Another month, another list of those shows around London that are worth putting to the top of your list.
From big productions in the West End, to new writing at places such as Royal Court, Soho Theatre and the Almeida. We’ve headline-grabbing star turns and terrific ensemble productions. Modern musicals and old classics, drama or comedy, romance or political theatre… There is something for whichever mood you’re in.
Enjoy – and let me know which ones you see.
Shakespeare Trilogy, Donmar Warehouse
In 2012 and 2014, Phyllida Lloyd’s all-female productions of Julius Caesar and Henry IV respectively, both set in a women’s prison, wowed audiences at the Donmar. These were electrifying shows that not only captured the themes of power, corruption and betrayal in Shakespeare’s works, but also challenged their history as stories that would only work from the male viewpoint, and inferred notions that these themes could only be relevant for men. Now the cast and creatives are back, not only to reperform these plays, but also to add a third to this trilogy – The Tempest. The plays will run as a thirteen- week repertory season in a new temporary theatre at King’s Cross. I hope that they will reach an even wider audience as these are terrific productions. Opens September 23rd. Tickets from £20.
Girls, Soho Theatre
This new play from writer, Theresa Ikoko, was born from her frustration over reporting of the Nigerian girls abducted by Boko Haram. Theresa wanted to give a voice to those girls abducted not just in Nigeria, but in conflict zones around the world. Too quickly media coverage moves on and the victims quickly forgotten. It’s an under-reported and overlooked violence ignored by the West. This is a play about the girls in the headlines as well as those left unnoticed. It follows three teenagers kidnapped from home and examines the bonds of love and friendship, and what happens when you become yesterday’s news. Prior to opening at Soho Theatre, Girls will premiere at HighTide Festival 2016 and will run at Birmingham Rep Theatre. Opens at Soho Theatre on September 27th. Tickets from £10.
Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, National Theatre
One of the highlights of the London theatre scene right now, Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour is a funny, sad, and raucously rude play about six 17-year old Catholic schoolgirls on a trip to Edinburgh to take part in a choir competition. Only this rites of passage-esque story, based on Alan Warner’s brilliant novel, The Sopranos, sees our girls ditch the choir comp for a night on the tiles in the big city. Young, lost and out-of-control, they’re hit by love, lust, and pregnancy and death over the course of a single day. See this as a meeting of The History Boys and Trainspotting, only with girls front and centre. Expect plenty of laughs, a terrific musical score and a liberal dose of expletives. Tickets from £15.
Yerma, Young Vic Theatre
Billie Piper’s performance in the lead role of this modern adaptation of Lorca’s play about a woman coming to terms with childlessness is, quite simply, the best performance on the London stage right now. She is extraordinary, giving a completely uninhibited performance as her Yerma, a bright, confident and successful woman, unravels and destroys all that’s good in her life in her increasingly obsessive quest for a child of her own. Unsurprisingly, this show is now sold out – the sweep of praise greeting the show and its lead actor ensuring those few remaining tickets were snapped up. However, the Young Vic does operate a daily returns queue so there is hope for those who really want to see this. Tickets from £10.
Father Comes Home From the Wars, Royal Court
This trilogy of short plays (this show is comprised of three parts) premiered at the Public Theater in New York in 2014. There it was littered with praise as a show that managed the impossible – to be both epic and intimate. Based on Homer’s The Odyssey, Suzan Lori Parks’ play focuses on Hero, a slave in 1860s Texas, who is burdened with a terrible proposal – his master promises Hero his freedom (and that of his family) if he joins with him on the Confederate side of the Civil War i.e. to take up arms against those fighting to abolish slavery. What will Hero choose? And if he does choose to fight, will that promise be honoured? Opens September 15th. Tickets from £10.
The Emperor, Young Vic Theatre
I feel bad recommending a show that is already sold out (and it hasn’t even opened yet) but the Young Vic does operate a returns queue and the signs are that The Emperor could be something special. This new play from Kathryn Hunter and Colin Teevan is based on Ryszard Kapuscinski’s landmark book on Ethiopia’s Haile Selassie. It focuses on Selassie’s downfall and its lessons of the corruption of absolute power, and of the price of greed and vanity. Kathryn Hunter is an innovator in physical theatre and she is set to play each and every part in this story that explores the downfall of a despot from the viewpoint of those closest to him. Tickets from £10.
They Drink it in the Congo, Almeida Theatre
Well, the Almeida doesn’t lack for ambition, does it? They Drink it in the Congo, a new play from writer Adam Brace and director Michael Longhurst, takes a deliberately white-men-lens to examining the Democratic Republic of Congo and its complex relationship with global superpowers such as the West and China. Such is the level of corruption and exploitation of the Congo that it can rightly claim to be both the second poorest country in the world yet one of the richest in mineral resources. It’s a crazy and frightening contrast, and one that the Almeida looks to explore through the story of British people organising a festival to raise awareness on the Congo. Here the Almeida is diving deliberately and head first into issues such as cultural appropriation and colonial arrogance. You’ve got to admire the ambition. Tickets from £10.
Jess and Joe Forever, Orange Tree Theatre
Under Artistic Director, Paul Miller, the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond has produced hit after hit after hit. And there is no reason why Jess and Joe Forever, a new play from Zoe Cooper, won’t follow this path. Commissioned by Old Vic New Voices, this play is an unusual coming-of-age tale that also explores the rural-urban and class divides through the eyes of a young Norfolk lad and the out-of towner that visits the area for summer holidays only (accompanied by her au pair). Following its run at the OT, Jess and Joe Forever will go on tour across the UK, including Canterbury, Newcastle and (of course) Norfolk. Tickets from £15
Burning Doors, Belarus Free Theatre, Soho Theatre
Belarus Free Theatre (BFT) has to be the most important theatre company in Europe. It is the only theatre company on the continent banned by its own government – a government that almost takes pride in its label of ‘Europe’s last dictatorship.’ Members of BFT remain persecuted; some have even disappeared, but their work continues to be made and their work continues to inspire. Burning Doors sees the group collaborate with Pussy Riot’s Maria Alyokhina, a woman who knows much about persecution herself. Together, they explore the role of contemporary artists in dictatorial societies and examine what happens to those declared enemies of the state simply for making art. Tickets from £10.
Groundhog Day, Old Vic Theatre
I don’t want to say I told you so again but, well, I did! *pats self on back* Ha! I’m only joking (partly). Last month I had this show in my Top Ten saying that word-of-mouth on early previews of this Matthew Warchus and Tim Minchin musical adaptation of the famous film was that this was an absolute hit. And so it has proved to be. The show opened a couple of weeks ago to a string of five-star reviews and glowing praise. The show is only open for a few more weeks – it closes on September 17th. It’s likely there will be a transfer, though that transfer could be to Broadway rather than the West End, so if you want to see this I’d suggest you grab one of the few remaining tickets for its run at the Old Vic. Tickets from £12.