London theatre: the best plays and shows on now

An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre
An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre Credit: Alastair Muir

From Harry Potter and the Cursed Child to Motown the Musical, this is our regularly updated guide to the best shows in the West End and beyond

Rosencrantz and Guildenstern are Dead ★★★★☆

Where: Old Vic

Address: The Cut, Lambeth, London SE1 8NB

Until: April 29

Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell:"Tom Stoppard's brain-boxy Hamlet spin-off (which lifts a speculative curtain on the 'backstage' travails of the two hapless pals of the Dane) has hit the big 5-0. Daniel Radcliffe’s Rosencrantz and Joshua McGuire’s Guildenstern are a delight as the discombobulated double-act." Read the full review

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Love in Idleness  ★★★★☆

Where: Menier Chocolate Factory

Address: 53 Southwark St, London SE1 1RU

Until: April 29

Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell:Not seen in London since its 1944 premiere, Terence Rattigan’s Love in Idleness centres on a widow whose relationship with a rich Tory industrialist (and member of the War Cabinet) is tested to destruction by the return home of her teenage son, grown militantly socialist during his evacuation in Canada. It was a hit in the Forties – even Churchill dropped in to see it. This overdue revival with Eve Best and Anthony Head offers an ingenious fusion of domestic tragi-comedy and political debate. Read the full review

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Travesties ★★★★☆

Where: Apollo Theatre

Address: 31 Shaftesbury Avenue, London, W1D 7ES

Until: April 29

Tom Hollander in Travesties Credit: Johan Persson

In a nutshell: "Who else but Tom Stoppard could mine such erudite mischief from the farcical events in this Rubik's Cube of a play, which pivots on a real-life attempt to sue James Joyce for the cost of a pair of trousers worn in his amateur production of The Importance of Being Earnest in Zurich in 1917?" Read the full review

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The Glass Menagerie ★★★★☆

Where: Duke of York's Theatre

Address: St Martin's Lane, London WC2N 4BG

Until: April 29

Credit: Johan Persson

In a nutshell: "In Tennessee Williams’s exquisitely lyrical breakthrough masterpiece of 1945, St Louis warehouse-worker Tom Wingfield (Michael Esper) has his creative ambitions  stymied by his wage-slave duty of care to his mother and sister... this isn’t a 'look-at-me' affair, it’s more 'listen-to-this' – let the melancholy strains of piano and violin seep in; savour the domestic subtleties." Read the full review

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The Plague ★★★★☆

Where: Arcola Theatre

Address: 24 Ashwin St, Dalston, London E8 3DL

Until: May 6

Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell: In the Algerian town of Oran one April, rats start dying in the street. A week later, the first person dies. No one in the town can guess at the scale of the death to follow. Albert Camus’s 1947 novel, on which Neil Bartlett’s 80-minute sucker-punch of a play is based, uses a plague outbreak as a metaphor for the spread of fascism across Europe during the Second World War. Bartlett deftly stages his version in the form of a verbatim drama, with the five main characters seated behind a table offering personal witness testimonies on what happened in Oran to an unseen inquisitor (or, if you like, to us, the audience). Read the full review

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Dreamgirls ★★★★☆

Where: The Savoy Theatre

Address: Strand, London, WC2R 0ET

Booking until: May 6

In a nutshell: "Michael Bennett’s Tony Award-winning hit from 1981 is finally getting its UK premiere, about the rise of an American R&B girl group with distinct shades of the Supremes... the show’s leading light is American actress Amber Riley (best known for the TV show Glee)... belting out the big numbers with defiance and soulful passion, she has the audience rising to applaud her. What a voice!" Read the full review

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The Lottery of Love ★★★★☆

Where: Orange Tree Theatre

Address: 1 Clarence St, Richmond TW9 2SA

Until: May 13

Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell: "There is little doubt that John Fowles is one of the greatest novelists of the late 20th century. But The Lottery of Love, his 1983 translation of Marivaux’s sparkling comedy Le Jeu de l’amour et du hasard, suggests he could have pursued a life in the theatre to similar acclaim. In Paul Miller’s splendid, light-footed production – performed in the round – every bit of double crossing and comic confusion is milked to terrific effect. The convoluted plot sees the wealthy Sylvia engaged to Richard, whom she has never met. In order to unmask his true personality, she decides to swap places with her chambermaid, Louisa. Unknown to both of them, Richard has had the same idea and trades identities with Brass, his servant." Read the full review

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Carousel ★★★★☆

Where: London Coliseum

Address: St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4ES

Until: May 13 

Credit: Tristram Kenton

In a nutshell: "This revival of Rodgers’ and Hammerstein’s masterpiece stars glamour girl Katherine Jenkins in what appears to be her first professional theatrical role. As the ingénue Julie Jordan, she looks lovely and acts sweetly in a June Allyson girl-next-door way that never becomes simpering. Her singing is good too – both her big numbers, If I Loved You and What’s the Use of Wondering? are shaped with warmth and feeling." Read the full review

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Consent ★★★★☆

Where: National Theatre, Dorfman Theatre

Address: Upper Ground, South Bank, London SE1 9PX

Until: May 17

Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell: "Nina Raine (daughter of poet Craig) has taken a Hot Topic – the clue’s in the title – and produced a tense, entertaining modern-day tragi-comedy. This is a play about the ordinary people who seek out the legal system at a time of emotional distress – victims, as they see it, of rape, but who end up feeling further violated; and about the middle-class professionals who are the oily cogs in the judicial machine." Read the full review

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Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? ★★★★★

Where: Harold Pinter Theatre

Address: Panton St, London SW1Y 4DN

Until: May 22

Credit: Johan Persson

In a nutshell: "This superlative revival of Edward Albee’s 1962 name-making marital-crisis drama stars the sensational Imelda Staunton. Based on the simple premise of a late-night drinks party that comes to resemble a modern equivalent to the flayed-alive horrors of Dante’s Inferno, Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? is the most wickedly entertaining, most viciously nasty, most incrementally harrowing play in the American canon." Read the full review

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Stepping Out  ★★★★☆

Where: Vaudeville Theatre

Address: 404 Strand, London, WC2R 0NH

Until: June 14

Credit: Jeff Spicer

In a nutshell:“Richard Harris’s 1984 comedy about a gaggle of women (plus one token bloke) who convene in a North London church-hall to learn the rudiments of tap-dancing stars Amanda Holden, judge on Britain’s Got Talent, as snooty Vera, a newcomer to the class whose ostentatious affluence and inveterate tactlessness gets everyone’s backs up.” Read the full review

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The Philanthropist ★★★★☆

Where: Trafalgar Studios

Address: 14 Whitehall, Westminster, London SW1A 2DY

Until: July 22

Matt Berry and Lily Cole in The Philanthropist Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell:"Christopher Hampton's 1970 tragicomedy of beta-male manners, in which a bland philology don finds himself alienating everyone around him with his desire to please gets an intriguing revival from Simon Callow, mother-henning a nest of young-chick TV and comedy talent. Simon Bird, of The Inbetweeners fame, is memorably pained as the lacklustre anti-hero and there’s strong support from actress-model Lily Cole as a predatory campus beauty. This is a rare chance to see a play which possesses an emotional wisdom few playwrights as young as Hampton was then have rivalled since." Read the full review

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The Girls ★★★★☆

Where: Phoenix Theatre

Address: 110 Charing Cross Rd, London WC2H 0JP

Booking until: August 3

In a nutshell:"Based on the hugely popular Calendar Girls film of 2003, this musical tells the true story of the WI pals from the Yorkshire village of Rylstone who posed in the cheekily concealed nuddy for a charity calendar that made the headlines in 1999. And Take That’s frontman Gary Barlow – joining scriptwriter, and fellow Cheshire-ite, Tim Firth, who also directs – has penned a baker’s dozen of numbers packed with more-ish sentimentality and glazed with a feel-good sheen." Read the full review

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An American in Paris  ★★★★☆

Where: Dominion Theatre

Address: 268-269 Tottenham Court Road, London, W1T 7AQ

Booking until: September 30

Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell:The 1951 Oscar-winning MGM film is hard to beat, but this lavish stage-musical version captures the beauty of Paris and the reverie of youth to perfection. It’s the tale of a poor American painter smitten with gay Paree, pursued by an art-collecting heiress and hankering after an already spoken-for jolie fille. Read the full review

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42nd Street ★★★★☆

Where: Theatre Royal Drury Lane

Address: Catherine Street, London, WC2B 5JF

Until: October 4

Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell: "If you don’t like tap-dancing, run for the hills: 42nd Street is the tyrannosaurus rex of tap. What director Mark Bramble and co-writer Michael Stewart did back in the day (1980) was take a neglected Warner Bros 1933 classic, strip it down its essentials with only residual traces of the originating novel, and stuff in as many pleasure-giving songs from the gilded back-catalogue of Harry Warren and Al Dubin as possible, including that Depression-era paean to newfound wealth, We’re In the Money." Read the full review

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Motown the Musical ★★★★☆

Where: Shaftsbury Theatre

Address: 210 Shaftesbury Ave, London WC2H 8DP

Booking until: October 28, 2017

Motown the Musical Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell: "Never mind the sometimes clunky script - superb performances and a gilded back-catalogue make this musical an urgent rallying cry for us all to rediscover our Motown mojo." Read the full review

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Harry Potter and the Cursed Child ★★★★★

Where: Palace Theatre

Address: Shaftesbury Ave, London W1D 5AY

Until: December 10, 2017

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Credit: Manuel Harlan

In a nutshell: "Tremors of excitement at the premiere of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – the first Potter play, and the eighth story in the publishing phenomenon that made J K Rowling’s name and fortune – are being felt across the world... The big news is that this is just what was needed, will raise the benchmark for family entertainment for years to come and may even usher in a whole cycle of Potter-world stories." Read the full review

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