Let’s start the new year off the right way with lots of love for what promises to be a great year on the London theatre scene. More than a few theatres have announced their whole season up to August at least, and my resolution to limit my theatre to only one a week (I really need to spend some time at the gym, people) is already looking very vulnerable.
But it’s not all good news. Sadly, Bunker Theatre will be closing its curtain for the final time this Spring; a sobering reminder that, in this city, theatre is in a constant battle with developers and landlords. So, make sure you grab that opportunity to see the shows you want as you never know when your opportunity to see them will be gone for good.
It may have already been open for a month but this play about Elizabeth I will be the first play I see in 2020 and, frankly, that’s as good a reason as any to put it at the top of my list for January. In fact, it would likely be there anyway as this sounds RIGHT up my street. Created by Ella Hickson and Natalie Abrahami, this new play shines (candle)light on the ways and means by which women in power negotiate patriarchal pressure in order to get their way. And with lines such as, “My mother seduced a man so successfully that she altered the constitutional history of a country,” I cannot wait to snuggle down into the atmospheric Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for this. Runs to Saturday 15 February. Tickets from £20.
Now, the Boulevard Theatre is a relatively new theatre that opened in the heart of Soho at the tail end of last year (It actually had an impressive former life as a sister venue to the iconic Raymond RevueBar back in the day) but January will be the first time I get to see a show here since its comprehensive refurbishment and re-launch. And what will I be seeing? The London premiere of Cormac McCarthy’s gripping play about redemption, faith and free will. Two men meet on a subway platform; the chance encounter instantly changing the trajectory of both their lives. Thrown together, their conversation quickly turns to the most essential and existential questions facing humanity. While their beliefs seem irreconcilable, the answers they seek could mean the difference between life and death. Runs 16 January to 7 March. Tickets from £12.
Kicking off 2020 with a play that is oh-so-prescient and, basically, Britain in a bubble. Set amidst a contemporary British community, this new play by Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti is all about the cracks and chasms of race and class. Now, Gurpreet is best known for Behzti’ – her play that never was – and the controversy it provoked in the Sikh community in Birmingham because of a rape scene in a temple. And she is deliberately pushing buttons again here as she puts power structures in her crosshairs as we focus on seven characters all searching for ways forward – only the UK’s social structure is holding them back. The reviews have been impressive; expect comedy and the representation of appalling inappropriateness in equal measure. Runs to 18 January. Tickets from £12.
Obviously, a new play from the wonderful Lucy Kirkwood (Mosquitoes, Chimerica) would hit my list but, if you want to see this, you’ll have to be quick as most of the tickets have already flown out the door. And it sounds WELL WORTH the effort of getting one: It’s 1759 and we are in rural Suffolk awaiting the hanging of a Sally poppy who has been found guilty of murder. But when she suddenly claims to be pregnant, a jury of 12 matrons are taken from their housework to decide whether she’s telling the truth, or simply trying to escape the noose. Oh, and Maxine Peake is in it too. Runs 15 January to 23 May. Tickets from £15.
Holy What – the new theatre company formed by playwright Lulu Raczka, director Ali Pidsley and producer Imogen Clare-Wood to produce irreverent, character-based writing that interrogates theatrical form – has announced their first production, an all-female update of Sophocles’ Antigone. This reinvention retains the epic drama of Sophocles’ original tale about the daughter of Oedipus and Jocasta but brings the relationship between Antigone and her sister Ismene to the forefront. Giving the stage solely to the two teenage, female protagonists creates a playful, funny and ultimately timeless coming of age story. Runs 7 January to 1 February. Tickets from £16 (concessions available).
Rambert is Britain’s foremost contemporary dance company and their first show in 2020 is this new creation by director Kibwe Tavares in a co-production with the ROH. In this heart-breaking story, two sisters – Aisha and Abhaya – are refugees who have fled their homes and find themselves in a new world. The ballet explores their struggle to survive having been separated from their family. Aisha and Abhaya promises to be a modern fairy-tale that combines visually stunning film with striking choreography. I’m a big fan of the smaller Linbury in the big ROH building as it platforms fresh new works and I’m only too happy to have this on the list. Runs 21 January to 9 February. Tickets from £9.
Slightly odd recommending a play I really dislike but the fact that it is on my list is testament to the brilliance of director Rebecca Frecknall (Summer and Smoke), lead actor Lydia Wilson, and designer, Chloe Lamford, who have wrestled this text, so dripping in misogyny and eroticisation of female suffering and pain, into something that genuinely examines structural discrimination. The Duchess of Malfi is, after all, no saccharine text; it is a Jacobean tragedy about two brothers who plot to bring about the downfall and murder of their sister who – in their eyes – has brought shame on the family name. Rebecca and her cast and creatives do not shy aware from the blood and the injustice, but in this fresh, modern dress production, they finally bring a woman’s voice and viewpoint. Runs to 18 January. Tickets from £10.
Let’s hear it for this Headlong and Lyric Hammersmith Theatre co-production… Faustus: That Damned Woman is a new play from the glorious Chris Bush (Standing at the Sky’s Edge). Drawing on the works of Marlowe, Goethe, and other versions of the Faustus myth, Chris’ urgent reimagining asks what we must sacrifice to achieve greatness and the legacy that we leave behind. Caroline Byrne directs this radical new work in which the iconic character of Faustus is reimagined as a woman who makes the ultimate sacrifice to traverse centuries and alter the course of history. Runs 22 January to 22 February. Tickets from £10.
The OT never lets me down and 2020 looks to be no exception as they are kicking off the year with the first major London revival of playwright, Lucy Prebble’s (ENRON, A Very Expensive Poison), debut play. The Sugar Syndrome is a devastatingly and disturbingly funny exploration of an unlikely friendship, our desire to connect, and the limits of empathy. The play centres on Dani, 17 years old, who is looking to meet someone honest and direct. What she finds is a man twice her age who thinks she’s an 11-year-old boy. Welcome to the challenge of the internet… Runs 24 January to 22 February. Tickets from £15.
There’s always a Chekhov on somewhere in London but we are kicking off the New Year in some style as this new adaptation of life at the turn of the 20th century, full of tumultuous frustration, dark humour and hidden passions comes from Olivier Award winner, Conor McPherson (The Weir, Girl from the North Country). It’s also directed by Ian Rickson (Jerusalem), whose previous Chekhov was a landmark production of The Seagull, so hopes are high. And that’s even before we get into casting which sees the ever-underrated Toby Jones as the titular character with Richard Armitage playing his Doctor and Olivier Award-nominated Ciarán Hinds (Translations, Game of Thrones, Girl from the North Country) as Professor Serebryakov. STELLAR. Runs 14 January to 2 May. Tickets from £15.