I just want you to know that I really do sweat over these lists, I really do. Like, I wonder whether to emphasise more those which actually are the best shows in town, but I also want to showcase new names and shows that are about to open, which we don’t know for sure yet whether they work or not. Similarly, I’m not always crazy about the big headline shows in town.
Take, for instance, Ian McKellen’s King Lear, which opens this month. As does The Lehman Trilogy with Simon Russell Beale at the National Theatre, which has already sold out. Both big draws, but neither made my list this month.
Instead, I’d twist your arm into seeing An Octoroon and Fun Home, which were both in the list last month. And I want to draw your attention to exciting shows at Stratford East, Jermyn Street and the Roundhouse, which may not have the big-budget draws of the West End and the NT but are on fascinating subjects.
It’s not easy and I’m never 100% sure that I get it right but each and every one of the shows I’ve listed before are ones that I’m genuinely excited by, and I can only hope at least a few of them excite you too.
Of course this is in the list, of course it is. Sure, it was top of the list last month – and it remains on that position again because, look, it is the most extraordinary, brave, provocative, exhilarating show out there. And this may well be the last time you see this Ned Bennett interpretation of Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ furious shakedown of racist tropes so, please go, don’t miss out on this. It’s electric. Yes, it’s sold out on the website, but there are returns and there’s always the Friday Rush on the NT website every Friday at 1pm. This show has made its mark and will be talked about and referenced for YEARS. Runs to 18 July. Tickets from £15.
Fun Home, Young Vic Theatre
But don’t think that An Octoroon is the only innovative, ground-breaking piece of work out there. You can add Fun Home to that select group too for this is a GLORIOUS show. A musical like none other. Based on Alison Bechdel’s graphic memoir, this sees an older Alison – a woman now comfortable in her sexuality – look back at key events from her past that shaped who she is today; she reminisces on her struggles to come out as gay, but also on her relationship with a father who could never find peace in himself or in a society that was not so welcoming to his burning secret. A hugely affecting piece, I had tears in my eyes at the end and joy in my heart. A wonder. An absolute wonder. Runs to 1 September. Tickets from £10.
Genesis Inc., Hampstead Theatre
Now, this could be something special… The Hampstead continues its miracle of finding women playwrights with this breakthrough gem from Jemma Kennedy, which takes the now-familiar topic of IVF only, rather than the usual woeful take, uses this subject to examine capitalism, Marxism, and the privatisation and commodification of human reproduction. With Harry Enfield and Arthur Darvill in the cast and a blisteringly witty script brimming with dry humour to boot, tickets will go quickly. Runs to 28 July. Tickets from £10.
The Jungle, Playhouse Theatre
One of THE stand-out productions of last year has its West End transfer. And though the camp in Calais in and on which this play is based has now been demolished, its themes of immigration, community and the strength of the individual spirit are not just timeless but remain desperately pertinent. The injustices facing those fleeing war and desperate poverty are grave and their treatment in the West is inhumane, and this play captures that in a dynamic production that centres around personalities and communities that shaped life in the Calais camp. An absolute must-see. I will be going again. Runs to 3 November. Tickets from £15.
Barry Humphries’ Weimer Cabaret with Meow Meow, Barbican Theatre
I’m trying not to draw comparisons with Effigies of Wickedness, but it will be hard for this too is a show that celebrates cabaret’s golden age: the remarkable period in 1920s and 30s’ Berlin when hedonistic partying and social revolution turned nightclubs into hotbeds of decadent entertainment. And whose music and musicians would soon be cast as ‘degenerate’, banned by the Nazis, and would largely disappear. It’s a celebration of the forgotten, yes. Add to that the talents of both Barry Humphries and the irrepressible Meow Meow, who I worship and adore, and, well, I can’t wait… Runs 11 to 29 July. Tickets from £19.
Shebeen, Theatre Royal Stratford East
Shebeen has been showered with praise during its run at the Nottingham Playhouse for its glimpse into the experience of the Windrush generation so there’s every reason to catch it whilst it’s on at Stratford East. Set in 1958 in Nottingham, Shebeen looks at the lives of the Caribbean community in 1950s England and the uncomfortable realities of racial tension within local communities. It follows the journey of Jamaican immigrant couple George and Pearland the forbidden parties they throw at their shebeen – an illegal bar set up in their home that sells illicit alcohol. But when confrontation breaks out with the Teddy Boys, this secret refuge for Caribbean migrants comes under threat from the police. Runs to 7 July. Tickets from £10.
Pity, Royal Court
The the latest from Rory Mullarkey asks whether things really are getting worse. As usual with the Court, we don’t have much to go on by this new work has been described as ‘a funny and challenging journey through all that it is to be surviving England in these times.’ It is set on a normal day with a person standing in the market square watching the world go by. What happens next verges on the ridiculous: ice cream. Sunshine. Shops. Some dogs. A wedding. Bombs. Candles. Blood. Lightning. Sandwiches. Snipers. Looting. Gunshots. Babies. Actors. Azaleas. Famine. Fountains. Statues. Atrocities. And tanks. (Probably). Opens 12 July. Tickets from £12.
Jellyfish, Bush Theatre
“I know what people say. How they treat us. But that’s their problem. No one else should give a fuck.” Kelly likes dirty jokes and finding creatures washed up on the shore. Neil likes Kelly, who makes him dizzy and breathless. But Agnes, Kelly’s mum, struggles to accept their new relationship. I’m totally here for this play; how could I not be? For Jellyfish is the story of a first kiss, chips by the beach and coming of age with Down’s Syndrome in a seaside town. It’s a unique romance across uncharted waters which asks: does everyone really have the right to love as they choose? Runs to 21 July. Tickets from £15.
Hive City Legacy, Roundhouse
To tell the stories of the unseen and the unheard in a riotous, high-octane performance, Hot Brown Honey’s Busty Beatz and Lisa Fa’alafi have teamed up with hip hop artist Yami ‘Rowdy’ Lofvenberg to scour London and bring together an extraordinary new league of femmes of colour. From young artists with skills ranging across circus, beatboxing, spoken word, cabaret, dance and everything in between, Hive City Legacy brings intersecting tales from a new London Town to the Roundhouse stage. This unapologetic, uncensored and genre defying experience brings together performance and social activism to challenge, uplift, boundary break and celebrate. Runs 10 to 21 July. Tickets from £12.50.
Othello, Shakespeare’s Globe
Mark Rylance. There you go, that’s my promo. Mark Rylance. My mother has already been on to me to buy tickets and, well, just about everyone there will be there only to see the main man so what else can I say? Well, actually quite a bit as playing Othello to the Rylance’s Iago is the wonderful André Holland from the films Selma and Moonlight. If The Globe is now a place run by actors for actors, well, they’ve certainly got two of the best in this show. Opens 20 July. Tickets from £5.
The Play About My Dad, Jermyn Street Theatre
I’m really enjoying the new voices being platformed at Jermyn Street these days, such as this which is the European premiere of this award-winning play. The morning after Hurricane Katrina in 2005, playwright Boo Killebrew woke up to a front-page newspaper photograph of a childhood friend rescuing people on a flooded street in her devastated hometown of Gulfport, Mississippi. Boo tried to get in touch with her father, Larry, an Emergency Surgeon, and couldn’t for six days. In fact, the two had been estranged since Larry walked out on the family years before. As Boo and Larry worked their way back from silence, Larry told Boo the stories of what happened to their friends and neighbours and, here, Boo puts those stories on the stage. Runs to 21 July. Tickets from £15.