Selected reviews by Andrzej Lukowski, theatre and dance editor of Time Out London.
Andrzej Lukowski has been theatre and dance editor of Time Out London since 2013, and is their lead theatre critic.
Andre also writes about dance, comedy and opera for Time Out. He also writes for other publications including the New York Times and The Stage.
He has lived in London for over a decade.
More about Andrzej Lukowski:
Henry V (2022)
"Henry V gets a Richard III makeover in this none-more-dark new take on the patriotic war play"
"This darkly comic co-production between the Globe and Headlong amps up the darkness around Oliver Johnston’s Henry to almost preposterous levels. Nicking a bit of ‘Henry IV Part 2’ as a prologue, Holly Race Roughan’s production shows Henry V as a bullied son who never really manages to master his emotions, vacillating from one extreme to the other, rarely in a good way."
"Still, much as I enjoyed its camp black humour, I struggled with why any of it was actually happening."
"... it zips along a treat, has a fistful of great new jokes and there is something impressively irreverent about the plethora of cuts and changes. In the final analysis, none of this adds up to any great new meaning. But it has enough demonic verve to style it out. Just."
The Sex Party (2022)
"Bewilderingly disjointed comedy about an Islington sex party that gets awkward when trans woman Lucy arrives"
"There is probably a sensitive and interesting drama on the subject of what exactly drives a relatively substantial number of middle-aged couples to experiment with infidelity. And for a while it looks like that might be what ‘The Sex Party’ is aiming for"
"Instead it gestures clumsily at all three and comes away as a pretty baffling use of a decent cast’s time. Johnson is a veteran writer and director who has done some great stuff in his day, but ‘The Sex Party’ feels at least three drafts away from knowing what it wants to be, let alone actually being any cop."
Not One of These People (2022)
"An out-there formal experiment"
"Martin Crimp’s deepfake show is an out-there formal experiment that asks very hard questions about the ethics of authorship"
"Avant-garde legend Martin Crimp’s latest show is only having a four-performance run at the Royal Court. While that presumably partly reflects the fact that its star – one Martin Crimp – isn’t up for a more intensive schedule, it’s also surely acknowledgment that ‘Not One of These People’ is more along the lines of an art experiment than ‘a play’ and that a six-week-run might be pushing it, even by the Court’s standards."
"It almost feels a bit churlish rating something that’s so explicitly a short-run formal experiment, but critic’s gotta critique: ‘Not One of These People’ is maybe not unmissable theatre, but it’s an interesting and unnerving idea, a grand exercise in faking it that points to uncomfortable truths."
"Scottish diplomat James Melville is the focus of this understated installment of Rona Munro’s epic James Plays"
"A chamber piece about political power and the deals men do in back rooms, it’s effectively a three-hander that comes in at under 90 minutes, and only really consists of two scenes, a far cry from the teeming casts and epic adventures of the other plays."
"Two things Munro’s writing, Henshall’s lead performance and Silbert’s production nail. The first is its brilliant depiction of political persuasion... The other thing the play uncomfortably nails is its depiction of men deciding the fate of women"
"‘Mary’ is a fascinating continuation of ‘The James Plays’. But ultimately it feels like an interesting bonus feature, a hushed, minor-key interlude in a very different cycle of dramas."
Tammy Faye – A New Musical (2022)
"Elton John’s new musical is a joyously camp tribute to the oddball US televangelist, with a storming book by James Graham"
"‘Tammy Faye’ is very much the creation of playwright James Graham, who wrote the book."
"... it’s also the first big biographical musical I’ve seen since ‘Hamilton’ where the writer was clearly allowed a free hand, and not simply forced into writing a hagiography by the subject’s estate"
"Throughout, Brayben keeps us convinced of Faye’s essential decency. And she is an absolutely phenomenal singer"
"Basically, it’s a terrific piece of entertainment written by the country’s biggest playwright, with songs by Elton John and the guy from the Scissor Sisters. This surely isn’t the last we’ve heard of Tammy Faye."
My Neighbour Totoro (2022)
"In the RSC’s new blockbuster awe-inspiring puppets bring Studio Ghibli’s masterpiece to the stage flawlessly"
"... the puppets – designed by Basil Twist, assembled by Jim Hendon’s Creature Workshop – are fucking spectacular."
"Spoiler alert, but there are actually at least five Totoros, ranging from his colossal sleeping form – when Mei Mac’s Mei first randomly encounters him under the giant camphor tree near her house – to smaller, more mobile forms, and even a sweet 2D faux-woodcut version. All of them are absolutely charming, and most of them have the troublingly enormous teeth and tongue that define the OG screen version"
"My only quibble is that in its sheer reverence for the source material, ‘My Neighbour Totoro’ feels entirely beholden to it. Of course you’d enjoy it if you hadn’t seen the film, but nonetheless, there is no question that its purpose is to put the film on stage. Colossal as the talent on display is, there’s not much room for fresh artistic vision"
The Doctor (2022)
"Visionary director Robert Icke returns as Juliet Stevenson reprises her colossal 2019 performance"
"... it’s bloody good to have ‘The Doctor’ back. It clicked with me more the second time. But also it’s a simple case of not appreciating what you’ve got until it’s gone. And Icke has been gone too long."
"Stevenson is magnificent as Wolfe, but she’s so Teflon-coated in the first half that it’s hard to exactly feel sorry for her. And though Icke has smartly linked a 110-year-old play with modern ideas of cancel culture, I’m not exactly clear about what he’s trying to say about it"
"It’s a magnificently tense production, with a superb live drum soundtrack from musician Hannah Ledwidge, perched theatrically up above the stage"
The Band's Visit (2022)
"This bittersweet, idiosyncratic musical about a lost Egyptian band gets a gorgeous UK premiere"
"For a moment, it looks like ‘The Band’s Visit’ will be a sort of Middle Eastern ‘Come from Away’ – an aggressively heartwarming drama about a group of people who randomly end up in a small town and everybody grows and learns something, vom vom vom. In fact it’s a beautiful, haunting work about loss, loneliness and the desire for human warmth."
"Much of the magic is to do with the exceptional casting (big props to casting director Anna Cooper). In an international ensemble of mostly (possibly entirely) Middle Eastern extraction, the band members all really play instruments, with many taking on substantial acting roles too. There’s something ineffably beautiful about the mournful solo trumpets or clarinets that cut through the night air; and then the percussive, rhymic roar of their final ensemble instrumental tune is pure joy, morning sun exploding over the horizon after a long night."
"Given it was a hit on Broadway, I’m sure it could be a hit on the West End. But I wonder how easy it would be to hold this sprawling and uniquely talented international ensemble together; and, frankly, it’s hard to see how such an intimate show could possibly have the same impact in a big, formal West End playhouse. Catch it before it slips away into the night."
"The brand-new Marylebone Theatre opens its doors with this gripping Schiller curio"
"The Marylebone Theatre is an unexpected new addition to London’s theatre scene. A 220-seat venue located in Rudolf Steiner Hall, it’s been knocking around for years (Alec Guinness put on a play here in 1939!) but has now suddenly become a producing venue."
"An unfinished Friedrich Schiller drama completed by playwright Peter Oswald, it’s the sort of show you might expect to see at the National Theatre on a megabudget or at the Almeida with a starrier cast or creatives. As it is, ‘Dmitry’ has a cast of 17 very respectable actors, directed by former Young Vic boss Tim Supple. On payroll alone it’s clearly not cheap – it seems almost inconceivable it could break even on ticket sales, and is presumably being subsidised by somebody or other – but neither does it have the funds behind it to push into being the sort of sweeping spectacle Schiller’s epic storyline demands. Those caveats accepted, ‘Dmitry’ is engrossing stuff. "
John Gabriel Borkman (2022)
"Simon Russell Beale and Lia Williams are wonderful in Ibsen’s eccentric, elegiac late play"
"Finally revived by Nicholas Hytner at the Bridge after years of pandemic-related delays, the relatively little-seen ‘John Gabriel Borkman’ feels less like an Ibsen tragedy, more an epilogue to one of them."
"It’s all very bleak, but Lucinda Coxon’s adaptation palpably and surprisingly lightens up when we move upstairs to meet Simon Russell Beale’s Borkman. Yes, he’s an embittered ruin of a man. But a combination of his uncrushed self-belief, a certain innate decency, and his weirdly charming relationship with his last loyal friend Willhelm (Michael Simkins) serves to give things a blackly humorous piquancy that livens up the play no end."
"It’s an eccentric play, and undeniably less ‘important’ feeling than Ibsen’s prodigious greatest hits. But it has a whipsmart humour and wonderful momentum to it: a depiction of frozen lives finally experiencing one last calamitous thaw before the end of their days. Hytner directs fluidly and kinetically, and the lack of an interval is a smart idea to keep the pace up and stop it from getting too cosy"
The Crucible (2022)
"Brendan Cowell’s working-class hero John Proctor is tremendous in the National Theatre’s atmospheric Arthur Miller revival"
"It doesn’t get much more spectacular than the crashing wall of artificial rain that shrouds the Olivier’s stage before Lyndsay Turner’s revival of ‘The Crucible’ starts."
"Ultimately, Turner’s take on ‘The Crucible’ is full of good ideas and atmospheric flourishes – the rain, the accents, the way the chorus of girls appear behind scrims, singing hauntingly – without coalescing into an entirely coherent reinvention. Which is fine. Miller’s play is both a tremendous piece of writing but also built like brick shithouse. It doesn’t need to be interpreted or taken in hand like, say, ‘Hamlet’. Everyone already knows what the subtext is, it doesn’t need a hot take reading."
Eureka Day (2022)
"Helen Hunt is excellent in this smart US comedy about a liberal schoolboard that collapses into infighting over a vaccine mandate"
"At first glance it feels staggering that Jonathan Spector’s comedy about a hyper-liberal American school that goes into meltdown over mandatory vaccination dates from 2018, is well before the pandemic. On reflection, though, ‘Eureka Day’ isn’t so much prophetic as perceptive."
" ‘Eureka Day’ is just lacking a bit of the heft and muscle it needs to really storm this stage. Spector doesn’t have the ruthlessness of, say Bruce Norris: nobody does anything irredeemable, everyone is kind of let off the hook by the end. It’s a funny play, and a perceptive play, but it’s not a daring play."
The Clinic (2022)
"Faultlines in a fractious British-Nigerian family become catastrophically exposed when they take in a troubled young activist"
"It’s pretty much a mess – albeit a frequently funny, thrilling one – that suggests Baruwa-Etti has a way to go before he really nails larger ensemble pieces."
"It’s basically pretty entertaining – but a couple of rewrites and a round or two with a dramaturg and it could have been so much more."
"Powerful docu-theatre show giving voice to those caught up in the chaos of the Partition of India"
"These accounts of brutal and needless killings remind us of what our families’ eyes have seen."
"Though not exhaustive, this is a history we all know. ‘Silence’ is only a fraction of the unheard stories of Partition. Three-quarters of a century later, let’s hope the rest will have their chance to make a noise."
I, Joan (2022)
"Charlie Josephine’s play is a joyous celebration of non-binary identity told aa tongue in cheek take on the story of Joan of Arc"
"... Josephine’s largely joyous romp is about as much an earnest historical character study as the film ‘Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter’."
"It is camp as Christmas and knowingly so, with Thom’s Joan the archly anachronistic ringleader, Jolyon Coy on amusing form as bored, shambolic French king Charles XII, and the whole thing blessed with a delightful set from Naomi Kuyck-Cohen..."
"‘I, Joan’ is a gleeful celebration of non-binariness, grafted on to a tongue-in-cheek hop skip and a jump through the life and times of Joan of Arc."
Stranger Things: The Experience (2022)
"After a wonky start, this official immersive show does a decent job of throwing you into the world of the Netflix smash"
"If you’ve never seen or actively dislike ‘Stranger Things’, it would be pretty perverse of you to hike out to Brent Cross for this. But if you like the show – even relatively casually – then ‘Stranger Things: The Experience’ is a very fun hour of fan service. It has a glacial start to be sure, but the Netflix megabucks win out in the end. If the end of Season Four has left you feeling bereft, this is the place to go to get yourself that little extra bump of strangeness."
The Trials (2022)
"Teenagers are given power of life or death in Dawn King’s gripping climate dystopia"
"‘The Trials’ works both on an allegorical level – how will our children judge us? – and also to explore the idea that revolution and an end of democracy is likely if governments won’t meaningfully tackle climate change."
"I found ‘The Trials’ gripping, both as an urgent imagining of how our generation will be viewed by our kids, but also a smart imagining of revolution generally."
" ‘Heartstopper’ fans here for Locke will be happy that his intense, angry Noah is a highlight, as is pro actor Kneafsky’s zen Ren. There’s even another ‘Heartstopper’ alumnus in William Gao as dashing volunteer worker Xander."
South Pacific (2022)
"Smart revival of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s WW2-set jewel"
"... Daniel Evans’s Chichester Festival Theatre revival of ‘South Pacific’ is affirmation that you don’t actually have to irreverently deconstruct Rodgers & Hammerstein for them to feel relevant."
"Let’s be clear: the score is staggering, and that’s why ‘South Pacific’ still gets staged. It’s home to an almost indecent number of masterpieces, from the sassy proto-pop of ‘Gonna Wash That Man Right Outa My Hair’ to the swooning romance of ‘Some Enchanted Evening’ to the excoriating ‘You’ve Got to Be Taught’ which is – the odd crass rhyme aside – a still blistering anti-racism song."
"Ultimately ‘South Pacific’ is a very pleasurable musical that also makes some serious points very well."
The Tempest (2022)
"Sean Holmes directs a super-fun production of Shakespeare’s magical final play"
"... Holmes’s production is aware of the environmental and post-colonial dimensions of a play that is, very much, about a bunch of Europeans bringing their junk – both literally and figuratively – to a magical, unspoilt shore. But it’s also a bloody good laugh."
"It’s a lighthearted ‘Tempest’ with darker undercurrents and a lovely intimacy provided by the moments performed on the small added thrust stage - O’Brien’s call and response routine with the audience towards the end of the first half is a proper bit of Globe magic. The Globe Ensemble of actors are also really cooking with gas at this stage: some of these people have basically done nothing but perform in Shakespeare plays since the Globe reopened last spring, and the ease with the language and ability to work the crowd is markedly better than the non-Ensemble shows this summer. It won’t go down in history as a revolutionary production, but as a crowd pleaser it’s inventive, compassionate and really just a pure joy."
Sister Act (2022)
"Despite Beverley Knight’s stupendous vocals, this big-budget musical revival misses intended star Whoopi Goldberg"
" Beverly Knight makes a very respectable replacement for Goldberg: retaining her Arkansas accent from her recent run in ‘The Drifters Girl’, the Queen of UK Soul™ is a musical-theatre veteran these days. If she’s clearly not as funny as Goldberg would have been, she blows pretty virtually everyone else away vocally: she is an extraordinary singer. "
"Nonetheless, it’s a solid production from Bill Buckhurst with some fun set-pieces: in particular, Rowe’s double-quick change in the song ‘I Could Be That Guy’ is truly astounding, while the lurid curtain-call costumes are a migraine-inducing delight (it’s great work all round from costume designer Morgan Large)."
101 Dalmatians (2022)
"Kate Fleetwood steals the show as an influencer Cruella de Vil in this uneven new family musical"
"Adapted direct from Dodie Smith’s 1956 kids’ book – ie, absolute not a Disney production – ‘101 Dalmatians’ is a scrappy affair. It’s the first ever original musical from the Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, and it boasts charming puppetry, big-name writers and a scream of a turn from Kate Fleetwood as the evil Cruella de Vil. But by the towering standards of the OAT – known for its revelatory musical revivals – it’s pretty uneven."
"My kids didn’t care about any of this: they enjoyed two hours of a lighthearted good vs evil yarn with some cool puppets and a boo-hissable villain. They didn’t worry about the merits of ‘101 Dalmatians’ as a musical for the ages. And if you can take the same attitude, you’ll have a blast, or at least you’ll have a blast in the good bits. But ultimately the Open Air Theatre is one of the best musical theatre venues in London, and by its own extremely lofty standards, ‘101 Dalmatians’ is a bit of a dog’s dinner."
Jack Absolute Flies Again (2022)
"Richard Bean and Oliver Chris’s WW2-set reworking of ‘The Rivals’ is very funny but not a lot more"
"‘Jack Absolute Flies Again’ is a very funny play. But it’s not an especially great one, or to be fairer, its greatness is definitely not in proportion to how funny it is. It’s relentlessly chucklesome, but almost aggressively lacking in wider purpose..."
Much Ado About Nothing (2022)
"Katherine Parkinson and John Heffernan are a blast in this luxuriously eccentric take on Shakespeare’s romcom"
"If this production has a fault it’s that it doesn’t feel even slightly urgent. It’s a luxuriant meander though ‘Much Ado’ that often seems immensely pleased with itself. Again, see: the films of Wes Anderson. But as far as I’m concerned, it’s right to be pleased with itself. Spending time at the Hotel Messina is a pleasure, a lazy holiday on which not a lot happens, very charmingly. It’s a wrench to leave."
Peaky Blinders: The Rise reviews (2022)
"This is comfortably the most tedious immersive theatre show I’ve seen in London in at least ten years."
"if you want a Peaky Blinders fancy dress party then this is fine"
"Falls short of its ambitions"
"It’s an interesting, informative play, with three great performances in Hollander’s brilliant, quicksilver Berezovsky, Keen’s hypnotically plausible, hangdog Putin, and Luke Thallon’s Abramovitch"
"It’s a solid drama from Morgan, with a superior cast and an entertaining production. But the fact it threatens to say something devastatingly perceptive about the world in 2022 makes it all the more disappointing when it doesn’t."
The Seagull (2022)
"Emilia Clarke is irresistible in Jamie Lloyd’s ultra-stripped back take on Chekhov’s masterpiece"
"To say Lloyd’s production is boring would be far from true. But it harnesses the dramatic potential of tedium: you can palpably feel the dullness and the smallness of the island, gnawing away at the senses of its inhabitants, many of whom speak in flat, low voices, some barely more than a mumble."
"In this context the use of Anya Reiss’s lairy 2012 adaptation of the play seems less because Lloyd’s production feels in sync with her sweary, yoof-friendly adaptation, but because its spikey dialogue adds a bit of energy and humour to the wilfully hushed delivery."
"Nonetheless, the ostensibly subdued performances are all gripping and often startlingly original. "
"Disney’s spectacular-looking musical is a stunning exercise in vamping for time"
"A song and dance sequence set in a tavern involving rhythmically clanking flagons and vain antagonist Gaston (Tom Senior) singing about how amazing he is was genuinely jaw-dropping. But it’s also frustratingly superfluous, a grandiose exercise in stalling for time."
"Genuinely, it is one of the most visually impressive shows I’ve ever seen: even Meyer’s painted backdrops are gorgeous, and that’s to say nothing of the woodcut-style projection of wolves, the gasp-inducing quick changes and the beautiful 3D sets, most notably the dreamy tunnel of night blossoming pink roses."
A Dolls House, Part 2 (2022)
"A funny, sharp metasequel to Ibsen’s classic play"
"If ‘A Doll’s House, Part 2’ has an obvious weakness it’s that Hnath’s determination to not appear to revise Ibsen’s story leads to some slightly weird plot beats. I very much struggled to work out what Nora’s plan was supposed to be at the end. But this isn’t actually a story about what happened after Nora walked out, because we know that: Nora went on to become a legend, one of the most iconic creations in literature. Hnath’s play is a razor-sharp, frequently hilarious interrogation of that legend."
The Gunpowder Plot (2022)
"The Gunpowder Plot has set a new gold standard"
"This lavish new immersive theatre attraction from the Tower of London is, in essence, a 100-minute theme-park ride"
"What marks the ‘The Gunpowder Plot’ out as special is its superior creative team, headed by writer Danny Robins (‘The Battersea Poltergeist’, ‘2:22 - A Ghost Story’) and director Hannah Price (of the King’s Head and activist company Theatre Uncut."
"The Gunpowder Plot’ is streets ahead of its London peers like ‘The Great Gatsby’, ‘Doctor Who: Time Fracture’ and ‘The War of the Worlds’. It engages with its source material with genuine intelligence and care – it’s not just a glorified cosplay sesh."
Legally Blonde The Musical (2022)
"It’s weird, visually striking and basically pretty funny"
"this revival of ‘Legally Blonde’ feels less like an update of the 2007 musical, more like a bizarre fever dream about it."
"It’s weird, visually striking and basically pretty funny, but I found it very difficult to get a handle on it emotionally."
"Bowman’s Elle seems like a kook adrift in her own peculiar pink reality, cosplaying the role of the ditzy fashion marketing student who uses her business smarts to follow Warner to Harvard Law School, rather than being an active participant in her own story."
"after a first half so singularly unafraid to do its own thing that I was mostly sat gawping in vague, is-this-really-happening befuddlement, the second felt more exposing of the shortcomings of both director and the musical itself."
"A harder, darker hornier version of the classic musical"
"Nikolai Foster’s big West End revival isn’t an aggressively dramatic reappraisal, like the version of ‘Oklahoma!’ currently playing at the Young Vic. It’s more a careful sift through all the songs and story options available, that have then been pieced together into the hardest-edged version available, but without actually dramatically departing from precedent."
"Foster’s key decision is to reinstate swathes of the very first, 1971 version of the musical, which has never been performed professionally in this country (or indeed, outside of Chicago where the show originated). He’s held on to the big anthems added for the film – ‘Grease is the Word’, ‘You’re the One that I Want’ – because obviously he doesn’t want an audience riot on his hands."
"This radical Rodgers & Hammerstein revival lives up to the thirsty hype"
"I’m struggling to think of a hornier theatre production than Daniel Fish’s radical revamp of Rodgers & Hammerstein’s 1943 musical ‘Oklahoma!’.
"A big pre-pandemic hit in New York – where it was dubbed ‘sexy Oklahoma!’ – the first half in particular of Fish’s deceptively barebones production leans really creatively into the fact that very little happens in ‘Oklahoma!’ beyond its characters thirsting after each other, and thirsting hard."
"Crucially, it’s very well cast. Lucas is wonderful as the flinty-eyed but vulnerable Laurey; Wallace is a wellspring of good vibes and vocal powerhousing as Annie. Darvill hits just the right note of ambiguity as Curley - charming, yes, but entitled and mean to returning US cast member Vaill’s excellent Jud. Also returning from the US, Davis is a rubbery-bodied dream, bounding about the stage as the blissfully dopey Will. Crucially, Fish has allowed the Annie love triangle plot to stay funny and sweet and largely unaltered – you can radically revamp a show while holding on to the bits that work just fine."
"Mark Rylance lets the old magic flow once again as the stage performance of our lifetimes returns"
"I doubt the legacy of ‘Jerusalem’ the play is really going to be settled until Mark Rylance leaves it, because the power of Rooster Byron as a character is so hard to separate from his performance (there have been smaller productions around the world, but nothing approaching the scale of this one). Which is just fine: all the endless discussion of ‘Jerusalem’ feels a bit irrelevant when you’re confronted by the elemental reality of the thing itself. Leave it to future generations to decide where ‘Jerusalem’ goes on a list. For a few months, it has returned to our dark, satanic mills. Come, you giants!"
Prima Facie (2022)
"Jodie Comer gives a tour de force performance in this slightly clunky sexual assault monologue"
"It’s a personal triumph somewhat mitigated by the fact that the play she’s chosen is pretty clunky. But ‘Prima Facie’, by Aussie writer Suzie Miller, is impassioned and about an important subject, and let’s be honest, in ‘Killing Eve’ Comer could always spin gold out of material that got pretty ‘mixed’ as the seasons wore on. Here, Miller gives her everything she needs."
"However, it’s understandable that Comer wanted to kick off her stage career with a meaty 100-minute monologue about something she feels passionate about. If all famous actors simply went for the best play possible, we’d be stuck with even more bloody ‘Hamlet’. With ‘Prima Facie’, Jodie Comer had something to prove about herself, and something she wanted to say about the world, and she’s done both."
Marys Seacole (2022)
"The headspinning new play from the author of ‘Fairview’"
"As it happens, ‘Marys Seacole’ is an altogether different affair, which retains the extreme willingness to be awkward that ‘Fairview’ had without quite managing to channel it into the same sort of thrilling conclusion."
"The ‘real’ Mary’s carefully constructed reality falls apart as she attempts to continue her story, but is confounded by the collapsing in of the play’s narrative. But to me it just felt like… a load of cool theatrey stuff happening, in a way that didn’t obviously seem to make a clear point. And honestly, nobody loves cool theatrey stuff more than I do, but while I could hazard a guess at what it all meant (Mary hitting the limits of her own self-constructed existence?) it all feels messy and diffuse, a string of familiar avant-garde parlour tricks in lieu of the sort of virtuosic ending ‘Fairview’ had.
"Nonetheless, it does nothing to detract from the fact Drury is one of the most fascinating US playwrights out there. Even her failures would probably have more ideas than most other playwrights’ successes, and ‘Marys Seacole’ is a long way from a failure."
Punchdrunk: The Burnt City (2022)
"Immersive theatre legends Punchdrunk return with a jaw-dropping riff on Greek myth"
"Punchdrunk has a very distinct aesthetic, and when the company was more prolific and there was a new production every couple of years it was easy to affect a certain cynicism about the recurring elements. But as they finally return after eight years away, it’s clear that there is no other immersive theatre company even remotely comparable to Punchdrunk."
"It’s all hauntingly beautiful thanks to Doyle’s ominous slo-mo choreography and the silent actor-dancers’ extraordinary physicality (it is an amazing show for just seeing dancers’ bodies close up – they don’t look like us!). And there’s a secret weapon in Stephen Dobbie’s extraordinary score, which veers from the usual Lynchian throbs and drones to soaringly emotional, string-drenched sheets of post-rock that I think would probably only work in rooms of this size. It all adds up to genuinely gripping storytelling. You might see it as damning with faint praise, but this is the first time I started a Punchdrunk show by spending 45 minutes following a single story, and actually knowing what’s going on."
"Does it all add up to something? Does it have a message? Well, I think it’s an extraordinarily beautifully wrought tribute to the savage, doomy mysticism of Greek mythology. It probably has tangential echoes of the current war in Ukraine: a vibrant civilisation besieged by a shattered, exhausted, soulless superpower. But mostly it feels like a new monument to the power of its creators’ vision. After eight years away, Punchdrunk have returned, and they’re still awe-inspiring."
The 47th (2022)
"Bertie Carvel is astoundingly good as an anarchic Donald Trump in Mike Bartlett’s audacious blank verse drama"
"Essentially, this Trump is an unstoppable spirit of anarchy, a destructive force of nature, a Lord of Misrule. He’s perhaps most obviously comparable to Shakespeare’s Richard, but Barlett lays on numerous explicit Shakespeare comparisons and pastiches, with Trump at points apeing both King Lear and Mark Antony. And it would be wrong to limit the comparisons to the classical: Heath Ledger’s unstoppable, unknowable Joker would seem like a fairly solid reference point, as Trump leads his minions in an all-out assault against democracy, their fanatical pulse embodied in Joss Carter’s bellowing, bestial Shaman."
"You have to meet ‘The 47th’ on its own terms. It does not represent a realistic, po-faced attempt to map out the next US presidential election. For some, Bartlett’s language and Carvel’s articulacy and charisma will be dignifying Trump (though if that’s a problem maybe don’t see a blank verse play about him). Others will probably think it should include a more forensic list of the criticisms of Harris, Biden and Democrats in general (both sides!). But really, it’s tremendous entertainment, that explores the decline of American democracy in an infinitely more enjoyable way than the actual decline of American democracy we must all bear witness to."
"Thirteen years on, Mike Bartlett’s ‘Cock’ stands up"
"Welcome to the dawn of the Mike Bartlett supremacy. Always prolific, soon the playwright will have three shows on in London at the same time: next month, his faux-Renaissance comedy about twenty-first-century London ‘Scandaltown’ will open within days of ‘The 47th’, his faux-Shakespearean verse play about the 2024 US presidential election."
"Funny and playful but with a stark psychological intensity"
"Discourse around sexuality has changed a lot in the last decade and a bit. But I think the strength of ‘Cock’ is that it’s less bothered about deconstructing sexuality than deconstructing society: John’s problem isn’t that nobody can accept that he’s bisexual, but that he’s pressured to make up his mind to be with M or W in order to slot into a neat box that will keep everyone else happy (or at least give them closure). F is in some ways a peripheral figure, but his determination to have resolution for his son feels representative of the way John’s vacillating desires run up against the need for societal approval. Perhaps it has less of the brutal clarity of 2013’s companion piece ‘Bull’ (about workplace bullying), but while society favours monogamy and clarity over messy fluidity, ‘Cock’ stands up."
Moulin Rouge! The Musical (2022)
"Pure Sensory Overload"
"It’s a very fun night out, guaranteed to push the buttons of anyone who grew up on ‘Pop World’, 2manyDJs, or indeed, the films of Baz Luhrmann. But for all its tongue-in-cheek chutzpah, when the music stops you’re not left with much."
"Jessie Buckley gives the performance of the year and Eddie Redmayne is a bit much in this spectacular Kander & Ebb revival"
"Jessie Buckley’s star has been on the rise ever since she starred in the talent show ‘I’d Do Anything’ as a teen: she followed it by going to drama school and building a credible screen and stage career. But a Bafta-nominated turn in ‘Wild Rose’ has really amped up her stature. Her Sally is some of the usual things: posh, inscrutable, maddeningly oblivious to the rise of Nazism. But she’s no ingenue or sex kitten: she’s a roaring force of nature, a proper rock star, vamping about in a green faux-fur coat, absolutely not giving a stuff what anybody thinks about her. In many of the later scenes she’s free of make-up, her severe bob the only ornate thing about her as she shuffles about in bare feet and a dowdy white shift. But she is always utterly magnetic, a force of nature."
"Almost in the same league is ‘It’s a Sin’ star Omari Douglas as Clifford, the penniless, wandering American who falls in with Sally and, for a time, almost persuades her to leave her world. He has an intensity but also a deep vulnerability from the off – not the booming American who only reveals his secrets drop by drop, but a beautiful and different young man whose guilelessness, honesty and – frankly – need of mothering overrides Sally’s natural defences."
"Really the whole production is a triumph for (Tom) Scutt, who not only remodelled the theatre and designed the set, but created the costumes too. I’m not going to pretend I’m any sort of expert in the apparel of the clubs of the late Weimar Republic. But I’d say Scutt has channelled their spirit, added some alluringly anachronistic modernism, and moved things away from the slightly naff ‘sexiness’ of recent productions of this show: costumes are angular, vivid, somewhat grotesque; the performers’ faces are sardonic, or sinister, not submissive or lusty."
Best of Enemies (2021)
"David Harewood and Charles Edwards are phenomenal in James Graham’s love letter to America’s chaotic late ’60s"
"Jeremy Herrin’s production for Headlong and Graham’s script bring all this to vivid life: rather than a straitlaced ‘Frost/Nixon’ style set up, ‘Best of Enemies’ explodes with colour and characters, a cyclone of ideas with the Vidal/Buckley clash its eye. Bunny Christie‘s vivid, flexible TV studio set is a thrill, Tom Gibbon’s occasionally cartoonish sound design a kinetic hoot, Syrus Lowe at the very least walks off with best supporting actor for his magnificent turn as the frail, poised, devastatingly perceptive James Baldwin, and John Hodgkinson is horribly magnetic as Chicago’s foul-mouthed, mob boss-like Mayor Daley. "
"The National Theatre’s adaptation is even better in the West End"
"The bottom line is, shows like this don’t come along very often. Maybe it’s changed, maybe I’ve changed, but second time out ‘The Ocean at the End of the Lane’ felt bigger, stranger, sadder and more beautiful – I wish I could swim in its twilight waters for longer."
"Gleefully in-yer-face stage adaptation"
"Stretched out over two-and-a-half hours it does wear itself thin. It’s brimming with energy, but ends up feeling like a slightly MOR endeavour, an extended riff on the enduring British love of the novel rather than a revelatory deconstruction of it."
"It is an awful lot of fun, a naughty-but-nice celebration of Austen’s classic that could easily find itself shacked up at the Criterion Theatre for years to come."
Back to the Future (2021)
"Great Scott! The DeLorean is amazing, but this bombastic musical of the classic film is A Lot"
"I don’t want to be overly critical: it’s entertaining, just a bit much. The story remains an extremely enjoyable romp, with chuckles aplenty; the stagecraft is a wow, especially with regards to the DeLorean."
Frozen The Musical (2021)
"The musical version of ‘Frozen’ is an awesome spectacle with more heart, depth and darkness than the film"
"This isn’t ‘Frozen’ for adults, a dark new take on ‘Frozen’, or a radical reinvention by spectacle like ‘The Lion King’. But it’s a thoughtful, attractive and human spin that manages to balance a Drury Lane-size spectacle with recognising what audiences want from ‘Frozen’, and subtly bringing it a little closer to ‘The Snow Queen’. If the film is a pre-school classic, the musical is maybe a couple of years more grown-up. But its most magical moments will wow every age group."
The Phantom of the Opera (2021)
"Andrew Lloyd Webber's gothic spectacular is totally '80s in the best possible way"
Anything Goes (2021)
"Sutton Foster blows off the roof in this sublime revival of the classic musical"
"They don’t make ’em like this anymore – and even if they did, the massive cast and sumptuous orchestra still feel like an astonishing luxury anomaly in pingtastic 2021. But it feels fresh: the only thing to prompt a real eyebrow-raise in 2021 is the late number ‘The Gypsy in Me’ – it’s basically harmless, but I don’t think anyone would write it today."
"Veteran Brit Robert Lindsay can’t really hope to keep up with her (the man’s 71 for chrissakes) but he offers her a terrific comic foil as shambolic second-tier gangster Moonface Martin, who has snuck on board the ship for Reasons, and essentially spends the show threatening to do something terrible to somebody with a machine gun, while remaining relentlessly cuddly. Wilfully dysfunctional and ad-libbing all over the shop, Lindsay has a very entertaining duet with Reno (‘Friendship’) in which he mostly tries to get Foster to corpse, which is genuinely great fun. "
Les Miserables (2020)
"It’s been reworked, but ‘Les Misérables’ is still very much ‘Les Misérables’, in all its OTT glory"
"I don’t think anybody could realistically see this imperfect, absurd, magnificent show and suggest that its crown as London’s longest-runner is in any danger."
Cirque Du Soleil - Luzia (2020)
"You always know what you’re getting with Cirque du Soleil, but this Mexico-themed show is one of the Montréal circus giant’s strongest"
“The acrobatics are on the old-school side: juggling, a contortionist, some people dressed as hummingbirds jumping through hoops. But the skill levels are through the roof, and being generally restrained means the show feels more coherent than some of its predecessors, which seemed like a series of set pieces with lengthy gaps in the middle.”
“‘Luzia’ is an agreeably soulful spectacle that fruitfully tinkers with a well-worn formula.”
Magic Goes Wrong (2020)
"Magic Goes Wrong’ feels caught at a strange crossroads between Mischief’s bumbling Englishness and Penn & Teller’s edgier interjections."
"The plot is pretty much contained in the title: neurotic magician Sophisticato (Henry Shields) is throwing a charity magic gala in his late father’s memory, and he’s rustled up some truly terrible acts to perform, notably Henry Lewis’s hack mentalist The Mind Mangler, and Dave Hearn’s entertaining The Blade, an amusing send-up of faux-edgy ‘alt’ magicians."
"That this somehow stretches on for two-and-a-half-hours without really having a plot is not ideal, not least because the ambling pace buries the handful of pretty good tricks in the show – a snappy 90 minutes but with all the tricks intact would surely have been stronger."
Cyrano de Bergerac (2019)
"Lloyd and co have cooked up something pretty remarkable"
“It’s Cyrano de Berger-rap. It’s James rap-Avoy. It’s… perhaps more accurate to say the rhythms of Martin Crimp’s new version of classic French play ‘Cyrano de Bergerac’ are closer to the languid cadences of performance poetry than actual hip hop. But undoubtedly this is your first opportunity to listen to Mr Tumnus spitting verse.”
”It doesn’t have the euphoric effortlessness and virtuoso authenticity of ‘Hamilton’; but it’s not a million miles off, and the fact the two shows can even be discussed in the same breath is a testament to the fact that Lloyd and co have cooked up something pretty remarkable”
& Juliet (2019)
"Joyously daft musical riff on ‘Romeo & Juliet’, based on the hits of pop maestro Max Martin"
"& Juliet is a heavily ironic Shakespeare rewrite based on the songs of super-producer Max Martin. And with the gift of that knowledge, I can fairly confidently state that you’ll probably like ‘& Juliet’ almost precisely as much as you expect to like & Juliet."
Groan Ups (2019)
“The folks behind ‘The Play That Goes Wrong’ fall flat on their faces with this oft-cringey school-set comedy”
Mischief Theatre...they're a genuinely heartening success story with an impressive work ethic and it’s a real shame that their new play ‘Groan Ups’ is fairly dreadful.”
“All sorts of wearyingly crass assumptions about class and sexuality.”
“They are a fundamentally likeable bunch. But they blunder way outside their comfort zone with the child acting in the first half and again with the bittersweet dramedy stuff in the second”
The Girl Who Fell (2019)
"Fiercely funny stuff"
"Their performances – hers in particular – grow immeasurably in stature"
“Warchus’s revival is broader and more sitcommy than previous, more experimental productions of the play. The humour, in particular, succumbs to a few more cliches, leans a little too much on hoary truisms about the differences between men and women. But it also has more emotional weight.”
“Ultimately, ‘Lungs’ is about guilt: yes, that slightly wanky motivator known as ‘middle-class guilt’. But something deeper than that: guilt at having failed a partner, guilt at having failed a child, guilt at having failed your younger self… guilt at having failed the planet. Smith and Foy are always watchable, and ‘Lungs’ is funny throughout. But their performances – hers in particular – grow immeasurably in stature as the short play wears on, as they’re virtually crushed by the world until finally the world pretty much forces them to make a stand against it.”
“Historically, there have not been a lot of good plays about climate change. ‘Lungs’ isn’t a flat-out masterpiece: but it is a good play about climate change, and I hope this production has a life beyond its current brief stint. It’s not so much that it that tells us what we should be afraid of. It knows what we’re afraid of already – and there’s comfort in that."
"It’s a haunting trip, into inner and outer space"
"I’d hope (Stanisław) Lem could acknowledge the boldness and, ultimately, the beauty of (David) Greig’s take on his seminal space novel"
“spectacularly nimble stage management from Kiri Baildon-Smith”
“It’s defined by Paul Jackson’s exemplary lighting design, which conveys the disorientating otherness of the intertwining light of Solaris’s two suns, one red, one blue”
“Occasionally I felt like Greig had lost his nerve a bit, failed to trust the book and made alterations that bring his ‘Solaris’ more in line with a Western sci-fi convention that Lem was never connected to.”
"The show has the emotional heft of a beetroot"
"Unfortunately the show has the emotional heft of a beetroot, and is so flyaway that some of the iffier stuff seems worse than it might in a work of greater substance."
"The Egypt scenes are also burdened with a pretty weird turn from Jason Donovan, in the cameo-ish role of the Pharaoh. For whatever reason, his vocals were almost indecipherable, meaning my companion (a heathen) was oblivious to what the Pharaoh’s dream actually was – a fairly major plot point that I had to explain in the pub after."
"It’s a kids’ show with some winning songs and the budget of a small nation state. Of course it’s fun. But there’s no great revelation in this revival – it’s just a 50-year-old musical coasting on bright tunes and arched eyebrows."
The Starry Messenger (2019)
"Dramas don’t come more midlife crisis-y than ‘The Starry Messenger’. There is a smart, poignant existential drama somewhere inside The Starry Messenger that struggles to escape the black hole of Lonergan’s indulgent impulses.”
"The triumph here belongs to director Jamie Lloyd. Directing Betrayal as the culmination of his Pinter at the Pinter season of all of the late playwright's one act plays, there have to be very few people alive - or indeed dead - who understand Pinter in the way Lloyd does, and it shows here."
"All three actors are great, especially Hiddleston's brightly brittle Robert and Ashton's Emma, who always seems to be presenting a bright facade and a more painful truth under that facade."
"But it's Lloyd's take that burns into the mind. It feel like after absorbing countless plays by Pinter about queasy power plays and shifting identities he has reached an understand of ‘Betrayal' that eludes most directors: that for all the chilliness of the verse and the tragic framing of a story about people who fall out of love and friendship."
"This pie-tastic Broadway smash is big hearted but half-baked"
"Most of the pies in Diane Paulus's Broadway-conquering show are allegorical: their lurid lists of ingredients are flights of fancy in the mind of Katherine McPhee's titular heroine Jenna, a pie-making prodigy who dreams of escaping her abusive marriage."
"Adapted from Adrienne Shelly's cult 2007 indie flick of the same name, Waitress is a moving musical full of flawed, morally compromised characters of the sort you so rarely get in this type of glossy Broadway show. Everyone, on some level, lets us or themselves down: indeed, the big showstopper, "She Used to Be Mine" – delivered with exquisitely controlled sorrow by McPhee – is Jenna's bitter ode to her disappointment in herself."
"But then there's also the *other* Waitress. The silly Waitress that desperately wants you to have a laugh, and not let the serious ‘Waitress' harsh your buzz. That Waitress features a pie-based cunnilingus scene, a Civil-War-reenactment-based cunnilingus scene and the alarming light relief characters of Dawn – a nerdy waitress – and Ogie, the hyperactive loon who courts Dawn throughout the show."
All About Eve (2019)
"Gillian Anderson gives an incredible turn as Broadway actress Margo Channing"
[Gillian Andersons'] performance as ageing actress Margo Channing in Ivo van Hove’s stage version of ‘All About Eve’ is absolutely one of those ‘I was there’ moments."
"All About Eve works terrifically, in part because the cast and script are excellent, and in part because van Hove’s usual box of live video tricks is so apt for a story that always felt half film, half theatre."
Fiddler On The Roof (2018)
"Trevor Nunn’s gloomy ‘Fiddler’ is classy but not always fun"
‘I realise there are some restrictions that apply when staging ‘Fiddler’, but this finely crafted revival feels both entertaining and somewhat lacking a sense of purpose.’
‘Ellie Kendrick’s fiery feminist cabaret feels slightly overshadowed by its directors, RashDash’
‘Generically speaking, we’re not exactly talking about a play: maybe ‘feminist cabaret’ would be a more accurate description. Certainly, it’s a pretty free-form type of night, which unfolds in a fizzbang of skits, songs and elaborate visual set-pieces rather than anything resembling a plot. And it’s powered by a terrific and gloriously frazzled group of female performers who tag-team their way through the scenarios presented with hurtling aplomb.‘
"Gloriously offbeat musical"
"‘Hadestown’ is not perfect, but it is really, really good. The wonderfully diverse songs of Mitchell’s expanded, virtually sung-through soundtrack are the bedrock."
"A few bits and bobs don’t work, and it’s a shame Orpheus is one of them, but quibbling over such a joyously different musical feels pretty churlish. Just go along with it – and never look back."
"This production deserves to go down as a game-changer."
Rosalie Craig and Patti LuPone star in Marianne Elliott’s tour de force reworking of Sondheim’s sardonic musical.
Elliott’s production brilliantly underscores the existential nature of Sondheim’s lyrics and George Furth’s book.
Company is entertaining as hell. For starters, its cynical depiction of amoral New Yorkers screwing up their own lives is incredibly funny: ‘Seinfeld’ years before there was ‘Seinfeld’, and with much better songs.
Following the NT’s grandiose ‘Follies’ last year, this ‘Company’ is another easy case for the greatness of Sondheim, the man they literally call God. But a serious word for Marianne Elliott: she may not have killed Bobby-with-a-’y’ for good, but this production deserves to go down as a game-changer.”
"Colin Morgan and Ciarán Hinds star in an exquisitely brooding revival of Brian Friel’s masterpiece."
"Rickson’s revival is awash with talent, foremost Hinds as the shambolic but shamanic Hugh, and the charismatic Colin Morgan as Owen"
"There is one major directorial intervention, brief but unmissable. Right at the end, the backlights turn into watchtowers with black-clad, machine-gun-toting soldiers atop them, in a clear allusion to The Troubles. Is it a bit on the nose? Perhaps, but then, as Brexit threatens to drive a fresh wedge between Britain and Ireland, it would be a bit toothless not to make the allusion. In any case, Friel’s exquisite, diamond-cut play can most certainly take it."
My Name Is Lucy Barton (2018)
"Laura Linney is brilliant in her UK stage debut."
"I have not read Elizabeth Strout’s 2016 novel ‘My Name is Lucy Barton’. And I still find it difficult to imagine its shape from Rona Munro’s twisty, turny stage monologue adaptation that sometimes feels like an overambitious attempt at slimming down something much bigger. But at its best, it achieves a cryptic, feverish intensity."
"Smart lighting design from Peter Mumford maintains a dynamism and sense of shifting space in Richard Eyre’s brisk production, though I wasn’t really enamoured by Bob Crowley’s cheapo-looking projected backdrops. Really, though, it’s all about Linney, and she keeps the show on the road effortlessly."
"As is often the way with a visiting celebrity, I did daydream a little about what Linney might have done if not this. But it is a privilege to see her in action and you should try and do so in the brief time that she’s here.”
Killer Joe (2018)
"Orlando Bloom is a decent baddie in this lurid, uneven thriller"
"Essentially a black comedy about the transactional nature of American society, Letts’s story is both gripping and fairly daft. Still, it’s undeniably pacey and involving, with great sound design from Edward Lewis and some really nifty flourishes from director Evans."
"As with the works of Sam Shepard or David Mamet, it’s easy enough to see why British directors are drawn to these hard, dark, action-packed, fairly short sorts of American play, which don’t really have a UK equivalent."
"And ‘Killer Joe’ certainly proves that – maddeningly youthful looks accepted – Bloom can give good villain. Still, given that his presence in the cast would get pretty much any play revived, I was frequently stuck thinking: Why this one? But there are enough lurid thrills here to send the casual theatregoer out into the night with the right sort of shiver.”
"Adrienne Warren is magnificent"
"The tunes are great and Adrienne Warren is magnificent as Tina Turner, but is this too dark a story for a jukebox musical?"
"The erstwhile Anna Mae Bullock’s eventful life and beloved back catalogue are perfect subjects for adaptation. But too often Phyllida Lloyd’s production struggles to make a sensitive synthesis of the two."
"Where ‘Tina’ undoubtedly succeeds is in the casting of its lead. Broadway performer Adrienne Warren is virtually unknown over here, but it’s instantly apparent why she was tapped up for this. She doesn’t so much imitate Turner as channel her: her technically dazzling but achingly world-weary gale of a voice feels like it should be coming out of a woman decades, if not centuries, older. And while Warren doesn’t really look anything like Turner, she perfectly captures that leggy, rangy, in-charge physicality. From a musical standpoint, she virtually carries the show, singing nigh-on every song and even giving us an encore at the end.
By the time Warren busts out ‘Simply the Best’ and reprises of ‘Nutbush City Limits’ and ‘Proud Mary’ for the mini-concert at the end, the roof is suitably blown off."