Daniel Mays has played a lot of tough-guy roles but has by nature a rather innocent and worried-looking face. It is this quality that Nicholas Hytner spotted as perfect for his Nathan Detroit in Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre: lowlife but hapless, indecisive about the faff and cost of marrying his tolerant fiancee of 14 years standing, Miss Adelaide (an irresistible Marisha Wallace).
‘Let critics sniff, audiences will leave feeling cheerful’: THE TIME MACHINE – Touring
The script for Time Machine by Steven Canny and John Nicholson takes the 19 century novella as a springboard for a three-person meta-theatrical romp in show-goes-wrong style, the fourth wall abolished and the audience primed for involvement.
‘Every public servant should see it. Every voter, too’: GRENFELL: SYSTEM FAILURE – The Tabernacle ★★★★★
Grenfell: System Failure at The Tabernacle isn’t just telling us about one tower, one fire, one multiple tragedy, but bristles with salutary warnings for politics, administration and simple professionalism across a range of duties and disciplines.
‘There are a lot of good lines here’: JUMPING THE SHARK – Touring
SITCOMS MADE US, BUT CAN WE MAKE THEM? It’s a very good idea, bang on the money: David Cantor and Michael Kingsbury (TV sitcom writers with a pedigree) set their play in a bland provincial hotel where five … Continue reading →
‘It’s an achievement, a proper story’: STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE – National Theatre ★★★★
It’s an architectural moment. Within the stark brutalist NT is a set in homage to a brutalist landmark: the early 1960s Park Hill Flats in Sheffield, the largest listed building in the world. In Standing At The Sky’s Edge at the National Theatre three generations of tenants interweave in the clean-lined kitchen and living room, ghosts in one another’s lives, telling in their very existence a universal story of postwar British cities.
‘Magnificent’: THE LEHMAN TRILOGY – Gillian Lynne Theatre ★★★★★
Three hour-long plays, two intervals, three men in black frock-coats explain some financial history in a revolving glass box in front of a projected, mainly monochrome, cyclorama. When The Lehman Trilogy triumphed at the National Theatre in 2018 I wrote “this show has no right to be so much fun”. Recast and home again, it still is a treat after waltzing Broadway and LA and winning a Tony for Best Play.
‘Sharp, credible & funny’: LINCK & MULHAHN – Hampstead Theatre
The story of Linck and Mulhahn in 1722 is the backbone of a fascinating story which inspires a playful tragicomedy from Ruby Thomas at the Hampstead Theatre, who has already dazzled us twice downstairs in this theatre which discovers new writers and tends them well.
‘A writer who knew that you must both entertain & awaken’: WATCH ON THE RHINE – Donmar Warehouse
HELLMAN’S LESSON IN HUMANITY Theatre can offer few more topical messages for a nation which might hesitate over Ukraine’s needs than this neglected one-set domestic play by Lilian Hellman. It is an artfully jolting picture of a comfortable, … Continue reading →
‘Its heart is in the right place’: IN THE NET – Jermyn Street Theatre
Most dystopian visions set themselves quite far in the future. However, for In The Net at the Jermyn Street Theatre Misha Levkov keeps us in 2025, specifying that productions should always be set a couple of years ahead of real time, and the setting is London – Kentish Town. This does keep it recognisable and clear of sci-fi fantasy, but it also demands that Britain has gone downhill dramatically fast.
‘It drew me in ever more’: ALLEGIANCE – Charing Cross Theatre ★★★★
AN OLD INJUSTICE REMEMBERED An old man steps onstage alone: upright, soldierly in khaki as a former US war hero who is, he says resignedly, “brought out every year on the Pearl Harbour anniversary” . … Continue reading →
‘Fall in love with Corrin maybe, but don’t expect a thunderclap’: ORLANDO – Garrick Theatre
One bespectacled, anxious-looking Virginia Woolf in a sensible brown skirt and dreary cardigan is never enough, so Michael Grandage’s production of Orlando at the Garrick Theatre generously opens with a whole pack of Woolfs – nine of them – in Neil Bartlett’s new version of the author’s classic whimsical-feminist fantasy.
‘It’s a show where the ensemble are the star’: NEWSIES – Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre ★★★★
I love it when the theatre perfectly fits the show. Artists can overcome a wrong space, but there’s gleeful concord when it suits this well. The vast new hangar-like Troubadour uses all its height and industrial chic to convey New York 1899 in Newsies: fire-escapes, iron balconies, vast billboard for the Santa Fe railroad, walls all newsprint and windows and washing lines.
‘A story of great-heartedness’: MANDELA – Young Vic Theatre ★★★★
This world premiere of Mandela at the Young Vic Theatre, by Laiona Michelle and composers Shaun and Greg Dean Borowsky, acknowledges “proud partnership” with his family, tells the story with impassioned and rightly partisan simplicity. Michael Luwoye is a towering Mandela: idealistic, sorrowful at violence, deploying his familiar humour and unresentful humanity.
‘A kind of triumph’: MOTHER GOOSE – Duke of York’s Theatre & Touring ★★★★★
The pleasure of Mother Goose at the Duke of York’s Theatre is in the feeling that despite the topflight cast and the direction of Cal McCrystal, peerless physical comedy guru, it has the feeling of a local panto, even a community one. No big technical showpieces, but plenty of old-fashioned gags: puppets popping out of pans, a ‘self-raising flower’ swannee-whistling up from a table, a custard pie scene and rapid costume changes.
‘I loved its wit & pace’: THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS – Ipswich
Joanna Carrick’s skilful stage adaptation of The Wind in the Willows at the Avenue Theatre, Ipswich is faithful too: while the show is fun enough for its school matinees – the physical comedy of Darren Latham and Matt Penson in particular is lively and sharp-witted – she does not shy away, as many adaptors do, from Grahame’s orotund dialogue exaggerations.
‘Everything is poured in to give the show a chance’: Hex – National Theatre
Everyone’s got mental health issues in Hex: which is the Sleeping Beauty story extended to the troublesome folk-tale aftermath. The tousled Fairy has no wings and low status, while snobbish ones float gorgeously overhead in light-rippling 20ft robes.
‘It is marked by real humanity’: BEST OF ENEMIES – Noel Coward Theatre
Leaving the former Young Vic production a lad far too young to remember 1968 said sadly to me: “It was the beginning of Now, wasn’t it?” He is right. James Graham’s play Best of Enemies, now spectacularly in the West End, is about the TV confrontations between the arch-conservative William F. Buckley and the maverick gay liberal Gore Vidal during an American election. But it also neatly prefigures today’s divisions, demonstrations and intolerances.
‘The fun is in the modern message’: THE WIND IN THE WILTON’S – Wilton’s Music Hall ★★★★
For The Wind in the Wilton’s at Wilton’s Music Hall Piers Torday has adapted the up-Thames rural setting of Kenneth Grahame’s book to be an urban take, London’s own stretch of river. And the weasels? You’ve guessed it: the Wild Wood is the City, the weasels and stoats the financiers and developers.
‘Remain on the edge of your seat, though you might fall off laughing’: THE MASSIVE TRAGEDY OF MADAME BOVARY – Jermyn Street Theatre ★★★★
What could be more seasonal than Flaubert’s tale of wifely frustration, romantic illusions, disastrous adulteries and ruinous shopaholic debt? This adaptation of The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary at the Jermyn Street Theatre is a clown-skilled four-hander by John Nicholson – founder of the gleefully clever Peepolykus.
‘Hard, clever, truthful, sometimes funny’: BLACKOUT SONGS – Hampstead Theatre
Blackout Songs is another sharp, pared-down studio production: in 95 minutes Joe White delivers a necessarily painful two-hander about youthful alcoholism and the disaster of colliding addictions. We watch two lovers, over an uncertain wavering timeline, who can neither control nor remember their lives and real selves: we get flashes, snapshots of their meeting, coupling, celebrating, fighting, betraying.