West End Theatre reviews from the UK newspaper the Independent.
Here’s a selection of reviews of London shows from the theatre and arts critics at the Independent newspaper.
Theatre critics at the Independent include Alice Saville. Other critics include Isobel Lewis, Nicole Vassell and Jessie Thompson.
See below for a full run-down of star ratings and theatre opinions about West End shows in London from the Independent.
Matilda The Musical (2022)
"A frothy, whimsical delight"
"The musical of Roald Dahl’s classic book is so intrinsically British it will soon be absorbed into the Paddington cinematic universe"
"The Matilda we get here, then – formally titled Roald Dahl’s Matilda the Musical – is a frothy, whimsical delight that encompasses every expectation we were bound to have already placed on it. It’s intrinsically British enough that I half expect it to be soon absorbed into the Paddington cinematic universe."
The Crucible at the National Theatre (2022)
"A clever revival that shows the perils of self-righteousness"
"‘The Crown’ star Erin Doherty dispels all memories of Princess Anne as a broken Abigail in Arthur Miller’s landmark play"
"There’s a sensuous beauty to Lyndsey Turner’s production of The Crucible. An extravagant curtain of rain cascades from the top of the stage, flickering and sparking in the light like TV static. The action is constantly underscored by the sound of the human voice, in hums or hymns from a hidden choir that rise to yells at moments of emotional intensity. This gorgeous richness contrasts perfectly with its author Arthur Miller’s subject: a puritanical 17th-century community whose girls, deprived of beauty and pleasure, turn to more violent sources of satisfaction."
The Mousetrap (2022)
"Playful Agatha Christie romp is as sweet and light as a fondant fancy"
"Saoirse Ronan comes out on top in an ensemble comedy awash in giddy, well-intentioned fun"
"It’s an equal-parts concoction of Rian Johnson’s wry, self-aware Knives Out and the aristocratic romanticism of Kenneth Branagh’s Agatha Christie adaptations"
"... somehow – and almost against odds – See How They Run is a real pleasure to consume"
"See How They Run marks the directorial debut of Tom George, the man behind all three seasons of the BBC mockumentary This Country. He’s carried over the same ethos here – hand a strong cast a set of well-defined characters and let them run wild"
I, Joan at the Shakespeare's Globe (2022)
"Funny, fierce non-binary Joan of Arc proves sceptics wrong"
"The Globe’s much-publicised production of Charlie Josephine’s new play is no gender studies lecture but a rousing piece of theatre"
"The combination of Thom’s charm and energy and Josephine’s script keep the play from feeling preachy."
"“F*** your historically accurate,” Joan shouts. The hollers that respond are of an audience profoundly moved, seeing themselves on stage for the first time."
101 Dalmatians at the Regent's Park Open Air Theatre (2022)
"The influencer economy comes for Pongo and Perdi"
"The puppets are cute in this musical adaptation but the social media references are cringey"
Patriots at the Almeida Theatre (2022)
"Tom Hollander gives one of the performances of the year"
"If the play sometimes gets heavy – the political and economic fate of post-Soviet Russia is no episode of Love Island – Hollander skips through it lightly."
"There are plenty of great performances in Rupert Goold’s production. Will Keen’s Putin..Luke Thallon as Abramovich..Jamael Westman.. as Litvinenko"
The Seagull at the Harold Pinter Theatre (2022)
"Doesn’t half drag-on"
"Indira Varma is excellent, but this self-referential rewrite of Chekhov’s 1895 play feels slow and self-indulgent"
"It’s the self-referential script that does for The Seagull in the end, though. Its knowingness about poking fun at theatre and writers ends up feeling smug and self-indulgent. “All speeches, no action,” Nina says of Konstantin’s play early on – it’s an arch self-awareness that dares you to take issue while guarding against having to do anything more."
Mad House at the The Ambassadors Theatre (2022)
"David Harbour is tremendous fun in this old-fashioned comedy"
"It’s a fine showcase for the talents of Harbour and Bill Pullman, but ‘Mad House’ is built on shaky foundations"
"It’s an entertaining but uninspired showcase for two megawatt US talents: Bill Pullman, who revels in the role of dying patriarch Daniel, and Stranger Things star David Harbour, who plays his put-upon son Michael with the vigour of a wounded bear."
"They’re tremendous fun to watch. "
"Director Moritz von Stuelpnagel keeps things pacy, and secures fine, flamboyant performances from this A-grade cast. But still, this is all deeply old-fashioned stuff which, bar an uncomfortable and unnecessary argument about trans people, could have easily been written any time in the last five decades."
That Is Not Who I Am at the Royal Court Theatre (2022)
"This strange political mystery is a significant work"
"Kirkwood’s pseudonym and the play’s fake title – it’s really called Rapture – cleverly illuminates that this is a production about suspicion, misinformation and how alternate realities get constructed online."
"It’s 20 minutes too long, perhaps, and towards the end the tone tips towards melodrama. But otherwise, this is undoubtedly a majorly significant piece of writing. In exploring the way that rampant internet conspiracy theory-ism has disrupted our logical thought processes, Kirkwood is entering urgent territory. Because this isn’t just about the malleable nature of the truth online, but who is allowed to ask questions. "
A Dolls House, Part 2 at the Donmar Warehouse (2022)
"A bit of Ibsen fanfic that’s more of a think piece than a drama"
"Is this meta-fiction? Or Ibsen fanfic? Either way, it’s a pretty niche kink for a hot summer’s night. Hnath’s play, more of a think piece than a drama, was a hit on Broadway in 2017 and won Laurie Metcalf a Tony. For the UK premiere, directed by James Macdonald, Rae Smith has put a house on stage; when the play begins, the roof raises up. People gasp. But if we thought we were about to see the lid lifted on something, the interior is sparser."
"As the play ends, Nora tries to articulate how deeply male voices and expectations have been embedded into her psyche. It’s all the chewier given that she’s written by two men – Hnath and Ibsen. The return of that legendary door slam at the end is a startling full stop. Feminism in action, or the punctuation of the patriarchy?"
The Car Man at the Royal Albert Hall (2022)
"A deft, intense reinvention, simmering with danger"
"Will Bozier and Zizi Strallen give energetic performances as Luca and Lana in this huge yet intimate show"
"Bourne’s choreography is full of observed body language, tiny moments of physical intensity that register on a big scale. New Adventures, his own company, are natural dance actors."
The Unfriend at the Chichester Festival Theatre (2022)
"Smug and sitcom-ish"
"Shearsmith is given most of the funny lines, while Abbington is the naturalistic straight man doing Proper Acting. But her part feels underwritten and leaves her resorting to being the finger-wagging fun sponge."
"Barber, meanwhile, is a tremendous physical comedian, wailing in pain and shrieking with laughter. Your eyes are drawn to her from the moment she arrives, baring her feet and swaggering around in a velour tracksuit with the words “choose life” encrusted on the back in diamante."
"Where The Unfriend is let down is in its script. There’s an icky smugness to the writing; every genuinely funny line undercut by unbearable comments"
"In the final moments, there’s a genuinely good twist. While I won’t spoil, it almost makes it worth it. But not quite."
The Glass Menagerie at the Duke of York's Theatre (2022)
"Amy Adams makes a likeable but underpowered West End debut"
" Amy Adams’s interpretation is sympathetic, free of the trappings of fading Southern-belle kitsch the role often comes with. This is a woman who’s bearing the weight of familial responsibility in Depression-era St Louis with a kind of beleaguered grace, marshalling her hapless adult son and daughter with an unexpected kindness. But although director Jeremy Herrin’s take brings new warmth to the family ties at the heart of this play, he doesn’t capture the wit and strangeness that have won it such a devoted following."
The House of Shades at the Almeida Theatre (2022)
"Anne-Marie Duff is on spectacular form"
"At almost three hours, the play can feel unwieldy. Blanche McIntyre’s direction allows us to see the unhurried rhythms of family life, but this sometimes has the effect of slowing things down. Some of the bolder flourishes – a hammily delivered narrator who frames the action; a ghostly encounter with Nye Bevan – don’t come off. It’s at its most confident and compelling when unpicking the tension between feminism and socialism."
My Fair Lady (2022)
"Amara Okereke shines as Eliza Doolittle in Bartlett Sher’s glossy musical"
"Director wrings every last drop of comic potential out of classic musical"
"... Amara Okereke is that star. As Eliza Doolittle, the 25-year-old gives one of the most enthralling stage performances of the year, transforming from a gobby Cockney flower seller to a member of the genteel English middle classes at the hands of Professor Henry Higgins (Harry Hadden-Paton). The show, with its changed ending, may divide musical theatre purists, but there’s no denying Okereke’s talent."
Oklahoma! at the Young Vic Theatre (2022)
"An innovative but unsettling revival of the classic American musical"
"Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 romance comedy gets a dark reimagining"
"For all the joy brought by Ado Annie’s interactions with her suitors, the atmosphere can turn cold in an instant, unsettling the nerves and making you wish for a speedy return to the levity."
Jerusalem at the Apollo Theatre (2022)
"Mark Rylance returns for a dark, potent revival of Jez Butterworth’s 2009 play"
"There’s a real cruelty to the Englishness of ‘Jerusalem’, which has returned to the West End with its original star"
"Jerusalem is an exercise in myth-making, one that’s equally in love with the legends of Old England and modern tales of drunken derring-do. Perhaps it overly romanticises its drug-peddling hero, but with Rylance in the role, its spell is irresistible."
Prima Facie at the Harold Pinter Theatre (2022)
"An extraordinary Jodie Comer exposes our broken legal system in a striking if tidy drama"
"In her West End debut, the ‘Killing Eve’ star is steely, agile and remarkable"
"It’s hard to believe that Prima Facie marks Jodie Comer’s West End debut, given the command the Bafta winner has over her audience from the moment she strides onstage. Comer doesn’t drop the ball for a second of the play’s 100 charged minutes. She plays Tessa, a defence barrister who specialises in defending accused rapists. Her life, ethics, and belief in the system that she’s spent her entire career upholding comes crashing down when a fellow lawyer rapes her."
"The production itself is full of striking elements: musical compositions by Rebecca Lucy Taylor (aka pop star Self Esteem) throb and hum like a pulsing vein, and Miriam Buether’s set design initially places Tessa in a vast library, surrounded by legal documents. The walls around her then fall away, leaving her stranded in an inky void. Perhaps it’s a mite too emphatic, but it’s potent nonetheless."
The 47th at the The Old Vic (2022)
"Bertie Carvel’s hypnotic Trump is a whirlwind, career-defining performance"
"Mike Bartlett’s new play, set in 2024 with Donald Trump gearing up for a second shot at the presidency, is a riff on Shakespearean tragedy with a punchy contemporary angle"
"As soon as Bertie Carvel’s Donald Trump drives his golf buggy into eyesight, there’s a sense we’re watching something remarkable. Buried under orange-stained prosthetics, Carvel is unrecognisable. Hunched and puckered lipped, he is the full embodiment of the 45th president – with rigid hand gestures, a blond-dyed quiffed hairstyle and all. More than just an impersonation, though, this is a whirlwind, career-defining performance. “I know, I know, you hate me,” Trump clacks at us. We might – but not for one second can we look away."
Straight Line Crazy at the Bridge Theatre (2022)
"David Hare’s new historical drama is unsubtle and sluggish"
"Ralph Fiennes stars as Robert Moses, the man who once unofficially ran New York – but his story just isn’t that interesting"
"The fundamental problem with Straight Line Crazy is that while Moses is an interesting enough man, we’re talking about roads. It’s not the most fascinating of backdrops anyway, but Hare feels determined to make the topic even harder to engage with. Every scene could be a fair chunk shorter, while the dialogue is a weird mix of broad platitudes and very specific jargon, which isn’t easy to keep track of. In general, it’s a slog to get through."
Cock at the Ambassadors Theatre (2022)
"Jonathan Bailey captivates as Taron Egerton’s sexually conflicted lover"
"Revival of Mike Bartlett’s 2009 play fizzes with energy"
"Our language around LGBTQ+ issues has become infinitely more complex and nuanced over the last decade, yet Bartlett’s script rarely feels dated – especially when discussing sexuality. You feel the 2009 timestamp more in the misogynistic references M makes to W’s body. While M’s clearly hurting and the lines are delivered for laughs, phrases like “rug muncher” feel jarring."
The Collaboration at the The Young Vic (2022)
"Bettany is a neurotic Andy Warhol in this fantastically enjoyable play"
"Anthony McCarten’s Young Vic pacy production is an exercise in giving the audience what they want"
"Anthony McCarten's play is a fantastically enjoyable exercise in giving the audience what they want. It's packed with gossipy insights – from Basquiat's sexual relationship with Madonna to Warhol's fight to conceal his homosexuality from journalists – and quaint moments of humour, like when Warhol is unable to resist whipping out a hoover at Basquiat's filthy flat. And Young Vic artistic director Kwame Kwei-Armah's production is just as crowd pleasing."
Moulin Rouge! The Musical at the Piccadilly Theatre (2022)
"Ostentatious, absurd and ravishing"
"The film is an alchemical delight – romantic and craven, tawdry and glamorous."
Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club (Playhouse Theatre) (2021)
"A vibrant and frightening revival that belongs to Jessie Buckley"
"London’s Playhouse Theatre is transformed into the Kit Kat Club – and Eddie Redmayne is its emcee – for this immersive and starry production"
"Surely the most powerful moment – and perhaps the best musical-theatre performance I have ever seen live – is Buckley’s rendition of the title song. While in many productions (the 1972 film with Liza Minnelli included) it is performed with peppy razzmatazz, here Buckley is a woman on the edge of a breakdown. “Life is a cabaret old chum,” she bellows, at first dripping with sarcasm and then spitting with fury. It is astonishing."
"Back in the Sixties, the musical’s original director Hal Prince called Cabaret “a parable of contemporary morality”. In such capable hands, it’s a parable that still packs a punch."
A Chorus Line at the Curve Leicester (2021)
"Innovative in unexpected ways"
"Flashy production at the Leicester Curve is supremely slick, but hindered by one gimmicky trick"
The Ocean at the End of the Lane at the Duke of York's Theatre (2021)
"A thunderous, sometimes terrifying adaptation"
"Joel Horwood’s thunderous adaptation finds wonder even in the most unremarkable of moments."
"While the book excels at conveying the enchantment of the supernatural realm, Katy Rudd’s direction pushes it even further. Fly Davis’s set is a constantly moving, sparky phenomenon."
"Hauntingly memorable, this knockout production is theatre at its best."
Pride and Prejudice* (*sort of) at the Criterion Theatre (2021)
"There’s bite to this fluffy cucumber sandwich of a show"
"Austen is a master of understatement and carefully shaded little ironies. This production drags her subtext kicking and screaming into the daylight. Hardened Janeites might well cry “Heaven and earth! Are the shades of Pemberley to be thus polluted!” But with the loss of tradition and subtlety comes something else: a scathing critique of a society where the rich got to gossip and party all day while servants scrubbed, and where ladies used politeness as a survival tactic – one that today’s women can joyfully, raucously discard."
Frozen The Musical at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane (2021)
"An immaculately executed theme park ride of a musical"
"The stage adaptation of Disney’s smash will leave you dazed and breathless, if a little hollow"
"Frozen, the global juggernaut and cultural phenomenon, has made its long-awaited West End debut in a show of such eye-wateringly high production values that it might make your teeth chatter. As a spectacle, it is a sight to behold: a show dedicated to pure escapism that has the velocity of a bedazzled freight train, leaving you dazed, breathless, and covered in confetti, if perhaps a little hollow."
Cinderella at the Gillian Lynne Theatre (2021)
"Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical is high-camp fun with a muddled message"
"So was Cinderella worth the wait? Well, yes and no. If this is your first show back in a packed-out theatre, you couldn’t ask for a more visually impressive production. Gabriela Tyleslova’s costumes are an enthralling mix of old and new, and there’s a moment of staging that made me gasp aloud. The production is driven forward by high-camp visuals, incredible comic talent and an electric ensemble cast. But look below the surface – as is Cinderella’s whole message – and you’ll find something more muddled, a show that doesn’t quite know what it’s saying or have the consistent material to support its vision."
The Snowman at the Peacock Theatre (2020)
"A new Christmas tradition is being established. The Peacock Theatre is now filled with children whose parents were themselves children when Raymond Briggs's book The Snowman, and then the film version, came out."
"The evening ends with dancing curtain calls. As the Snowmen and animals scamper back for applause, snow falls on the entranced audience."
Cyrano de Bergerac at the Playhouse Theatre (2019)
"Jamie Lloyd goes for broke on the rap front in this characteristically inventive and sometimes piercingly perceptive production"
“James McAvoy – imparts the romantically excruciated hero with a vivid vehemence – and uses a new text by Martin Crimp that is diabolically wily. It is alive, too, to the ways in which the play’s competitive versifying is the equivalent of a present-day poetry slam.”
& Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre (2019)
"A gloriously silly, unexpectedly poignant production"
"Built around the powerhouse-pop of songwriting savant Max Martin, the jukebox musical imagines a world where Shakespeare’s Juliet survived"
DEAR EVAN HANSEN at the Noel Coward Theatre (2019)
"A superb, unmissable musical"
"Sam Tutty gives a star-making performance in a story of grief, deception and the conscienceless juggernaut of the internet"
Vassa at the Almeida Theatre (2019)
"A vivid, horribly vital production."
"Siobhan Redmond shines in this disgracefully funny adaptation of Maxim Gorky’s 1910 play."
"Fly Davis’s design pointedly references the sets used in the Roman farces of Plautus and others. The multiple exits and entrances here are blackly funny and are executed with great comic timing by the crack cast. The unholy amusement comes from the contrast between the usual breakneck farce and the fretful, self-absorbed behaviour of this lot. "
"As with David Hare’s recent adaptation of Ibsen’s renamed Peter Gynt at the National, I sometimes wonder if Bartlett’s sheer cleverness is too on top of the game, to the point of alienating some punters. There’s a sense that the show is glorying in the amorality, in the end, rather than lethally castigating it. But the whole evening yammers with talent."
The Starry Messenger at the Wyndham's Theatre (2019)
"Some theatregoers may be disappointed, given the momentousness of what’s at issue here, that the dialogue doesn’t vocalise that. So the play, and Sam Yates’s deftly modulated direction of the British premiere, runs the risk of being underrated. But decisively outweighing the drawbacks is Lonergan’s quirkily profound script, which refuses to settle for the tidy-minded redemption that bad dramatic art goes in for."
Sergei Polunin at the London Palladium (2019)
"None of the splashiness of Polunin’s first ventures"
"This mixed bill is a stripped back, underpowered affair, with nods to circus clowns and the dancer Nijinsky, but none of the splashiness of Polunin’s first ventures into his own productions."
Betrayal at the Harold Pinter Theatre (2019)
"Tom Hiddleston excels in searching Pinter revival"
"Crowning his superlative six-month Pinter season, Jamie Lloyd directs an exceptionally thoughtful and searching revival of this time-reverse play. [Hiddleston's] range is beginning to look pretty limitless; [he] excels in a brilliant performance as Robert"
Waitress at the Adelphi Theatre, (2019)
"This show is the real deal"
"This is both a romcom set in the workplace and a feminist drama in which the protagonist makes painful progress to the belatedly assertive moment when she boots out her smugly abusive husband (he takes it for granted that her tips belong to him and seizes automatic control of them as if he were her pimp). "
"Admittedly, there are moments of discomfort but it says a lot for the fast sass and wonderful take-it-or-leave it silliness and the occasional sugar-free sequences in Jessie Nelson's deft book that the spot-on cast in Diane Paulus's production mostly manage to give these elisions an elating good humour and humanity. "
"The songs grew on me; they are in a pop idiom over an intricately figured rhythmic floor (one of these reminded me strongly of the Batman theme). It's as if their staying power feels as if it's being epitomised to the point of satire in the number "Never Ever Getting Rid of Me". This latter is sung by the hilarious Jack McBrayer as Ogie."
Come From Away at the Phoenix Theatre (2019)
"Drama thrives on conflict and this musical about 9/11 has very little of that"
"It would be impossible to imagine a more complete antidote to Neil LaBute's 2002 play 'The Mercy Seat' than this warm musical by Irene Sankoff and David Hein"
All About Eve at the Noel Coward Theatre (2019)
"Gillian Anderson is arresting in emphatically successful update of classic film"
"The supporting cast are hit-and-miss, but Anderson and Lily James deliver strong performances in production of Joseph Mankiewicz’s 1950 masterpiece"
"Some of the live film stuff is very funny but it can steal the focus from the principal action. It’s peculiar that because of this, the film’s most celebrated line, “Fasten your seatbelts – it’s going to be a bumpy night”, doesn’t have the impact that it should."
True West at the Vaudeville Theatre (2018)
"Kit Harington does fine work in engaging dose of visceral elation"
"It’s Johnny Flynn whose comic perfection elevates this production of Sam Shephard’s wonderfully warped play"
"I’ve seen more visceral and menacing accounts of this play, but here you get an engaging dose of its visceral elation."
Company at the Gielgud Theatre (2018)
"Broadway legend Patti LuPone gives another stand-out performance as Joanne, the moneyed lush who can’t credit that her husband genuinely loves her and whose wisecracks are lethal weapons."
"This intrepid production does impart the kind of frisson you suspect audiences felt seeing Company the first time around."
"Neil Austin’s excellent lighting and Bunny Christie’s sliding neon-rimmed rooms, painted in a creepily elegant, monochrome grey, add to the impression that we are inside Bobbie’s head."
Translations at the National Theatre (2018)
"The depth and richness of this 1980 classic by Brian Friel are sounded beautifully in Ian Rickson’s magnificent revival in the Olivier."
"In a superbly judged performance as Owen, Colin Morgan makes the character’s gradual shift from shiny, semi-citified eagerness to gnawing disillusion a quietly harrowing one."
"Rickson and his designer Rae Smith brilliantly use the Olivier to give a mythic dimension to the proceedings, the hedge farm building cut into vast landscape of boggy earth. A tall staircase seems to chime with the fabric of the National itself, as if concretely connecting the past with the present – as does stunning momentary effect at the end."
"With our anxieties over Brexit and borders, this is very pertinent time to revive the play and it’s wonderful to see and hear it stretch to its true magnitude in this venue."
My Name Is Lucy Barton at the Bridge Theatre (2018)
"Laura Linney is luminous in this one-woman show."
"Laura Linney gives a luminous – unaffected and deeply affecting."
"The three-time Oscar nominee manages to achieve an extraordinary directness of contact with the audience, who are wrapped around the thrust stage at the Bridge Theatre, and to snag everybody's heart as she evokes the character's pensive honesty about the pain that underlies what we can't or choose not to say."
"Lucy's moment of sunset affirmation at the end (the lovely lighting is by Peter Mumford) feels like a gorgeous gathering of threads, all the more moving because of the production's immaculate restraint.”
Killer Joe at the Trafalgar Studios (2018)
"Orlando Bloom has full command of the stage – but the play itself is queasily dated."
"The explicitness (above and beyond the call of duty) shades queasily into the exploitative. You shudder at the play rather than with it during these sequences."
"Bloom delivers an impressive performance as the eponymous Joe, a Dallas policeman with a sideline in contract killing."
"The production will sell out because of its star but, in general, it's disappointing and leaves the play looking somewhat dated.”