Keen to escape the cold for the warmth of a theatre this winter? An aficionado gives us the lowdown on what’s really worth taking the time to see this season…
By Verbal London
We are told there are two universal human certainties, death and taxes but I would add a third, diverging opinions. As I ponder the choice of venues to recommend for a theatre outing I am reminded that what one likes, another despises, so like it or lump it, here are my picks of things to see on the London stage over the next few months.
The West End
For those with burning holes in their pockets, I’ll start with the West End where ticket prices can make your eyes water, and that is after the show, when you realise how much money you have forked-out to be bored or maybe slightly amused for the last two hours. At this time of year, theatres are fully aware that they will have a job competing with the movie business which has stacked-up the openings of the best movies of the last 365 days like planes waiting for a take-off slot at Heathrow airport, because of the all important Oscar season. With everyone competing for audiences, the splashier the production the better.
With this in mind, the ultimate production, from the first season of five plays from Michael Grandage Company, has just opened on November 23rd. So Jude Law is Henry V and the reviews so far are glowing (even though some bloggers have been lukewarm). At this point it bears saying that if you are going, you are likely to have bought your tickets at the turn of the century but if the rave reviews are to be believed, it is worth fighting for a ticket. Dame Edna, if you like her style, has come for a final encore, The Farewell Tour, and though I have not seen it, the show has received some good reviews. If you like Woodhouse, you could head over to Jeeves & Wooster in Perfect Nonsense, Duke of York’s Theatre. For my money, this is an eye-watering piece of theatre. See my review here.
For those like me who think that the Christmas season should start around December 20th and not November 20th, as some retailers would like you to believe, you could head to the West End transfer of the Almeida’s production of Ghosts. The reviews were excellent and if you enjoy Ibsen and want to stick a nose up at the Christmas revellers, this should do the job nicely.
Looking further afield, the National Theatre has announced that Sam Mendes, Academy Award-winning director and Bridge Project director, will bring us a new production of King Lear at the Olivier Theatre, starring Simon Russell Beale. I know, you’ve seen Lear already but this should be an evening to remember. I would also look out for Nick Payne (of Constellation fame) who is writing Blurred Lines to be presented at the Shed. The play will tackle gender politics with music. For those who don’t follow these things, Blurred Lines is a song whose video has had more attention than the Haley’s comet due to its naked female models and misogynistic message.
Enough said. About the song that is.
For some, David Tenant, is something to be savoured in small doses. Others just can’t get enough. If you fall into the latter group, I would most definitely recommend the RSC’s production of Richard II, which will transfer to the Barbican as of December 9th.
In the Off-West End, a number of plays have attracted my attention. At the Donmar Warehouse, we will get to see Peter Gill‘s Versailles, a new play set around the 1919 Paris Peace Conference. The play looks at the consequences of the Treaty of Versailles and coincides with the centenary of the start of the Great War. The Donmar is also bringing us James Graham‘s new play Privacy which will explore how governments and corporations collect and use our personal information. I would definitely book this play. Finally, Lyndsey Turner is directing Brian Friel‘s Fathers and Sons. The play, an adaptation of Turgenev’s novel, is set in Russia in the mid 19th century where an anarchic young man visits his best friend, the son of a rich provincial landowner. The play is obviously political but also concerned with the fraught difficulties of parent-child relationships. I have to admit upfront that I have a weakness for Friel’s plays which resonate with emotions and humanity so that’s a goer as far as I’m concerned.
The Royal Court has announced its new season and one play stands out for me: The Nether by Jennifer Haley, winner of the 2012 Susan Smith Blackburn Prize. The play, created by the Center Theatre Group, premiered to rave reviews in Spring 2013 at the Kirk Douglas Theatre in Los Angeles. According to the Royal Court website, “The Nether is both an intricate crime drama and a haunting sci-fi thriller that explores the consequences of making dreams a reality.” The play is a co-production with Headlong.
At Hampstead Theatre, Edward Hall is bringing us cheery Christmas fare (he must be in my camp as regards Christmas) with Howard Brenton’s new play, Drawing the Line. The play will reunite Brenton and Howard Davies and promises to deliver a sweeping epic story of India’s partition in 1947. I told you it was cheery. It runs until January 11th. If you can muster the courage to look further down your calendar, you should consider two other plays from across the pond: the first by Gina Gionfriddo, who wrote the very funny Becky Shaw (Almeida Theatre, 2011), and the second by David Lindsay-Abaire, Pulitzer Prize winner for Rabbit Hole, not to mention his five Tony Award nominations. These two Hampstead theatre productions will most certainly sell out before opening so I would book sooner rather than later. Rapture, Blister, Burn (Gionfriddo) which starts 16th January is about gender politics and I expect it will resonate with many (Emilia Fox has been announced as part of the cast). This play should be funny, even with obstructed view. In Good People, Lindsay-Abaire joins force with Jonathan Kent (no introduction necessary) to bring us a story from the south side of Boston. The play, which runs from 27 February, was originally performed at the Manhattan Theatre Club where it won the New York Drama Critics Circle Award for Best Play of the Year in 2011. A down-and-out single mum tracks down her now rich ex-boyfriend… The cast includes the Olivier award-winning actress Imelda Staunton.
Finally, my last recommendation is Headlong’s latest offering. The company that brought us Chimerica has announced that it will take its new play 1984 to the Almeida Theatre as of February 8th for a 5 week run. General booking opened on November 5th and will probably sell out quite quickly. 1984 is of course an adaptation of Orwell’s great classic. In April, 1984. at 13:00. Comrade 6079, Winston Smith, thinks a thought, starts a diary, and falls in love. But Big Brother is watching him – and the door to Room 101 can swing open in the blink of an eye. The play has been touring the country to acclaimed success.
And that’s it for now. Have a good break.
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