As one terrific year of theatrical treats in London comes to an end, we look forward to the next — which is already shaping up to be quietly massive.
First off, it’s 400 years since Shakespeare’s death, so expect to see Bard-related projects pretty much everywhere. The one we’re looking forward to is the Barbican’s Table Top Shakespeare which will somehow reimagine all 36 plays using only a cast of kitchen items (Macbeth is a cheese grater and Hamlet a bottle of ink).
The crowd pleasers
For those who want to see the block well and truly busted, there’s a new Harry Potter adventure, which sees the trio from the original books all grown up and helping to untangle the case of a Cursed Child. There’s been much hullabaloo about Hermione’s race change now she’s being played by the excellent Noma Dumezweni (recently seen in the Royal Court’s Linda). All we’ll say is that if Laurence Olivier got to play Othello then any role should be up for grabs for anyone (bring on a transgender Dumbledore, we say). The West End will also see a big Broadway style version of Disney’s Aladdin (with a nice lad from Middlesbrough cast as an Arab — which the Potter trolls seem to be fine with). We’ll also get a musical version of The Hunger Games to be housed in a purpose-built venue near Wembley. And if that’s not hardcore enough for you, just wait until autumn when Andrew Lloyd Webber’s production of School Of Rock moshes into the Palladium. Next year's big Christmas ticket might well be a new version of The Wind In The Willows by Downton Abbey's Julian Fellowes, though whether he can top the terrific adaptations by Alan Bennett and the Royal Opera House remains to be seen. Meanwhile, a musical adaptation of Finding Neverland (that boring film about J.M. Barrie), with songs by Mr Interesting himself Gary Barlow has been threatened but no date confirmed.
There’ll be a bunch of big names treading the boards, with Gemma Arterton taking the Globe’s Nell Gwynn into the West End. And Jane Horrocks takes her own show If You Kiss Me, Kiss Me to the Young Vic: it’s a celebration of growing up in the Northwest listening to New Wave pop. Ralph Fiennes follows up his electrifying turn in last year’s Man And Superman with a more sober adaptation of Ibsen’s The Master Builder by David Hare, which is on at the Old Vic.
Meanwhile, the Kenneth Branagh season at the Garrick steams on with Adrian Lester back in Red Velvet, Rob Brydon in The Painkiller, then a lavish Romeo and Juliet with Lily James and Richard Madden as the star-crossed lovers, before finally Branagh himself takes the lead in John Osborne’s The Entertainer (a role made famous by Olivier in the 60s — Ken seemingly unable to ever quell his obsession with the man). Down the road at the Trafalgar Studio’s, three cool actresses have been recruited to star in a new version of Jean Genet's play The Maids in the form of Zawe Ashton (Fresh Meat), Laura Carmichael (Downton Abbey) and Uzo Aduba (Orange Is The New Black).
Top drawer directors
Hot from his success with Oresteia (and a corking 1984 before that), Robert Icke is set to tackle Chekhov with a new Uncle Vanya for the Almeida. And over at the Donmar, Lyndsey Turner follows up her giant Hamlet with a smaller scale revival of Brian Friel’s Faith Healer starring Stephen Dillane and Gina McKee.
The Barbican features Simon McBurney and Complicite who will employ cutting-edge technology to recreate The Encounter, a story that traces a National Geographic photographer into the depths of the Amazon where he meets an unseen tribe. And there’ll be more technical wizardry from Robert Lepage, whose Needles And Opium is inspired by Jean Cocteau and Miles Davies. The National Theatre meanwhile will give its biggest space over to director Yaël Farber, who gave us an unforgettable version of The Crucible two years ago, for Les Blancs, a tightly-wound piece about an African country on the brink of civil war.
Other shows you might want to snap up a ticket for before they sell out include Nick Payne’s new piece Elegy, about brain-mapping and life-extension, which is on at the Donmar. Ex-Python Terry Jones gets behind a low-key but interesting look at the life of his mate Marty Feldman in Jeepers Creepers. And for those who like musicals, we’d recommend Mrs Henderson Presents and the Old Vic’s all-singing and dancing Jekyll And Hyde. Then for pure fun, the blasphemous puppet show Hand To God transfers in from Broadway and is described as Avenue Q meets The Book Of Mormon. Also, at the National Theatre, we recommend The Threepenny Opera with Rory Kinnear as Mac The Knife and Sarah Kane's Cleansed about the darkest side of love.
Award-winning options include the Pulitzer Prize-winning Rabbit Hole in Hampstead and the uncomfortably titled Cuttin’ It, a play about genital mutilation, which will be on at the Royal Court and Young Vic. Also Yen at the Royal Court by Bruntwood Prize winner Anna Jordan looks great, as does Annie Ryan's adaptation of the amazing novel A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing.
The start of the year brings the must-attend London International Mime Festival and then for more uplift in the dark days before spring, get yourself down to Vault Festival for its wild and whirling programme. Londonistas should also get along to Camden People’s Theatre for their Whose London Is It Anyway series, which will examine the capital from every conceivable angle.
As ever we'll keep you updated throughout 2016 with the best reviews, previews and interviews.