Every week, we review the productions that are causing a stir in the West End and beyond.
Here are 11 shows we loved, including a Bob Dylan musical and a charming adaptation of Wind in the Willows from Julian Fellowes. If you’ve got kids to entertain, scroll down to the bottom for our pick of the children’s shows.
1. Bob Dylan musical Girl from the North Country ★★★★
You don’t need to be into Bob Dylan’s music to get bursts of pleasure from Conor McPherson’s new play. But if you do happen to be a Dylan fan, boy are you in for a treat. Set in a depression-era boarding house in Minnesota, Girl from the North Country is sparsely plotted, a group of lightly drawn character sketches that drift by, offering hints of more tragedy than we see. The arrangements and the on-stage band are impeccable, giving well-worn songs a shot of soulful energy. Cut loose from Dylan’s treatments, they take on a life of their own.
If you loved Victoria and The Crown, you’ll enjoy this new play from the Royal Shakespeare Company. It sheds light on the troubled reign of the Stuart queen Queen Anne. After years of ill-health she is suddenly thrust upon the throne of a country at war after the untimely death of her brother-in-law, William III. At the heart of the story is her gripping relationship with her close childhood friend, the Machiavellian Duchess of Marlborough, who’s played by Romola Garai.
3. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof starring Sienna Miller and Jack O’Connell ★★★★
Tennessee Williams’ classic play transports the audience to a Mississippi mansion and packs a serious emotional punch. It’s about the dysfunctional family of terminally ill millionaire Big Daddy. Jack O’Connell plays favourite son and former sports golden boy Brick, who has a penchant for nudity and is determined to drink himself into a stupor. Sienna Miller plays his wife Maggie and is every inch the femme fatale.
4. Disco Pigs with Harry Potter actress Evanna Lynch ★★★★
Harry Potter alumnus Evanna Lynch is brilliant as an Irish teenager who’s inseparable from her best mate and refuses to play by the rules in Disco Pigs. Runt and Pig are so close, they finish each other’s sentences and communicate their own unique language. By the time they are 17, Runt and Pig have drifted into petty crime and casual violence for kicks, with Runt acting as the bait and Pig stepping in as the jealous boyfriend to mete out increasingly brutal acts of retribution.
5. The Tempest with technical wizardry and Simon Russell Beale ★★★★
The Barbican’s production of Shakespeare’s last play blends fine performances with state-of-the-art motion capture technology. The RSC have collaborated with digital gurus Imaginarium Studios to create a three-dimensional canvas with holograms. For all the technical wizardry it’s still those flesh and blood actors that are the most captivating. Simon Russell Beale plays Prospero and proves just how finely honed his stagecraft is. (Hurry – this one is only on until 18 August)
6. Billie Holiday biopic Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill ★★★★★
Broadway legend Audra McDonald makes her West End debut with an uncanny, mesmerising portrayal of Billie Holiday. Lanie Robertson’s play with music is set in the eponymous Philadelphia nightspot in March 1959 where 44-year-old Billie is about to play a gig. History tells us that she will be dead within four months. Between songs Billie recalls significant moments in her life, and boy, what a life.
7. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning show Evita ★★★★
Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s musical about the woman who captivated Argentina returns to the West End –and it’s on fine form. Emma Hatton is superb as the ruthlessly ambitious Eva, who is born into poverty and will stop at nothing to reach her goal. She finds a kindred spirit in Juan Peron, a colonel who is equally uncompromising in his pursuit of political power.
A dinner party takes a tragic turn in this compelling, beautifully acted play, which debuted at Finborough Theatre and is now transferring to Trafalgar Studios. The play opens with a middle-aged couple anxiously awaiting the arrival of their guests – another couple and their monosyllabic teenage son. Slowly the reason for this uncomfortable dinner trickles out: their son committed suicide a year ago. Late Company is written by one of the brightest stars of Canadian theatre, Jordan Tannahill.
9. Julian Fellowes’ family-friendly new musical Wind in the Willows ★★★★
Julian Fellowes’ musical version of Kenneth Grahame’s much-loved 1908 story is a marvellous willowy wallow in Edwardian nostalgia and the tunes are pretty good as well. It takes us through a calendar year in the animals’ lives, from the hopeful spring to autumn and winter when Mr Toad’s speed-hungry antics land him in trouble and the wicked stoats, weasels and badgers take over Toad Hall.
10. David Walliams’ children’s book Gangsta Granny ★★★★
This is a colourful and cheery adaptation of David Walliams’ children’s book about a boy’s relationship with his gran. Young Ben cannot abide Friday nights because he is forced to see the old lady while his parents do ballroom dancing classes. But Granny is not all she seems and he unearths a tale about her being an amateur criminal, leading to a dramatic heist to steal the Crown Jewels.
11. Lewis Carroll’s surreal poem The Hunting of the Snark ★★★★
Lewis Carroll’s nonsense poem is refashioned as a family story of redemption in which a son and his father find common ground on an adventure. The Boy feels neglected by his banker Dad who finances the trip to hunt for the Snark in order to make money from the discovery of this elusive and mysterious creature. It’s a visual treat, with first-rate performances and toe-tapping songs.
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