September is back-to-school month and so theatres are full of news shows opening, and there are some crackers all over town.
And it pains me to say this, there isn’t a single play written by a female playwright in my list of shows to see. In truth, there is only one such show running at the major theatres – Mosquitoes by Lucy Kirkwood at the National Theatre. I would have happily kept that show in my list – it is roundly considered excellent – but it was a real squeeze this month and I’ve been pushing that show every month, and it is sold out until the end of its run on September 28th so I let it make way for the new shows below.
Theatre remains a very male-dominated environment and though I want to be supportive of many of the shows below, I get increasingly tired of seeing shows with no female playwright or leading creatives. As it is, I’ve just completed my annual review on the platforming of female playwrights at leading London theatres and it will be published next week.
Sadly, it doesn’t make for pretty reading and it’s a sober reminder that for all the anticipation about new shows, we are still miles behind when it comes to diversity and inclusion.
Enjoy the shows though. There are some great ones below.
Wings, Young Vic Theatre
Following their collaboration on Happy Days back in 2015, Juliet Stevenson and director Natalie Abrahami are teaming up again at the Young Vic in this UK premiere of Arthur Kopit’s harrowing 1978 play that centres on a former aviator recovering from a stroke. Much like Happy Days, Wings too plays out as a monologue, but one that focuses on the fractured, fragmented state of memory and language for stroke victims. Inspired by his experience of supporting his own father through rehabilitation following a severe stroke, Arthur’s writing gives us a tender into the frustrations of recovery, and the disorientation it causes. Opens September 14th. Tickets from £10.
Follies, National Theatre
Everyone has their fingers crossed that this works out – the NT has had a tough summer with underperforming shows in the Olivier, and tickets for Follies are pretty much sold out until the end of November already so there’s a lot riding on this! Press night isn’t until September 6th so we won’t know for sure until then but I’ve already got my tickets as, frankly, I’d see Imelda Staunton in pretty much anything and, really, how wrong can you go with Sondheim?? I’ve always wanted to see this musical and considering my own burlesque showgirl past, well, I’m sold! To January 3rd. Tickets from £15.
This is How We Die, Almeida Theatre
Written and performed by Christopher Brett Bailey, this one-man show is a trippy, surreal and gloriously dark monologue that tackles head-on a loathing for man and machine in a world that CBB believes is dying, and it explores language, sound and visual perception in a powerful and dynamic presentation. This is theatre, but not as you know it. CBB’s monologue is fast and full-on, and in his words you feel the weight of the likes of William Burroughs, JG Ballard with perhaps a dash of beat poetry thrown in. This show doesn’t come around often and there’s only four performances at the Almeida this time around so don’t miss out. 10th and 24th September. Tickets from £15.
Oslo, National Theatre
Oslo won Best Play at this year’s Tonys following its run on Broadway, and this transfer is so assured of success that it’s only running for three weeks at the NT before it promptly transfers to the West End (Harold Pinter Theatre) for a far longer – and no doubt, more lucrative – run. In 1993, Arafat and Rabin shook hands on the White House lawn – a moment framed by its famous photo with Clinton hovering in the background like the dove of peace (eye roll emoji, please). Yet rather than the main figures, this story follows two maverick Norwegian diplomats more averse to publicity whose quiet heroics in the secret talks held in a castle in the middle of a forest outside Oslo made this famous moment happen. From 5th to 23rd September. Tickets from £20.
Boudica, Shakespeare’s Globe
Fingers crossed this play’s ambition lives up to the legend of its subject matter. Boudica is a brand new ancient history play from writer Tristan Bernays that tells the story of one of Britain’s most infamous women. Boudicca (I always spell it with two c and I am very stubborn!) was a queen, a warrior and a rebel who rebelled against the Roman occupation of what we now know as England. It was a horrifically violent struggle – she was flogged, her daughters were raped and they were all banished. With Director Eleanor Rhode and the queen to be played by Gina McKee, I have high hopes. This is a great story that deserves a terrific production. One to take us beyond the legend of the woman whose chariot had swords in the wheels. Opens September 8th. Tickets from £5.
Akram Khan’s mighty reworking of Giselle with the English National Ballet is back! Sadly, only for a limited run, and – even sadder – tickets sold out within hours of going on sale. An extra matinee was added and most of these have gone but, if you can, oh, I’d twist your arm to go see this revolutionary take on the famous romantic ballet. This spellbinding production, swathed in gothic darkness, is one of the finest ballets and probably the best contemporary dance production I’ve ever seen. Extraordinary. 20 to 23 September. Tickets from £12.
Nassim Plays, Bush Theatre
This celebration of the work of Iranian theatre-maker Nassim Soleimanpour was only announced this week but it has already caused a wave of excitement. Four of Nassim’s plays will play in repertory over two weeks: NASSIM, White Rabbit Red Rabbit, BLANK, and new play Cook. Nassim’s work requires no rehearsals, no preparation, just a sealed envelope and a different actor each night reading a script for the first time. And the cast brought together to do this is delicious with cracking names including Denise Gough, Scottee, Meera Syal, and Mel Giedroyc. Given that he is Iranian, his work is often seen through that political prism. However, Nassim himself has always rejected that, arguing ‘It’s not about Iran. People in the western world, no offence, they like to think that we are so bored with our country… I’m writing about a social phenomenon, which is obedience.’ Runs September 7th-16th. Tickets from £10.
The March on Russia, Orange Tree Theatre
Much like Road currently running at Royal Court, The March on Russia puts working class northern England at its heart. And much like Road, this too was also written in the 1980s when the effects of Thatcher’s policies on mining communities, such as the setting here, was total and devastating. Here, writer David Storey uses a family reunion – a sixtieth wedding anniversary – to consider the bitterness that can build up between the generations: an ageing couple stuck in the drudgery and depression of their marriage and community, versus the social mobility their children have exploited. Opens September 7th. Tickets from £12.
Girl from the North Country, Old Vic Theatre
Conor McPherson is one of our great working dramatists. His The Weir is a modern classic and one of my favourite plays. And his ability to capture dark portrayals of everyday life, as well as scenes of unease and disappointment, are a perfect match for this new play about a couple running a guesthouse in Duluth, Minnesota, in the 1930s. Not only is this an opportunity to capture the emotional trauma of The Great Depression, but Bob Dylan also allowed Conor to weave in over a dozen songs from his own back catalogue into this show. The effect is not that of a jukebox musical – far from it – but a wonderful harmony of music and stories to accentuate the sacrifice, pain and glimmers of hope that define this period of American history. To October 7th. Tickets from £10.
Knives in Hens, Donmar Warehouse
Director Yaël Farber is back for more. Her adaptation of Salome at the NT didn’t exactly set the world alight, to put it mildly. But she’s back in the saddle with this, her debut at the Donmar where she’s directing David Harrower’s tense modern classic that explores the power of language and knowledge. This three-hander follows an illiterate couple living in a pre-industrial, puritanical Scottish village whose lives – and the balance of power between them – are transformed when the wife meets the local miller who teaches her how to write her name. Personally, I’m not put off by what happened with Salome – Farber is a director who always takes a risk and always leaves a mark. And god knows how many male directors are allowed to have duds and keep going… Closes October 7th. Tickets from £10.