The 50 best theatre shows of the 21st century – The Guardian

50

Three Kingdoms (2012)

Few productions this century have divided opinion like Three Kingdoms. Simon Stephens’ detective yarn took audiences on a thrilling and disorientating trip across Europe, in a trilingual collaboration with German director Sebastian Nübling and Estonian designer Ene-Liis Semper. Loathed and loved in equal measure, it has undoubtedly galvanised a new generation of directors inspired by continental European theatre. And in its pre-Brexit deconstruction of Britain’s relationship with Europe, it feels chillingly prescient. CL Read the review.

49

Songs of the Dragons Flying to Heaven (2006)

Wild, scorching and gleefully profane, Young Jean Lee’s early play is an Asian-American identity-politics comedy. Lee, a Korean-American artist, populated the stage with three women in traditional Korean dress and a fourth woman, Korean-American, who despises them. (There’s also a very boring white couple.) An exquisitely uncomfortable exploration of bias, it also includes mimed suicides choreographed to Mariah Carey’s All I Want for Christmas. Lee continued to explore themes of prejudice and stereotype in works such as The Shipment and Straight White Men, but this finds her at her most scurrilous and original. AS Read an interview.

48

Mission Drift (2012)

Brilliantly collapsing time and space, the Team’s dissection of US capitalism is one of the most theatrically ambitious shows of recent years. Mission Drift’s heady mix of history, mythology and floor-shaking tunes skewered the American dream while recreating the giddy, greedy thrill it promises. In the age of Donald Trump, I’ve yet to see another play that quite so incisively captures the myth of the United States and all the ugliness it has bred. CL Read the review.

Kwame Kwei-Armah and Dona Croll in Elmina’s Kitchen.



Surging vitality … Kwame Kwei-Armah and Dona Croll in Elmina’s Kitchen at the Garrick, London, in 2005. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

47

Elmina’s Kitchen (2003)

Kwame Kwei-Armah’s play, which began life at the National before transferring, was one of the first by a black British dramatist to make it to the West End. Even if it eventually flirts with melodrama, Elmina’s Kitchen is a work of surging vitality that takes on board gun control, the battle between books and consumerism, and the maelstrom of life in a Hackney eatery. MB Read the review.

46

The Smile Off Your Face (2004)

You are sitting in a wheelchair, blindfolded and pushed into a room where your senses are caressed: fingers run through your hair, a chocolate is popped in your mouth, a voice whispers intimate questions. Deprived of sight, you focus intensely on each stimulus. Then, vision restored, you see a face in front of you. A tear rolls down his cheek. Devastating. This was the first UK visit of Ontroerend Goed, the remarkable Belgian company skilled in generating heightened emotions by unconventional means. MF Read the review.

Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon at the Donmar, London, in 2006.



Gripping … Michael Sheen and Frank Langella in Frost/Nixon at the Donmar, London, in 2006. Photograph: Johan Persson/AP

45

Frost/Nixon (2006)

Who would have thought that a TV interview would be the source of such gripping drama? Peter Morgan skilfully showed how David Frost’s 1977 encounter with Richard Nixon was more than an on-camera combat between a talkshow host and a disgraced president. It implied that the two men, in vastly different ways, needed each other. Frost, having lost his American and Australian programmes, was seeking to restore his dwindling fortunes, while Nixon craved public expiation of his Watergate sins. Morgan also made one nostalgic for a time when current affairs TV had theatrical power. MB Read the review.

44

The Pitmen Painters (2007)

Starting its life at Live theatre in Newcastle, Lee Hall’s play deservedly went on to become an international hit. Its ostensible subject was the way a group of Ashington miners, from 1934 to 1947, were turned into formidably skilful painters. Hall’s play was fundamentally about the relationship between art and socialism and suggested that society had to be measured by its capacity for political change rather than by personal progress. MB Read the review.

Peter McDonald and Elaine Cassidy in The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Garrick, London, in 2002.



Potent … Peter McDonald and Elaine Cassidy in The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Garrick, London, in 2002. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

43

The Lieutenant of Inishmore (2002)

Initially seen as a slur against Irish patriotism, Martin McDonagh’s black comedy has gained even more resonance with time. Mad Padraic, a gunman deemed too extreme for the IRA, returns to his native village to avenge himself on the killers of his beloved cat. While still hair-raising, the play now seems like a potent satire on terrorist violence. MB Read the review.

42

Topdog/Underdog (2002)

A tidy two-hander that somehow encompasses much of US history in its brief scenes, Suzan-Lori Parks’ lively and cerebral comedy centres on two brothers, one named Lincoln and the other Booth, locked in love and deadly rivalry. No prizes for guessing how this one ends. Lincoln works at a shooting gallery, dressing up, in whiteface and stovepipe, as the president he is named for. Booth hopes to master three-card monte, a sidewalk con game. Topdog/Underdog enjoy its pretences and con games, but it is Parks’ language – vibrant, poetic, jazz-inflected – that makes this play the real deal. AS Read the review.

Skiffle makeover … James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors at the Lyttelton theatre, London, in 2011.



Skiffle makeover … James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors at the Lyttelton theatre, London, in 2011. Photograph: Donald Cooper / Rex Features

41

One Man, Two Guvnors (2011)

Goldoni’s 18th century comedy, Il Servitore di Due Padroni, has had many makeovers but few funnier than this one by Richard Bean. The action was shifted from Venice to 1960s Brighton, the hero became a failed skiffle player and the masterstroke was the addition to the dinner-serving scene of an octogenarian waiter with a tremulous hand and a remarkable capacity to rebound after falling backwards down the stairs. MB Read the review.

40

Caroline, or Change (2003)

With a score by Jeanine Tesori and book and lyrics by Tony Kushner, this was a genuine musical game-changer. Dealing with the relationship between an African-American housemaid and her Jewish employers, it exposed the racial, social and economic tensions in 1960s America and the vivacious score even animated washing machines and hairdryers. MB Read the review.

39

First Night (2001)

An act of theatrical bad faith, this brilliant and subversive piece by the devised theatre company Forced Entertainment shreds the social contract between performers and audience. Structured as a smarmy seaside variety entertainment, the show begins badly and gets much worse. There’s a balloon-clad ecdysiast who runs off in tears, a doll who tortures his ventriloquist, a mentalist who predicts the death of most everyone watching. The performers’ smiles contort into a rictus; the sequins sparkle menacingly. Cruel, unsettling and often very funny, it attacks its spectators directly, upheaving dramatic expectations and disrupting audience complacency. AS Read the review.

Menacing sparkle … First Night.



Menacing sparkle … First Night. Photograph: Hugo Glendinning

38

An Oak Tree (2005)

The concept behind Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree is simple but brilliant: each night, a new, unrehearsed actor performs the show alongside Crouch, thus exposing the transformation that lies at the heart of all theatre. While it might sound like a cold intellectual exercise, the use of an unprepared and often slightly baffled performer poignantly speaks to the show’s themes of loss and grief, making it one of the century’s best marriages of form and content. CL Read the review.

37

random (2008)

In random, debbie tucker green reinvigorated the monologue form, testing how many voices can be channelled through one performer. Each of the characters in this story of a family shattered by a random act of violence has a distinct way of speaking, yet they all cohere in one female figure who holds together their collective grief. Sadly, with violent crime on the rise, the play is as powerful and relevant as ever. CL Read the review.

Savage satire … Ralph Fiennes and Janet McTeer in God of Carnage at the Gielgud, London, in 2008.



Savage satire … Ralph Fiennes and Janet McTeer in God of Carnage at the Gielgud, London, in 2008. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

36

God of Carnage (2006)

In Yasmina Reza’s play, two ostensibly civilised couples meet to sort out a playground punch-up by their respective offspring. Its beauty is that the pales and forts of reason quickly break down and bourgeois hypocrisy is exposed. Underrated because of her commercial success (Art, Life x 3), Reza is a razor-sharp analyst of middle-class manners whose work reveals a satirist’s savage indignation. MB Read the review.

35

Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads (2002)

Roy Williams’ play still offers one of the most vivid accounts of the variety and depth of Anglicised racism. That racism may take the form of reflex bigotry, skin-deep liberalism or, since the play is set in a pub on the day England are playing Germany in a World Cup qualifier, barbaric tribalism. Football, for Williams, becomes a way of exposing the ugly face of the nation. MB Read the review.

Saidah Arrika Ekulona and Russell Gebert Jones in Ruined at Manhattan Theatre Club, New York, in 2009.



Beautifully complicated … Saidah Arrika Ekulona and Russell Gebert Jones in Ruined at Manhattan Theatre Club, New York, in 2009. Photograph: Joan Marcus/AP

34

Ruined (2008)

Loosely based on Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children, Lynn Nottage’s Pulitzer prize-winning play unfurls at Mama Nadi’s, a brothel and bar in the Democratic Republic of the Congo. Here Mama Nadi and her “girls”, each an orphan of war, entertain soldiers on both sides, flirting for their lives. Never indulgent or exploitative, this shattering play explores how women assert themselves in a world ruled by men who use rape and mutilation as weapons. Nottage’s play never sanitises this violence, but it argues, via beautifully complicated characters, that survival, compassion and even love remain possible. AS Read the review.

33

Mr Burns (2012)

Much was made of Anne Washburn’s decision to imagine The Simpsons surviving the collapse of human civilisation, but really Mr Burns is about how cultures evolve and reinvent. Almost regardless of whether it’s Homer Simpson or the Homer of The Iliad who manages to escape apocalypse, the play wittily explores how these stories morph, mutate and lend meaning to human lives. And it’s theatrically audacious, concluding with an elaborate pop-culture opera. CL Read the review.

32

Fun Home (2013)

This sweet and bitter musical, based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel memoir, tells twinned stories, one comic, one tragic. Alison – seen at three ages: Small, Medium and Big – describes her sexual awakening while trying to understand why her gay father, an English teacher and a funeral director, committed suicide. Jeanine Tesori’s delectable melodies and Lisa Kron’s lyrics, just on the elegant side of conversational, give the show a remarkable intimacy. The piece thrums with empathy for all its characters and the songs in which Alison discovers her lesbianism, the poignant Ring of Keys and the giddy Changing My Major, are pure joy. AS Read the review.

Adrian Lester and Charlotte Lucas in Red Velvet at the Garrick. London, in 2016.



The nature of performance … Adrian Lester and Charlotte Lucas in Red Velvet at the Garrick. London, in 2016. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

31

Red Velvet (2012)

Theatre history is a rich subject. Lolita Chakrabarti seized on the stunning story of the passions aroused by the London debut in 1833 of the African-American actor Ira Aldridge as Othello. His presence provoked professional bitchery, press venom and popular prejudice. But this was also a play about the nature of performance and a reminder that Aldridge was resented because, like all great actors, he was seen as a pioneering realist. MB Read the review.

30

The History Boys (2004)

Can one still champion a play whose main character, Hector, likes copping a feel of boys’ balls? Absolutely, because Alan Bennett’s point is that an inspirational teacher may also be morally imperfect. But that is only one aspect of a richly diverse comedy that deals with the covert eroticism of the teacher-pupil relationship, the overt elitism of the educational system and the debasement of culture by flashy presentation. MB Read the review.

Richly diverse … Jamie Parker and Russell Tovey in The History Boys at the Lyttelton, London, in 2004.



Richly diverse … Jamie Parker and Russell Tovey in The History Boys at the Lyttelton, London, in 2004. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

29

The James Plays (2014)

Rona Munro’s seven-and-a-half hour trilogy covered Scotland’s history from 1421-88. The overwhelming impression was of a kingdom beset by feudal infighting and of the inescapable solitude of monarchy. Presented by the national theatres of Scotland and Great Britain, Munro’s timely trilogy also raised serious questions about the huge potential and possible hazards of independence. MB Read the review.

28

Iphigenia in Splott (2015)

Inspired by Euripides’s tragedy Iphigenia in Aulis, Gary Owen delivered a blistering dispatch from modern-day Cardiff, capturing just one of the many British communities on the brink, ripped by divisions and badly wounded by austerity. In the sacrificial Effie, who lives at a million miles an hour and gives the audience the finger, but hides a heart-bursting benevolence, he created one of the most enduring heroines of the century so far. Owen’s monologue starts with the rush of a boozy night out then stings with a hangover from hell. CW Read the review.

Sophie Melville in Iphigenia in Splott at the Sherman theatre, Cardiff, in 2015.



Sophie Melville in Iphigenia in Splott at the Sherman theatre, Cardiff, in 2015.

27

Cyprus Avenue (2016)

David Ireland’s blackly comic play showed how a Protestant loyalist’s devotion to the unionist cause led him to murderously lunatic extremes. The play was almost a mirror image of McDonagh’s The Lieutenant of Inishmore in that it exposed the destructive absurdity of sectarian hatred. It also yielded a truly great performance by Stephen Rea, who unforgettably captured the melancholia behind the hero’s mania. MB Read the review.

26

The Masque of the Red Death (2007)

Punchdrunk’s beguiling show, based on several short stories of Edgar Allen Poe, occupied the Victorian-era Battersea Arts Centre. Sexy, scary, often hallucinatory and wholly immersive, it left masked ticket holders free to wander its atmospheric, lavishly decorated rooms or to chase after incestuous siblings and black cats (sometimes those characters chased back) before gathering everyone together for an orgiastic masquerade. At times, upon discovering a secret passage tucked inside a wardrobe, say, or suddenly hearing music issuing from a hidden music hall, The Masque of the Red Death could conjure the feeling of walking through one’s own dreams. AS Read the review.

25

Brand New Ancients (2012)

Kate Tempest has mastered and blurred an impressive range of forms: written poetry, spoken word, theatre, hip-hop and fiction. Brand New Ancients thrillingly mashed together poetry, drama and music, bringing an epic spirit to stories about ordinary people. The show throbbed with energy and compassion, placing audiences firmly in the shoes of its characters. Bold, lyrical and compelling, Brand New Ancients showcased a virtuosic storyteller at her best. CL Read the review.

24

London Road (2011)

This pioneering verbatim musical showed how an Ipswich community reconstituted itself after the gruesome murder of five sex workers on a single street. Adam Cork’s score, deploying the everyday phrases of London Road residents collated by Alecky Blythe, acquired a fugal delicacy and opened up new possibilities for musical theatre: the savour of actuality, one felt, might one day supplant the narcissism of showbiz. MB Read the review.

Pleasantly perplexing … The Height of the Storm, with Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins at Wyndham’s theatre, London, in 2018.



Pleasantly perplexing … The Height of the Storm, with Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins at Wyndham’s theatre, London, in 2018. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

23

The Height of the Storm (2018)

Florian Zeller’s plays, translated by Christopher Hampton, have captivated British audiences through their cryptic portrayals of personal crisis. This was his best yet because it explored love, loss, dementia and the difficulty of coming to terms with the death of a lifelong partner. As played by Jonathan Pryce and Eileen Atkins, it moved one to tears but also left one pleasantly perplexed about its ultimate meaning. MB Read the review.

22

The Watsons (2018)

The heart often shrinks at the prospect of yet another adaptation of a novel, but Laura Wade’s take on a piece of unfinished Jane Austen juvenilia shone like a gem. Having summarised Austen’s plot in under a half-hour, Wade brilliantly turned the play into an argument between herself and the characters about their destiny. Like a heady mix of Luigi Pirandello and Tom Stoppard, the play opened up fascinating questions about the capacity of fictional figures to escape their author’s control. MB Read the review.

21

Blackbird (2005)

David Harrower’s disturbing play offers a riveting study of sexual obsession. It deals with a fraught confrontation between a 28-year-old woman and a 56-year-old man who, 15 years earlier, had enjoyed a criminally transgressive relationship. Harrower suspends moral judgment to question our knee-jerk assumptions about the nature of adult guilt and adolescent innocence. MB Read the review.

20

Barber Shop Chronicles (2017)

Switching between six establishments in two continents on a single day, Inua Ellams’s invigorating play showed how, for African men, barber shops are both pub and political platform. Soccer, social issues and the difficulties of father-son relationships were recurring themes. But the abiding image of Bijan Sheibani’s production, which incorporated uplifting music and dance, was of the barber shop as a place where you shed your locks but discover your identity. MB Read the review.

Echoes of Shaw … Our Lady of Kibeho, with Rima Nsubuga, Michaela Blackburn, Pepter Lunkuse and Gabrielle Brooks at the Royal & Derngate theatre, Northampton, in 2019.



Echoes of Shaw … Our Lady of Kibeho, with Rima Nsubuga, Michaela Blackburn, Pepter Lunkuse and Gabrielle Brooks at the Royal & Derngate theatre, Northampton, in 2019. Photograph: Manuel Harlan

19

Our Lady of Kibeho (2014)

Katori Hall (The Mountaintop) turns the story of the Marian apparitions that visited a trio of Rwandan schoolgirls in 1981 into a religious and political drama with echoes of George Bernard Shaw’s Saint Joan and Arthur Miller’s The Crucible. Hall’s great achievement is that, without necessarily validating the visions, she shows how they reflected the country’s existing Tutsi-Hutu tensions and foresaw the horrific genocide to come. MB Read the review.

18

Enron (2009)

Lucy Prebble’s was the first in a number of plays skewering corporate corruption following the financial crash. Dealing with the rise and fall of an overextended Texan energy company that started trading in the internet and even the weather, Prebble’s play was an exhilarating mix of political satire, modern morality and – in Rupert Goold’s production – Citizen Kane-like spectacle. MB Read the review.

17

Nine Night (2018)

Playwriting debuts don’t come much better than this. Natasha Gordon took a theme explored by many other writers: what it means to lead a bicultural existence in which you are caught between immigrant tradition and the insistent present. Gordon gave it fizz and bounce by showing a London family’s divided reaction to the Jamaican custom of a nine-night funeral wake. Nothing was more touching than the sight of the family’s graduate daughter suspending her natural scepticism to acknowledge the power of her spiritual inheritance. MB Read the review.

Extraordinary … Bill Nighy in Blue/Orange, with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andrew Lincoln.



Extraordinary … Bill Nighy in Blue/Orange, with Chiwetel Ejiofor and Andrew Lincoln at the Cottesloe, London, in 2000. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

16

Blue/Orange (2000)

Joe Penhall’s compassion for those marginalised by society was seen at its best in this extraordinary play. It showed a young black man, who believed oranges are blue and Idi Amin was his father, being used as a ping-pong ball by two warring, white medical practitioners. Penhall nailed several issues: the myth of a tolerant community ready to receive people with a personality disorder, the high incidence of mental illness among members of the African-Caribbean population and the idea that all professions are a conspiracy against the laity. MB Read the review.

15

The Inheritance (2018)

Modern drama seems to oscillate between the minimal and the maximal. Matthew Lopez’s two-part, seven-hour play was emphatically in the latter camp. Dealing with the bitter inheritance of Aids and the spiritual qualities of a house, it was like a cross between Angels in America and Howards End. It teemed with narrative incident and impassioned debate. However, Paul Hilton’s portrayal of Morgan Forster’s quiet humanity is what sticks in the mind. MB Read the review.

14

The Ferryman (2017)

Set on a 50-acre farm in County Armagh in 1981, Jez Butterworth’s play had the richness and density of a good novel. It was partly about a reformed IRA gunman whose violent past is catching up with him, partly about the power of unspoken love and partly about the Hardy-esque rituals that give a rhythm to rural life. In an age of theatrical nouvelle cuisine, Butterworth’s play felt like a five-course feast. MB Read the review.

Simon McBurney in the Encounter at the Edinburgh festival in 2015.



Inside your head … Simon McBurney in the Encounter at the Edinburgh festival in 2015. Photograph: Murdo Macleod/The Guardian

13

The Encounter (2015)

It wasn’t the first show to put the audience in headphones, but it was the first to make such extraordinary use of binaural sound. The Complicité production matched the hallucinatory nature of Petru Popescu’s Amazon Beaming, a biography of the explorer Loren McIntyre, with a soundscape that got inside your head. Loops and vocal distortions turned an empty stage into a dense forest where Simon McBurney could ask questions about the ephemeral, the material and the telepathic. MF Read the review.

12

King Charles III (2014)

What would happen if the UK’s future monarch refused to give royal assent to a bill he strongly opposed? Constitutional crisis, civil war and palace plotting, according to Mike Bartlett’s fascinating blank-verse play. The Shakespearean echoes, which embraced Macbeth and Richard II, were made even more evident by Tim Pigott-Smith’s deeply moving portrayal of the isolated and unloved insomniac king. MB Read the review.

Ken Nwosu and Kevin Trainor in An Octoroon Photo.



Clever and dangerous … Ken Nwosu and Kevin Trainor in An Octoroon at the Orange Tree, London, in 2017. Photograph: Richard Davenport/The Other Richard

11

An Octoroon (2014)

This is a confounding comedy of race. Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s script eviscerates Dion Boucicault’s The Octoroon, an 1859 melodrama about forbidden love on a slave plantation. Clever and dangerous, the play is designed to unsettle its audience – and it does. Using blackface, whiteface, redface and an anarchic humour, it blows up conventional notions of identity. It also blows up a steamship. Woven through the script is an anguished meditation on how a black artist should live and work in a white world. “Hi, everyone,” a character known as BJJ says at the beginning. “I’m a ‘black playwright’. I don’t know exactly what that means.” AS Read the review.

10

Chimerica (2013)

Lucy Kirkwood can do both intimate and epic. This was her most expansive play to date, charting the parallels and differences between the world’s two rival superpowers. In individualist US, we saw a photographer garlanded for his pursuit of an exiled Tiananmen Square demonstrator; in collectivist China, we watched a man punished for protesting about the smog-induced death of a neighbour. Today, as a trade war between the two nations accelerates, Kirkwood’s play looks ever more pertinent. MB Read the review.

9

Black Watch (2006)

Charged with bringing the National Theatre of Scotland into being, Vicky Featherstone reckoned there might be a story to tell about the Black Watch regiment before it was subsumed into the Royal Regiment of Scotland. She asked playwright Gregory Burke and director John Tiffany to devise a soldier’s eye view of the battalion’s history right up to the still topical war in Iraq. Epic, hard-bitten and tender, this landmark production put the NTS on the map. MF Read the review.

Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson in Escaped Alone at the Royal Court, London, in 2016.



Linda Bassett, Deborah Findlay, Kika Markham and June Watson in Escaped Alone at the Royal Court, London, in 2016. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

8

Escaped Alone (2016)

Caryl Churchill’s play hinged on a powerful juxtaposition. Four elderly women sit in a sunlit garden dwelling on times past, at one point even breaking into a version of Da Doo Ron Ron. Meanwhile, one periodically cuts through the chat to offer a vision, in seven monologues, of a world of flood, fire, thirst and starvation. This was no routine road to dystopia, but a wryly compassionate play about life’s soon-to-be-lost daily beauty. MB Read the review.

7

Matilda (2010)

Dennis Kelly and Tim Minchin’s dizzily enjoyable musical about Roald Dahl’s telekinetic bookworm sings the importance of two invaluable resources: public libraries and arts subsidy. Produced by the Royal Shakespeare Company, it became a global sensation thanks to its sweetly spiky songs, empowering celebration of the imagination and brilliantly rebellious heroine who puts the “revolt” into revolting rhymes. While her mum is at the bingo, Dahl’s Matilda spends “two glorious hours” at the library. This gives the same pleasure in the theatre. CW Read the review.

6

The York Realist (2001)

Class and sex intertwine beautifully in Peter Gill’s play, reminding us that, as a director, he rediscovered the forgotten dramas of DH Lawrence. Gill shows a Yorkshire farm-worker enjoying an affair with a London-based theatre man working on the medieval mystery plays. Ultimately, however, the two men are divided by geography and the historic assumption that, in England, art is the property of the middle classes. MB Read the review.

Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, performed at Melbourne festival in 2017.



Taylor Mac’s A 24-Decade History of Popular Music, performed at Melbourne festival in 2017. Photograph: Sarah Walker

5

A 24-Decade History of Popular Music (2016)

Angry and ecstatic, this piece – first performed in eight three-hour chunks and finally assembled into one all-day, all-night, sleep-optional extravaganza – explores the fraught history of America, from the revolutionary war onwards, by revisiting the music these United States have loved. Taylor Mac, backed by a live band and joined by many guests, allots one hour for each decade, changing into new and increasingly jaw-dropping costumes (Machine Dazzle is the designer) as each segment concludes. A thrilling playwright and performer who identifies as queer and prefers the pronoun judy, Mac is no patriot, but the show’s scepticism is interleaved with joy. AS Read the review.

4

The Flick (2013)

If drama is a study in human desperation, then Annie Baker’s play was intensely dramatic. Not everyone, especially in New York, responded warmly to its more than three-hour running time. Others, though, were overwhelmed by Baker’s portrait of three loners working in a rundown Massachusetts movie house. Apart from its touching evocation of frustrated desire, the play also offered a passionate defence of movies shot on 35mm film stock in a digitised age. MB Read the review.

3

The Children (2016)

Lucy Kirkwood’s probing, thoughtful play showed three nuclear physicists reunited in the wake of a disaster at a local power station. This opened up huge questions about the poisoned legacy we are handing on to future generations and about whether having children heightens or diminishes one’s sense of responsibility. It was an impressive, slow-burning work that confirmed Kirkwood’s status in the front rank of British dramatists. MB Read the review.

Carleigh Bettiol, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr and Anthony Ramos in Hamilton in 2015.



Pulsating … Carleigh Bettiol, Lin-Manuel Miranda, Leslie Odom Jr and Anthony Ramos in Hamilton in 2015. Photograph: Joan Marcus

2

Hamilton (2015)

Lin-Manuel Miranda’s hip-hop musical about the birth of a nation and the rise to power of “a bastard, orphan, son of a whore and a Scotsman” was hyped to the skies. It justified the drum-beating through its pulsating energy, dexterous lyrics and celebration of America’s overwhelming debt to immigrants. Only time will tell if it has a major impact on the musical form but, in performance, it proved an exhilarating rollercoaster of a show. MB Read the review.

Unforgettable ... Mark Rylance as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron in Jerusalem.



Unforgettable … Mark Rylance as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron in Jerusalem. Photograph: Geraint Lewis/Rex Features

1

Jerusalem (2009)

Jez Butterworth’s mesmerising study of a changing England was built around the figure of Johnny “Rooster” Byron, a Wiltshire Falstaff unforgettably played by Mark Rylance. Like Falstaff, Johnny was both a charismatic storyteller and a disturber of the piece, and that ambivalence was the key to Butterworth’s play. It lamented the loss of local customs but pinpointed the absurdity of seeking to preserve them in a modern, corporate age where even the morris dancers are brewery-sponsored. That double vision ran right through the play. We were spellbound by Johnny’s outrageous stories of meeting a giant on the A14 or being kidnapped by traffic wardens in Marlborough. At the same time, we saw that the folkloric heroes he sought to emulate were a thing of the past in our modern, mechanised world. MB Read the review.

https://www.theguardian.com/stage/2019/sep/17/the-50-best-theatre-shows-of-the-21st-century

Robins Theatre Returns to Its Roots with Opening Act – businessjournaldaily.com

Robins Theatre Returns to Its Roots with Opening Act – businessjournaldaily.com

WARREN – After two years of renovation work, the Robins Theatre will reopen with a salute to its roots with a concert by Big Bad Voodoo Daddy.

The grand reopening act, set for Jan. 9 2020, comes 77 years to the day of its original opening. Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was selected as the first act because of its throwback look and sound, said Mark Marvin, president of Downtown Development Group, which has undertaken the $5 to $7 million theater restoration project.

“They do the swing music and wear zoot suits,” said Marvin.

The Robins Theatre, 160 E. Market Street, had sat empty since 1974 before Downtown Development Group began work in early 2018.

On Monday, the project leaders gave an update on its progress, and unveiled the first wave of scheduled entertainment, which also includes comedian Lisa Lampanelli, acoustic-rock band America, classic rockers Blue Oyster Cult and five musicals by Millennial Theatre Co. 

The theater will actually first open to the public on Dec. 7 with First Snow, a tribute to Trans-Siberian Orchestra. The show is heavy on lighting and other technical aspects and will be a sort of a shakedown cruise for the venue.

“We want to work all the bugs out with it,” said Ken Haidaris, president of Sunrise Entertainment, which will handle all booking along with Tom Simpson, who owns Kent Stage in Kent.

“The first act was going to be [comedian] Lisa Lampanelli, but she gets a bit raunchy and we didn’t want to be remembered that way,” Haidaris said with a laugh. “So we made her second.”

Tickets will go on sale at RobinsTheatre.com on Thursday and at the box office on Friday. The box office will be open weekdays from 10 a.m. to 4 p.m. 

Here is the full schedule:

  • Dec. 7: First Snow, 8 p.m.
  • Jan. 9: Big Bad Voodoo Daddy, 8 p.m.
  • Jan. 10: Comedian Lisa Lampanelli, 8 p.m.
  • Jan. 11: Firefall, Pure Prairie League and Orleans, 8 p.m.
  • Jan. 17: America, 8 p.m.
  • Jan. 23: Abbamania, 8 p.m.
  • Feb. 7-9: “The Odd Couple,” starring local newscasters Jim Loboy and Len Rome, 8 p.m. with a 2 p.m. Sunday matinee.
  • Feb. 14: Dean Lives, Dean Martin tribute show for Valentine’s Day, 8 p.m.
  • Feb. 15: Escape, a Journey tribute band, 8 p.m.
  • Feb. 22: Animaniacs, animated TV show, in concert, 8 p.m.
  • March 8: Blue Oyster Cult, 7:30 p.m.
  • March 13-15: “Shrek, the Musical,” by Millennial Theatre Co., 8 p.m., with a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee.
  • March 20: Poco and Atlanta Rhythm Section, 8 p.m.
  • May 29-31: “Heathers, the Musical,” by Millennial, 8 p.m. with a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee.
  • July 31-Aug.2: A musical by Millennial Theatre Co. to be announced later.
  • Oct. 30-31: “The Rocky Horror Show,” 8 p.m. and midnight.
  • Dec. 11-13: “Hairspray,” by Millennial, 8 p.m. with a 3 p.m. Sunday matinee.

Further dates will be filled in with classic movies and a talk series hosted by former boxing champion Ray “Boom Boom” Mancini is also planned.

Restoration work at the Robins Theatre is still ongoing, but will be ready by the inaugural concert Dec. 7.

Work on the 1,350-seat theater is about a week or two behind schedule but workers should easily be able to finish it on time, said Marvin.

The theater’s front doors were installed last week. Plumbing and heating is in place and bathroom fixtures will be installed this week. The marquee will go up in October, with the seats slated to be installed in early November once they get back from being refurbished.

Plastering on the main ceiling, most of the walls and the under-balcony ceiling is complete, said Haidaris, and it is being painted to restore the original ornate decorations.

Marvin noted that parking will not be a problem at any show.

“There are 782 parking spaces within one block of the theater,” he said, citing the city parking deck, the Gibson lot, the Atrium lot and the Veterans lot. A free shuttle van service will loop from the lots to the theater on show notes

Warren Mayor Doug Franklin called the theater the crowning jewel of downtown’s rebirth, which has included the arrival of several restaurants and the opening of the Warren Community Amphitheatre – also operated by Sunrise Entertainment  and downtown events.

“The attention to detail is exactly what this grand old theater needed,” he said.

Simpson, of Kent Stage, has decades of experience as a promoter and venue operator, and also spearheaded a similar project. 

“I started Kent Stage in 2002,” he said. “I walked into an old movie theater in downtown Kent that needed a whole lot of work. We turned it into an economic engine and plan to do the same here.”

For Joe Asente, founder and artistic director of three-year-old Millennial Theatre Co. the opening of the Robins is a dream come true.

“In our first years, we were a traveling theater company,” he said. “I’m so excited to finally have our own home here at the Robins.”

Pictured: Mark Marvin of Downtown Development Group says Big Bad Voodoo Daddy was chosen as the act for the grand opening of the Robins Theatre because it’s a throwback show to the venue’s original acts in 1943.

Published by The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.



Robins Theatre Returns to Its Roots with Opening Act

Everton Library makes list of ‘most endangered’ Victorian buildings – Place North West

Everton Library makes list of ‘most endangered’ Victorian buildings – Place North West

Everton Library Exterior

16 Sep 2019, 12:01

Chloé Vaughan

The Victorian Society has highlighted the 10 buildings “most at risk of further dilapidation and loss” across the UK, including sites in Liverpool, Cheshire, and Manchester.

Everton Library in Liverpool, the former Church of St Luke in Cheshire, and Hulme Hippodrome in Manchester, all feature and are in varying states of disrepair, without imminent plans to restore them. The North West has the most endangered buildings on the list of all the regions in the UK.

Everton Library, Liverpool

Photo credit; The Victorian Society, Ian Tatlock

The library was opened in 1896 and is one of the earliest public libraries in Liverpool. It is grade two-listed due to the quality of its architecture and its role in developing Liverpool’s library service. It has not been in use since 1999 and has had two failed attempts to develop it. The building has been ransacked for lead in recent years and as such has suffered significant water damage. Earlier this year, Liverpool City Council published a notice seeking expressions of interests from individuals, community organisations, small builders and other organisations interested in redeveloping Everton Library for community or commercial use.

The former Church of St Luke, Cheshire

Photo credit; The Victorian Society, Ian Tatlock

The church was designed by George Frederick Bodley and was built between 1892-1893. Since declaring redundancy over 30 years ago, it has since been used for builder’s storage. It is one of three churches designed by Bodley to feature a double nave, or the central part of the church where the pews are typically arranged. The two naves are separated by a slender central arcade, making it an unorthodox design.

Hulme Hippodrome, Manchester

Photo credit; The Victorian Society, Ian Tatlock

The theatre originally opened on 10 October 1901 and was named the Grand Junction Theatre. It was designed by architect J.J. Alley and has since hosted plays and then bingo before its closure in 1988. It was brought back into use by evangelists the Deya Ministry, who bought the building in 1999 until it was once again closed in 2013. The building was sold at an auction in 2017 for £325,000 and currently stands in a “very poor state of repair and facing an uncertain future” according to the Victorian Society.

Griff Rhys Jones, president of the Victorian Society, said: “It is both inspiring and saddening to see this list. Who would have thought that a call to arms would reveal such a wealth of distinguished and absorbing architecture? From libraries to pubs to gorgeous theatres, these are gems. We are not looking at the second rate here. We are looking at real historical monuments- and yet we can only be taken aback.

“All of these historic sites are glorious and imaginative places ready for a new and productive life. How incredible that should feature on the Top Ten Endangered Buildings list. Let us hope people spring into action and pay attention.”

Everton Library makes list of ‘most endangered’ Victorian buildings

On the Wall at Keens Steakhouse, A Blood-Stained Playbill Held By Abraham Lincoln When He was Assassinated – Untapped Cities

On the Wall at Keens Steakhouse, A Blood-Stained Playbill Held By Abraham Lincoln When He was Assassinated – Untapped Cities

On April 14th, 1865, Abraham Lincoln was assassinated inside the Ford’s Theatre in Washington D.C. by actor John Wilkes Booth. That evening has been explored and interpreted countless of times, but lesser known is an artifact that hangs on the wall of Keens Steakhouse in Midtown: a blood-stained playbill Lincoln was supposedly holding from that evening’s performance of “Our American Cousin” by the English playwright Tom Taylor. This version of the playbill, printed that day, states in large lettering “This evening the performance will be honored by the presence of President Lincoln.”

Booth came from a famous family of Shakespearian actors, one of three illegitimate sons of Junius Brutus Booth. Booth himself had learned of Lincoln’s upcoming attendance that morning, while picking up his mail at the Ford Theatre, which was owned by a family friend. In fact, Booth’s most recent acting (and final) performance had taken place at the Ford’s Theatre less than a month before, on March 18th. He was a regular fixture at the theater, so his presence before and during the performance would not have been suspicious.

Keens Steakhouse, located at 72 W. 36th Street, opened up twenty years after Lincoln’s assassination and is one of the oldest restaurants in New York City. Its walls and ceilings are filled with historical artifacts, and a second floor room is known as the Lincoln Room. It is here, next to the entrance of the room, where the the playbill is framed, among a large number of Lincoln paraphernalia including a handwritten version of the Gettysburg Address. The staff is friendly and well-versed on the history, expecting visitors to stop by to see the historic material even if they do not have plans on eating at the steakhouse.

The Lincoln Room at Keen’s

An article next to the playbill tells the story of how it got to Keen’s. It claims that it was picked up from underneath the chair Lincoln sat on in the theater box by the carpenter’s assistant, who took it home with him. It confirms that two sets of playbills were printed for the show that night, this one made after “it was learned that Lincoln was to attend.” It was distributed in the boxes and in the pit.

The article also mentions that those who had the playbill since Lincoln was killed had some bad luck, including the carpenter’s assistant who could not find a new job due to his connection with the Ford Theatre. When he was finally hired by a theater manager in New York, the assistant gave him the Lincoln playbill. The article claims that misfortune then befell the theater manager! The article concludes, “And today, after many vicissitudes, it hangs upon the wall of Keen’s. Paul Henkel, the hotel and restauranteur who helped create Keen’s steakhouse, says he found it here when he “took the place” that was previously the Lamb’s Club. The article says Henkel so far had no bad luck by owning the playbill. Henkel died in 1957, and seems to have had a prosperous and full life according to his obituary in the New York Times (no mention of the playbill there).

Meanwhile, Keens Steakhouse is not the only Booth connection to New York City. John Wilkes Booth the brother of famed Shakespearian actor Edwin Booth who would later create The Players club in Gramercy Park in an effort to restore the family’s name following the infamy of Booth’s assassination of Lincoln. Edwin’s room in the Gramercy Park club is preserved exactly as he left on his death in 1893. You can visit this room and the rest of the members-only Players club with Untapped Cities on a tour next week:

Insider Tour of the Players Club on Gramercy Park

 Keens Steakhouse, midtown, Secrets of NYC

On the Wall at Keens Steakhouse, A Blood-Stained Playbill Held By Abraham Lincoln When He was Assassinated

Saskatoon Heritage Society seeks city council help to revive part of historic Capitol movie theatre – CBC News

Saskatoon Heritage Society seeks city council help to revive part of historic Capitol movie theatre – CBC News

The Saskatoon Heritage Society is looking for city council’s support in honouring a unique part of the city’s past.

The group wants to restore and publicly display artifacts from the Capitol movie theatre. For 50 years, the building reigned as the city’s grand movie palace and doubled as a public gathering place until its bitterly-opposed demolition in 1979.

“This year [Dec. 1] marks the 40th anniversary of the demolition,” Peggy Sarjeant, the society’s president, recently wrote to city councillors. “Memories of this grand theatre abound.”

Located downtown on 2nd Avenue — where the Scotia Centre mall stands today — the Capitol boasted a massive 1,561-seat auditorium and the one-part-glamorous, one-part-gaudy decor that distinguished the “atmospheric” theatres built in the late 1920s.

The Globe and Mail’s current architectural critic recently named the Capitol one of “10 iconic Canadian buildings that we’ve lost.”

The theatre played first-run movies and also hosted many civic events: on-stage cooking shows for Depression-era housewives, live plays performed by University of Saskatchewan students, hypnotism shows by Reveen.

Transfixing travelling hypnotist Reveen was a popular non-movie draw at the Capitol. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

When the theatre was demolished despite a “Save the Cap” campaign in 1979, several artifacts were stored in a city warehouse — everything from the stage’s painted backdrops to the large columns that lined the theatre’s carpeted ticket-line.

Columns from the Cap’s long hallway are among the artifacts stored in a City of Saskatoon warehouse. (Saskatoon Public Library Local History Room; item PH-7725-42)

The items remain there, gathering dust.

“These artifacts are large and impressive and, once restored, could be brought together to replicate the entrance and part of the interior of the theatre,” Sargeant said. 

Large painted theatre backdrops, which stood behind the Capitol stage curtain, are also stored in the warehouse. (Guy Quenneville/CBC)

“It’s time we found a home for these artifacts — somewhere the public can view them and catch a glimpse of the former grandeur of the theatre.”

Sarjeant mentioned the city’s planned downtown entertainment district but added, “We’re not pinpointing anything” location-wise.

Second homes

Many other Capitol artifacts found their way in Saskatoon homes and businesses.

A theatre “exit” sign bids visitors adieu at the Saskatoon Public Library’s local history room, for example, and Saskatoon-area resident Richard Perry made off with rolls of auditorium carpeting that had been dumped in an alleyway during the demolition.

“The carpet was really incredible in that theatre,” Perry said. “So I gathered a few soaking wet pieces, threw them in my old Volvo station wagon and said, ‘If nothing else, I could use it in the back of my car or something.'”

  • Watch below: 5 Saskatoon Places With Capitol Theatre Relics
VIDEO CLIP: 5 Places With Capitol Theatre Relics 1:26

Perry’s wife Verna said recapturing the theatre’s opulence would be no easy task. 

“I think it would be very difficult [to] do it justice, to really give people the feeling, if they hadn’t been [there],” she said. 

‘We have enough on our plate’

City councillors are scheduled to hear from Sarjeant Monday morning at city hall.

It’s a tough sell for Coun. Darren Hill. 

“I’m not prepared to consider any new capital projects,” Hill said. “However, I would not rule out displaying them in a current building.

“We have enough on our plate right now, and my priority is to see the arena and convention centre studies through.”

Not that Hill doesn’t have memories of the Capitol. 

He remembers seeing “Jaws” at the Capitol when he was seven.

“I clearly remember being scared to go to the washroom at the theatre because I thought the shark would come out of the plumbing and get me!” he said.

  • Read a full oral history or watch a three-part documentary on the Capitol theatre at www.cbc.ca/thecap
The Day They Tore Down The Capitol, featured at cbc.ca/thecap, features rare and never-before-seen interviews with key figures in the Capitol affair. (CBC)

https://www.cbc.ca/news/canada/saskatoon/saskatoon-heritage-society-seeks-city-council-help-to-revive-part-of-historic-capitol-movie-theatre-1.5284440

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