2024 is shaping up to be another vintage year for London theatre — here are some of the shows we can't wait to see. And the good news is, some of them start very soon indeed!
My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican
The adaptation of Studio Ghibli's My Neighbour Totoro is returning to London this winter — and we're betting it's going to be one of the biggest theatre events of the Christmas holiday.
We caught it at the Barbican in 2022, thanks to a friend who had the foresight to book months in advance. It sold out fast, breaking the theatre's previous record for sales in one day (held by 2015's Hamlet starring Benedict Cumberbatch) — probably thanks to the way it sits in the sweet spot of being both magical for kids coming to Studio Ghibli's surreal, luminous fantasy world for the first time, and also for longstanding adult fans of the 1988 film.
For those who haven't seen either, it's somewhere between a coming-of-age story and a fable, told in its stage form through huge, elaborate sets that shift from village to forest to school, small and huge-scale puppetry, and a small orchestra performing a new arrangement of the original score.
My Neighbour Totoro, Barbican. 21 November 2023-24 March 2024
Ulster American, Riverside Studios
There's a lot of starpower in this new staging of David Ireland's brutal satire about power dynamics in the entertainment industry — with Andy Serkis making a very welcome (to us) return to the London stage, along with Woody Harrelson and Louisa Harland directed by Jeremy Herrin. The big names come with relatively big ticket prices (for the Riverside Studios anyway), but the 2018 staging of this play in Edinburgh received hugely glowing reviews so it might be worth shelling out for this one.
Ulster American, Riverside Studios. 4 December 2023-27 January 2024
Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch, Southwark Playhouse
This new musical arrives in London with some advance fanfare, after a lot of enthusiastic reviews for its Edinburgh run. Reframing the story of Ursula from the Little Mermaid, it promises a smutty, camped-up and colourful parody showing the tentacled witch's earlier life.
Unfortunate: The Untold Story of Ursula the Sea Witch, Southwark Playhouse. 8 December 2023-16 February 2024
Kieran Hodgson: Big in Scotland, Soho Theatre
A short-run return to Soho Theatre from the master of tightly choreographed, deeply thoughtful character comedy. Hodgson's shows always have a way of feeling like coming-of-age stories, despite Hodgson being very Of Age by most social metrics: this one looks at his move from London to Glasgow and his attempts to forge a new, suitably Scottish identity for himself.
Kieran Hodgson: Big in Scotland, Soho Theatre, 16-27 January 2024
The Hills of California, Harold Pinter Theatre
For many, the fact that this new play reunites the writer/director team behind 2017's Northern Irish family saga The Ferryman — Jez Butterworth (Jerusalem) and Sam Mendes (The Lehman Trilogy) — will be reason enough to book tickets immediately. But for those who want to know about the actual plot and stuff: it's set in a heatwave in late 1970s Blackpool, where two sisters are returning to the town to tend to their dying mother — and her rundown guesthouse.
The Hills of California, Harold Pinter Theatre. Opens 27 January 2024
Othello, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Like its partner theatre, the Globe, in some ways the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is the draw itself. Modelled on the theatres of Shakespearian London, performances are lit by hundreds of candles, the wooden pillars of the room rise to a huge, mural-painted ceiling, and the result's an intense, transportive setting for programming that takes in Shakespeare and contemporaries, modern classics, new writing and more. Our pick of 2024's line-up so far is the Ola Ince-directed production of Othello, exploring its themes of racism, systems of power, justice and injustice, and manipulation.
Othello, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. 22 January-13 April 2024
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Theatre Royal Haymarket
The 2020 Sydney production of Oscar Wilde's Victorian gothic classic was a self-described 'cine-theatre' blend of recorded video and live theatre, allowing one performer to take on all the roles and accumulating a stack of stars and praise during its sell-out runs. The London premiere has the added attraction of Sarah Snook, fresh out of Succession, and with demonstrable form at making desperation, vanity and self-loathing all very compelling to watch.
The Picture of Dorian Gray, Theatre Royal Haymarket. Opens February 2024
Minority Report, Lyric Hammersmith
The Lyric Hammersmith's 2024 season looks like an all-killer no-filler line up, but top of our list is the new stage adaptation of Philip K. Dick's sci fi masterwork Minority Report. The play drops you into a real-time chase through a vision of London in 2050, where people are imprisoned for crimes they haven't yet committed.
Minority Report, Lyric Hammersmith. 20 April-18 May 2024
Spirited Away, London Coliseum
It's a good time to be a Studio Ghibli fan in London, with My Neighbour Totoro at the Barbican closing barely a month before the European premiere of Spirited Away comes to the London Coliseum. Unlike the staging of Totoro, this production's in Japanese (with an English translation in sight from all seats), with the epic fantasy world being soundtracked by a live orchestra playing the original score by Joe Hisaishi.
Spirited Away, London Coliseum. 30 April-20 July 2024
The Devil Wears Prada, Dominion Theatre
The bestselling book and film — which offer an insight into the brutal world of a New York fashion magazine — are going to get the West End treatment. Even if, like us, you've never been that into the film, this could be worth grabbing tickets for; the inherent campiness of the archdiva-driven plot probably maps well into musicals — and the original score by Elton John's going to be a big draw.
The Devil Wears Prada, Dominion Theatre. Opens October 2024