Phil Willmott travels through theatreland...

And gives you the lowdown on what's currently hot (and not) in London's West End.

BURNT BY THE SUN at The National Theatre
I was really looking forward to this play set amongst the paranoia and cruelty of Stalin’s Russia where even his most loyal supporters risked denouncement, arrest, torture and death based on unfounded accusations and trumped up charges. Sadly, for me, there just didn’t seem to be enough claustrophobia in the sweltering country house setting, sexual tension between the protagonists or spark in the central battle of wills and wits between the two monumentally evil central characters. Ciaran Hinds, looking like Stalin, does lots of looming unexpectedly in doorways to overhear unfortunate conversations but I felt Rory Kinnear as his nemesis lacks the slippery desperation to bring him down. Plenty of critics have been impressed though, so perhaps my expectations were too high. The National Theatre are currently offering £10 tickets for this Premiere League production – check it out for yourself. [3/5]

OVER THERE at the Royal Court
I was frustrated that last month's opening play in the Royal Court’s season of work looking at contemporary Germany could only tell us that German minds in the nineties were still a bit messed up by the war. Continuing with the blindingly obvious this latest play tells us that… wait for it.. East and West Germany are a bit like twin bothers – the same but… here it comes… different too!!!! Really, hasn’t anyone got anything more complex to say about our near neighbours? Fortunately this latest piece is by my friend Mark Ravenhill so at least it’s sexy, witty and well executed. It’s effectively performed too by real life brothers Luke and Harry Treadaway who pluckily strip, smear each other in food and lick each other’s bodies to serve the metaphor. [3/5]

THE BACKROOM at the Cock Theatre, Kilburn [pictured above]
There’s much to enjoy in this revival of Adrian Pagan’s 1999 comedy of gay brothel life. The trouble is rent boys, or this lot anyway, aren’t actually that insightful, complex or eloquent…. On the plus side they do shag like little bunnies, get their kit off a lot and toss off some funny lines about pop culture and STDs. For much of the evening there’s little going on except inter-rent boy banter, but the script has been updated nicely, the boys are hot and the laughs are all in place…. Even if we get little meat with our bone! [3/5]

VICTORY at The Arcola Theatre
Howard Barker is one of the most exciting and original playwrights of the past fifty years. The poetry of his imagery and meatiness of his dialogue is delicious, his pitch black wit and edgy mix of sex and violence irresistible. This is a fine revival of his post English civil war allegory wonderfully performed by Geraldine James, Matthew Kelly and a fine company of character actors led by Nicholas Rowe and Chris Porter. I’m not going to pretend at nearly three hours it isn’t a slog, but worth a look for aficionados of groundbreaking drama. [4/5]

Phil Willmott has directed over fifty productions across the world from Shakespeare and musicals to cutting edge new writing. He is founding Artistic Director of his own multi award winning theatre company The Steam Industry, incorporating The Finborough Theatre (under the Artistic Directorship of Neil NcPherson), and the London's annual Free Theatre Festival .

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