A Strange Loop Reviews

A reviews round-up for the West End transfer of Broadway musical A Strange Loop, now playing at the Barbican Theatre in London.

A Strange Loop stars Kyle Ramar Freeman (Once on This Island), making his West End debut as Usher – a young, gay, Black writer who hates his day job as an usher at The Lion King, so writes a musical about a young, gay, Black writer who’s writing a musical about a young, gay, Black writer!

The Tony Award-winning show also stars Usher’s six Thoughts, the physical manifestation of his internal monologue: Sharlene Hector (Basement Jaxx) as Thought 1, Nathan Armarkwei-Laryea (Women Beware The Devil, Spring Awakening, Hamlet) as Thought 2, Yeukayi Ushe (The Lion King, Kinky Boots, The Book of Mormon) as Thought 3, Tendai Humphrey Sitima (The Play That Goes Wrong) as Thought 4, Danny Bailey (Jesus Christ Superstar, Girl From the North Country) as Thought 5 and Eddie Elliott (Blues for an Alabama Sky, The Lion King, Motown The Musical) as Thought 6.

A Strange Loop is created and written by Michael R. Jackson and directed by Stephen Brackett, alongside choreography by Raja Feather Kelly, set designs by Arnulfo Maldonado, lighting by Jen Schriever, sound by Drew Levy, costumes by Jen Schriever and music supervision by Rona Siddiqui.

A Strange Loop is now playing at the Barbican Theatre until 9 September 2023.

Read reviews from the Guardian, Stage, Telegraph, Times and more, with further reviews to be added.

Book tickets to A Strange Loop at the Barbican Theatre in London

A Strange Loop reviews

The Guardian

"‘Fat, Black, queer body’ musical is magnificent"

"Michael R Jackson’s Pulitzer-winning play is a strikingly original, highly entertaining tour of identity politics and the struggles of selfhood"

"Michael R Jackson’s “meta” musical is as smart and slippery as it was hailed to be on Broadway... it draws its circles within circles, looping impressively without any contrivance, although there is great intellectual and emotional complication within the loops."

"Engagingly directed by Stephen Brackett, six figures around Usher represent his inner thoughts including sexual ambivalence and self-loathing. While the material plumbs dark depths, the choreography by Raja Feather Kelly is upbeat and humorous and the set dazzles"

"The book and lyrics carry the power of this production and it is clear to see why Jackson’s script won a Pulitzer prize for drama."

"Ramar Freeman is magnificent as Usher. The show runs at 100 minutes straight and he is on stage for the full duration, singing superbly and capturing Usher’s vulnerability as well as his joy."

"We cannot always see the join between Usher’s life and that of his fictional writer. Sometimes this is confusing, but it is also, clearly, part of the intended experience. Not all of the show’s references are instantly familiar to UK audiences, though"

Arifa Akbar, The Guardian
Read the review
More reviews by Arifa Akbar
More The Guardian reviews
The Evening Standard

"A thrillingly strange, playful and hilarious new musical"

"Stuffed with catchy tunes, it’s messy, exhausting and spectacular"

"This extraordinary musical"

"You’d be better off coming armed with Urban Dictionary, because this is probably the filthiest, most explicit show in London at the moment, dripping with bodily fluids and stiffened with extreme sexual fantasies, all part of the confused trauma of Usher’s mind. It’s also one of the most thrillingly strange, playful and hilarious new musicals to have hit a London stage in recent years."

"... we’re shoved into Usher’s head and crushed by the weight of expectations put upon him: religion, sexuality, parents, skin colour."

"Kyle Ramar Freeman plays Usher with a wonderful tenderness at first that slowly boils then bubbles over; his resonant, high voice nailing both the quiet moments and the vast, melismatic outbursts that are required by the end."

"It’s messy and exhausting as much as it is spectacular. It’s too long, too repetitious, too much - and I’d watch it again in an instant."

Tim Bano, The Evening Standard
Read the review
More reviews by Tim Bano
More The Evening Standard reviews
i News

"A dazzling look at dating as a gay, black man. Don’t miss it"

"The Pulitzer Prize-winning show has finally transferred from Broadway to London. It’s magnificent"

"... it is an affectionate skewering of the clichés of American racial and sexual politics."

"The variety of musical styles here is a challenge for any performer: Freeman has the vocal range to deliver and the emotional honesty to keep our focus on Usher’s vulnerability, underneath the virtuoso display."

"A Strange Loop is the latest import from New York’s current bubble of black gay theatre, following plays by Jeremy O Harris and Robert O’Hara. Jackson’s work is more self-aware and less pompous than that of both those writers: joyous, clever and alive. Don’t miss it."

Kate Maltby, i News
Read the review
More i News reviews
The Independent

"A musical within a musical that you can never second guess"

"Michael R Jackson’s acclaimed Broadway hit comes to the Barbican, and audiences don’t get an easy ride"

"“Winner of every best musical award on Broadway,” scream the posters for A Strange Loop, so you might expect a musical aimed at the masses. But Michael R Jackson’s critically acclaimed production is not a show you can second guess."

"There are periods when the show’s style threatens to drown out the story, but its emotional impact cannot be overstated."

"At times, the bombastic and studied musical theatre elements push the show from being just A Lot into overwhelming to the point of incomprehension."

"Jackson wants us to sit in that sense of unease – and it’s an experience you won’t forget."

Isobel Lewis, The Independent
Read the review
More The Independent reviews

"In contrast to our tame, safe West End, Michael R Jackson’s leftfield meta-musical is dazzlingly other"

"It was nominated for 11 Tony Awards and won the Pulitzer Prize. But Michael R Jackson’s ‘A Strange Loop’ still feels like a spectacularly bold piece of programming for the Barbican"

"It doesn’t feature any big names and isn’t an adaptation of famous source material. So yes, it comes with a lot of hype. But it’s a challenging, uncompromising show."

"It’s irreverent and funny, but also very dark, as we follow Usher through an impressionistic New York City that’s like a personal hell."

"Having understudied the role on Broadway, Freeman is tremendous as Usher - the emotional gamut he has to run through over the course of the relatively brief show is staggering, his comic timing and delivery are immaculate, and it’s an incredibly physical role that clearly requires immense stamina. It’s a proper tour de force. And the six other actors are multitasking marvels."

Andrzej Lukowski, TimeOut
Read the review
More reviews by Andrzej Lukowski
More TimeOut reviews
The Observer

"Kyle Ramar Freeman is irresistible"

"... the production’s greatest strength is in its lead actor: Kyle Ramar Freeman. He is irresistible as “Usher” in scarlet velvet uniform and wobbly fez. He has a capaciously secure voice, especially melodious in its higher reaches."

"The production is stylishly directed by Stephen Brackett, with a svelte set, framed in neon, designed by Arnulfo Maldonado. The music is pop and R&B and unexceptional, although with smart lyrics – especially Inner White Girl (the Barbican warns of obscene language throughout)."

Kate Kellaway, The Observer
Read the review
More The Observer reviews
The Telegraph

"A knotty, knowing meta-musical for our times"

"Now at the Barbican, Michael R Jackson’s Pulitzer and Tony winner is a tender, tangled tale of otherness and victimhood"

"A Strange Loop is a musical for our times, a slickly tender, affirmative exploration of otherness (and, yes, victimhood) combined with the odd, largely gestural meta-theatrical wink: Usher, who works as a Broadway usher for The Lion King (a celebration of the “wholesome beauty of mother Africa”) is trying to write a musical about a fat, black, queer American called Usher who is trying to write a musical about a fat, black, queer American, and so on."

"Stephen Brackett’s rapid-fire production cleverly recreates both the prism and prison of Usher’s mind, trapped as it is within its own self perpetuating, existentially despairing, and yes, often wantonly self-limiting loop."

"A Strange Loop is sufficiently knowing to pre-empt the most obvious criticism – towards the end, one Thought suggests to Usher that it’s time to move on. All the same, you can’t help but think: not a moment too soon."

Claire Allfree, The Telegraph
Read the review
More reviews by Claire Allfree
More The Telegraph reviews
The Times

"A Broadway hit that goes round in circles"

"It is, scene by scene anyway, audacious and playfully resonant enough that you get the appeal (and why it received a standing ovation on my visit). And its original director, Stephen Brackett, gleans fine performances from a largely British cast supporting a casually virtuosic turn from the American Kyle Ramar Freeman as our hero, Usher."

"Does that sound lively, unpredictable, bracingly honest? Alas, with pretty much no plot and no point of view from outside of Usher’s head, its fizz goes flat pretty fast."

"A Strange Loop fares best when it gets more emotional at the end, when Arnulfo Maldonado’s set suddenly reveals far more scenery than hitherto imagined, when Usher’s parents get well past the point of caricature and the songs (always capable) become hookily plaintive. Jackson is a talent all right. And Freeman breathes fast-witted life into Usher"

"So it’s an evening that goes round in circles. It knows that it is going around in circles. It tells you it is going round in circles. But finally I found this knowing sense of stasis more deadening than daring."

Dominic Maxwell, The Times
Read the review
More reviews by Dominic Maxwell
More The Times reviews
The Financial Times

"A Strange Loop is a dazzlingly clever multi-layered musical"

"A Strange Loop, which takes its title in part from a cognitive science theory about the concept “I”, bursts on to the stage in a dazzlingly clever, wildly camp and surprisingly touching show."

"It’s as conceptually knotty as it sounds, but it’s also an absolute blast: funny, furious and laced with very frank language, but ultimately joyous and tender."

"Anything this meta is hard to keep afloat, and it does all get convoluted about two-thirds of the way through as the momentum stalls. But the show is carried along by needle-sharp humour, Raja Feather Kelly’s precision-tooled choreography, the mischievous versatility of the terrific cast and a rich, sweeping musical palette that embraces church music and Tori Amos."

Sarah Hemming, The Financial Times
Read the review
More reviews by Sarah Hemming
More The Financial Times reviews
The Sunday Times

"F-words abound, the amplification is overdone and the plot is so niche (Manhattan black gospel gay scene) as to be incomprehensible to a mouldy straight Englishman such as your critic."

" Six multitasking actors play characters called Thought One, Thought Two, etc. My only thoughts were: “When will this end?” And: “How come this rubbish was nominated for 11 Tony awards?”"

Quentin Letts, The Sunday Times
Read the review
More reviews by Quentin Letts
More The Sunday Times reviews
Sign-up for booking alerts, offers & news about A Strange Loop and other shows:

📷 Main photo: A Strange Loop at the Barbican Theatre. Photo by Marc Brenner

Related News

More >

Latest News

More >

Leave a Review or Comment

Comments and reviews are subject to our participation guidelines policy, which can be viewed here. Our policy is for readers to use their REAL NAMES when commenting.