Every week, we review the productions that are causing a stir in the West End and beyond.
Here are 12 shows we’ve seen and really enjoyed, including a gender-bending take on Shakespeare, four musicals and a play that explores virtual reality pain therapy.
1. Damian Lewis falls in love with The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? ★★★★
You’ll never look at Damian Lewis in quite the same way again after seeing this play. The Wolf Hall and Homeland star plays an eminent American architect with a perfect life: an award-winning career, a beautiful and devoted wife (Sophie Okonedo), an upstanding teenage son, a tasteful home. Then he has an affair with a goat, the eponymous Sylvia. It’s a rare chance to see Lewis do comedy and he doesn’t hold back. Edward Albee’s 2002 play is absurd, very funny and poses serious questions about society’s moral strictures and our sexual appetites.
2. David Tennant is irresistible in Don Juan in Soho ★★★★
Don Juan, known here as DJ, is a thoroughly reprehensible character who breaks every rule in the book and seduces anything with a pulse. He drifts through life on a tide of booze and in a blizzard of cocaine. We might feel a tinge of guilt for laughing at his antics, but laugh we do because it’s all done with a swagger and a wink that’s hard to resist.
3. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? stars a ferocious Imelda Staunton ★★★★★
This revival will go down as one of the greats. Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill take on the roles of Martha and George, a middle-aged couple who live in a claustrophobic college town on the East Coast. He’s a mediocre history professor; she’s the daughter of the president of the college and likes to spend her days necking gin and humiliating her long-suffering husband. Last year Staunton won an Olivier and this will surely bag her another.
4. Tamsin Greig is hilarious in a gender-bending Twelfth Night ★★★★★
This is a dazzling and finely tuned production of Shakespeare’s comedy – a tour-de-force of invention that takes the play’s preoccupation with cross-dressing and gender slipperiness and runs with it. The steward Malvolio is now a woman played by Tamsin Greig, while Doon Mackichan is the traditionally male clown Feste. Greig puts in a performance that is both fabulously funny and troublingly dark.
5. Andrew Scott is magnetic in a high-tech Hamlet ★★★
Following a sold-out run at the Almeida Theatre, this sleek production is opening in the West End in June. Andrew Scott makes a magnetic Hamlet: intelligent and lyrical, with his delivery very much “trippingly on the tongue”, as he instructs the players. He inhabits a modern, high-tech Elsinore and dozens of inventive tricks bring the text alive.
6. Daniel Radcliffe plays the fool in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead ★★★★
Our heroes are a pair of minor characters from Hamlet, forever fretting about what roles they’re meant to fill in the greater scheme of things. Bewildered bystanders in their own story, Rosencrantz and Guildenstern play word-games, toss coins, trade one-liners and muse on death while occasionally (and hilariously) getting sucked into the tragic events unfolding in Elsinore. Daniel Radcliffe makes a delightful, droll Rosencrantz, playing him as a sweet but slightly dozy sounding-board to the more uptight Guildenstern.
7. Lee Mack and Griff Rhys Jones update Molière’s The Miser ★★★
This loose adaptation of Molière’s 1688 classic by Sean Foley and Phil Porter is a riotous gag-fest from start to finish. It sees Griff Rhys Jones take on the part of tight-fisted protagonist Harpagon, who wants to protect his money and marry his son and daughter off to rich but highly inappropriate people. In his stage debut, Lee Mack plays his servant Jacques who performs a variety of roles, often ad-libbing as the slapstick comes thick and fast.
8. Amanda Holden straps on her tap shoes for Stepping Out ★★★
a revival of Richard Harris’s 1984 comedy about seven women and one lone man who meet for a weekly tap class in a dingy church hall under the tutelage of instructor Mavis. It’s set in the 1980s, so we have references to Charles and Di, garish tights, leg warmers and big hair. The biggest hair belongs to Amanda Holden who plays a busybody newcomer who is obsessed with cleaning and organising. Tracy-Ann Oberman plays a vampish businesswoman while Tamzin Outhwaite takes the role of the tutor.
9. A toe-tappingly fabulous revival of the feel-good musical 42nd Street ★★★★★
Based on the 1933 film of the same name, this musical goes for full-on spectacle and jazz hands galore. When an acid-tongued prima donna breaks her ankle, a young chorus member steps up to take over the lead role. Through each tune, the pizzazz of the costumes and choreography increases a notch until the big finish on the title song: a display of perfectly timed dance by the 50-strong company that takes the breath away.
10. A joyous revival of the Gene Kelly musical An American in Paris ★★★★★
American GI Jerry Mulligan stays in Paris after the war to pursue his dream of being a painter, where he befriends French singer Henri Baurel. By chance he meets a beautiful French girl Lise Dassin and falls head-over-heals in love with her, completely oblivious to the fact that she’s the girl Henri is in love with. The classic 1951 Gene Kelly movie has been transformed into a musical so joyous, colourful and heart-warming that you’ll want to find a time machine, buy a plane ticket to Paris and climb right into the world of this production.
11. Calendar Girls the musical with a score by Gary Barlow ★★★★
Based on the hit 2003 film, The Girls has an original score by Gary Barlow and plenty of saucy jokes. It’s the story of a group of Yorkshire WI members who decide to pose for a nude calendar to raise money for a hospital sofa after one of them loses her husband to leukaemia. It stays the right side of caricature and the humour is a gentle mix of the observational and good old British sauce.
12. Ugly Lies the Bone immerses the audience in a virtual reality world ★★★★
Returning home to Florida after suffering severe burns in Afghanistan, veteran Jess struggles to cope with her changed appearance and her changed hometown. Instructed by the voice in her virtual reality headset, she creates a world that allows her to escape the pain and her restrictive body. Audiences are immersed in the experience alongside Jess thanks to powerful video design.
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