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Theatre

 

All-out, no-questions-asked frontal onslaught The Revenger's Tragedy, National Theatre, London
Once Kinnear is divested of the ludicrous wig and beard for his disguise, the play snaps into life and the caustic misanthropy of the plot takes hold. From here on in, aside from the occasional dull patch, the play whizzes along at quite a pace. Kinnear’s performance is incredibly precise.
Andrew Haydon

Unspecific and inaudible Hysteria, St Bartholemew's Hospital, London
It’s not only the outward appearance of the hall that works against the piece; the acoustics and ambience of the hall could not be less suited to performance. Certainly not to a piece clearly not made without such a high-vaulted cavernous space in mind.
Andrew Haydon

A bit of a frown and a pout Troilus and Cressida, Barbican, London
The whole of the Trojan war seems reduced to a fight between a Vauxhall gay S&M club and an Abercrombie and Fitch advert. The Trojans are all white vests, khakis and linen jackets, while the Greeks wear black combats, leather, and the occasional SS-style uniform.
Andrew Haydon

Politics and passion Rosmersholm, Almeida Theatre, London
It’s so neatly done it would feel painfully contrived were it not for Ibsen’s skill as a dramatist for making every detail so engaging that the conversations scarcely ever feel like mere exercises in exposition.
Andrew Haydon

Pretty bleak The Common Pursuit, Menier Chocolate Factory, London
The characters are ultimately selfish and cowardly, while all commitment to higher ideals result in failure or disappointment. Their failings are all the more depressing for ringing so horribly true. Publishing and the media are depicted as cynical and largely worthless, while academia and work of artistic merit are by turns elitist or futile.
Andrew Haydon

Second time certainty The Country, Tabard Theatre, London
Simon Godwin’s production, while not perfect, provides a welcome opportunity to see what turns out to be a finely wrought intriguing thriller from one of our country’s foremost writers.
Andrew Haydon

Fun in the sports shop Oxford Street, Royal Court, London
Oxford Street is a sharp and witty look at a cosmopolitan London, which never takes itself too seriously. The characters are painted with broad strokes, the plot is slightly contrived but the observation is spot-on.
Miriam Gillinson

Vague, tricksy and surprisingly dull Fram, National Theatre, London
Everyone is so desperate for theatre to say something meaningful about Global Warming that as long as the box is ticked little else matters. It left me feeling manipulated and disappointed – a poor reflection of Tony Harrison’s talents and a sign that Nicholas Hytner isn’t immune to political pressure after all.
Miriam Gillinson

Horribly convincing pain That Face, Duke of York's Theatre, London
As an ending for a studio play, screaming hysterics worked very well, and the proximity ensured blistering intensity. Now removed from their immediate vicinity, vivid emotional fireworks aren’t quite enough.
Andrew Haydon

Intricate, enormous, and quite, quite brilliant The City, Royal Court, London
The performances are quite remarkable. Cumberbatch and Morahan talk and react to one another with the sharpness, intensity and focus of duellists, while Amanda Hale’s Jenny manages to be at once frightened and frightening.
Andrew Haydon

From vertigo to tragedy King Lear, the Globe, London
With the characters and their motivations so clearly delineated, the sheer misery and futility of the end is truly tragic, helped here by a gorgeous final burst of choral singing by the cast.
Andrew Haydon

Up to the gods The Good Soul of Szechuan, Young Vic, London
If there are parallels to be drawn with modern China, they are not morally simple. The child who was rummaging through bins for food is now employed – but the tobacco factory has given him a cough. Which is worse? Which is better?
Timandra Harkness

Love, loyalty and religion Hello and Goodbye, Trafalgar Studios, London
Whilst Fugard’s dialogue is crackling and funny, his monologues can sometimes run away from him: the writing loosens up and though he comes across some profound and strong images, he over-indulges along the way. It begins to feel like too much of a good thing and there’s nothing Reeves or Spall can do to keep us hooked.
Miriam Gillinson

Aeschylus does Apartheid Molora, Barbican, London
Klytemnestra’s trial is used only as a framework here, so whilst a lot of the separate elements are strong – the trial testimonies, the African chorus, the chemistry and clashes between mother and child – they never quite come together, leaving us with an ambitious but confused production.
Miriam Gillinson

Being 'normal' The Elephant Man, Hackney Empire, London
Instead of the focus being on the deformed Merrick and his travails, it is the Elephant Man as metaphor for the society of which he was a part that truly resonates.
Dave Clements

Minimal sensitivity, maximum fuss Contains Violence, Lyric Hammersmith, London
Though there was plenty of grumbling after the show, people were still unwilling to remove their headphones once the piece was over. Off the back of PunchDrunk’s hugely successful ventures, there’s a real thirst for the audience to be taken out of their comfort zone.
Mirian Gillinson

Pretty fucked indeed Fucked, Old Red Lion, London
While F comes across as someone who would be quite annoying as a friend, her observations on men, sexuality and life in general often ring horribly true, as does her propensity for disastrous relationships.
Andrew Haydon

Citizen mouthpiece Testing the Echo, Tricycle Theatre, London
The play’s opening is a lot darker and more urgent than scenes that follow it: we watch young Mahmood incarcerated and ordered to pray. Edgar teases out our prejudices: he urges us to believe this is some sort of extremist training, and it is only later we learn that Mahmood has been locked away to break his drug addiction.
Miriam Gillinson

Distilled Essence of Barker I Saw Myself, Vanburgh Theatre, London
It is not naturalism, but almost the sound of interlocking soliloquies, or perhaps spoken arias, given the heightened emotional states and the musical precision of the language and vocal performances. This is a fascinating and quite unique work from a writer who remains a challenge to received notions of what theatre should be.
Andrew Haydon

Intelligent, highly-enjoyable fluff The Internationalist, The Gate, London
Elliot Cowan's Lowell pretending to stand outside in the cold waiting for a taxi is the first time in ages that I've seen an actor on stage, indoors, who has actually looked like they might be outdoors in the elements; the way he stands in relation to the imagined space is spot on.
Andrew Haydon

Again the garden centres, again hell, again a headless soldier Shoot / Get Treasure / Repeat - v.3, various venues, London
Ravenhill's refusal to simply trot out uninterrogated truisms of either side, plus the impressive array of recurring devices which bind the plays together, confirm his reputation as an impressive thinker as well as a leading writer.
Andrew Haydon

Céline, interrupted Bliss (Félicité), Royal Court, London
The tone of the piece is at once playful and horribly serious - the same sort of sarcastic, ironic voice as the one that permeates Martin Crimp's more post-modern offerings, with a fair amount of Chuck Palaniuk-style viscera thrown in for good measure.
Andrew Haydon

A nasal weasel complains bitterly Instructions for Modern Living, Barbican, London
Sarkies’ vision of the world, unless he is being ironic – in which case he might want to flag it up a bit so was can all enjoy the joke – is pretty much that capitalism sucks and we are all powerless.
Andrew Haydon

Another execution of a household pet God of Carnage, Gielgud Theatre, London
So, the son of a very wealthy couple both working in professions typically characterised as right-leaning (corporate law and wealth management) has smacked the child of a self-made man and a bleeding heart liberal in the face. Could it get any more obvious? Well, no; but it can get several layers more opaque.
Andrew Haydon

Uncle Vanya York Theatre Royal, York
From start to finish, the cast, particularly Nicholas Le Prevost as the eponymous Vanya, make the most of their characters’ sardonic wit to highlight their underlying plight. These characters feel real. They feel like old friends. We cannot help but wonder what happens to them after the curtain has fallen.
Simon Watt

Living Unknown Soldier Arcola, London
As the characters struggle to convince both doctor and audience of their reliability, we begin to realise it is the people we like whose memories we trust. It is a sobering thought – and one which can be explored well on-stage. Armesto is sensitive to the stage’s unique ability to morph at will as time slips by.
Miriam Gillinson

Tough time, nice time Barbican, London
In this world (in our world) the whole of human history, every story, every epic tragedy, every personal anecdote has been appropriated by cinema. Anything that was once truthful has been borrowed and structured and given its own manipulatively emotive soundtrack.
Andrew Field

The Hour When We Knew Nothing of Each Other National Theatre, London
Gradually, a sense of progression builds. Though largely opaque, the piece is clearly up to something. That’s not to say there’s a definite hidden meaning which audiences are being asked to crack, but nonetheless, there appears to be some conscious choice behind the particular events that unfold - while deliberately seeming random.
Andrew Haydon

Being Harold Pinter Soho Theatre, London
Yet in the audience’s fulsome response to this cri de coeur, I felt an unsettling air of self-congratulation at merely being present at this event. But beyond the deafening focus on their sad yet valiant circumstances, the company have created a show that says as much about their audience as it does about their political overlords.
Andrew Field

Scarborough Royal Court, London
Holly Atkins as the first teacher and Jack O’Connell as her young lover are quite brilliant, perfectly capturing the exact blend of cockiness, nerves, showing off and sheer sexual vertigo. It hardly matters from moment to moment that the play isn’t really saying very much. It is fascinating enough just watching the action unfold.
Andrew Haydon

Dido, Queen of Carthage Kensington Palace, London
In one dining scene there is an incongruous little set of steps set up against the dining room table so that at the appropriate moment a character can step easily up on to the table top to make a grand speech. Something about this seemed to sum up the whole evening for me.
Andrew Field

Woyzeck Queen Elizabeth Hall, London
In one sequence where Woyzeck is experimented on by a crazed doctor, the performer, Jae-Won Kwon, lies supported by two chairs at his shoulders and feet, and remains rigid; almost suspended in mid-air. That this lasts for about five minutes is even more startling.
Andrew Haydon

Happy Now? National Theatre, London
The relationships fall apart gracefully and it’s all good fun to watch. Still, I’m not sure what marks this piece for stage rather than screen. Coxon certainly has a sharp wit and Dominic Rowan’s Miles is gifted some great quips. But though Rowan’s character is funny, he’s never quite real.
Miriam Gillinson

Land of the Dead / Helter Skelter Bush Theatre, London
Helter Skelter builds up to the most obvious conclusion since, well, Land of the Dead. As soon as the wife figure walks in with an enormous pregnancy, in a bright, white dress and sits at a table ostentatiously laid with steak knives, and her cheating husband pleads: 'Will you stop? Please?', we know where this is going.
Andrew Haydon

White Boy Soho Theatre, London
In spite of its hurried exposition, largely immaterial middle and sudden ending, White Boy captures something of the listlessness, futility and the accidental escalations of aggression that mark out teenage life.
Andrew Haydon

Angry Young Man Trafalgar Studios, London
It is Woolf’s careful observations and sharp, restrained wit which set this piece apart. He also has a keen sense for the stage’s potential and never misses a theatrical trick. Woolf’s directing is powerful yet never overbearing; the mimed sequences are slick to the point that the four actors sometimes feel like one.
Miriam Gillinson

How It Ended Camden People's Theatre, London
It is rare to see something in a theatre these days that is so unapologetically straight-forward, linear and narrative-driven. All the more remarkable given that the piece was devised by the company and director Emily Watson-Howes.
Andrew Haydon

Jack and the Beanstalk Barbican, London
For something being marketed as a posh panto - and I swear in the audience with which I saw it, there was honestly a seven-year-old boy wearing plus-fours - this was very much stuck in tabloid culture, with re-heated Catherine Tate routines, jokes about TV programmes and adverts.
Andrew Haydon

Dead Wedding Barbican, London
There is a haunting absence of humanity in this disturbing little world. The smooth, near-perfect manipulation of the puppets is a striking contrast to the halting, juddery movement of their creations – crawling in stylised bursts across their tattered landscape.
Andy Field

Nuit sur le monde Purcell Room, South Bank, London
Rather than recognising allusions, one is constantly drawing and re-drawing a kind of narrative network of relationships between the six performers. While the whole is not seeking to create a ‘story’ in any traditional sense of the word, there is a sense of progression, of development.
Andrew Haydon

Paso Doble Barbican, London
For me this is what the Mime festival is all about. A confrontation with something startling and barely explicable (I have undoubtedly failed here). An absurd and hugely enjoyable spectacle that does not announce its meaning like a political address, but haunts you with a series of mesmerising movements and images and ideas.
Andy Field

Hiroaki Umeda/S20 Barbican, London
Montevideoaki presents footage of Mr Umeda busting more of his moves in front of a selection of gritty urban landscapes and tranquil ocean views, along with another thumping industrial soundtrack. The piece as a whole is oddly suggestive of Justin Timberlake crossed with Ian Curtis dancing in a Nine Inch Nails video.
Andrew Haydon

Full Time Y Touring Theatre
Apparently, there are young people who continue to use the word ‘gay’ in a derogatory fashion, to denote their distaste. Of course, given the overwhelmingly enthusiastic response from the schools, that is not a word that could be used to describe Full Time.
Dave Clements

God in Ruins Soho Theatre, London
Anthony Neilson's collaboration with the RSC is as frustrating as it is enjoyable. A grotesque, deliciously sordid, incoherent montage of metropolitan Christmas clichés slung loosely over the season's most inevitable narrative, that of the fallen man and his redemption.
Andy Field

Women of Troy National Theatre, London
What this production achieves is both a viciously lucid telling of the story and a sublime comment on human capacity for inflicting suffering, and what the effects of that suffering actually look like up close.
Andrew Haydon

The Arsonists Royal Court, London
When applied to the question of what middle-class liberals should be doing in the face of Islamist terrorism, suddenly the play's amusing satire of terribly English attempts not to offend start to look and sound a lot more like Martin Amis’s recent 'thought experiment' or the paranoid horrors of Melanie Philips’ Londonistan.
Andrew Haydon

King Lear New London Theatre, London
The real revelation comes when Lear and Cordelia are reunited - yes, the scene is written for maximum tear-jerk factor, but few productions come this close to reducing a whole audience - doubtless already familiar with the play - to a sobbing, blubbering mass.
Andrew Haydon

The Family Plays: A Double Bill Royal Court, London
First we look for the creeping subtext of incest or abuse, then laugh at the absurdity of the OTT demonstrative affection before finally starting to worry that maybe other countries really have worked out how to be happy without being barbed, ironic or reserved.
Andrew Haydon

Rent Duke of York's Theatre, London
The chorus delivers a better performance than most of the lead actors, leading me to believe the casting of a few popular names is nothing more than a ploy to draw in an impressionable young crowd to a show that has already failed twice in the West End. It is a passion-lacking, sexless and joyless experience.
Leah Simpson

Dealer's Choice Menier Chocolate Factory, London
Everything about Samuel West's production is colourful and loud, with a keen sense of fun; the pumping music he threads through the production and the expansive performances he encourages from his actors keep the audience wide awake, if not particularly moved.
Miriam Gillinson

All About My Mother The Old Vic, London
Adapting a great film to the stage is a tall order. If you’re going to do it, you must have a good reason. A reason that must run deeper than an attempt to make a traditionally stuffy and elitist establishment look cooler and more down with the kids. Especially when the kids can’t afford a good seat.
Katharine James

Joe Guy Soho Theatre, London
Joe succeeds by ditching his old life, his accent and eventually his moral compass. While the play uses his specific racial identity as a starting point for these events, in the final analysis it is impossible to read the play as anything other than a curiously old-fashioned morality tale.
Andrew Haydon

Present Laughter National Theatre, London
While I deeply dislike casting according to physical charm, it would not be unkind to say that this is an unusually unglamorous cast for a Coward play. It’s an interesting experiment - to attempt to play such superficial froth as if it had been written in 19th century Russia - but one which yields mixed results.
Andrew Haydon

War Horse National Theatre, London
No, the play isn’t ashamed to have a big heart at its centre. It is a play about love, and about how love can make normally fragile humans to endure dreadful suffering in search of the thing they love. In this case it happens to be a horse. It could just have easily and more usually would have been a girl or boy.
Andrew Haydon

Kebab Royal Court, London
Little by little we’re moved away from a kind of Romanian immigrant Shopping and Fucking to something much more domestic. Pinteresque, almost. Gradually, as Bogdan moves in with Voicu and Madalina, the three work up into a situation resembling a queasy cross between Entertaining Mr Sloane and The Servant.
Andrew Haydon

Macbeth Gielgud Theatre, London
It is ironic that theatre tends to be rather grown-up and serious, largely ignoring genre fripperies like horror and the supernatural. Goold reminds us that we’re perfectly credulous about such things elsewhere:cinema has a long history of scaring out of our wits with things we don’t believe in at all in the normal run of things.
Andrew Haydon

Subway Lyric Hammersmith, London
Told with wry wit, Scots inflections and performances of extraordinary verbal and physical richness, Subway is a story about how families don’t talk – about how a son may never really know his father. It’s also about a socialist-revolutionary uprising led by pensioners. And it’s about Scotland’s smoking ban.
Iona Firouzabadi

Rhinoceros Royal Court, London
Ionesco takes plenty of time to faff around setting up the scenario, and the early scenes can become a little tiresome. It all rather depends on one’s fondness for quaint, fussy, bookish French comedy. Mine, I confess, is limited. One gets the impression that translator Martin Crimp’s sympathies may also lie elsewhere.
Andrew Haydon

Quality Tracey Neuls Shoe Boutique, London
I haven’t ever rolled around with a shoe box making gibbon sex noises. But Quality manages to convince, and of course this play isn’t really about shoes, its about attitudes to the consumerist society, and so this first airing of Avila’s work seems to merit Raaste’s six year battle to bring it before us.
Emily Hill

Life After Scandal Hampstead Theatre, London
It feels that in order to get the interviewers to talk, Soans threw nothing but underarm balls while offering tea and sympathy. There is a spark though when the words of Guardian journalist David Leigh, who broke the Jonathan Aitken story, are intercut with Aitken’s personal attacks on him and vice versa.
Andrew Haydon

Awake and Sing Almeida Theatre, London
The problem here is playwright Clifford Odets' characters, which at times verge close to stereotype. The trickiest is grandpa Jacob, who’s handed a number of fairly corny lines: ‘Do what is in your heart and you carry in yourself a revolution!’ Perhaps this could prove inspiring in another play, but the sentiment ends up sounding sappy here.
Miriam Gillinson

Richard III Southwark Playhouse, London
The amplified drumming is one nice touch of many. Another neat idea is the little puppets which are used to depict the murders carried out by Richard and his cronies. And if the show hadn’t been designed with massive numbers of primary school age children in mind, these moments could have been made much more violent and gory.
Andrew Haydon

Fragments Young Vic, London
One of the most surprising aspects of this show was its audience, with the Young Vic hosting the most varied crowd I’ve seen in a while. Despite its variety, Beckett’s plays are so stripped down that the audience reacted collectively throughout. One could feel the spectators respond on a united, basic level.
Miriam Gillinson

Business Pleasance Theatre, London
While the play aims to show the three foreigners the common ground they share, without an actual plot there is a distinct lack of drama, tension or suspense. What we’re left with is a series of conversations and while mildly interesting, the characters are so stereotypical that no surprises come about.
Alan Francois

The Ugly One Royal Court, London
The terrifically enjoyable Mark Lockyer turns in a series of very funny studies of the self-satisfied, while the intangible transformations which Amanda Drew uses to essay the difference between a foxy housewife and a 78-year-old nymphomaniac plutocrat are quite astonishing.
Andrew Haydon

Diary of a Madman Rosemary Branch Theatre, London
Fail Better have adapted Gogol's short story into a monologue. The notes tell us that the company has taken inspiration from Samuel Beckett and their productions concentrate as much on the visual as the textual. This is promising. Ultimately though, the acting and direction are underwhelming.
Katharine James

The Merchant of Venice Arcola Theatre, London
As ideas go, this isn’t an especially promising one, although it does add a potentially interesting new layer to the play, and meta-theatrics - the business of watching actors performing being actors acting, while other actors pretend to be their audience - can yield thrilling results. Not here.
Andrew Haydon

A Disappearing Number Barbican, London
Along the way the play invokes ideas of truth as allied to beauty, the attraction (and disintegration) of opposing relationships, the passage of humans along the pathway of infinity, and, a favourite theme of the director Simon McBurney, the fundamental interconnectedness of all things.
Ursula Strauss

Grimeborn Opera Arcola Theatre, London
Is it far-fetched to imagine that any piece of music can be staged and shown in a theatre? These performances outlined three different visions of love and desire, where music is both the starting and final point of a human adventure… the adventure of musical composition itself.
Anca Dumitrescu

Chatroom / Citizenship National Theatre, London
Citizenship confirms Mark Ravenhill as theatre’s finest satirist of New Labour’s Britain. He has a brilliant ear for the absurdities of official ‘speak’. A teacher tells a gay pupil in search of guidance: ‘You know the school policy: we celebrate difference. You report bullies. Everything’s OK. You’re OK.’
Andrew Haydon

The Emperor Jones National Theatre, London
One never gets a sense of Jones as a tyrant. When a white trader catches an elderly lady trying to escape from his palace, she breaks down in floods of tears. Nothing we see of Jones justifies such a reaction. Paterson Joseph never essays anything beyond a sort of light, comic figure.
Andrew Haydon

Edinburgh Festival Fringe 2007

For Culture Wars' theatre editor Andrew Haydon's further reflections on this year's Fringe, see his blog, Postcards from the gods.

Coat Underbelly, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
This production offers perhaps the freshest take on Gogol seen for some time, since it takes the unusual step of intercutting this tale of a man driven mad by the loss of his perfect frock coat with a narrative charting the rise and fall of a relationship between two young professionals in contemporary Britain.
Andrew Haydon

Damascus/ Ravenhill for Breakfast Traverse, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Funny, witty and wearing its evidently thorough intellectual credentials lightly, this is an intelligent bit of writing. It is also a useful, if not definitive, addition to the rapidly growing corpus of plays concerning the meeting of cultures in the Middle East.
Andrew Haydon

Dickens Unplugged: The Complete Works of Charles Dickens (Abridged) Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The audience may have been mainly people over the age of 60 – the Dickens-reading demographic is not as broad as it could be, even after the success of recent BBC adaptations - but this show is fun and energetic enough to entertain Fringe-goers of all ages.
Jo Caird

Escaping Hamlet Underbelly, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Hamlet’s passion for theatre has been expanded into a major theme that drives the production, his selfishness and inability to commit attributed not to madness but to the desire of a young person to escape and find a creative path of his own.
Jo Caird

The Ethics of Progress / Presumption Underbelly / Theatre Workshop, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
As Spooner genially comments, this stuff is pretty much mind-blowing. Spooner then goes on to consider what teleportation might mean for humanity. His basic premise is that progress is never stoppable. Once something has been invented, it can’t easily be forgotten, hidden or banned.
Andrew Haydon

La Femme est Morte Pleasance, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
What lifts this show several notches above its competitors is the subtle use and sheer range of the pop-cultural quotation deployed by Shoshona Currier’s sharp script: Phaedre compares her early love of Theseus to ‘Katie watching Tom in Risky Business’; there are allusions to Britney, Paris and Diana.
Andrew Haydon

Hippo World Guest Book Pleasance, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Goode manages to extract long stretches of jaw-achingly funny material and moments of strangely haunting poetry, while his honouring the internet convention of using capitalisation to convey shouting by ACTUALLY SHOUTING QUITE OFTEN is a masterstroke.
Andrew Haydon

Hugh Hughes in... Pleasance, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Hughes’ ideas are simply, well, simple, and fail to strike any chords at all. Evidently there is a growing fashion solipsistic and twee clowning, but you can count me out.
Andrew Haydon

Limbo / On Wonderland Underbelly, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Two one-woman monologues, both set in Northern Ireland, and apparently written by writers who know one another. Mercifully, the comparisons end there. As an exercise in contrasts this is an object lesson in the sheer disparity of ways to tackle a monologue successfully.
Andrew Haydon

Long Time Dead Traverse, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The various personal demons driving each of the characters are interesting enough, but it is difficult to resist the sense that much the same sort of thing has been seen many times before, not least on Casualty.
Lucy Wills

Mile End Pleasance, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Directing team Liam Jarvis and Hannah Barker combine flawless lighting and sound design, highly original physical theatre techniques and a simple yet deeply affecting plot to create a piece of work that will leave audiences shell-shocked long after they leave the theatre.
Jo Caird

The Pharmacist Sweet @ the Grassmarket, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The show centres on the Pharmacist, an ambitious and cynical dispenser of panaceas, who confides her views to a work experience student, Frank. Sparse props - a counter, shelves, boxes and bottles of pills – are all that Russell needs to depict the various characters in this pharmaceutical farce.
Shaun Hadnett

A History of Scotland (in 60 Minutes or Less) Underbelly, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
This is a great children’s show because it doesn’t fall into the trap of patronising its audience. There are plenty of very silly jokes but also many aimed at an adult crowd, with particularly funny jibes at the world of theatre. Occasional over-the-top moments do not ruin this extremely fun show.
Jo Caird

Simple Girl Underbelly, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Melanie Wilson is simply astonishing. The way in which she suddenly widens her eyes at a particular moment or undercuts a word with a slight tone or sarcasm or contempt is strangely elaborate and utterly bewitching.
Andrew Haydon

Special Assembly Rooms, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
The piece acknowledges early on that it is a depiction of one specific relationship which exists on a spectrum of preferences in the BDSM continuum. It is not especially a ‘defence’ – should a defence be needed - of the practices depicted. Nor is it an explicit championing of them.
Andrew Haydon

One-Man Star Wars Trilogy Underbelly, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Ross’ energy is impressive as he races through the trilogy. Not much attention to paid to plot, the assumption being that we all know what happens already. The focus is on the one-liners, the bits from the films that everyone remembers and drunkenly quotes at parties.
Jo Caird

Tomas Pape Sweet @ the Grassmarket, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
This play balances hints of childhood suffering with a criticism of society’s desire to dwell on such things. As Tomas says towards the end of the play, ‘Memories have altered but something remains, like the first layer of a painting.’
Shaun Hadnett

Walworth Farce Traverse, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
While Enda Walsh has often triumphed in the past with pieces that make extensive use of monologues, Walworth is much more dialogue driven. The interactions between the three men and the uncomprehending stranger in their midst are absolutely central.
Andrew Haydon


In the Club Hampstead Theatre, London
The narrative is so well plotted that at times the audience is left genuinely astonished at the sleights of hand performed before them - the way that casual, throwaway comments lead to fatal repercussions is near magical in its deftness.
Andrew Haydon

The Hothouse National Theatre, London
As the play speeds along, the characters slip into an underworld they neither acknowledge nor understand. Director Ian Rickson ensures the patients’ rebellion surges beneath the main action – their screams become more pronounced, the lighting more subversive and the spaces more enclosed.
Miriam Gillinson

The Merchant of Venice Globe Theatre, London
Effervescent rom-com fun in a heady atmosphere of sexual licence, underpinned by a tragic story of lost male love and an atmosphere of violent racial hatred. Quite an astonishing evening, all told. But in spite of the potential seriousness, one which is essentially an enormous amount of fun.
Andrew Haydon

The Great Theatre of the World Arcola Theatre, London
The real coup de tat comes about half way through, when the screens on-stage slam open and reveal God sat at his throne to watch the show. It is here he remains for the play’s duration; God transfixed by his performers and us in turn transfixed by him.
Miriam Gillinson

Elling Trafalgar Studios, London
John Simm’s performance is hugely watchable, if somehow off-kilter. Much of this strangeness can be accounted for by simple characterisation, but there is still something about his performance which seems to date from an earlier era, most reminiscent of Kenneth Williams offering one of his rare ‘straight’ roles.
Andrew Haydon

Bicycle Camden People's Theatre, London
Around the memory of an atrocity the whole of the landscape seems to have withered; we meet disturbed children, a family of lepers, a soldier lamed on the way home from war, the ghost of an old man, all well played by Kang’s hard-working and committed company of actors.
Andrew Field

Angels in America, Parts One and Two Lyric Hammersmith, London
A play of this scope does not need much layered on top of it: its esoteric, spanning locations and ambitious content are more than enough for the audience to cope with. Instead of holding back and letting the play work for itself, director Daniel Kramer pushes it a little too far.
Mirian Gillinson

Rafta, Rafta National Theatre, London
The claustrophobia and frustration experienced by Atul and Vina as they start their lives together in the Dutt family home are mirrored by Tim Hatley’s set, all three-piece-suites and brash carpets. There is always someone roaring up and down the stairs, knocking at the front door, shouting through the house.
Joanna Caird

Baghdad Wedding Soho Theatre, London
Suddenly the pace steps up an order of magnitude; you can sense the relief from the cast that they finally have something to do. And there is tension, and drama, and pain. Brutal Americans and murderous Iraqi insurgents to hate, with flashes of humanity lighting up the coldness and numbness on each side.
Ben Curthoys

Men Without Shadows Finborough Theatre, London
Of course the last thing you want from a play like this is faux emotion and noisy overacting, but you gotta give your audience something. Otherwise the experience becomes almost completely intellectual rather than engaging. And there are textbooks on existentialism for that.
Katharine James

The Pain and the Itch Royal Court, London
Billed variously as ‘a withering look at phoney liberal values’ and ‘a hilarious social satire about liberal hypocrisy’, in the end, it seems that its satirical impulse is motivated merely by a more pious form of hairshirt liberalism than that espoused by the play’s principal characters.
Andrew Haydon

The Lord of the Rings Theatre Royal, Drury Lane, London
The multi-layered rising and falling, revolving stage is impressive; the sheer array of lighting, smoke machines and amplification is remarkable; and there are nice touches - the realisation of the Black Riders from Mordor especially so. But, crumbs, there is some hogwash too.
Andrew Haydon

Longwave Lyric Hammersmith, London
This is classic Chris Goode territory - stories of unarticulated, almost intangible desire being played in a theatrical context which allows for bigger, more metaphorical ideas to materialise around them until a kind of critical mass develops. It is theatre that demands and rewards intense concentration.
Andrew Haydon

Floating Barbican, London
This seemingly meandering narrative allows Hugh Hughes to bombard the audience with a series of wonderful archaeological fragments, bits and pieces of remembered past, that slowly accumulate to create an intimate little universe entirely of Hughes’ imagining.
Andrew Field

Cymbeline Barbican, London
That this does not feel like Shakespeare a lot of the time – Declan Donnellan has a wonderful way of stripping away the myth and really dealing with the nuts and bolts of the Bard’s text – is testament to Donnellan’s tireless and astute directing and his company’s robust and fearless acting.
Miriam Gillinson

Macbeth Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, London
The context is non-specific and the aesthetic uninspiring: overtones of modern warfare (bomb noises, army 4-wheel-drive, camouflage netting) are cobbled with medieval hag costumes for the witches and lilac trousers with tartan sash-belts for the warlike Scots.
Katharine James

Ya'akobi and Leidental Oval House Theatre, London
For much of the play the three characters follow each other around the louche set with fixed grins, occasionally bursting into song, in what too often seems like a slowed-down Benny Hill sketch. I guess this sort of thing is an acquired taste.
Dolan Cummings

The Christ of Coldharbour Lane Soho Theatre, London
All place names are bathetic when they are familiar enough. ‘The Messiah? Here in Galilee? Come orf it.’ And when it came to Jesus Christ, bathos was kind of the point. To his credit, then, Oladipo Agboluaje seems to recognise that Brixton is not an unlikely place for a Second Coming at all.
Dolan Cummings

Taking Care of Baby Hampstead Theatre, London
The play goes further than offering a window on questionable psychological theorising. It raises questions about the nature of truth, and deliberate complicity with lies; love and trust; the ethics of reporting, the ethics of verbatim theatre and he way the media treats stories about child murder.
Andrew Haydon

Nakamitsu Gate Theatre, London
Yeoh begins from an understanding of the impossibility of replicating the drama that he has chosen to translate. Instead his writing infuses a sense of the fundamentally inexpressible Japanese original into the familiar Western structure of playwright-director-performers.
Andrew Field

The Lower Depths Finborough Theatre, London
It is easy to understand why the play continues to enjoy frequent revivals in Russia. 100 years away from its context and geographically displaced, The Lower Depths is remains thought-provoking and socio-historically fascinating, but proves not to be a great play.
Katharine James

Philistines National Theatre, London
Rory Kinnear’s Pyotr manages the neat trick of commanding the stage with a character who spends most of his time shrinking from confrontation, while Ruth Wilson as Tanya seems at times to be able to draw the entire auditorium into her grief, by simply sitting and silently weeping.
Andrew Haydon

Othello The Globe, London
Wilson Milam’s understated directing means it really falls to the actors to win over the audience, and Tim McInnerny's Iago is the most real character on-stage. He pulls off an intelligent reading of Iago – in other words, he makes Shakespeare easy to understand.
Miriam Gillinson

Alaska Royal Court, London
An early scene cleverly contrasts Frank’s old-fashioned racism with the unthinking postmodern ironic stance of his peers. As he explains: ‘I didn’t work and save up for three years to go clubbing with Pakis’, a room-mate staggers drunkenly around in fancy dress blackface as the A-Team’s BA Baracus.
Andrew Haydon

Sizwe Banzi is Dead Barbican, London
Brook’s understated and respectful directing – he leaves a lot for the audience to imagine and decipher for themselves – makes this a consistently moving, if only occasionally provocative piece. Unfortunately, we’ve just come to like and engage with the characters when the play ends.
Miriam Gillinson

Leaves of Glass Soho Theatre, London
Prior to their separation, Steven and Debbie share a wonderfully strained and vicious dinner together. Packed with anger and restrained hate, the dialogue infuses these characters with an energy and enigma that’s missing in their earlier scenes.
Miriam Gillinson

Carthage Must Be Destroyed Traverse Theatre, London
The consul Cato, superbly played by Tony Guilfoyle, is an intriguing political character. He acts with kindness to a wounded hostage, before ordering his execution minutes later because of laws and necessities of war.
Richard Dennis

My Child Royal Court, London
The dialogue is clever, harsh, pared-down – wholly naturalistic, but smartly crafted into pulsing, relentless rhythms, while the plot displays an admirable willingness to go beyond the linear, embracing metaphorical elements and occasional meta-theatrics.
Andrew Haydon

Landscape With Weapon National Theatre, London
Despite occasional lapses into simple, point-by-point arguments on politics or morality, the play retains a warm centre in which the dilemma is the more interesting for not being addressed directly, but depicted as a spat between two brothers whose relationship itself is the subject of tricky negotiation.
Andrew Haydon

That Face Royal Court, London
The Court has no more solidly done plays about junkie-bum-rape any more than it now intends to produce nothing but wall-to-wall Rattigan. But it was dangerously close to becoming the perception, and new artistic director Dominic Cooke was right to challenge it.
Andrew Haydon

Called to Account Tricycle Theatre, London
The play is a representation of reality, albeit a reality that was wholly manufactured by the theatre in the first place. It is a intriguing area to have moved verbatim theatre into, not least because it focuses our attention on the very stageyness of a real trial, with all its traditions, and public show.
Andrew Haydon

The Wonderful World of Dissocia Royal Court, London
Word play is a persistent theme: Lisa also meets a redundant scapegoat, who explains her minor posterior insect infestation by telling her, 'Time flies, when you're having fun, tend to cluster round your bum'.
Dolan Cummings

Blame Arcola Theatre, London
You can try to tackle poverty but how do you fight malaise? No wonder the characters end up mouthing the relentlessly soul-sapping prejudices of the writers, and spiral inevitably toward tragedy. Blame thinks it is a kitchen sink drama, but is actually somewhere between Greek tragedy and dystopian farce.
Dave Clements

Hot Zone BAC, London
Is the point of Hot Zone to pathologise war, to probe the minds of the people on both sides of the electrified tongs for some neurosis? The play, in fact, is more impressionistic than anything, painting a hazy picture of the brutality of the 'war on terror' and its uncertain, unstructured, dislocated nature.
Alex Hochuli

The Caretaker Tricycle Theatre, London
David Bradley's gaunt face and bandy stature equip him with a perfect physicality. He has the impeccable comic timing which is crucial for the part and his Davies displays outrageous facility for graceless selfishness, which pays homage to Wilfred Brambell's old man Steptoe.
Katharine James

Someone Else's Shoes Soho Theatre, London
Can anyone really ever take off their Mercury shoes? Mary's attitude is to 'fight the bastards', but although her struggle comes across as heartfelt, her character is more comical than anything else. Jed on the other hand, seems to think more on the lines of, 'if you can't beat 'em, join 'em'.
Clemmy Manzo

Don't Look Now Lyric Hammersmith, London
Lucy Bailey and Nell Leyshon's approach to 'Don't Look Now' is to go back to basics. They take the bold step of eschewing changes made by Nicolas Roeg in his highly-thought-of 1973 film adaptation, and returning to Daphne du Maurier's original short story.
Tom Davies

Things of Dry Hours The Gate, London
The play is filled with the rich fermented cadences and metaphors of the Deep South. Its language spills images like molasses - but this very richness, gone untempered, becomes too much to stomach. Motifs - such as the metaphor of an apple - turn into fixations within the text.
Iona Firouzabadi

Attempts On Her Life National Theatre, London
It's not often you find avant garde theatre that makes you want to stage dive. The overall effect is like being hit by a force ten gale. It is so concentrated, there is such a media overload, that it is nigh-on impossible to process all the ideas with which you are assaulted.
Andrew Haydon

A Midsummer Night's Dream Roundhouse, London
Numerous critics have claimed this production makes an iron-clad case for Shakespeare's universality. In fact it does quite the reverse; if all the most successful elements of the show are wholly extrinsic and more than half the play is missing - in what way is Shakespeare's universality being asserted?
Andrew Haydon

King of Hearts Hampstead Theatre, London
Politicians are cynical! The royals are an anachronism! Britain is being overrun by Muslim terrorists! The Church is too liberal! Britain is run by a gay liberal mafia! The police are racist! Politicians are racist! Politicians are eroding our civil liberties! Politicians aren't racist enough! Etc.
Andrew Haydon

Generations Young Vic, London
The play begins: in the centre of the room a domestic kitchen scene unveils. Three generations laugh and tease each other as they prepare their dinner. 'Oh God!' exclaim the daughters, laughing as their mum and dad flirt with each other. Then a strange thing happens.
Clemmy Manzo

Mr Sole Abode Lyric Hammersmith, London
Sole lives in a fridge. The fridge, exquisitely designed by Faulty Optic, could be a new home for Stig of the Dump or Great Uncle Bulgaria. It's the perfect den of childhood fantasy - safe, contained, womb-like. It is also an expression of Sole's dispossession and peripheral isolation.
Katherine James

The Eleventh Capital Royal Court, London
The play makes an interesting addition to the current debate raging over whether British Theatre will ever stage a 'right-wing play'. Here is a play which more or less explicitly attacks a socialist state for its policies and their effects on its population, though the playwright's own politics are not conspicuous in the piece.
Andrew Haydon

The Soldier's Fortune Old Vic, London
In terms of the performances themselves, David Bamber as Sir Jolly Jumble is perhaps the worst offender, taking camp mannerisms and 'r's pronounced as 'w's as the sole basis for his characterisation - turning a slightly sinister Restoration pimp into a fey Roy Jenkins.
Andrew Haydon

Ship of Fools Theatre 503, London
You may leave unsure of the destination of the journeys, but you will have reached that place without any preaching or forced moralising. Nothing in the play is as black and white as a papal investigation might hope it to be.
Deborah Burnham

Sit and Shiver Hackney Empire, London
The Jewish hospitality is enacted with fake tea and invisible pastries - revealing the situation as one without ultimate substance. The dances of welcome, the choreography of shock, all amount to a parade of emotions Berkoff is keen to caricature and strip of their sham.
Emily Hill

Tangentes Barbican, London
In humanising a legend, Farr has shrunk it to the size of a pantomime. For a play that includes stage directions like, ‘Hanuman leaps the ocean in one bound’, you can’t help feeling that casting an ensemble more committed to and at ease with physical performance might have been a good idea.
Emily Hill

Ramayana Lyric Hammersmith, London
In humanising a legend, Farr has shrunk it to the size of a pantomime. For a play that includes stage directions like, ‘Hanuman leaps the ocean in one bound’, you can’t help feeling that casting an ensemble more committed to and at ease with physical performance might have been a good idea.
Josh Green

Boeing-Boeing Comedy Theatre, London
In theory a French, Sixties farce about a middle-aged architect with three air hostess fiancées, which trades heavily for its comedy on some frankly dubious sexual, national and regional stereotypes, should have been consigned to the dustbin of history by subsequent advances in social thinking. And yet...
Andrew Haydon

The Glass Menagerie Apollo Theatre, London
Throughout her lengthy exchange with Umbers, Amanda Hale's Laura gradually gains in confidence and we are with her, rooting for her, willing her out of her shell. The moment when her dreams come crashing down is absolutely choking. As is Ed Stoppard’s electric final monologue.
Katherine James

Underneath the Lintel Duchess Theatre, London
A number of critics have likened this global detective work to that in Dan Brown’s Da Vinci Code, and there are certainly shades of that American fascination with European myth and history, but in terms of an organising principle, this is more like Dave Gorman’s Googlewhack Adventure.
Andrew Haydon

The Man of Mode National Theatre, London
Sir Fopling is, in the Etherege original, a ludicrous, preening, effete fool. Here too, Nicholas Hytner has taken pains to render him as an utterly laughable Nathan Barley-alike. However, thanks to Kinnear's charisma and brilliant comic timing, this Sir Fopling becomes a kind of loveable David Brent figure.
Andrew Haydon

Fanny and Faggot Finborough Theatre, London
The potential for a play about Mary Bell to score points, apportion blame and lecture hardly needs pointing out, so it is to Thorne's enormous credit that the piece remains so understated, light and natural; while offering almost non-stop complexity in the transactions/negotiations between the four characters.
Andrew Haydon

Twelfth Night Old Vic, London
Edward Hall infuses the production with foolery and disorder to contrast with the play's yearning and hunger. It lurches breathlessly from deep emotion to farce, reinforcing only that 'nothing that is so, is so' and carrying the audience alternately in empathetic and merry connection with the protagonists.
Ruth ML Brock

Faultlines Union Theatre, London
The seeds of the plot are sown to some nice touches of humour. Disappointingly the rest of the script feels forced. Yet the dilemmas of the piece and the characters' journeys are effectively set up and occasionally convincingly illustrated, even though the overall effect lacks flavour.
Ruth ML Brock

Happy Days National Theatre, London
The result of the transformation in Act Two is electrifying. Fiona Shaw's voice has shifted to a harsher pitch and the tension is on an altogether different level. We are almost as trapped as she is, our eyes fixed in that vast space only upon her face.
Katharine James

Ghosts The Gate Theatre, London
The actors each respond differently to the set - some choosing to ignore their extreme proximity, while others indulge in close-up televisual naturalism. The overall effect is of casts from wildly different productions being forced to compete for supremacy in a shoebox.
Andrew Haydon

Antony and Cleopatra RSC at the Novello Theatre, London
Cleopatra does not need to be the image of beauty, but she does need to have a sexual power and an air of threat. Harriet Walter's performance is too much Jennifer Aniston, not enough Angelina Jolie.
Iona Firouzabadi

Cymbeline Lyric Hammersmith, London
Kneehigh add a good deal of supplemental fooling to the play. When Posthumous' letter accusing Imogen of infidelity reaches her, she misreads the first line: 'Thy mistress, Pisanio, hath played the / strumpet in my bed', responding: 'But, I can't even play the trumpet'.
Andrew Haydon

Product: World Remix / What Would Judas Do? Bush Theatre, London
Stewart Lee's What Would Judas Do? is a sort of alternative gospel, less a provocation or a show of defiance than an attempt to get to grips with religion from the point of view of a practically-minded man with little patience for superstition.
Dolan Cummings

The History Boys Wyndham's Theatre, London
Nicholas Hytner's skilful direction ensures the production avoids the rule that second casts in the West End will suffer from severe inferiority. If the new class of history boys felt that they had big shoes to fill, they certainly rise to the occasion.
Ruth ML Brock

The Enchanted Pig Young Vic, London
The music swells, the stage revolves, the actresses run about in platforms, black lace and Burberry, the costumes sparkle and shimmer, the pig wallows about in real mud in a pit on the stage, characters pop up in the audience and from small balconies, the heroine flies about with an inside-out umbrella...
Emily Hill

 

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