Top Ten London Stage Shows, May 2017

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I hope you’re enjoying the May Bank Holiday. With any luck, you’ll find some time over the coming weeks to squeeze in a bit of theatre. And, this month, there is a LOT to see in town. Good for you, not so good for me, as it’s been a battle whittling down so many quality shows into a final ten.

Not trying to make myself sound like an X-Factor judge here but, I tell you, this month has been probably the hardest yet as I had sixteen shows I was weighing up. Sixteen! Trying to get this down to ten was a nightmare – what stays, which go? I really went back and forth on it for a long time. And, in the end, I couldn’t reduce the list further than eleven. So, eleven it is!

And the result is that this is very much a curated list – probably more than usual. It’s a list of those shows that grab me, that I think are fascinating and have something relevant to say, and say it with interest. And shows that I would recommend to anyone.

So, I’m listing Virginia Woolf for the third month in a row – and rightly so as it’s the finest production in town right now. Flawless. But it means there’s no room for new big draws such as John Boyega taking to the stage at the Old Vic in Woyzeck, or Felicity Kendal and Maureen Lipman raising the laughs at the Menier in the Peter Schaffer comedy, Lettice and Lovage. No doubt these shows have much to recommend them, but would I put them above my list of shows below? No, not this time. Not for me.

But there are ones that I absolutely would recommend but haven’t quite made the cut, and that really does hurt. I’m banking on having short-listed a few of these before, such as the powerful (and violent) Guards at the Taj at Bush Theatre, and the witty The Lottery of Love at Orange Tree Theatre. Both remain recommended. And the West end transfer of Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour hasn’t made the cut because, well, I’m banking on getting round to it in future lists and, instead, ensuring I get to platform shows that won’t be around for long.

I wish we could all go and see (almost) everything, But, sadly, not. Hence the need for lists like these, I guess! So, I’ll be living and dying by this selection then!

As ever, let me know what you see.


The Treatment, Almeida Theatre

To say Martin Crimp’s The Treatment is a black comedy would be a bit of an understatement. This is dark subject matter – a woman, clearly damaged from her experience where she was kept in bondage by her husband, attempts to sell her story to producers as the subject of a movie. Yes, this is clearly a powerful judgment on our dehumanising behaviour today when we see dollar signs and exploitation where we should have compassion and support. But Crimp’s work is more than that, also forcing us to see the fictions we have all created to numb ourselves, to be wilfully blind, to the horrors and disappointments in the world today. Lyndsey Turner directs. Closes June 10th. Tickets from £10.


Angels in America, National Theatre

Tony Kushner’s play on New Yorkers grappling with the 1980s AIDS crisis won the Pulitzer, the Tony and many other awards. So, when the NT decided to revive this tremendous piece of work with an all-star cast (hello Denise Gough, Andrew Garfield, Russell Tovey et al), well, it was always going to sell out quick. And it has. But if you don’t have tickets, there are still opportunities. Returns and late release of tickets do come up on the NT website so keep checking (I only got mine a week ago, long after it was declared ‘sold out’). Plus, there’s the periodic ballot. Good luck! Tickets from £20.


The Ferryman, Royal Court

Jez Butterworth returns to the Royal Court after The River and the multi-award winning Jerusalem with his new play The Ferryman. And in the director’s seat is Sam Mendes making his Royal Court debut. As usual, the Royal Court isn’t giving much away, but we do know the play is set in rural Derry in 1981 – not exactly a time of peace in the area. But the Carney farmhouse is full of energy and activity as the family plans its evening celebrations and festivities to mark the end of the annual harvest. Only the joy is punctured by the arrival of a visitor… Tickets are sold out so it’s Day Returns and the Court’s on-the-day Monday night tickets if you want to see this. (Though it is already lined up for a West End transfer). Closes May 20th.


The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui, Donmar Warehouse

On the surface, this Brecht classic on fictional gangster mobster, Arturo Ui, in 1930s Chicago should make for a great night out, what with being transported to a world of jazz, crooks, and prohibition. But the Donmar picked this play for a reason, for this 1941 play was a satire on the rise of Adolf Hitler and the warning signs on how someone like him could manipulate the public and rise to power. Now, I wonder why the Donmar has gone for this play today…. Oh, and Lenny Henry is in the lead role too. Closes June 17th. Tickets from £10.


Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Harold Pinter Theatre

The best play in London, people. And this is your last opportunity to see it. This isn’t just a flawless production; it’s one that takes your breath away. Imelda Staunton is incredible, obvs. You will never see a better Martha. You’ll never see a more nuanced depiction of this woman so angry at the way her life has panned out that she channels all her anger, resentment and self-loathing into a destructive co-dependent relationship with her husband who, incredibly, cares enough about her to play her games. And it’s a terrific performance too from Conleth Hill as the long-suffering George. But it is Albee’s writing that shines as much as the acting. Laugh-out loud hilarious and gut-wrenchingly tragic. Closes May 27th. Tickets from £15.


An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre

The Lottery of Love finishes in a couple of weeks and replacing that comedy at the Orange Tree is An Octoroon – and there is a lot to be excited about here too. This OBIE award-winning play on race from Branden Jacobs-Jenkins caused a sensation when it opened in the States. This marks its UK premiere, and it also sees the return of Director Ned Bennett to the Orange Tree following the sensational Pomona. The play is an adaptation, a subversion, of a 19th-century melodrama about slavery, and the NY production toyed with blackface, redface, and whiteface. Expect fireworks! Opens May 18th. Tickets from £15 (£12 for Under 30s)


Consent, National Theatre

Right, first out the gates – if rape/sexual violence is a trigger for you in any way, DO NOT see Consent. The trauma is just too real. At the centre of this remarkable play from Nina Raine, which manages to be both laugh-out-loud funny and deeply harrowing, is a rape case. A woman accusing a man of rape with only the faint hope of justice that comes from such bravery. But wrapped around this core is a domestic drama of six Notting Hill/metropolitan elite-esque types, comprised of the two opposing counsels, and their husbands, wives and friends. For what this play examines is how any debate over a single truth, over consent, justice, and empathy, is never, ever just confined to a courtroom. Closes May 17th. Tickets from £15.


Life of Galileo, Young Vic Theatre

Galileo’s life story is one of extraordinary scientific breakthroughs – this was the pioneering astronomer who was key in arguing that the Earth revolved around the Sun, rather than the other way around. But he was also a man who was persecuted for his findings, branded a heretic by the Catholic Church. This huge battle for the hearts and minds of man, crystallised in one man’s life, was translated into a play by Brecht, and this revival at the Young Vic promises to be big on the visuals. Joe Wright (Atonement) is at the helm and YV is promoting this as ‘an out of-this-world production.’ Fingers crossed. Opens May 6th. Tickets from £10.


Salomé, National Theatre

Back at the NT following her dramatic production of Les Blancs last year, Yaël Farber is taking on the fabled tale of Salomé – the woman who demanded the head of John the Baptist as a reward for dancing the Dance of the Seven Veils. Farber is also writing, drawing on multiple accounts of this Biblical story to deliver a radical retelling, one that places the woman we think we know at the centre of a revolution. Opens May 2nd. Tickets from £15.


Casanova, Northern Ballet

After a string of sell-out successes, including the South Bank Sky Arts Dance Award-winning 1984, Northern Ballet returns to Sadler’s Wells with their take on the sensational true story of the notorious lover Casanova. Steeped in 18th century decadence, Kenneth Tindall’s first full-length ballet promises to be a riot of intrigue and seduction. Runs May 9th-13th. Tickets from £12.


Manwatching, Royal Court Theatre

Damn it – this is already sold out! However, Day Seats will be released for the Monday show, and these could well be ones to grab as this sounds like a gem. It promises to be a funny, frank, and occasionally explicit insight into heterosexual female desire, read out loud by a man. The show begins with a male comedian being given a script they have never seen before. They read the script out loud, sight unseen, in front of an audience. What do women think about when they think about sex with men? This show promises to pull back that curtain. Runs May 10th to May 20th. Tickets from £12.

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