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

The Cardinal ★★★★☆

Where: Southwark Playhouse

Address: 77-85 Newington Causeway, London SE1 6BD

Until: May 27

Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell: "If you are unfamiliar with this 1641 post-Jacobean tragedy, that’s no fault of yours – the year after it opened, Oliver Cromwell shut down the theatres in a fit of Puritan zeal, and this tangy satirical portrait of a corrupt, power-lusting Cardinal has barely been performed since. So, bravo to the small but mighty Southwark Playhouse for retrieving it from the dusty vaults of history with this clean, concise and thoroughly tense production from director Justin Audibert." 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 Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui  ★★★★☆

Where: Donmar Warehouse

Address: 41 Earlham St, London WC2H 9LX

Until: June 17

Credit: Helen Maybanks

In a nutshell: "Lenny Henry stars in Brecht's 1941 parable as Arturo Ui, the Chicago mobster who morphs from minor-league hoodlum to political top-dog using wiles, intimidation and violence... American playwright – here adaptor – Bruce Norris plainly has 'The Donald' in his sights and knowing references creep in like illegals breaching the US border (ample expletives too, be warned)." Read the full review

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Life of Galileo ★★★★☆

Where: Young Vic

Address: 66 The Cut, Lambeth, London SE1 8LZ

Until: July 1

Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell: "A swift-feeling and smart staging by Atonement director Joe Wright of Brecht's approachable, valuable account of Galileo (his heliocentric breakthrough and enforced recantation under pressure from the forces of the Roman inquisition), with Australian actor Brendan Cowell bounding around a circular wooden walkway stage like a bearded, Antipodean version of Prof Brian Cox, all impatient excitement." 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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Angels in America  ★★★★★

Where: National Theatre, (Lyttelton Theatre)

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

Until: August 19 (returns only)

Credit: Helen Maybanks

In a nutshell:"Arguably the most adorable ‘Spider-Man’ of recent times, Andrew Garfield brings much of the vulnerability he lent that Marvel super-hero to the Aids-afflicted protagonist of Tony Kushner’s mighty Nineties two-parter, thrillingly revived some 25 years on by Marianne Elliot. Kushner wings us across New York and in and out of the minds of his troubled dramatis personae, variously affrighted by mortality, their own sexuality, the inequities of Reaganomics and millennial foreboding. Eight hours, all told – possibly bum-numbing but positively mind-tingling." Read the full review

Sold out, returns only. Ticketing information:

Angels in America will be broadcast in cinemas July 20 and July 27. Details:

Half a Sixpence ★★★★★

Where: Noel Coward Theatre

Address: 85-88 St Martin's Lane, London, WC2N 4AU

Booking until: September 2

In a nutshell:Downton Abbey writer Julian Fellowes has given a clever overhaul to the book of this loveably perky 1963 musical about an ’umble draper’s assistant who inherits a surprise fortune but must choose, as he jumps social echelons, between the childhood sweetheart he left behind (with half a sixpence as their shared keepsake) and a genteel evening-class teacher... This is the best version of this musical London has yet seen, abd the whole thing is such a pleasure and an ’alf you simply don’t want it to end." 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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The Ferryman ★★★★★

Where: Gielgud Theatre from June 20)

Address: Shaftesbury Avenue, Soho, London W1D 6AR

Dates: June 20 – October 7

Credit: Johan Persson

In a nutshell: "British playwriting’s king-pin Jez Butterworth (Jerusalem) serves up the full Irish in The Ferryman, taking us to Armagh and the harvest of late August 1981 – time of ongoing Troubles, height of the Hunger Strikes – with director Sam Mendes bringing it to table with élan and a crack ensemble... The suspenseful plot hinges on the grisly discovery of a 10-years-absent brother, opening the door to sinister overtures from menacing members of the IRA... miss this and you've missed a marvel." 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

Tickets and information for Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

School of Rock ★★★★★

Where: New London Theatre

Address: 166 Drury Lane, London, WC2B 5PW

Booking until: January 14, 2018

Credit: Alastair Muir

In a nutshell: "Andrew Lloyd Webber and Julian Fellowes have made the grade in turning this much-loved 2003 Hollywood comedy into a musical. The stage version cleaves closely to the celluloid storyline, following the misadventures of Dewey Finn, a rock-loving slob who wangles an illicit gig as a supply teacher (faking his best friend’s identity) at a posh prep school. Once there, he courts the risk of exposure while giving his over-regimented charges a liberating education in rock... It's the most enjoyable few hours money can buy."  Read the full review

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Motown the Musical ★★★★☆

Where: Shaftsbury Theatre

Address: 210 Shaftesbury Ave, London WC2H 8DP

Booking until: February 24, 2018

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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Matilda: The Musical ★★★★★

Where: Cambridge Theatre

Address: 32-34 Earlham Street, London, WC2H 9HU

Booking until: May 27, 2018

In a nutshell: "The RSC’s hilarious, moving and magical production of Matilda has now arrived in the West End, where I suspect it will delight audiences for years to come... It is the best new British musical since Billy Elliot. Dennis Kelly has adapted Roald Dahl's famous story for the stage, while Aussie comedian Tim Minchin has come up with a smashing score that combines take-home melodies with delicious lyrical wit."

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