Unmissable London Theatre This October

Neil Dowden
By Neil Dowden Last edited 26 months ago
Unmissable London Theatre This October

The nights may be drawing in depressingly early, but the lights of London's theatre in the West End and beyond shine brightly. Here are the most interesting shows opening in October.

One Night in Miami…

American writer Kemp Powers's new play is a fictional account of a real event. After defeating Sonny Liston to become world heavyweight boxing champion in 1964, 22-year-old Cassius Clay (later, of course, Muhammad Ali) celebrated in a Miami hotel room with his three closest friends: civil rights activist Malcolm X, soul singer Sam Cooke and American football star Jim Brown.

All became African-American icons at a time of great social change in the United States, though Cooke and Malcolm X were shot dead soon afterwards. The world mourned the passing of Ali earlier this year, but Brown is still alive at 80. One Night in Miami... sees them in their prime. Having helmed a production in Baltimore last year, British actor turned playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah now directs the UK premiere of a play that's bound to pack a punch.

One Night in Miami… is on at the Donmar Warehouse from 6 October-3 December.

Shopping and F***ing

20 years on from its premiere at the Royal Court, Mark Ravenhill's controversial debut returns to the London stage. Its original tagline was 'A place where Shopping is sexy and where Fucking is a job'. The play follows three disconnected young adults caught up in a consumerist-dominated society where all human interactions including sex become commodified. With its violent ambience and black humour, it was very much part of the in-yer-face theatre movement of the 90s that aimed to shock and provoke audiences into a reaction, including Sarah Kane’s Blasted. It'll be interesting to see how well it has dated.

The Lyric Hammersmith's Olivier Award-winning Artistic Director Sean Holmes will be transforming the main house so that some of the audience will be seated on stage. We are warned: 'This production will contain scenes of a graphic sexual nature' — surprise, surprise. Oh, and there may be a bit of swearing too... without the asterisks.

Shopping and F***ing is on at the Lyric Hammersmith from 7 October-5 November.


This world premiere of a new play by rising young playwright Ella Hickson tackles the topical subject of one of the world's most lucrative and disputed natural resources — yes, you guessed it, oil. An epic family drama that moves from 1889 to 2016, it looks at our complex relationship with black gold — essential to modern industrial economies, but also in danger of destroying the global environment. And what happens when it runs out?

The show is directed by Carrie Cracknell (who had a big success with her Young Vic production of Ibsen's A Doll's House which transferred to the West End and Broadway) and stars the superb ex-Shameless actor Anne-Marie Duff (most recently seen in the DH Lawrence mash-up Husbands & Sons at the National Theatre).

Oil is on at the Almeida Theatre from 7 October-26 November.


Peter Shaffer (who sadly died earlier this year just short of 90) had an international hit with this sensational intrigue. It premiered at the National Theatre in 1979 and went on to win lots of awards before later being turned into a multi-Oscar-winning movie. It imagines a deadly rivalry between young pretender Wolfgang Amadeus Mozart and established court composer Antonio Salieri in late 18th-century Vienna. Though it plays fast and loose with historical accuracy in the name of dramatic licence, it builds up a crescendo of compelling musical melodrama.

Directed by Michael Longhurst, Salieri is played by Game of Thrones' pirate Salladhor Saan, Lucian Msamati (seen earlier this year in the National's revival of August Wilson's 1920s jazz play Ma Rainey's Bottom as well as being the Royal Shakespeare Company's first black Iago in their production of Othello last year). The show will have live orchestral accompaniment from the London Sinfonia.

Amadeus is on at the Olivier stage of the National Theatre from 19 October-26 January.

King Lear

Talk of a comeback! After stepping down as Hampstead MP last year, the 80-year-old, double Academy Award-winning Glenda Jackson returns to the stage for the first time in a quarter of a century to play one of the classic repertoire's most demanding roles. And of course in Shakespeare’s gruelling tragedy, Lear was written for a male actor. Some challenge, but then she's some actress.

There is also a strong supporting cast including Celia Imrie as Goneril, Jane Horrocks as Regan and Rhys Ifans as the Fool. The production is directed by Deborah Warner, well known for shaking up the classics, such as casting Fiona Shaw as Richard II. (And there is more gender-bending Shakespeare in the Donmar's Shakespeare Trilogy at the temporary King's Cross Theatre, where Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest are performed by an all-female cast led by Harriet Walter and directed by Phyllida Lloyd.)

King Lear is on at the Old Vic from 25 October-3 December.

Last Updated 07 October 2016