda Ryan) who is such a caricature you’d think Johnson had invited David Walliams to be his co-writer."

"Johnson — who also directs — appends a poignant postscript, set some months later, which almost makes amends for the scattergun tone of the rest of the script. All in all, it’s slightly funnier than the Menier’s recent revival of Alan Bennett’s painfully dated farce Habeas Corpus, but that’s not saying much."

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Blackout Songs (2022)

★★★

"Hypnotic performances lift a tale of alcoholic destruction"

"A bleak exercise in self-deception, then; yet what gives momentum to Guy Jones’s production are the hypnotic performances, especially from Rebecca Humphries"

"White and Jones — who previously collaborated on the acclaimed pastoral drama Mayfly at the Orange Tree Theatre — cleverly avoid showing us the lurid reality of drunkenness. On Anisha Fields’ spartan traverse set, the mayhem and the disorientation are stylised and discreet. There is only the occasional glimpse of a bottle. Most of the chaos happens inside these people’s heads."

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A Christmas Carol (2022)

★★★★

"Adrian Edmondson makes an excellent Scrooge"

"Adrian Edmondson takes the role of Scrooge this time, and it’s a pleasure to report that he’s an excellent choice. It goes without saying that it’s not easy to love an old miser, but Edmondson gives the Victorian skinflint a patina of comic befuddlement as he undergoes one ordeal after another"

"Edgar brings Dickens into the heart of the action as a campaigner against child poverty who wants to write a pamphlet about the condition of the poor."

"Yes, there’s a very slight slowing of the pace in the second half before we rush towards the joyous conclusion. But there’s a warmth and heartiness to this production which gives it the edge over the long-running, bell-ringing version by Jack Thorne, which begins another run at London’s Old Vic later this week".

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Not One of These People (2022)

★★★

"Theatre meets art installation in a play for 299 voices"

"In this new work, directed and designed by Christian Lapointe, he presents a meditation on creativity. As he explains in the notes, he was partly inspired to create the piece by a conversation with young dramatists who were fretting “about who or what they were permitted to write about”. Yes, a very 2022 dilemma."

"Some of the fragments are amusing in a deadpan way. There’s an air of half-suppressed menace too — I hope I wasn’t alone in detecting echoes of the bullying of JK Rowling"

"In the end, however, the sheer randomness of the enterprise begins to pall. If you saw this oddity on a video at Tate Modern you’d certainly pause to admire it. But would you linger until it had finished? I doubt it."

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Fisherman's Friends: The Musical (2022)

★★★★

"This heart-on-sleeve show is quite a catch"

"Crammed with sea shanties, this heart-on-sleeve portrait of the fishing community in Port Isaac is just the thing to help us to get through what promises to be a difficult winter."

"James Gaddas is quietly authoritative as Alwyn’s father, Jim, the group’s gruff leader, while Jason Langley exudes spivvish charm as Danny, the down-at-heel A&R man from London who realises he has stumbled upon hidden treasure."

"Susan Penhaligon — who plays the no-nonsense matriarch, Maggie — is an asset too."

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Mary (2022)

★★★

"Lots of cut and thrust but we rarely feel real lives are at stake"

"Douglas Henshall, star of the TV series Shetland, is superb as the haughty, dyspeptic courtier forced to defend himself and his queen under interrogation."

"Roxana Silbert’s production is being marketed as a thriller — a word that has been attached to a few decidedly non-thrillerish plays lately — the inquisitorial mood and lengthy, discursive exchanges are closer to that of an ill-tempered seminar. We look on, we strain to follow every historical reference, but for all the cut and thrust, we seldom feel real lives are at stake."

"An intelligent but frustrating play that sometimes loses its way in a labyrinth of words."

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Elephant (2022)

★★★★

"Brief but intense play addressing the intricacies of colour and class"

"Lucas has a sharp ear for the vocabulary which divides us into categories. Still, there’s room here for more depth in the characterisation, maybe at the expense of a couple of the pleasant but fragmented tunes. All the same, Lucas’s intensity draws you in. At the beginning she is poised and self-confident. As time draws on, she begins to crawl around the piano. A melodramatic touch, perhaps, but it’s as if the ground is shifting under her."

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Tammy Faye – A New Musical (2022)

★★

"Not much to praise the Lord about in Elton’s show"

"She was a larger-than-life figure, yet Tammy Faye Bakker emerges as a cipher with lots of lipstick in this tepid new musical from Elton John."

"for all Katie Brayben’s efforts in the title role, this show — a decade in the making and fitted with serviceable lyrics by the Scissor Sisters star Jake Shears — trundles from one set-piece to another."

"Part of the problem lies with the book by that fine playwright James Graham, which flits here and there, packing in so many characters that Tammy Faye and Jim become bystanders in their own story."

"Andrew Rannells, of The Book of Mormon fame, does what he can with the bland and slender role of Jim. Zubin Varla makes an impressively reptilian Jerry Falwell. All in all, the playfully transgressive mood is reminiscent of Jerry Springer: The Opera, only without that show’s vicious satirical energy."

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A Single Man (2022)

★★★★

"Isherwood’s tale impresses on stage"

"Tom Ford’s film of Christopher Isherwood’s novel added layer after layer of designer gloss to this story of 24 hours in the life of an expat academic trying to come to terms with the death of his gay lover. Simon Reade’s pensive adaptation instead focuses on unvarnished emotion."

"A strong ensemble anchors a chamber production from the Troupe Theatre Company, intelligently directed by Philip Wilson"

"... the glorious moment when George and Kenny find contentment by splashing into a stylised ocean will stay with me for a long time."

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My Son’s A Queer, (But What Can You Do?) (2022)

★★★

"Charming but slender confessional"

" It’s principally in a couple of simple gestures — no more than sudden extended pauses — where we get a sense of the tension and pain that must have been lurking behind the boy’s ever-present smile. It would have been worth hearing more about how the family coped with all the pressures but this is a show that prefers to don make-up and turn up the lights."

"Luke Sheppard’s DayGlo production makes room for some cheerfully camp songs, Madge’s monologue presented in the form of a seven-step guide to the joys of self-expression. It may not dig very deep, but the audience whooped, screamed and shouted. In the end, it’s as much a therapy session as a one-person show."

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My Neighbour Totoro (2022)

★★★★

"Animated whimsy takes to the stage with aplomb"

"If you’re an admirer of Hayao Miyazaki’s Studio Ghibli movies, you’re almost certain to feel the same about Tom Morton-Smith’s puppet-driven adaptation, which adds flesh to a pastoral storyline that is so slender it could be described as Teletubbies go zen"

"Phelim McDermott, the stage director, provides more of a spine. As pure spectacle, the results are overpowering, even if Hisaishi’s score is never more than amiable — think Einaudi with a jaunty beat."

"Tom Pye’s faux-primitive production design delivers a delightful melange of wooden homes and tangle of forest, all stunningly lit by Jessica Hung Han Yun."

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The Band's Visit (2022)

★★★★

"Musical finds gentle harmony in desert tale"

"These characters seem to be on the long and winding road to nowhere. And, strange as it seems, you want to accompany them every step of the way."

"Directed by Michael Longhurst, The Band’s Visit is much more satisfying, even if it may well baffle anyone who hasn’t seen the movie."

"Is the story some grand metaphor for the insoluble nature of the Middle East conflict? Not at all. What strikes you most is the universality of the narrative. Far from being representatives of monolithic political forces, these individuals are, for the most part, solitary folk craving some sort of community."

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The Boy with Two Hearts (2022)

★★

"Simplistic, clunking agitprop"

"If it were a touring production in schools you’d happily cheer it on — after all, it’s a story of human perseverance that also happens to be a paean of praise to the NHS. But the storytelling is so simplistic you can’t help wondering what the piece is doing at the National."

"The best thing about the show is the raw energy of the three young actors — Farshid Rokey, Shamail Ali and Ahmad Sakhi — who take the roles of Hamed and his two brothers, Hessam and Hussein."

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Blues For An Alabama Sky (2022)

★★★

"Good-looking but overlong tale of strivers and hustlers"

"Vintage songs and music composed by Benjamin Kwasi Burrell are an integral part of Lynette Linton’s handsome production. A chorus of apartment dwellers breaks into mournful gospel cadences from time to time, while the lead actors Samira Wiley and Giles Terera have moments where they channel emotion into fragments of song and dance. Those brief interludes galvanise a play which, over the course of nearly three hours, is prone to drift along in sub-Tennessee Williams mode."

"Frankie Bradshaw’s immaculate set, mounted on a revolve, becomes almost a character in its own right. With its nooks and crannies, beautifully lit by Oliver Fenwick, this building has secrets of its own."

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Iphigenia in Splott (2022)

★★★

"An intense, volcanic performance"

"Gary Owen’s monologue forces you to pay this young woman full attention. In the handsome surroundings of the Lyric Hammersmith we’re at a safe distance as she rages back and forth across the stage. But Sophie Melville’s performance is so intense, so volcanic, that it still feels at times as if she is shouting in your face."

"For all of Melville’s passion, some elements fail to convince. The parallels with the mythical figure of Iphigenia — sacrificed to the gods by her father, Agamemnon — seem tenuous, for one thing. And the righteous final sequence veers perilously close to a party political broadcast as we’re invited to see Effie as the victim of austerity."

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John Gabriel Borkman (2022)

★★

"Simon Russell Beale shines in Ibsen’s leaden melodrama"

"It’s a measure of Beale’s charisma that he persuades us to follow Borkman’s saga to its bleak conclusion. Even so, you’re still left wondering why director Nicholas Hytner thought it worth resurrecting a play which, even in this modern version by Lucinda Coxon, slips so readily into bombast and all-guns-blazing melodrama. The play only lasts an hour and three quarters, without an interval, yet feels longer."

"Best to extract some nourishment from the finer details. Beale’s every gesture commands attention, even when he is at his most rumpled."

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Jews. In Their Own Words (2022)

★★★

"An uneven ‘theatrical inquiry’ into antisemitism"

"Drawing on an idea from the actress Tracy-Ann Oberman — an outspoken commentator on subtle and not so subtle forms of prejudice — Freedland has woven together a brief history of antisemitism alongside extracts from interviews conducted with a dozen Jews, some famous, some just ordinary folk. Seven actors take turns to channel their voices."

"Co-directed by Vicky Featherstone and Audrey Sheffield, it’s an uneven piece, sometimes eloquent, sometimes simplistic. (I was invited to a preview, and have been told the script will have evolved before press night.)"

"The actors, including Debbie Chazen and Hemi Yeroham, are uniformly impressive. Steve Furst is particularly persuasive, morphing from the urbane Jacobson to a plain-speaking north London painter and decorator, Phillip Abrahams, who describes an encounter with a shopkeeper who, during lockdown, assures him that Jews are spreading coronavirus in doctored batches of Coca-Cola."

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The Crucible (2022)

★★★

"Erin Doherty is a convincingly frenzied ringleader"

"Here, the performances all round are more variable, and some of the directorial choices become a distraction. What, for instance, are we to make of the wall of rain that the designer Es Devlin has fall over the Olivier stage between scenes?"

"Miller’s trademark sententiousness is given full rein in the occasional bouts of commentary. Some scenes, played out simultaneously at the very back of the stage, were hard to follow from where I was sitting in the stalls. It’s possible you’ll get a better sense of how the elements hold together when the production is shown in cinemas in January."

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Eureka Day (2022)

★★★★

"Helen Hunt adds star power to satire of liberal sanctimony"

"This is the play that would have helped to keep us sane during lockdown. Jonathan Spector’s comedy, set in an achingly right-on private school in Berkeley, California, had its first performance (in Berkeley) in 2018, yet it captures the passions over vaccination and misinformation that bubbled up at the height of the pandemic."

"Katy Rudd’s breezy production has Hollywood star power in the form of Helen Hunt, who delivers an unflashy display as a painfully sanctimonious parent-governor. It’s a testament to the quality of Spector’s writing that you end the evening feeling a smidgin of sympathy for her."

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Cages (2022)

"An interminable, flat-footed dystopian musical"

"I wonder if someone should be selling hallucinogenic drugs at the door? It’s certainly hard to see how audiences could get much out of this musical gothic romance if they went in stone-cold sober"

"A good deal of technical wizardry has been thrown at the project, yet very little effort seems to have gone into the storytelling."

"If you’ve ever sat through one of those shape-shifting Dolby sound demonstrations at your local multiplex, you’ll get the drift."

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Handbagged (2022)

★★★★

"A flight of fancy in Queen’s encounters with Thatcher"

"... if Buffini’s satire is full of mischief and gossip, it creates a sympathetic image of a monarch, a unifying figure in an era of profound upheaval. Mrs T comes off much worse: what we get is very much the standard narrative of a triumphalist, tone-deaf Tory leader trampling over the rights of working people."

"If it’s an unashamedly partisan piece of story-telling, it’s also very funny"

"It’s genuinely affecting to see how accurately Marion Bailey evokes the older Queen Elizabeth. Abigail Cruttenden is equally convincing as the younger incarnation. If Naomi Frederick looks a tad too youthful as Mrs Thatcher in her prime, she channels her personality admirably, while Kate Fahy gives us an eerily accurate impersonation of the older, bruised leader."

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The Snail House (2022)

★★

"Well-crafted, but there’s a hole at the centre"

"There are lots of themes swirling in the air, but do they add up to a satisfying piece of theatre?"

"the actors are trying to breathe life into collections of attitudes rather than characters. The atmosphere grows as oppressive as Tim Hatley’s oak-panelled set. Towards the end we learn that the play’s mysterious title comes from a Nigerian proverb: “Even a snail will eventually reach its home.” By then, though, we have lost interest in whether or not it reaches its destination."

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The Clothes They Stood Up In (2022)

★★★★

"Alan Bennett with delightful barbs"

"The humour is delicious, as you would expect, but there’s a streak of raw pain too. This finely wrought adaptation of Alan Bennett’s fable about a middle-aged couple whose Pooterish existence is suddenly upended provides more proof that it’s a mistake to think of our finest living writer being as reassuring as a nice cup of tea."

"Scarborough and co-star Sophie Thompson are excellent as the befuddled pair"

"There was a moment in the second half when I wondered if Scarborough hadn’t stretched the slender narrative too far. But the story actually does hold you until the end..."

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The Clinic (2022)

★★

"A laboured essay in identity politics"

"A provocative question lies at the heart of Dipo Baruwa-Etti’s latest offering: how much common ground exists between black individuals at different ends of the class spectrum? What a shame the script doesn’t rise to the challenge."

"Donna Berlin is persuasive as the embattled Tiwa, Toyin Ayedun-Alas smoulders as Wunmi and Gloria Obianyo brings dead-eyed cynicism to the role of Ore, but the script’s credibility goes up in smoke long before the end."

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Gabriel Byrne: Walking with Ghosts  (2022)

★★★★

"Entertaining tale of booze, burn-out and stardom"

"In a monologue based on his unusually fluent autobiography, published two years ago, the Irish actor — a heart-throb to many, but a much more crumpled and vulnerable soul underneath it all — traces the path he has taken from humble beginnings in Dublin to rubbing shoulders with Richard Burton."

"If that makes it sound like a lugubrious, self-lacerating confessional, rest assured that the evening — fluently directed by Lonny Price — is hugely entertaining too."

Reviewed at the National Opera House, Wexford

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Antigone (2022)

★★

"A nuance-free attempt to match Sophocles with politics"

"Inua Ellams’s attempt to marry Sophocles with 21st-century British politics paints a jarringly unconvincing portrait of an opportunistic Asian politician using anti-immigrant sentiment to climb the greasy pole to 10 Downing Street."

"An update as ambitious as this would have a chance of working if it possessed some measure of plausibility: unlike figures from mythology, modern characters need a hinterland. Sadly, there’s no depth or nuance."

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Silence (2022)

★★★

"Good as Indian history, less good as drama"

"Rose Revitt’s minimalist set, adorned with screens and the occasional item of furniture, also serves as a kind of map, the terracotta floor divided in two by a line drawn by civil servants. Tyler Forward’s sepia-tinged video projections supply a smidgen of period atmosphere."

"Tara’s artistic director Abdul Shayek allows the narrative to slacken, however. In the end, we are left to sift through raw material that has the makings of an epic. Another draft waits to be written by someone, somewhere."

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The Narcissist (2022)

★★★

"Ambitious, witty but frustratingly uneven"

"It’s trying to say too much. Christopher Shinn’s play about a disillusioned, not to say nihilistic, American political consultant raises important questions about democracy, privacy, addiction and how we stay sane in a world where technology threatens to overwhelm us. But there are three or four different stories jostling for attention here."

"As Jim, Harry Lloyd has to deliver a tricky combination of self-loathing and self-importance."

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All's Well That Ends Well (2022)

★★★

"Selfies and memes in a high-energy update"

"Is it possible to make complete sense of this “problem play” for a 21st-century audience? Maybe not, but Blanche McIntyre’s high-energy version has a lot of fun trying, throwing social media frippery into the mix as it charts the seemingly doomed romance between Rosie Sheehy’s obsessive Helena and Benjamin Westerby’s ultra-diffident Bertram."

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Into The Woods (2022)

★★★

"Terry Gilliam’s ‘cancelled’ Sondheim is sheer spectacle"

"The visuals are what linger in the memory. The moment you enter the ornate auditorium, Jon Bausor’s sumptuous set design — inspired by a Victorian toy theatre — transports you into a hypnotic realm of make-believe. As you would expect with a Terry Gilliam production – he co-directs alongside the choreographer Leah Hausman – this lavish revival of Stephen Sondheim and James Lapine’s tangled compendium of fairytales is never less than eye-catching."

"Audrey Brisson — star of the recent West End version of the film Amélie – makes a winning Cinderella, but her presence also generates unwelcome comparisons. Amélie, another show that drew on the fantastical, floated along on a stunningly inventive and varied actor-musician score. For all its intellectual veneer, Into the Woods is, musically, much thinner fare. Sondheim’s insistent orchestral motifs, crisply played by a band under the direction of Stephen Higgins, begin to lose their allure."

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All of Us (2022)

★★

"A well-intentioned drama becomes a rant"

"Martinez’s anger is palpable throughout, but the piece is so stacked against the evil Conservative frauds and liars that you begin to feel you are being recruited for a demo along the South Bank. Equally unconvincing (and ethically dubious) is Jess’s romantic relationship with an alcoholic patient (Bryan Dick) who, we discover, is the ultimate victim of hard-faced, free-market ideology."

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The Great British Bake Off Musical (2022)

★★★

"The Musical review — a sugar-and-spice recipe with no soggy bottoms"

"This celebration of a TV institution may be no classic, but in its cheerfully unassuming way Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary’s show serves up a hearty, sugar-and-spice recipe."

"The jaunty songs toss in plenty of in-jokes, and it helps that they’re delivered by a cast including such experienced hands as Rosemary Ashe, John Owen-Jones and Sondheim specialist Damian Humbley. The actors inject so much joie de vivre into Rachel Kavanaugh’s production that you’re ready to overlook its throwaway structure. The result is a more decorous, home counties version of a hen party night out."

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Identical (2022)

★★★

"Parent Trap musical has promise, but no spark"

"... all its charm, it still looks like a show in need of a rewrite or two."

"What’s the main problem? The songs by composer George Stiles and lyricist Anthony Drewe (writers of The Ugly Duckling musical, Honk!) are decent enough, even if they’re overshadowed by Robert Jones’s exceptionally stylish sets."

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The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe (2022)

★★★

"A fantastical, and functional, trip to Narnia"

"That awful moment when Aslan the lion is put to death is still chilling, yet some of the magic has seeped out of a production, originally devised by Sally Cookson, that started life at Leeds Playhouse five years ago"

"There doesn’t seem to be much of a tingle factor in Tom Paris’s set design. (His costumes, however, are eye-catching.) This vision of Narnia’s landscape lacks grandeur and mystery; even the frost seems less beguiling."

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Sister Act (2022)

★★★

"Beverley Knight doesn’t quite hit the heavenly heights"

"Knight works tremendously hard as the audience cheers her on, but her acting tends to hit the same note in every scene."

"Jennifer Saunders’s presence as the exasperated, heart-of-gold Mother Superior isn’t enough to fill the gap. ...there simply isn’t enough for her to do."

"Clive Rowe comes to the rescue as Eddie Souther.. Rowe is one of our most assured musical theatre performers"

"Knight’s voice soars again before the end of the evening. Her fan club won’t be complaining, but there’s not quite enough for everyone else."

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101 Dalmatians (2022)

★★★★

"Wild woofs of approval"

"Kate Fleetwood makes a full-throated villain, and in Timothy Sheader’s jaunty production the political subtext (there’s even a glimpse of a partying Boris Johnson) gives way to an old-fashioned romp. Composer-lyricist Douglas Hodge and book writer Johnny McKnight serve up a sugar-and-spice confection — based on a stage adaptation by Zinnie Harris — which ought to appeal to adults and children alike."

"Katrina Lindsay’s costumes add flair, while Colin Richmond’s set turns the giant letters spelling out the show’s title into a shabby-genteel domestic interior. Liam Steel’s choreography supplies lots of doggy energy too. Bow, wow."

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Jack Absolute Flies Again (2022)

★★★★

"The National has a comic hit on its hands"

"Kerry Howard is superb as her sharp-tongued maid, Lucy, who indulges in some cynical asides with the audience. (The fourth wall comes crashing down from the start.) Jordan Metcalfe is excellent as the sexually repressed Roy Faulkland."

"The two aerial combat interludes induce an abrupt change in emotional tone that could easily have stalled the play. Quentin and the rest of the first-rate cast keep it aloft. Tally ho."

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Much Ado About Nothing (2022)

★★★★

"Bruised lovers charm amid simmering Italian chic"

"In John Heffernan and Katherine Parkinson, we get a charming pair of slightly bruised lovers."

"Anna Fleischle’s handsome recreation of a Sicilian pleasure palace called The Hotel Messina, a grand terracotta and gold revolving edifice, complete with powder room and beach huts, comes close to upstaging everyone."

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Crazy For You (2022)

★★★★

"Be dazzled by this infectious Gershwin musical"

"With Susan Stroman, who created the original choreography, at the helm as director, this production confirms that Charlie Stemp’s Bobby Child belongs in the top rank. He was all charm in the amiable Mary Poppins, but here he rises to the challenge of a score that distils the spirit of vintage Broadway. In the opening scenes his goofiness reminds you of the comedian Lee Evans; by the end he is channelling the ghosts of the suavest leading men of yesteryear."

"Not surprisingly, it’s in the big set pieces where Stroman’s choreography shines brightest. Having seen the new Broadway production of The Music Man, another tale of an outsider mixing it with honest, plain folk, I’d say Chichester’s ensemble work is no less tight. Go along and be dazzled."

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Peaky Blinders: The Rise reviews (2022)

★★★

"Throw yourself into a turf war with Tommy Shelby"

"As far as period details go, it’s the effing sardine’s whiskers. True, the fake banknotes aren’t going to fool anyone, but everything else about the decor at this immersive version of the hit BBC series has an authentic 1920s air."

"What isn’t quite so thrilling is the storyline."

"It lacks all-important narrative drive."

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Anything Goes (2022)

★★★★★

"No question about it: this remains the best show in town."

"If there’s one production I’d prescribe to a person who is allergic to musicals, this would be it."

"Kerry Ellis is every bit as seductive as Reno Sweeney"

"Carly Mercedes Dyer still steals scenes as Moonface’s fast-talking moll, and Haydn Oakley twinkles as a toff addicted to the latest in American slang"

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Patriots (2022)

★★

"Tom Hollander does turn in a commanding performance"

"A play that is an unwieldy combination of docudrama and thriller with a sliver of Gogolesque comedy tossed in."

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The Tempest (2022)

★★★★

"A touch of opera gives Deborah Warner’s Shakespeare real magic"

"Nicholas Woodeson’s Prospero .. doesn’t hit a false note"

"In a flawless cast, Stephen Kennedy’s Trinculo and Gary Sefton’s Stephano supply the hearty comic interludes. All in all, it’s a pleasure to hear verse delivered with such clarity."

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The Seagull (2022)

★★

"Emilia Clarke can’t rescue this airless Chekhov"

"Emilia Clarke ...turns in a perfectly fine performance. Indira Varma is even more impressive"

"this oddly static production, much of it delivered sotto voce, is closer to a radio play or a rehearsal."

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Richard III reviews - RSC Stratford (2022)

★★★

"The RSC’s first disabled king breaks another barrier"

"There are some powerful supporting performances as well, especially from Minnie Gale as a wailing, grief-stricken Queen Margaret, who stalks the stage, silver hair streaming, like one of Macbeth’s witches."

"But does this Richard really seem the epitome of treacherous, conspiratorial evil? Not really, and that leaves a moral void at the centre of the play. "

"Here, at the very centre of power, he doesn’t cast a long enough shadow."

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Mad House (2022)

★★★

"Bill Pullman and David Harbour excel in a twisty family drama"

"The first hour or so delivers an absorbing blend of dark and light, anguish and humour. Sadly, that delicate balance goes awry later. It’s still a thought-provoking piece, but you’re left wondering what might have been."

"What’s striking, though, is how much dark laughter Rebeck and director Moritz von Stuelpnagel smuggle into this bleak scenario."

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That Is Not Who I Am (2022)

"A thriller that utterly fails to generate any tension"

"The blurb describes the piece as a “slippery thriller”, yet Kirkwood and the director Lucy Morrison utterly fail to generate any sort of tension."

"What’s frustrating is that there really is a play waiting to be written about surveillance capitalism. This isn’t it. Nor is there an interval, so the one hour and fifty minutes feels much longer. "

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The Southbury Child (2022)

★★★★

"Our thespian prayers answered"

"There are some plays that keep you talking well into the night. Stephen Beresford’s study of a wayward vicar at odds with his flock is one of them. "

"Admittedly, the writing is cluttered — so many themes jostle for attention that you occasionally get the impression you are watching a soap opera at warp speed — but it’s still a rare and heartfelt portrait of post-Christian Britain, anchored by a majestic performance by Alex Jennings."

"Hytner gets sterling performances out of the entire cast, and just when the storyline seems in danger of overheating, Beresford lobs in some astute comic notes."

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A Dolls House, Part 2 (2022)

★★★

"Sympathies shift in this dark thought experiment"

"Nora herself doesn’t emerge as an entirely likeable figure. Having built a new life for herself, she returns to the family hearth as a successful writer of books championing female independence. We admire her grit, but Noma Dumezweni — whose voice is a little lacking in light and shade — gives us a woman who is too pleased with herself. When she engages in a discussion with her old nanny, Anne Marie — who had been left with the task of raising Nora’s three young children — there is no mistaking the hint of condescension."

"It is one of the merits of the script that our sympathies shift back and forth in a series of conversations between Nora and those she left behind."

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Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) (2022)

★★★★

"Harry Hill’s manic humour demolishes the former PM"

"To call Harry Hill and Steve Brown’s portrait of the former prime minister a hatchet job would be an understatement. It’s a dodgy dossier of a show which depicts New Labour’s leader as the emptiest of empty suits."

"It is, however, very witty and tuneful too. Hill, who wrote the book, has never been to everyone’s taste — the little boy inside him is always desperate to make burping noises — but if you’re a fan of his brand of comedy you’ll warm to this venture."

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Britannicus (2022)

★★★

"Power politics in ancient Rome around the water cooler"

"This modern-dress interpretation — dominated by the majestic figure of Agrippina, searingly played by Sirine Saba — doesn’t find an answer to the perennial question of how to find a replacement for the stately music of French classical verse. Wertenbaker’s text is more jagged and demotic, making those long scenes of exposition much, much harder to absorb."

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The Unfriend (2022)

★★

"Creaky sitcom jokes make Steven Moffat’s play a trial"

"The Unfriend starts promisingly enough as a study in middle-class embarrassment."

"To be fair, most of the Chichester audience seemed more than willing to laugh at jokes that wouldn’t have made the cut in the cheesiest of Seventies sitcoms. Michael Simkins steals a scene or two as a relentlessly boring neighbour. Gatiss directs at a frenetic pace interspersed with overlong scene changes. There’s a scattering of decent jokes and double-takes; the audience decided they were worth a standing ovation. Utterly mystifying."

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The Glass Menagerie (2022)

★★★

"Hollywood star pulls off a touching turnaround"

"All praise to Adams .. for taking on a role that has tested many an actress."

"Since Williams steered clear of naturalistic stage directions, Herrin and Vicki Mortimer, the set designer, allow themselves free rein. Laura’s cherished collection of glass animals stands in a sleek case that looks as if it belongs in the foyer of a boutique hotel. Ash J Woodward’s video projections add punctuation: whenever Amanda’s absent husband is mentioned, his image floats into view. Paule Constable’s muted lighting is complemented by the washes of music created by Nick Powell. The details are stylishly assembled but they fail to carry the evening."

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Legally Blonde The Musical (2022)

★★★★

"Go with an open mind and you’ll be blown away"

"Moss has repackaged the show in a way that brings it bang up to date without sacrificing its joie de vivre."

"Laura Hopkins’s set isn’t easy on the eye. What I take to be an attempt to evoke a backdrop of straw-like tresses ends up looking like a beach hut after a night of hard partying by the Downing Street posse."

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Passion (2022)

★★★

"a Sondheim revival for completists only"

"There’s nothing wrong with Michael Strassen’s gossamer production: Ruthie Henshall does herself justice in an unsympathetic role and the scaled-down arrangements for just five musicians are a fine match for such an intimate venue."

"The problem lies with the work itself. "

"As a psychological study, it’s wildly implausible, while the music is Sondheim at his most arid. "

"A thoughtful, intelligent revival in short, but this remains an oddity that only Sondheim completists will want to argue over."

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Oklahoma! (2022)

★★★★

"Stirring singing in a reworked classic"

"In the final moments, Arthur Darvill’s Curly, decked out in a white suit and wielding a guitar, could be channelling the ghost of Hank Williams. The singing by the rest of the cast is never less than stirring. Marisha Wallace takes the honours as the gospel-tinged, sexually voracious Ado Annie."

"Some of the tweaks work better than others. The dream ballet, choreographed by John Heginbotham, becomes a clichéd modern dance feature for Marie-Astrid Mence, Hendrix-style guitar swamping the pedal steel. Elsewhere, the harsh, institutional lighting, only occasionally dimmed to shades of red, makes it hard to focus on the characters, especially with the audience sitting either side of the cast."

"James Davis, as the dim-witted Will, makes the most of his comic moments alongside Stavros Demetraki’s Persian pedlar, Ali Hakim. Liza Sadovy is memorably stern as Aunt Eller, and the earthy laughter of Rebekah Hinds’s sassy Gertie is still ringing in my ears."

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Old Friends (2022)

★★★★★

"A star-spangled, unforgettable tribute to Stephen Sondheim"

"Excuse me if I gush, but this was one of those nights where it was difficult to focus on highlights simply because there were so many. Cameron Mackintosh’s memorial concert for Stephen Sondheim, who died in November, began on a high note when the veteran Julia McKenzie, who did so much to champion the composer’s work on this side of the Pond, walked onto the stage to sing Side by Side by Side. Proof, if needed, that British artists don’t need to feel like intruders on this territory. They’ve made the music their own."

"Who else but Judi Dench could be entrusted with Send in the Clowns? If Dench’s delivery barely rose above a whisper, Haydn Gwynne powered through a version of The Ladies Who Lunch that was as potent and savage and tipsy as anything the late Elaine Stritch gave us. As ever, the elegant Janie Dee glowed in the dark, sizzling through the bossa nova parody The Boy from . . ."

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Macbeth (2022)

★★★★

"Daniel Craig swaps Bond for the Bard"

"The director Sam Gold gives us an irrepressibly imaginative modern-dress production that is constantly pushing the envelope, occasionally as if still testing out lines in a rehearsal. If the ensemble verse-speaking is relaxed and unbuttoned, Craig’s king is slightly stiff, a tad self-conscious in his speech and very English. He’s dressed casual-smart, at one point donning an expensive-looking collarless coat. His soliloquies are blunt expressions of manhood and ambition. This Macbeth impresses with sheer physical power rather than poetry."

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Funny Girl (2022)

★★

"it looks and sounds merely average"

"Watching Feldstein trying to get to grips with the larger-than-life personality of the vaudeville legend Fanny Brice is a distinctly uncomfortable experience. You badly want her to carry it off, and there’s certainly no doubting her enthusiasm, but with every passing moment the casting seems more and more mystifying."

"Michael Mayer’s underpowered production has the air of a low-budget touring venture, with a slimmed-down orchestral sound to match. David Zinn’s set design — dominated by a curved brick structure which could easily be mistaken for a giant medieval outhouse — is distinctly lacking in atmosphere, and apart from a breezy mass tap dance number in the second half, when Fanny is busy raising morale during the First World War, Ellenore Scott’s choreography proves anodyne."

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The Corn is Green (2022)

★★★★

"Escaping the valleys in a tale of its time that can still seduce"

"Nicola Walker impresses as Miss Moffat, a single-minded idealist who arrives in the village of Glansarno and promptly decides to start her own school. Could Walker endow her with a tad more Bloomsbury hauteur? Maybe. But the rapport she creates with her star pupil Morgan Evans (Iwan Davies) is touching, even if Williams could have given the diffident prodigy more depth. Rufus Wright’s squire gets plenty of laughs, as does Alice Orr-Ewing as the timid but snobbish teacher Miss Ronberry. Richard Lynch is the god-fearing John Goronwy Jones, a bearded grumbler who, physically anyway, bears more than a passing resemblance to Charles Pooter. At first, Cooke is content to use a bare stage, only gradually bringing in conventional trappings designed by Ultz."

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Punchdrunk: The Burnt City (2022)

★★

"The fall of Troy has never been so neon — or bewildering"

"In their new London home — factory buildings in the old Woolwich Arsenal — the directors Felix Barrett and Maxine Doyle have created an experimental piece that represents the fall of Troy. That, at least, is what the publicity material says: the truth is that the narrative is so flimsy and opaque that you could just as easily convince yourself that you’ve wandered into an avant-garde version of Cabaret or a particularly louche version of Footballers’ Wives."

"After two hours, sensory deprivation began to set in, but I at least managed to find the bar where a rackety band was playing Sweet Dreams (Are Made of This). At the end of the third hour, back in the shadowy maze, I saw some of the actors gather for a brief dance to a techno beat. I’m sure their gyrations would have been endlessly fascinating if I had first taken some hallucinogenic drugs."

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Scandaltown (2022)

★★

"Anti-woke jokes fall flat in modern Restoration comedy"

"Panto season seems to have arrived earlier than usual. Mike Bartlett’s new play is billed as a modern take on Restoration comedy, but the writing is so slack it makes the average end-of-the-pier show look like a Tom Stoppard history of calculus."

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The 47th (2022)

★★★

"Echoes of Shakespeare as Trump makes comeback"

"It’s an entertaining but uneven pageant held together by a barnstorming performance by Bertie Carvel, who as well as sporting a gravity-defying Trumpian hairstyle has captured all his mannerisms and tics. As in real life, this anti-hero is too much of a comic figure to lift the play to the level of tragedy. It’s often closer to Spitting Image than The West Wing."

"Director Rupert Goold works hard to keep the piece aloft, but the second half starts to meander, even if the sight of The Donald in battle fatigues is worth a giggle. At the end the mood turns sinister as we realise Ivanka has her own ambitions. Bartlett has left room for a sequel but let’s hope, for America’s sake, he doesn’t need one."

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To Kill A Mockingbird (2022)

★★★★

"Rafe Spall is stunning in new take on classic"

"Hats off to Aaron Sorkin. While the official title may be Harper Lee’s To Kill a Mockingbird, this captivating drama is very much Sorkin’s take on a story that has become embedded in the consciousness of generations of readers. "

"If Peck is stolidly heroic in the film, Spall gives us a more restless, folksier figure: think of a cross between a young James Stewart and the buttoned-up Kevin Costner in JFK. "

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Straight Line Crazy (2022)

★★★

"Uneven tale of all-powerful planner fails to reach heights"

"Much like Hare’s 1980s press satire, Pravda, Straight Line Crazy is an uneven, often didactic play that is held together by a compelling, larger-than-life central performance. Ralph Fiennes gives us an imperious empire-builder who created some beautiful edifices, but also believed that more expressways were the solution to just about every urban problem."

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The Human Voice (2022)

★★

"Modest monodrama is crying out for a splash of colour"

"Ruth Wilson is on stage for all of 70 minutes, chatting ever more frantically down a phone line. Fine actress though she is, she can’t salvage a piece that — written nearly a century ago — remains an exercise in stagecraft rather than a compelling dark night of the soul."

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Cock (2022)

★★

"Sexual identity study is about as plausible as Bridgerton"

"...the central conceit is about as plausible as the average episode of Bridgerton."

"Bartlett’s would-be risqué dialogue often sounds like a clumsy translation from a bad French comedy. In Marianne Elliott’s production, perched on Merle Hensel’s minimalist set, everything is overbright and overemphatic."

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Maria Friedman & Friends - Legacy (2022)

★★★★

"Musical theatre’s most insightful star pays homage to the greats"

"Now that Barbara Cook is no longer with us it’s hard to think of anyone — apart from, perhaps, the great Amanda McBroom — who brings as much intelligence and insight to musical theatre songs as Maria Friedman."

"What you also get in her shows is a daring, occasionally discombobulating sense of spontaneity."

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The Collaboration (2022)

★★★★

"Day-glo portrait of two pop art titans packs a real punch"

"If there are comic moments, the play — soon to become a film, with the same leads — delivers a bleak portrait of a world where the mighty dollar is all that matters. The fleeting reference to a painting about police brutality hints at parallels with Black Lives Matter. As McCarten reminds us, Basquiat wasn’t really from the streets: his background was thoroughly bourgeois. Warhol, nevertheless, prefers to drool over the young man’s “exotic” roots. Noble savage syndrome strikes again."

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Moulin Rouge! The Musical (2022)

★★★

"Crackerjack hits coated in several tons of rhinestones"

"As a spectacle, Moulin Rouge! has a lot going for it. Derek McLane’s design is the star of the show: the interior of the Piccadilly is draped in fifty shades of red, with a giant windmill and an equally imposing elephant standing guard on either side of the stage."

"Moulin Rouge! has sumptuous costumes by Catherine Zuber, sword-swallowing damsels and choreography by Sonya Tayeh that comes alive in the big ensemble number"

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Cabaret (2021)

★★★★

"Sinister Redmayne and sumptuous set are a seductive combination"

"Eddie Redmayne may be the star — and he’s mesmerisingly good too — but he really shares top billing with the venue itself. In Rebecca Frecknall’s revival of the classic Kander & Ebb musical, the Playhouse’s interior has been transformed into a sumptuous, in-the-round space with tables for those closest to the compact, bare stage."

"Jessie Buckley’s Sally Bowles is going to divide opinion. She’s true to John Kander’s description of the anti-heroine as “a fairly untalented middle-class girl”. (In Christopher Isherwood’s original story, we glimpse her murdering the song Exactly Like You in an arty bar called The Lady Windermere). Whereas Cumming’s foil, Jane Horrocks, gave Sally a grating, jolly hockey sticks speaking voice, Buckley — who makes her first appearance singing Don’t Tell Mama, looking like Shirley Temple in Doc Martens — is more of a troubled soul, splashing acid in all directions.

"Her singing really is unalluring, though. Maybe This Time falls flat, and the closing rendition of the title number overeggs the tortured expressionist mannerisms: Buckley’s feverish gestures reminded me of those 1920s photos of a manic Hitler practising gestures in front of a mirror."

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Best of Enemies (2021)

★★★★★

"James Graham’s captivating drama is raw and timely"

"Here come the gladiators. We’re used to seeing partisan talking heads tear lumps out of each other on television or Twitter, but James Graham’s captivating new play harks back to an era when the gloves first came off. Sad to say, I’m not sure Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr’s names mean much to British audiences under the age of, say, 50. Still, this Headlong co-commission has turned them into the central figures of a parable about how the media sold its soul in the pursuit of ratings."

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The Book of Dust (2021)

★★★

"Cosmic epichas strings attached"

"Neutrals will be scratching their heads over the plot twists but can at least enjoy Samuel Creasey’s exuberant, James Corden-ish performance as Malcolm, a cheeky pot boy in a Thames-side pub who has to display all the quick wits of a superhero to stay one step ahead of the forces of darkness."

"Be warned: this is not a show for young children. The dissolute Gerard Bonneville (stylishly played by Pip Carter) is unabashed about his desire to seduce young Alice. Pullman and Lavery bring us face to face with a banal kind of evil."

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Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) (2021)

★★★

"An irreverent but overlong look at Jane Austen"

"McArthur’s script, mixing bawdy anachronisms with a sprinkling of karaoke-ish pop songs, certainly has its charms, but it’s also excessively padded out."

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Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Musical (2021)

★★★

"A little off the beat"

"... the flaws in this celebration of Jamaica’s greatest musical export may not prove fatal. "

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Back to the Future (2021)

★★

"Classic stalls like an old DeLorean"

"In the end, though, it’s like sitting in a musty, 40-year-old DeLorean and discovering that the engine keeps stalling. I suspect that if you’re a hardcore fan who knows every line of the film script you’re going to buy a ticket anyway. Others should beware."

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Frozen The Musical (2021)

★★★★

"A visual feast to warm even the coldest of hearts"

"The first thing to say about Michael Grandage’s elegant production, in fact, is that it has a tad more emotional depth than the film, which was a bland, Barbie Doll-like confection with little of the verve of the Toy Story franchise. "

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Cinderella (2021)

★★★★

"Fairytale ending for show that must go on"

"With a book by Emerald Fennell, who won an Oscar for the screenplay of Promising Young Woman, this reboot of the story, starring Carrie Hope Fletcher, delivers a 21st-century take on romance. And it’s simply joyous."

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Jersey Boys (2021)

★★★

"the storyline wanders but Ben Joyce is a revelation as Frankie Valli"

"Better shows have come and gone. This one marches on. "

"the book writers, Marshall Brickman and Rick Elice, have clearly struck a nerve with an audience that likes a hint of The Sopranos mixed in with all those falsetto-driven Top 40 hits. The Four Seasons were too commercial to appeal to the rock and pop cognoscenti, but they rode out changes in fashion to build a following across the generations."

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Mary Poppins (2021)

★★★★

"It’s been a while, but this nanny goes down a storm"

"There are plenty of reasons to go for a family outing to see this version, directed by Sir Richard Eyre and first seen in the West End more than 15 years ago. Lord Fellowes of West Stafford, of Downton Abbey fame, supplies the book. Bob Crowley’s set designs have oodles of polish. Seeing the show again, it strikes me that Crowley’s backdrops are the star of the show, conjuring up a vision of Edwardian London that combines doll’s house-like domestic interiors with sweeping vistas of the city."

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Anything Goes (2021)

★★★★★

"Bubbly wit and stylish fun: it’s just the ticket"

"It’s the musical equivalent of sipping one glass of champagne after another. The songs and the dialogue are so stylish that, by the time the evening comes to an end, you simply want it to start all over again."

"Kathleen Marshall’s revival of Cole Porter’s vintage show comes at just the right time. A musical that delighted audiences during the Great Depression returns to cheer us up as we emerge from the rigours of lockdown."

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Les Miserables (2020)

★★★

"Overlong and clunky, but there was much to admire in the performances"

"The old revolving stage has been jettisoned. Instead, using images based on Victor Hugo’s paintings, the designer Matt Kinley has created a backdrop, augmented by Paule Constable’s artful beams of light, that proves even more atmospheric. As pure theatre, it is enchanting, like watching a Romantic panorama of grimy, pre-Haussmann Paris come to life."

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Cirque Du Soleil - Luzia (2020)

★★★

"Luzia is a typical example of the Canadian franchise that has assumed multiplex movie proportions"

"Production values remain grandiose, colourful and occasionally breathtaking, but there are soft-focus longueurs too.”

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& Juliet (2019)

★★

"Shakespeare on steroids is not for the sober"

"This musical inspired by Shakespeare’s tale of star-cross’d lovers is, you see, anything but subtle. It’s loud, irreverent and camp"

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DEAR EVAN HANSEN (2019)

★★★★

"Witty songs light up tale of teenage trauma"

"if the prospect of spending an evening contemplating the perils of peer pressure, family breakdown and rampant social media seems less than inviting, be reassured that Dear Evan Hansen is worth it."

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📷 Main photo: Critics - Clive Davis

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