Critics - Dominic Cavendish

Dominic Cavendish – The Telegraph London Theatre Critic

Selected reviews by Dominic Cavendish, lead theatre critic of The Telegraph.

Dominic Cavendish is the lead theatre and comedy critic for The Daily Telegraph.

Dominic is also the founding editor of the audio archive Theatrevoice.

As a creative writer, in 2008 he adapted Orwell’s Coming Up For Air for the stage, which transferred to the Trafalgar Studios in London following its Edinburgh debut, retitled as Orwell: A Celebration. He also conceived and contributed to COALITION, a season of short plays about the new government at Theatre503 in late 2010.

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The Trials (2022)

★★★

"The new play putting adults on trial for their climate-change sins"

"The Trials, by Dawn King, sees the younger generations mete out ecological justice to their elders. But where’s the dramatic power?"

"... while the acting from the newcomers is forgivably variable, all bring authenticating freshness to the stage, and there are some faces to watch. Charlie Reid as Tomaz, archetypally sulky then arrestingly animated by flights of fancy about the vanished world, impresses; so does Francis Dourado as the cautious, quizzical Mohammad and Honor Kneafsey as responsible jury-leader Ren. Stars of the future? The next step is just to ensure there’s a future at all."

The Telegraph
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Great British Bake Off - The Musical (2022)

★★★

"Eminently digestible, but where’s the flour power?"

"This tongue-in-cheek homage at the Cheltenham Everyman has a few terrific showstoppers yet lacks the tears and tension of the baking itself"

"I’m not an avid viewer – a dipper-inner, more like – so can’t speak for BakeOffistas, but judging by the warm reaction to the try-out in Cheltenham, it’s clear devotees won’t be recoiling in disgust. Whether the tongue-in-cheek homage is cooked to perfection is another matter."

"The crucial missing ingredients, though, are the sweat, tears and angsty tension of the baking itself. You want less patter, more butter. The show lacks flour power: no one gets their hands dirty (there’s much cursory denoting of culinary activity), or fully imparts the all-or-nothing nature of the baking beast. A bit more time in the development oven required, I’d say."

The Telegraph
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Identical (2022)

★★★★★

"Identity-swap musical that’s ingenious to the point of genius"

"Directed by Trevor Nunn, the Nottingham Playhouse's new tale of reunited twins who change places has the makings of a must-see phenomenon"

"The singing is superb and the music serves the fairy-tale-like story well, expressive of giggling youthful exuberance in the camp, the metropolitan sophistication of a Hansel and Gretel ballet, and exploring the attendant childhood and parental angst with a light touch. Does it sound a bit samey at times? Yes. But the way it combines one girl’s music with the other’s lyrics in the finale, so that each completes and complements the other, is ingenious to the point of genius, eliciting awe at the complex mysteries of life and at the finely-wrought truthfulness of art."

The Telegraph
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The Tempest (2022)

★★★★

"Three Lions, blow-up lobsters and Prospero in a pair of budgie smugglers"

"Sean Holmes's modish adaptation has gimmicks aplenty, but somehow works"

"The Tempest was classed as a comedy in the first folio. That assists Holmes’s bold decision to steer away from a reverent reading of its study of a brother betrayed moving towards forgiveness, and look for funny-peculiarity in unexpected places. He gives this late play the kick of upstart youth."

"I was in two minds about Holmes turning ‘Our revels now are ended’ into a bitter sting in the tale, but it’s of a piece with a production that unpacks Shakespeare’s strange cargo without much care for precedent, and subjects it to fresh inspection."

The Telegraph
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The Lion The Witch And The Wardrobe (2022)

★★★★

"British theatrical verve at full pelt"

"First seen in 2017, Sally Cookson’s marvellous stage adaptation – now at the Gillian Lynne Theatre – combines profundity and playfulness"

"Director Michael Fentiman was recruited to make the production touring-friendly; he applied his own sensibility, and a new creative team, bringing actor-musicians folksily to the fore, cramming the spry action with visual flourishes and springing more illusions."

The Telegraph
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Much Ado About Nothing (2022)

★★★★

"Blissful revival of a conveyor-belt classic"

"There are moments during Simon Godwin’s blissful revival of Much Ado, when the evening seems to deliver all the fun of a foreign hols without the hassle of baggage reclaim at Heathrow."

"Is it perfect? No, but it’s very serviceable in a bijou hotel kind of way – and there’ll be another one along, anytime soon; it’s a conveyor-belt classic."

The Telegraph
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Crazy For You (2022)

★★★★★

"A magnificent revival with songs that knock you for six"

"Watching this magnificent new staging at Chichester – directed as well as choreographed by Susan Stroman, who choreographed that 1992 production – you have to agree that Americans do seem to have the edge when it comes to pleasure-giving spectacle and songs that knock you for six."

"A near impossible amount is loaded onto the shoulders (and dancing shoes) of Charlie Stemp as the banker with a heart of gold, but, following triumphs in Half a Sixpence and Mary Poppins, he affirms his status as a 24-carat stage star. By turns rubber-limbed goofball and epitome of debonair charm, he achieves a weightlessness in his waltzes, quick-turns and tap frenzies you never tire of watching and which he seemingly never tires of delivering."

"They’d be crazy not to transfer it.'

The Telegraph
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The Tempest (2022)

★★★

"Deborah Warner's male-dominated production gives an intimate account of Shakespeare's late play"

"Nicholas Woodeson, 72, gives us a dowdy, shifty, slightly professorial Prospero, albeit book-less, who initially combines acidity with flashes of spleen."

"Whatever the slight frustrations, it’s heartening to see work on this scale (a cast of 14) staged away from London, and blessed with a clarity of utterance."

The Telegraph
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The Seagull (2022)

★★

"Emelia Clarke’s wings are clipped by this ascetic Chekhov staging"

"The Game of Thrones star isn’t given the chance to shine in this new production, so spartan it’s distractingly ostentatious"

"In so far as they go, constrained by a directorial conceit so sparing it’s distractingly ostentatious, I can’t fault the cast, but they yield little that couldn’t be obtained in more traditional, pleasure-giving Chekhov. "

"it’s too static and sapping, in these joy-starved times"

The Telegraph
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Richard III reviews - RSC Stratford (2022)

★★★★

"This Richard III is historic and stylish – but why trim Shakespeare’s best lines?"

"Given Hughes’s relative inexperience in Shakespeare, it’s a triumph. But while the evening wins the case for him – and, by extension, other disabled performers – to take on the role as their birthright, it doesn’t quite overthrow the ongoing claim of their best able-bodied counterparts. Lived experience is a route in, but so are imagination, empathy and craft. The mighty legacy of Sher and others won’t so easily be consigned to the past."

The Telegraph
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Mad House (2022)

★★★

"David Harbour stars in a darkly comic play about his own mental health"

"As the damaged man-child, Harbour delivers the requisite goods: hefty, forceful, brooding, tilting between sardonic intensity, petulance and yowling rage. As his dad, however, Pullman often seems more sweetly helpless than residually noxious."

"The dark comedy draws you in, but hits the snag of leaving you a bit high and dry when you yourself are required to care. This show, directed a bit stiffly by Moritz Von Stuelpnagel, isn’t laying claim to the mighty impact of such American family drama behemoths as Long Day’s Journey into Night. All the same, it struggles to dovetail the sharp comic back-biting with a sense of truly gut-wrenching showdown. "

The Telegraph
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That Is Not Who I Am (2022)

★★

"Cyber thriller is more mess than mystery"

"The Royal Court teased us with the promise of a premiere by an ‘unknown’, but the end result is not the biting satire it thinks it is"

"At its best the Royal Court gives us the inside-scoop on life in Britain today. But for all the inventive comedy at work here, and a salient core point about the difficulty of discerning the truth, in modern life, as in art, the net effect is inconsequential."

"The piece certainly asks the valid question as to how power can be held to account if the powerless can be easily discredited, legitimate grains of truth lost amid piled-on supposition"

"After all the hype, a damp squib for the silly season."

The Telegraph
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The Southbury Child (2022)

★★★★★

"Hugely cathartic, this is the play of the year so far... blissfully funny and ineffably touching"

"Stephen Beresford’s heaven-sent new work stars an immaculately understated Alex Jennings as a priest taking a stand against modernity"

"At its heart is a stand-off between an individual and his community so tightly enwoven with competing principles and conflicting emotions it has an almost Ibsenite intensity. Yet its subtle, wry tonal quality puts you more immediately in mind of Alan Bennett, a prompting assisted by the fact that Alex Jennings, who has played Bennett on stage and screen, takes the lead as David Highland, blending beatific reticence with charismatic fallibility."

"Jennings is as immaculately understated as the script, lunging in a telling bout of desperation for a glass of whisky. Trying to prop everyone up, he’s crumbling inside, and finds a soul-mate of sorts in the new curate, a handsome Scot (Jack Greenlees) whose homosexuality is tolerated but not institutionally supported. "

"Beresford won a Bafta for the screenplay of Pride. He can pride himself on this. My play of the year so far."

The Telegraph
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A Dolls House, Part 2 (2022)

★★★★★

"How on earth do you follow up Ibsen’s masterpiece? Exactly like this"

"Lucas Hnath's audacious sequel to the pioneering 1879 drama, at the Donmar Warehouse, is nothing less than essential viewing"

"Noma Dumezweni is magnificent as the shifty revenant, arriving in a smart velvety period dress as if wholly fixed on the purpose at hand, but forced on the back foot as the household she abandoned starts to turn the tables."

"Each character has their voice, and that’s strikingly the case with the maligned Torvald, whom Brian F O’Byrne makes patriarchally stiff yet seething with emotion: icy, indignant, ferocious, and also, crucially, frail, as much a humble human casualty as a combatant in the battle of the sexes and the fracturing war against social conditioning and systemic oppression. Essential viewing."

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

★★★

"Begins promisingly, then outstays its welcome"

"Harry Hill and composer Steve Brown’s musical is intermittently inspired but winds up echoing the failings of TB’s divisive premiership"

"Much as I’d like to report a palpable hit – Lord knows, we all need cheering up – like TB’s premiership Tony! begins promisingly, moves into a disappointing phase and then outstays its welcome.

Tonally, it’s semi-successful. Given what a figure of opprobrium Blair became, it balances a need to keep us on-side, and woo us with charm, while holding the busted flush at arm’s length. It doesn’t help that a resolutely beaming Charlie Baker in the title role is actually a closer facial match to Gordon Brown. What’s trickier is that the show struggles to shift out of a cartoon register – you want it to sound the complexities of Blair’s tenure, but it mainly sticks to “yah boo” satire."

The Telegraph
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Britannicus (2022)

★★★★

"From incels to Putin, Racine's dusty old play feels oddly relevant"

"This assured revival at the Lyric Hammersmith is the mother of all psycho-dramas"

" In this mother of all psycho-dramas, it’s as if we hurtle from early contractions of fear to the blood-stained hatching of a monster, those involved at once caught up in the process, yet somehow bystanders to the hermetic horror.

Atri Banerjee’s assured mainstage revival at the Lyric, utilising a fine version by Timberlake Wertenbaker from 2011 that banishes any sense of a dusty school-text, conveys the remorseless nature of proceedings."

The Telegraph
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The Unfriend (2022)

★★★★

"Effortlessly entertaining, and maybe the most ‘promising’ debut in ages,"

"It’s hardly a profound evening but it’s a perceptive one."

"The action is line-by-line funny and an apt commentary on English middle-class manners. The inability of these inhibited types to desist from politeness and eject their guest reaches its hilarious apotheosis when they try to peddle the lie that Peter’s elderly mother is on her way out. Elsa turns tables by shooing the pair off through the front-door to do their bit, while mock-sweetly cosying up to their kids. Shearsmith excels himself as the picture of rising, suppressed consternation, hoisted with his own petard."

The Telegraph
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The Glass Menagerie (2022)

★★★

"Amy Adams is heartbreaking.. I loved her performance"

"To be blunt, I loved her performance. It’s clear, simple, believable, and quietly heart-breaking in its contained vulnerability."

"What Adams catches in her determined radiance and subtle gestures – dabbing a finger with spittle to try and smooth his hair, as if he were still in short trousers – is the female equivalent of Arthur Miller’s Willy Loman: someone going through the motion of coping but in dire need of some good news."

The Telegraph
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Murder On The Orient Express (2022)

★★★★

"Watch out, David Suchet, there's a superb new Poirot in town"

"Henry Goodman is mesmerising in Chichester Festival Theatre's handsome production of Agatha Christie's whodunit"

The Telegraph
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My Fair Lady (2022)

★★★

"A watershed production, but not a benchmark"

"Amara Okereke flowers opposite Vanessa Redgrave, but the staging is underpowered"

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Grease (2022)

★★★★

"Peter Andre shines with a small but prominent part"

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Oklahoma! (2022)

★★★★★

"Punchy, playful and sexy, this Oklahoma! is an absolute knockout"

"First seen in New York, this revelatory production, now at the Young Vic, interrogates the landmark musical to within an inch of its life"

"Experimental in feel, it strips things back to reveal tough personalities, strong sexual drives, few creature comforts and violent impulses sprouting amid sun-kissed corn fields. In place of a lavish orchestra, the score has been brilliantly reinterpreted so the music, delivered by a small band, offers instead a homespun folksiness. That has evident charm, but Fish interrogates Oklahoma! to within an inch of its life, bringing out its darkness, indeed plunging spectators fully into blackness at points, and sounding its complexities."

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Much Ado About Nothing (2022)

★★★★

"Much Ado About Nothing marks a welcome return to innovation and inspiration at the Globe"

"The ideological obsession that has marred too many Bankside shows recently is mercifully absent in Lucy Bailey's splendid production"

"The production opens the summer season, finally back at full capacity. More than that, defined by its attention to detail, it balances directorial innovation with actorly inspiration, avoiding the ideological rampancy of some recent shows here."

The Telegraph
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Jerusalem (2022)

★★★★★

"Mark Rylance still rules the kingdom"

"This revival of Jez Butterworth's masterpiece, first staged in 2009, remains a crucial theatrical rite"

"None of the erstwhile comic – or indeed lyrical - impact is lost. Rylance’s waggling eyebrows, mystified stares and quiet burr that can shift into a roar transfix, as before. He’s older, inevitably: 62. Physical stiffness is more manifest, but that seems intended and artistically valuable – you can credit that this former dare-devil has, at various times, broken every bone in his body.

"And, as much as Byron comes to resemble an indestructible spirit of bucolic misrule, Rylance’s pronouncedly hobbling, rooster-ish gait – puffed chest contorted – signals that he’s running out of road. The three-hour action, traversing St George’s Day and the annual Flintock Fair, builds towards a twilight denouement of lonely mortal intimations and sacrificial reckoning."

The Telegraph
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Prima Facie (2022)

★★★★

"Jodie Comer’s brilliant West End debut is like a punch to the guts"

"This solo piece at the Harold Pinter, in which Comer plays a lawyer who is raped, reveals the the Killing Eve star as a natural on stage too"

"West End debuts don’t come much more astonishing than this solo tour de force by Jodie Comer. In Prima Facie, she plays a London criminal barrister complacently expert in sexual assault cases, who unravels after she’s raped by a work-colleague, and during the pitiless ensuing trial. Her performance, running a full-pelt 100 minutes, propels her into the front rank of stage stars."

"If there’s an issue with the play it’s that in its final epilogue, it bluntly avows that need for systemic change, effectively demanding our indignation, whereas that concern bubbles up quite naturally in response to what we witness. Though the presentation of what happens to Comer’s thirtysomething character – Tessa Ensler – unambiguously shows her as a rape victim, Miller’s slant, and Comer’s portrayal, still teem with rich nuance, testing sympathies."

The Sunday Times
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The Corn is Green (2022)

★★★★★

"Nicola Walker is unmissable in this riveting production"

"The National Theatre’s revival of Emlyn Williams’s 1938 play is crowned by the Unforgotten star’s finely calibrated performance"

"Miss Moffat is the embodiment of the teaching profession at its most tirelessly dogged, dutiful and – to a hugely moving degree – self-denying. Walker's forte – as shown so brilliantly in the ITV detective drama Unforgotten – is her ability to communicate admirable purpose; few eyes blaze with such intelligence, few frowns convey such concentration. There are also hints of sadness within the self-containment."

"Iwan Davies’s brooding, casually clever Evans emerges from the pits of juvenility and stands on the brink of a great escape from all he has known, his sense of self and class in the balance. In the first half, on an empty stage, there’s a rich comedy to the small-town mindsets, typified by rough-and-tumble youths and the snooty, sexist, proudly philistine local squire (Rufus Wright). In the second, we get a proper living-room set by Ultz, and the dramatic stakes are raised, particularly by a sexually bold local lass (Saffron Coomber’s Bessy). A battle of female wills ensues over Evans’s future; without wishing to spoil the twist, Miss Moffat has to go the extra mile of sacrifice to win out, lending her the force and nobility of a tragic heroine."

The Telegraph
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The Burnt City (2022)

★★★

"Not quite a theatrical Trojan horse"

"This major new work by the immersive pioneers has some good ideas, but lacks the surprise of their greatest work"

"After eight years away from major happenings in London they’ve taken over two listed buildings amid the old Royal Arsenal site by the river at Woolwich. Felix Barrett, Maxine Doyle and team have got 100,000 square feet to play with, and they go to town, or to Troy, with it. With mixed results; this doesn't match the surprise and spontaneity of their Poe-inspired masterwork The Masque of the Red Death, but even if it disappoints by their standards, the scale and attention to detail leaves the competition standing."

"For me, the huge redeeming feature lay in the closing sections, amid the cavernous and palatial Greek area: shiver-making, brutal and beautiful scenes recognisable from The Oresteia and a final frenzied dance that transcends time, like a Grecian urn coming to life. The future of theatre? It feels a little too variable – however knowingly so – for that, but it still undoubtedly brings the past to all-consuming life with inventive twists and turns, and obsessive passion."

The Telegraph
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The 47th (2022)

★★

"Bertie Carvel’s perfect Trump impression can’t save this superficial play"

"Mike Barlett's latest "near-future" play imagines Donald Trump re-running for president in 2024"

"You could watch Carvel having a ball as Trump for hours. Which is just as well because the great bogeyman of recent US politics hogs the limelight for much of the near-future action, set at the tail-end of Biden’s first term, in 2024."

"Tamara Tunie’s Kamala Harris has a gravitas that feels unearned. The women, inevitably, resist unabashed misogyny. Goold brings his usual sheen to proceedings, played out under an oval-ish strip of light, yet can’t hide the lack of meaningful substance beneath the theatrical polish. See it for Carvel’s tour de force, perhaps, but as Trump would attest, you can’t win ’em all."

The Telegraph
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To Kill A Mockingbird (2022)

★★★★★

"Aaron Sorkin’s revelatory adaptation blazingly captures the zeitgeist"

"Harper Lee's famous 1960 novel comes rivetingly to life at the Gielgud Theatre, with Rafe Spall hypnotic as lawyer Atticus Finch"

"Watching it from the vantage of 2022, though, it’s clear that the piece is more than just classily cast (in this case, Rafe Spall takes the lead), well-wrought and boasting talking-point elements. It blazingly captures the zeitgeist, so that what remains firmly in period is also urgent, the furore about Floyd reinforcing its percipience."

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Straight Line Crazy (2022)

★★★

"Ralph Fiennes exudes brute force as New York's master builder"

"The actor captures the muscularity of Robert Moses in a fascinating but flawed new play by David Hare"

"Hare, or Hytner, could have divided the lead between two actors, one younger - conveying the residual dynamism of a Yale-man intent on changing the world – with Fiennes the battle-hardened operator. That might make the trajectory clearer, and with the star turning 60 this year, you don’t quite get the initial sense of a radical upstart, brazenly inveigling his way into the monied home of the tycoon Henry Vanderbilt, and demanding the elites of Long Island yield."

"Hare has alighted on a topic of monumental fascination. Call me crazy but Netflix should snap it up."

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Cock (2022)

★★★

"Mike Bartlett’s sexuality-crisis drama still just about measures up"

"'Rocketman' star Taron Egerton is under-used in the Ambassadors' revival of a smart 2009 work that has broadly kept pace with the times"

"Presented against a curved back wall of burnished metal with fluorescent-effect rods dangling from on high, the production projects modish style without attaining the searing intensity of the original cockpit staging. And while the script has broadly kept pace with the times, liberalism’s leaps and bounds have lent a sepia tinge to its focus on bisexuality, even if it still strikes a valid blow for unconstrained self-definition. (NB: everyone remains clothed and sex is teasingly implied.)"

"All in all, it still measures up, but the super-talented Bartlett – the original magic Mike perhaps – went on to bigger and better things and is girding his loins for two premieres in the coming weeks."

The Telegraph
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Maria Friedman & Friends - Legacy (2022)

★★★★

"It’s as if Sondheim is in the room with us – corny, but true"

"The Menier Chocolate Factory's touching tribute to the late musical-theatre genius sees Maria Friedman do him (and two other greats) proud"

"it’s a feast for Sondheim fans with a nice sprinkling of numbers from the other two, with a few surprises on top. Throw in affable chat and reminiscence, and the soirée risks over-stuffing its guests; but given how moreish Sondheim’s songs are, and how sating, it amounts to vital comfort food for these jittery times."

"We knew that Sondheim’s legacy was assured, but that point is further underlined by fresh-faced contributions from Friedman’s smiley son Alfie, virtuosic in a hectic sardonic number from Merrily; Indonesian sensation Desmonda Cathabel, giving an impeccable rendition of The Miller’s Son; and a choir from the Royal Academy of Music in the wistfully optimistic Our Time."

The Telegraph
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The Collaboration (2022)

★★★★

"Paul Bettany brings agony and ecstasy to the role of Andy Warhol"

"This Young Vic production imagines the unlikely - but true - encounter between the doyen of pop art and Jean-Michel Basquiat"

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Moulin Rouge! The Musical (2022)

★★★★

"The perfect way to celebrate our post-pandemic freedom"

The spectacular, Tony-winning adaptation of Baz Luhrmann's much-loved film is short on plot but more than makes up for it in entertainment

The Telegraph
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Cabaret (2021)

★★★★★

"Eddie Redmayne dazzles in the kill-for-a-ticket theatrical triumph of 2021"

"Rebecca Frecknall’s staging of the 1966 Kander and Ebb classic re-affirms the sensuous joy of performance and sends shivers down the spine"

""Redmayne, returning to theatre after a decade, offers a dazzling vision of the Emcee role, so long associated with Alan Cumming in the Mendes production, that makes it freshly glinting and sinister," wrote Cavendish.

"As Sally Bowles, the English deb turned devil-may-care show-girl, Buckley achieves no smaller feat: she makes you laugh, breaks your heart, has you hanging on her every word - sung or otherwise," he continued. "The Irish actress's period accent and distinctive attitude, nonchalance combined with subtle forcefulness and vulnerability, sets her far from Liza Minnelli in the 1972 film."

The Telegraph
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Best of Enemies (2021)

★★★★

"Witnessing the birth of televised political discussion as blood-sport"

"James Graham's dramatisation – at the Young Vic – of the game-changing 1968 Gore Vidal and William F Buckley Jr debates packs a real punch"

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The Book of Dust (2021)

★★★

"A promising adaptation cursed by its daemons"

"Nicholas Hytner's new Philip Pullman adaptation at the Bridge Theatre has plenty going for it but currently feels like a Christmas curio"

The Telegraph
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The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2021)

★★★★★

"British theatre at its gob-smacking best"

"Young and old alike will be entranced by the return of this illusion-packed Neil Gaiman adaptation"

"Katy Rudd’s production honours every philosophical beat and every pulse-racing thud of the experience, as good as putting us in the shoes of James Bamford’s bashful, inquisitive Boy"

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

★★★★★

"Austen would have loved this smart, silly, laugh-out-loud show"

"This full-bodied, all-female adaptation of Austen's masterpiece at the Criterion is even better than it was two years ago – praise indeed"

The Telegraph
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Back to the Future (2021)

★★★★★

"The car's the star in this feelgood triumph"

"Great Scott! This musical based on the Eighties classic shouldn't work - but it's magnificent"

The Telegraph
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Frozen The Musical (2021)

★★★

"The venue puts the show in the shade.

"The newly refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane is jaw-dropping, but this stage version of the all-conquering Disney film feels less magical"

The Telegraph
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Les Miserables (2020)

★★★★★

"Perfect theatre, in a perfect theatre"

"Prepare for a fresh outbreak of Les Mis mania."

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Magic Goes Wrong (2020)

★★★★

"A terrific new helping of the art of comic incompetence"

"their commitment to the character-comedy and the skill they deploy to bring their stunts off adds a complexity to their medicinal froth. We buy into the idea that we’re genuinely watching hopeless cases – and we want them to suffer for their idiocy but also, in unexpected ways, transcend it."

The Telegraph
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Cyrano de Bergerac (2019)

★★★★★

"I defy anyone not to fall in love with it."

“James McAvoy proves a revelation in a super-smart stripped-back Cyrano that turns the play on its head and left me speechless with admiration.”

“The stage-magic lies in the musculature of the word-music he unleashes in a two-hour long work-out of lungs and larynx. Those ravishing verbals have been given a 21st century spin. The rhyming couplets have acquired a street-wise panache; rap-culture informs the rapier wit. An 18-strong cast – dressed-down in everyday gear – occupy a no-frills theatrical environment (exposed stage, wooden surrounds, plastic chairs). It’s like a performance poetry gig. They wield hand-held mics, beatbox too.”

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& Juliet (2019)

★★★

"It's essentially glorified panto"

"While this show isn’t in the same league as Mamma Mia! by fellow Swedes Abba, those with a willing ear for his brand of shiny pop should enjoy hearing his bangers rendered at high volume and landing with a swaggering, truant disposition."

"Part of me thinks this feelgood extravaganza might just prove the new We Will Rock You"

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DEAR EVAN HANSEN (2019)

★★★★

"A star is born as the Broadway hit comes to the UK"

"Dear Evan Hansen, which premiered in 2015 and stormed Broadway the following year (winning six Tonys), gives voice to the angst of doubt-riddled adolescence, the flipside of the country’s brutal winner-loser culture. It is also widely regarded as the first major musical to put the subject of social media centre-stage."

"I was consistently (darkly) entertained, not just by the narrative twists and turns but the internal knots into which Hansen ties himself, prompted by his tangle of misplaced altruism, grasping opportunism and beta-male insecurity. At the same time, the evening does feel – much like its protagonist – supremely calculated; and for all its cleverness, there is an air of chilliness about it. Original though the scenario undoubtedly is, it unfolds fairly schematically; too few of the characters feel fully fleshed out."

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Groan Ups (2019)

★★★★

"Growing pains of the most painfully funny kind"

"The script deftly unites moments broad and silly with elements wistful and serious within a simple structure: we follow the shifting relations and fortunes of five school friends, from early primary days past the terrible teens to an adult reunion."

"Yes, the scenario is a bit scribbled on a bus, trades on stereotypes, and gag-wise has its share of groaners. Yet aside from showcasing Mischief’s rare facility for generating mirth and turning the stage into a zestful playground, it suggests a growing maturity of artistic ambition. "

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Groan Ups (2019)

★★★★

"Growing pains of the most painfully funny kind"

"Yes, the scenario is a bit scribbled on a bus, trades on stereotypes, and gag-wise has its share of groaners. Yet aside from showcasing Mischief’s rare facility for generating mirth and turning the stage into a zestful playground, it suggests a growing maturity of artistic ambition. "

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Lungs (2019)

★★★★

"Claire Foy shines and Matt Smith glints in doomsday play."

"Both actors cope brilliantly with the technical and tonal challenges, although the scripted-sounded nature of their verbal emissions can irk and the characters are more like talking predicaments than fully rounded personae. Foy shines brightest, her thinking aloud exhilarating in its runaway force. Smith – seemingly unaged since his Dr Who prime, flexing action-man limbs, even performing press-ups – is good at glinting tenderness, ardency and sheepishness (there are philandering parallels to Philip)."

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Vassa (2019)

★★

"A rare misfire from north London’s creative powerhouse"

" Redmond contends admirably enough, chilling the temperature with an Anne Robinson-esque winteriness (lots of baleful looks, weary reprimands), but the character barely lives and breathes more successfully than her unseen moribund other half."

"Bartlett – who delivered one of the plays of the decade here with King Charles III – gives us neither a compelling vision of the past nor something that correlates well to the present. There is also something awry with the staging by up-and-coming director Tinuke Craig, which gives little period specificity. The flip, often fast dialogue has the veneer of a black comedy - and offers moments of wit - but it’s not only hard, as a consequence, to latch on to what people are driving at (the intrigue is quite involved) but it’s a challenge to care about any of them. For the first time in a long while at the Almeida, I’m groping for positives."

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Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat (2019)

★★★★

"It’s a boon to see Smith treading West End boards again"

"No one can argue that Joseph – which owes as much to Butlins, you feel, as the Bible – possesses immense sophistication. Or that it had the subversion as Hair, which came to London the same year as that first try-out (1968). Yet, free from the shackles of deference, and boldly making use of a through-sung format, it marched to the same anything-goes counter-cultural tune of the time."

"It’s a boon to see Smith treading West End boards again: her Narrator, very girl-next-door in simple top and joggers, has a silky-rich voice and a sunbeamy smile so bright you may need to apply factor 50."

"You think Yarrow has walked off with the show, then up rises Donovan's Pharoah amid MGM-levels of gilded pomp and milks every over-extended moment of his Elvisy rock number, hip-thrusting with a machismo that belies his feline Egyptian eye-shadow."

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Wife (2019)

★★★★

Ibsen’s A Doll’s House renovated and extended to inspiring effect. In Wife, Samuel Adamson ingeniously revisits the play, and springboards from reprised versions of that scene to explore shifting theatrical approaches and evolving societal norms about marriage and personal relations

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The Starry Messenger  (2019)

★★★

"A play that wistfully acknowledges the passage of time and onset of middle-age"

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Betrayal (2019)

★★★★

"Tom Hiddleston displays a hypnotic sensitivity in this modern masterpiece"

"In common with all his best work – including, yes, that glinting study in volatile vengefulness, the maverick Marvel baddie Loki – he displays a hypnotic sensitivity. Such is his physical and vocal control, that no matter how light the look or line, or indeed how loaded, everything registers. I had worried that the actor, 38, might come across as too well-spoken, too restrained but he doesn’t merely suggest the noxious, torturing impact of that title word, Betrayal, he seems to carry it in his blood-stream."

"Striking, ardent, confident, Ashton’s Emma could do with more enigma and less underlined brittleness but catches the character’s ache and discontent well, while Cox acquits himself superbly as the down to earth best-mate who behaves like a rotter, with cat that got the cream smiles and an awful sheepishness as it dawns on him that the others have played him for a fool."

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Waitress (2019)

★★★★

"A meaty musical packed with delicious filling"

"I have to confess to craving a slice of humble-pie after watching Waitress...a meaty musical packed with delicious filling"

"To be honest, I went in expecting the whole thing to get completely up my nostrils."

"Yet after two hours of more-ish, tuneful entertainment (snappy folky-rocky-poppy music and lyrics from Sara Bareilles, book by Jessie Nelson) my carapace – crust, if you will – of scepticism had been breached, leaving warm appreciation oozing out. And if you’re averse to tongue-in-cheek, culinary-related metaphors, then do stand warned – from the opening, lullaby-like line “Sugar, butter, flour”, this is a show that takes joyous relish in whisking together the staple references of its workplace milieu with all the confused emotions that attend its principals’ appetite for love and companionship."

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Come From Away (2019)

★★★

"Glossing over the trauma of 9/11"

"Their musical phenomenon - which opened on Broadway in 2017 to ecstatic reviews - has now landed in London with a British cast"

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9 to 5 The Musical (2019)

★★★

"Bonnie Langford is employee of the month in this feelgood but flimsy musical"

"For power-jacketed professionalism, you can’t fault Caroline Sheen (stepping in for an injured Louise Redknapp to play multi-tasking, lovelorn Violet), Amber Davies (the 2017 Love Island winner) as the gradually empowered Judy and Natalie McQueen as the drawling Doralee, bewailing the bimbo status that she has been saddled with."

"Employee of the month’ award however should go to Bonnie Langford"

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All About Eve (2019)

★★★

"Lily James lacks peculiarity in uninspired screen-to-stage affair"

"Van Hove loves to strip things back, so we get minimal Broadway glamour and bustle – but less eye-catching experimentalism than you might expect. Period trappings are out even if the implicit social landscape of the original remains."

"Anderson, svelte and glowering, exudes first boredom then fear, communicates wariness well with just a poisonous glance."

"there’s a stand-out supporting performance from Monica Dolan as Margo’s turncoat confidant Karen"

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True West (2018)

"Kit Harington proves his mettle in Sam Shepard's bleak battle of wills"

"The late Sam Shepard’s True West is a remarkably delicate flower. Set it down in the wrong place, fail to moisten it with sufficient droplets of subtle directorial care, and a dark comedy of wild pungency can wilt into something oddly odourless."

"If the evening needs to look more rock n roll, less like a roughed-up version of The Odd Couple, there’s still enough to savour for the initiated and uninitiated alike. Having been as wooden as a Westeros draw-bridge in a dire Faustus two years ago, a heavily moustachioed Harington proves his mettle in this latest stage outing."

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Fiddler On The Roof (2018)

★★★★

The tears ring true in Trevor Nunn's exuberant revival.

'Despite its rather rudimentary story-line, the show remains as fresh as ever. Folk songs that were the product of affectionate pastiche – the creative trio’s homage to ‘where poppa came from’ – have such a core veracity, it’s almost as if they were actually sung back in the day.'

'Nyman doesn’t always sound the part, he looks it: a little youthful, granted, but with his big beard, labourer’s fore-arms and stout physique, he plausibly incarnates the fretful patriarch.'

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Hadestown (2018)

★★★

"Enjoyable winter-warmer that's a near myth"

"Those seeking “value for money” can’t complain given that they’re treated, over more than two hours, to song after well-sung, well-crafted song, a bumper-pack of bluesy, folksy, jazzy material that does the soul good to hear it. Or can they?"

"Mitchell’s through-sung approach squeezes out opportunities for richly character-defining dialogue. Her lyrics often come not from psychologically detailed personae but from the show’s collective spirit of story-telling"

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Company (2018)

★★★★★

"Sublime"

"Gender-switched Sondheim proves a sublime down-the-rabbit-hole cocktail of entertainment.

"This is astonishing in so many ways it feels as if you’re hemmed in by reasons to cheer. Marianne Elliott’s re-imagining of Stephen Sondheim’s landmark experimental 1970 musical (with skittish book by George Furth) reboots a modern classic for the Tinder age. It’s sensational. But it might not have worked."

"Yes, Sondheim is a known genius, Elliott one of our finest directors. And, sure, there’s something inevitable – given our identity-fluid times – about taking the pivotal role of Bobby, a sexy, unattached New Yorker contemplating the hazards (and rewards) of coupledom as he hits 35, and – hey presto – gender-switching it."

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Tina - The Tina Turner Musical (2018)

★★★★★

"Beautifully designed and roof-raisingly well-sung"

"Born in the USA, made in England. That’s the thesis of this slickly choreographed, beautifully designed and roof-raisingly well-sung bio-musical about Tina Turner."

"It combines the aesthetic finesse of British director Phyllida Lloyd with the political instincts of Memphis-born, Olivier nominated playwright Katori Hall - and boasts a tour de force performance by American actress Adrienne Warren."

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