Well, the festive period is always a big time for theatre, opera and ballet in the Capital as the streets fill with visitors looking to mix some shopping with a show. So let me help you sort out the wheat from the chaff as there are some great prospects out there, shows that are taking risks, challenging conventions, and embracing thought-provoking and diverse subjects.
Oh, and Mark Rylance too. Obvs.
I have to say though, it has pained me to leave out some shows. I could have done a list of twenty. So in addition to the below, I have to remind you of others from my previous newsletters – such as the David Bowie/Ivo van Hove collaboration Lazarus, the all-female Shakespeare productions at the Donmar’s offsite location in King’s Cross, and Mark Strong in The Red Barn at the National Theatre (which has divided critics and audiences, it must be said. But hey, it has Mark Strong in it).
There’s also Kenneth Macmillan’s Anastasia running at the Royal Ballet and The Sewing Group opens this month at the Royal Court – both of which I’m looking forward to seeing too.
My god, there’s a lot of good stuff on out there right now!
A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer, National Theatre
A bright, spangly musical about cancer is, frankly, just what the doctor ordered. It’s a terrible and terrifying subject but creator Bryony Kimmings is concerned that we are still not open and frank about this disease so she brought this vivid, foot-tapping new show to life. The musical is a cracking spectacle – lurid colours and terrific choreography – but there is a great pathos as well as warmth and wit on show. The balance struck between the head and heart is pretty spot on and the end-of-show discussion between cast and audience on those we have loved and lost is touching. Tickets from £15.
One Night in Miami, Donmar Warehouse
February 25, 1964. Cassius Clay has just won the heavyweight title of the world. But the man who would go on to become ‘The Greatest’ is not out on the streets celebrating. Indeed, as a black man in the segregationist South, that would be hard to do anyway. Instead he holes himself up in a hotel room with music superstar Sam Cooke, American football star Jim Brown, and Malcolm X and, together, these men weigh up racism and the Civil Rights Movement as they search to find the best path to freedom. I have waited a long time to see this play – next week can’t come quick enough. Tickets from £10.
The Children, Royal Court Theatre
Playwright Lucy Kirkwood, the talent behind Chimerica and NSFW, is returning to the Royal Court with her new play. It’s all a bit cloak and dagger but there seems to be something of the dystopia in its description on the Royal Court website: ‘Two retired nuclear scientists in an isolated cottage by the sea as the world around them crumbles.’ But when an old friend arrives with a frightening request, the two scientists suddenly have a desperate need to contact their children. Lucy’s plays are always thought-provoking and exciting. Looking forward to this one. Tickets from £10. Opens November 17th.
Nice Fish, Harold Pinter Theatre
THE RYLANCE IS BACK! I mean, such is the man that I suppose what play he is in is secondary. But that would be doing Nice Fish a disservice for not only is the great man in it but, rather typically, this is a quirky play. A little offbeat. And amongst the big dramatic shows elsewhere, it’s also a comedy too, which makes for a nice change-up. Nice Fish comes to the West End from New York, where this play, centered around an ice fishing expedition based on Mark’s own teenage years growing up in the American Midwest, was warmly received. Opens November 15. Tickets from £15.
King Lear, Old Vic Theatre
You know the play – and we now know this production is going to be three and a half hours long. It sounds like a killer but I’m REALLY looking forward to this as we will be having Glenda Jackson as the tyrant King. Yes. That’s right – GLENDA JACKSON. It’s been 25 years since we last saw her on stage and already her return has ruffled feathers with misogynists who claim this role can only be played by a man. Good, I’m glad she’s upset them. And I hope her performance blows all naysayers out the water. Tickets from £12.
Oil, Almeida Theatre
There are a few shows out there that are really dividing audiences, and Oil is one of them. Some are leaving at the interval; others are declaring it the ‘show of the year’. I found it terrific in its ambition and it is a breath of fresh air to see complicated female characters at the helm. Set against five defining periods in the rise and fall of oil as empire, we follow a mother and daughter as they battle society’s prejudices and expectations for women to carve out for themselves fulfilled lives. There’s an element of suspending disbelief as the era covers about 200 years – some of it set in the speculative future – but Anne-Marie Duff is terrific, and the production from writer Ella Hickson and director Carrie Cracknell is bold and thought-provoking. Another one from the Almeida that is full of risk and challenge. Tickets from £10.
Amadeus, National Theatre
And lo, Amadeus finally returns to the National Theatre… I’m too young to have seen the great Paul Scofield as the malevolent Salieri determined to undermine Mozart’s brattish genius in Peter Shaffer’s play that opened at the NT back in 1979. However, like everyone else, I saw the film and am really intrigued to see how director Michael Longhurst (Constellations, They Drink it in the Congo), reimagines 18th century Vienna and this famous inter-court rivalry. Tickets from £15.
Giselle, Sadler’s Wells
Tamara Rojo is not only a breathtakingly wonderful ballet dancer, she is also a brave Artistic Director with terrific vision and verve. For, here, she has taken Giselle (not my favourite of the classical ballets, it has to be said) and commissioned innovator Akram Khan to reimagine the story, infusing it with contemporary dance and theatre, to create a bold new ballet. And one of the most-anticipated shows of the year. This radically reworked version of the classic story of love, betrayal and redemption is currently touring the UK. It will be stopping in at Sadler’s Wells for seven shows only. I already have my ticket. Opens November 15. Tickets from £12.
Blue Heart, Orange Tree Theatre
Caryl Churchill has to be the most exciting playwright working in Britain today, and even in her seventies she is still running rings around the generations following her. This one from the archives, Blue Heart, isn’t orthodox – it is comprised of two short plays which start with seemingly simple premises – a family waiting for their daughter to return from overseas, and a confidence-trickster preying on families masquerading as a long-lost relative – but as usual with Caryl, they are terrifically clever in their play with language and form. It’s a show is for those who love to be challenged. And also those who love to laugh as not only is this production brave and exhilarating, it is also very, very funny. Tickets from £15.
trade, Young Vic Theatre
I feel I’m almost being cruel in promoting a show that we’ve almost got no hope in seeing but such is the excitement about any new work from debbie tucker green that I would think to avoid it would be worse. The Young Vic sold its last advance ticket for trade some months ago but there is the hope of day tickets and returns. And I will be one of those trying frantically to get in to see this play that explores the personal price three Caribbean women have to pay for their financial freedom. Opens November 16th.