In Review

Theatre reviews: what the critics are saying about Hairspray, As You Like It and A Little Night Music

‘Who would have thought that one of the highlights of the summer would be watching Les Dennis fondle Michael Ball?’

“Who would have thought that one of the highlights of the summer would be watching Les Dennis fondle Michael Ball?” These two “old stagers” are playing husband and wife in the gloriously revived musical Hairspray – and they have a huge amount of fun with their vaudeville-style duet celebrating marital bliss, ‘(You’re) Timeless to Me’, said Clive Davis in The Times.

But the pair are just one of the attractions. The whole show – the tale of Tracy, a tubby girl from Baltimore who is determined to become a dancer on a “cringingly cute” TV dance show – is a high camp triumph. The songs “rock with genuine bluesy energy”, the choreography is “slick yet soulful”, and the racial theme is handled deftly.

The cavernous Coliseum is a tough space for a musical, but this five-star romp, with its infectious music and madcap routines, easily fills it. “You really would have to be in a terminal state of humourlessness not to enjoy” the production (until 29 September).

Staged in The Watermill Theatre’s woodland gardens in Newbury – weeping willows, rippling streams, passing ducks – Paul Hart’s production of As You Like It is a “bucolic delight”, said Judi Herman on What’s On Stage. The cast of actor-musicians is excellent, and include Katherine Jack as a “beautifully calibrated and intelligent” Rosalind. Spine-tingling” arrangements of folk and pop songs (Taylor Swift, The Beach Boys) add to the pleasure. And the production conveys its ecological message without losing any of the play’s magic and humour.

The only “off-note” comes at the end, in the form of a superfluous epilogue on climate and sustainability, said Arifa Akbar in The Guardian. But it is soon “swallowed up by a rousing last song”. This is first-rate summer Shakespeare, made “all the more spellbinding for the greater stage of the natural world around us” (until 24 July).

Stephen Sondheim’s “cruel, clever and delectable” 1973 musical A Little Night Music is “piercingly well done here” in a collaboration between Leeds Playhouse and Opera North, said Sam Marlowe in The Times. Directed by James Brining, the production brims with “rapturous romance”, without dulling the musical’s “serrated edge”.

The singing is superb – “rich, natural and precise” – and the acting just as impressive. Stephanie Corley as Desiree makes “desolate, devastating work” of the show’s most famous number, ‘Send in the Clowns’. And as Madam Armfeldt, former lover of kings and counts, Josephine Barstow is as “arch, sharp and hilarious as anything you’ll find in the best Oscar Wilde production”, said Mark Brown in The Daily Telegraph.

This is a “true gem” of a show – an exceptional achievement, “pitched wonderfully between French sex comedy and Chekhovian existentialism”. It’s a production that could “grace stages anywhere in the world” (until 17 July).

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