Critics - Sarah Hemming

Sarah Hemming – Financial Times London Theatre Critic

Selected reviews by Sarah Hemming, theatre critic for the Financial Times.

Previous roles include theatre editor of The Independent for five years, and was founding joint-editor of The List magazine in Scotland.

Sarah has also written about theatre for most of the UK’s national broadsheet newspapers and wrote the official National Theatre Guide. She has also appeared on BBC Radio 4, and presents platform talks and discussions with artists, including the National Theatre’s Platforms series.

Sarah teaches drama criticism at the British American Drama Academy.

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The Tempest (2022)

★★★

"The Tempest at the Globe is gaudy, playful and smart"

"This is a vibrant production and the ensemble achieve great rapport with the audience, but it could venture more into the depths"

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Chasing Hares (2022)

★★★

"Sonali Bhattacharyya’s new play asks searching questions about the gig economy, workers’ rights and the effectiveness of theatre in addressing social issues."

"As it is, some dialogue has to do too much heavy-lifting and so feels more schematic than organic. That’s a shame, as this is a vivid, ambitious and significant piece of theatre tackling a grievous, pressing issue"

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Sister Act (2022)

★★★

"At the helm now is Beverley Knight as Deloris and what a fabulous job she does, blasting the heavens with her sensational, soaring voice and lifting the evening with sheer force of personality. Elsewhere, the show is more amiable than amazing, with a few standout musical numbers but a fair few forgettable ones too."

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101 Dalmatians (2022)

★★★

"It doesn’t match up to some of this venue’s outstanding musical revivals, but this big-hearted family show is as benign and bubbly as a contented puppy"

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Much Ado About Nothing (2022)

★★★★

"A bittersweet summer cocktail with some peachy parts and laugh-out-loud slapstick scenes."

"Godwin’s production is sweet, sparky, sexy, sombre and, in the end, touching in its depiction of the transformative power of love. “I do love nothing in the world so well as you — is that not that strange?” says Heffernan’s Benedick in quiet astonishment."

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Crazy For You (2022)

★★★★★

"Deliriously daft musical is revived in Chichester"

"This deliriously daft George and Ira Gershwin musical is just the latest gem to emerge from this venue, which has turned itself into something of a musical hit factory in recent years"

"At the heart of it all is Stemp’s dizzying turn as Child, to whom he brings an aptly childlike enthusiasm for life. He’s gawkily funny, sweetly over-eager and a terrific, feather-light, spring-heeled dancer."

"... it is simply an irrepressible and irresistible show"

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Patriots (2022)

★★★★

"Putin and Berezovsky play chilling power games in Patriots at the Almeida Theatre"

"Tom Hollander and Will Keen excel in Peter Morgan’s riveting new drama. Plus: Emilia Clarke in The Seagull; Peaky Blinders goes immersive"

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Richard III reviews - RSC Stratford (2022)

★★★★

"The RSC’s Richard III is a powerful portrait of savagery"

"The production features a magnetic central performance from Arthur Hughes."

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Jitney (2022)

★★★★

"Theatre review — a superbly acted revival of August Wilson’s Jitney at the Old Vic"

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

★★★

"Tony! (The Tony Blair Rock Opera) — a premier painted in broad strokes"

"his lively show at the Park Theatre, London, is an unsubtle portrait of the Labour leader"

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The Glass Menagerie (2022)

★★★

"Amy Adams stars in a sensitive staging of The Glass Menagerie"

"This is a staging that eschews melodrama — but it’s also one that doesn’t break your heart"

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The House of Shades (2022)

★★★

"Anne-Marie Duff is magnificent"

"Steel’s play pulses with care and fury for the people left behind by global economic shifts and national politics. In that sense, it’s a Brexit play. It’s not sentimental, and its scope and depth are admirable, seeking to catch a hold of what has happened to the UK over the past 50 years."

"Duff is the soul of the play: tart, cruel, funny, desperate — a woman who yearns for something else, something better, and who is curdled by disappointment and haunted by guilt. She is magnificent; the play itself is bold, uneven, hugely welcome in its ambition, but struggles to pull it all off."

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Oklahoma! (2022)

★★★★★

"Oklahoma! is stunningly reimagined at the Young Vic — plus more London theatre reviews"

"Ending with a rousing, determined delivery of “Oklahoma!”, Fish’s staging celebrates this beloved musical while also finding more sinister truths in the story it tells about America"

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Jerusalem (2022)

★★★★★

"Mark Rylance’s Rooster makes a stunning return in Jerusalem"

"Jez Butterworth’s drama is exhilarating, dazzling and darker than ever in a revival at the Apollo Theatre, London"
"Ian Rickson’s exquisitely modulated staging has the same brilliant, expansive energy as it did a decade ago, but its dark undercurrents are more disturbing than ever. It plays out into a different context: into a country ragged with argument and disputation, that has seen Brexit, rising racism, culture wars and the growth of performative patriotism. Into, too, a world that has seen #MeToo and Black Lives Matter, where the stories we tell — and who gets to tell them — feel more significant than ever."

"... it’s simply a wonderful, wonderful piece of theatre. Combining the tightness of the classical Greek dramatic unities with an impression of bagginess that makes time feel elastic, the script is often blisteringly funny, relishes storytelling and skilfully shifts register to something much more profound and tragic."

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Prima Facie (2022)

★★★★

"Jodie Comer is a tour de force in Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre"

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The Burnt City (2022)

★★★★

"Punchdrunk’s The Burnt City is a stunning immersion in the fall of Troy"

"... at the core is a moving story of two bereaved mothers living and reliving the loss that has destroyed them"

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Scandaltown (2022)

★★★

"Restoration comedy romps into the 21st century in Scandaltown"

"Leading the fray is Stirling, who is a joy as Lady Climber. First encountered reclining in a black basque and gold spray-on trousers (Kinnetia Isidore’s costumes are a treat), she brings pinpoint comic timing and even manages to evoke a little sympathy for this imperious, shark-eyed operator. Her pauses, double-takes and facial expressions, when the morning after reveals the true horror of what has occurred, are painfully precise and very funny. If the whole show were as sharp as she is, it would be an absolute blast"

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The 47th (2022)

★★★★

"Bertie Carvel is a jaw-droppingly good Donald Trump in The 47th at the Old Vic"

"Mike Bartlett’s bold new drama interweaves current political concerns with Shakespeare’s plays"

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To Kill A Mockingbird (2022)

★★★★

"To Kill a Mockingbird — stirring drama celebrates and scrutinises Harper Lee’s novel"

"It’s in his exchanges with Calpurnia that this production finds its centre, as she challenges his assumptions. And it is in the neat overlaps between courtroom and theatre that it throws those challenges out to the audience"

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The Human Voice (2022)

★★★

"Ruth Wilson shines in a beautiful, flawed revival of The Human Voice"

"You start to long for a script that tells a similar story in a contemporary female voice, avoids stereotyping and measures up more to the psychological complexity. Despite Wilson’s excellence, then, this feels like a wrong number."

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Moulin Rouge! The Musical (2022)

★★★

"Moulin Rouge! — jukebox musical is thin on plot but rich in spectacle"

"Peppered with good performances (Pennycooke’s Toulouse-Lautrec particularly notable), it’s a riotous night out. But that’s as good as it gets"

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Cabaret (2021)

★★★★★

"Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley thrill and chill in sensational Cabaret"

"Finally, the party gives way to the Party and the dancers, now kitted out in sombre suits, line up stiffly on the slowly revolving stage — identikit denizens of hell. It’s a sensational production, only overshadowed by the eye-watering cost of the top-price tickets"

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Best of Enemies (2021)

★★★★★

"Best of Enemies — James Graham’s gripping culture-war drama"

"It dramatises the 1968 televised debates between William F Buckley Jr and Gore Vidal which electrified the public"

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane (2021)

★★★★

"The Ocean at the End of the Lane — love, loss and monsters at the Duke of York’s"

"The stage crew, visible throughout, reveal how the effects are created without detracting from their power, amplifying on stage the mysteries of the book. Beautiful."

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Frozen The Musical (2021)

★★★★

"Frozen stage musical combines icy spectacle with human warmth"

"Drawbacks aside, this is a joyously delivered story of the transformative power of love, and an introduction for many young Frozen fans to the magic of live theatre"

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Cinderella (2021)

★★★★

"Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cinderella is a gorgeous glitterball of a show"

"The songs are memorable and writer Emerald Fennell brings a twist to the tale."

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Anything Goes (2021)

★★★★★

"Anything Goes offers the delirious delight of a musical in full sail"

"Kathleen Marshall’s production of Cole Porter’s effervescent 1934 musical sails into the Barbican in superb style, with a glorious performance from Sutton Foster at the helm."

"Foster is just sensational: her singing beautifully pitched and paced, her dancing dazzling (Marshall also choreographs), her switch between the two beguilingly effortless. But what’s most enjoyable is her rapport with the audience and infectious delight in the daftness of it all. When she and the ensemble deliver the two show-stoppers — “Anything Goes” and “Blow, Gabriel, Blow” — it’s clear from the audience’s reaction that most of them would happily run away to sea for months with this eccentric, ramshackle crew."

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Vassa (2019)

★★

"It somehow falls flat"

"Everyone is so grotesque and larger-than-life right from the beginning that it grows wearisome."

"There are some wonderfully pungent performances: Siobhán Redmond (who stepped in at late notice following an injury to Samantha Bond) is viper-like as Vassa...But for all this, the piece never quite gels."

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A Day In The Death Of Joe Egg (2019)

"Startling in its frankness"

"A Day in the Death of Joe Egg...is still, in Simon Evans’ revival, startling in its frankness"

"The play confronts pain and anger through horseplay. You often don’t know whether to laugh, cry or gasp"

“Stephens pitches his performance precisely, so you become gradually aware of the desperation behind the wisecracks and role-play.”

“The play’s candid discussion of disability, of male mental health and of love still feels fresh, as does its nimble use of comedy to draw you in”

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Solaris (2019)

★★★★

"David Greig’s fascinating, funny and moving stage version of Stanislaw Lem’s 1961 sci-fi novel"

“Starts slowly, gathers in intensity as it draws us into the agonising dilemmas of the crew.”

“The issues confronted by the piece take on new resonance for an age familiar with AI and virtual reality”

“Hyemi Shin’s versatile set...There’s something clinical about it, raising the possibility that all this takes place in an institution or even within the confines of one character’s head.”

“Paul Jackson’s stark lighting design...reminds us of the constant, looming presence of that inscrutable planet”

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Fiddler On The Roof (2018)

★★★★

"Trevor Nunn’s production bursts from the stage — but there’s a chill wind blowing, too"

‘Yes, there is whimsy here and some slenderly drawn characters, but this beautifully delivered production strikes a fine balance, like the eponymous fiddler on the roof, between joy and sorrow.’

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