THEATRE: THE FIVE BEST PLAYS IN LONDON

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Merchant of Venice (Cottesloe, National)

With the magnificent Henry Goodman as Shylock, Trevor Nunn's 1920s- style production finds a rich complexity in a play too often simplified on the stage. Truly great directing. In rep to 11 Sept

Look Back in Anger (Lyttelton, National)

Five tremendously alert performances make this revival of Osborne's iconic play completely riveting. A production of enormous subtlety and power which will win awards. In rep to 11 Sept

Drummers (New Ambassadors)

Caustic black comedy about vengeful jailbirds from a new playwright, Simon Bennett, who, having once served a sentence for burglary, knows what he's talking about. See review, left. To 9 Oct

Jeffrey Bernard is Unwell (Old Vic)

Peter O'Toole recreates his incomparably funny and melancholic portrait of the legendary boozer. With Bernard now dead, the play's musings on Closing Time assume a darker tone. To 25 Sept

Antony and Cleopatra (Shakespeare's Globe)

Mark Rylance is a beguilingly persuasive Cleopatra - ironically much less of a drag act than Frances de la Tour in the current Stratford production. In rep to 26 Sept

... AND BEYOND

Timon of Athens (RSC, Stratford Upon Avon)

Michael Pennington shines as a violent but psychologically subtle Timon, in a remarkably witty and penetrating RSC production of this Shakespeare rarity. The splendid use of a Duke Ellington jazz suite rounds it off. See review, left. In rep to 9 Oct

Don Carlos (RSC, Stratford Upon Avon)

Exuding a dishevelled glamour, Rupert Penry Jones gives a stellar performance in Gale Edwards' intensely claustrophobic production of Schiller's play. Memorable and chilling. In rep to 7 Oct

Irma La Douce (Watermill Theatre, Newbury)

With this intimate theatre converted into a Parisian cafe and the cast doubling as the band, there's a cabaret atmosphere to John Doyle's rousing revival of this Fifties musical. See review, left. To 25 Sept

Oroonoko (The Other Place, Stratford)

There's indignation, but a refreshing lack of political correctness, in this powerful and witty dramatisation of Aphra Behn's 17th-century novel about the slave trade. In rep to 6 Oct

Easy Virtue (Chicester Festival Theatre)

Greta Scacchi scintillates as the glamorous "woman with a past" in Maria Aitkin's assured revival of this early Coward play, which deals with issues of prejudice and sanctimony. To 2 Oct

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