London Theatre: What To Watch In August

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 19 months ago

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London Theatre: What To Watch In August

Although traditionally August is a quiet time for new shows in London — with summer holidays in full swing and the spotlight moving to the Edinburgh Festival — there's actually quite a lot coming up over the next few weeks. Here are five big stage shows opening in August that reflect the rich variety that London theatre has to offer.

Young Chekhov

Geoffrey Streatfeild and Olivia Vinall in The Seagull at the National Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson.

These productions of Chekhov’s first three full-length plays — Platonov, Ivanov and The Seagull — were originally staged to much acclaim at Chichester Festival Theatre last year. In fresh, colloquial versions by David Hare, they are masterfully directed by Jonathan Kent and boast a stunning set from Tom Pye of a wooded country estate with a lake containing 35,000 litres of water. They are performed by one large ensemble cast including James McArdle, Geoffrey Streatfeild, Anna Chancellor, Olivia Vinall and Joshua James.

It's a rare opportunity to see how the young radical Chekhov matured into one of the world’s greatest-ever playwrights, in these tragicomic portrayals of unrealised potential and unequal love amidst the decline of the late 19th century Russian landed gentry. You can see the plays individually, or if you are up for a marathon ‘immersive’ experience, you can see all three on Saturdays, starting at 11.45am and ending about 10.30pm — there are breaks in between for you to come up for air!

Young Chekhov runs in repertory on the Olivier stage of the National Theatre until 8 October.

Yerma

Billie Piper in Yerma at the Young Vic. Photo: Johan Persson.

A modern retelling of the great Spanish poet-playwright Federico García Lorca’s tragedy. The desperate desire of a woman to have a child leads her to extreme measures as her biological clock ticks out of control. Rather than the usual early 20th century parched Andalusian rural landscape, this radical reinterpretation transplants the action to contemporary London in a searing examination of male/female sexual relations and mental breakdown.

Adapter/director Simon Stone is known as the enfant terrible of Australian theatre due to his revisionist approach to classic plays (his version of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck at the Barbican in 2014 featured a real duck on stage). This production stars former teenage pop singer and ex-Doctor Who assistant Billie Piper, who has developed into an accomplished stage actress over the last few years. Sure to be an intense experience.

Yerma is on at the Young Vic Theatre until 24 September.

Groundhog Dog

After a full month of previews this much-publicised new musical finally officially opens in mid-August. It’s yet another example of a well-loved feature film being turned into a stage musical, based on Harold Ramis’s 1993 fantasy comedy-drama starring Bill Murray. It depicts a jaded Pennsylvanian TV weatherman who, after attending the traditional annual holiday event Groundhog Day, becomes entrapped in a time loop seemingly doomed to undergo the same experiences day after day indefinitely.

This show’s composer/lyricist Tim Minchin, director Matthew Warchus (head honcho of the Old Vic), choreographer Peter Darling and designer Rob Howell reunites the team who created the hugely popular musical Matilda The Musical (with the addition of writer Danny Rubin). The musical itself, led by Tony-nominated Broadway performer Andy Karl, will not be repeating ad infinitum as the run at the Old Vic is strictly limited to 10 weeks. But there are plans for it to transfer to New York next year.

Groundhog Day is on at the Old Vic until 17 September.

946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips

This family show by Kneehigh Theatre is based on the bestselling children’s novel by Michael Morpurgo. While his huge hit War Horse was set during the first world war, this story’s background is the second world war, specifically the run-up to the D-Day landings in 1944 as American GIs prepare for the big event in Devon. It's all seen through the eyes of a 12-year-old local girl with an adventurous cat.

Adapted by Morpurgo and the show’s director Emma Rice (the ex-Kneehigh chief now running the Globe), and using puppetry and music, it promises to be a characteristically entertaining, ‘total theatre’ experience. This sounds like a perfect fit for the Globe's outdoor arena where the audience so often become involved in the action. The show is billed as being ‘suitable for ages 7 to 107’.

946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips runs in repertory at Shakespeare's Globe from 11 August- 11 September.

The Entertainer

The Kenneth Branagh Company’s year-long residency in the West End concludes with a revival of this 1957 play by ‘angry young man’ John Osborne. It draws a parallel between the decline of the music halls and the coming to terms with the end of empire superpower status in post-war Britain. Directed by Rob Ashford, this production stars Branagh himself in the role of failing variety performer Archie Rice, originally written for Laurence Olivier at the Royal Court Theatre.

As an actor-manager famed for performing and directing Shakespeare in theatre and on film (including Henry V and Hamlet), Branagh has often been compared to Olivier. So it will be interesting to see how he fills the great man’s shoes as a song and dance entertainer down on his luck – and whether, ironically, it also proves to be one of his career highlights.

The Entertainer is on at the Garrick Theatre from 20 August-12 November.

Last Updated 06 September 2016