Last year's theatre headlines were dominated by the announcements of the departures of the artistic directors of several of London's major producing theatres. Consequently, their valedictory seasons provide some of the markers for what we've got to look forward to in 2002.

Farewell Seasons

At the Donmar Warehouse, Sam Mendes will end his ten-year reign by staging two productions in repertory: Uncle Vanya and Twelfth Night, possibly with Nicole Kidman and definitely with Simon Russell Beale (playing Vanya and Malvolio) from September to November. Before that, a season of American Imports consolidates the theatre's long-standing, reciprocal relationship with US drama, which has constituted more than half of its work since Mendes re-opened the Donmar in 1992. This year's Imports season features a clutch of premieres, starting off with Stephen Adly Guirgis' Jesus Hopped The A Train, seen at Edinburgh last year in a production directed by hotshot actor Philip Seymour Hoffman, performed in rep with the world premiere of Keith Reddin's Frame 312. They are followed by UK premieres for Kenneth Lonergan's off-Broadway success Lobby Hero (in April, directed by its original US director, Mark Brokaw) and David Auburn's Tony-winning Broadway drama Proof (in May, which Kate Winslet is said to be seriously considering to appear in). Finally, in June, Take Me Out is the world premiere of a play by Richard Greenberg, whose Three Days of Rain was previously seen at the Donmar.

At the National, Trevor Nunn enters his homestretch with a programme that also begins with the import of an off-Broadway solo show, The Syringa Tree, written and performed by Pamela Gien, opening at the Cottesloe in February. Also in the Cottesloe in March, Max Stafford-Clark directs the world premiere production of Sebastian Barry's latest, Hinterland, in a co-production with Dublin's Abbey Theatre where it plays first in February. In the Lyttelton, RSC director Lindsay Posner makes his National debut in March with a production of Moliere's Tartuffe starring Martin Clunes, also debuting at the National, in the title role.

In May, the Lyttelton undergoes Nunn's much-vaunted, six-month 'Transformation', in which the theatre will be converted into two smaller spaces to mount 14 productions of new writing, and help to fulfil an avowed aim to make at least half of the National's output this year focused on new work. Nunn himself is creating a new ensemble to perform the premiere of Tom Stoppard's Russian trilogy The Coast of Utopia, and is also due to direct Glenn Close as Blanche Dubois in Tennessee Williams's A Streetcar Named Desire later in the year. Previous NT artistic directors Peter Hall and Richard Eyre are also due to return, with Euripides' The Bacchae and a new play by Nicholas Wright, respectively.

At Hampstead, Jenny Topper has programmed her final season in its current home, and will leave after the theatre moves to its new building now being constructed 50 metres away. Concentrating, as ever, on new plays, the Hampstead season includes three world premieres, one European premiere and a London premiere - before culminating with a revival in July of Mike Leigh's Abigail's Party that was originally seen here in 1977. As at the Donmar and the National, events kick off this month with an off-Broadway import, Angus MacLachlan's The Dead Eye Boy, with a cast that includes Brendan Coyle, Laurence Olivier Award winner for Best Supporting Actor in 1999 for his role in The Weir. It will be followed by Simon Block's Hand in Hand, commissioned by the theatre and the third of this writer's plays to be presented at Hampstead following Chimps and No Exp Req'd.

The new year kicks off at the Almeida at King's Cross with Oliver Ford Davies playing the title role in departing joint artistic director Jonathan Kent's production of King Lear in a cast that will also include Tom Hollander and James Frain. In May, the Almeida will follow its success last year with Neil LaBute's The Shape of Things (now to be seen off-Broadway) with the world premiere of LaBute's latest, The Distance from Here, again to be directed by the author.

Shakespeare at the Fore

Also nearing the conclusion of a particular phase of its history, the RSC surrenders the Barbican Theatre - originally built to its specifications - this year, concluding with the imports of last year's Stratford season that included Twelfth Night and Julius Caesar, as well as new plays by Martin McDonagh, David Edgar and Peter Whelan that move to the Pit. The company then bids farewell to the Barbican with new productions of A Midsummer Night's Dream, directed by Richard Jones in his RSC debut, and David Farr's Night of the Soul, in the main house and Pit respectively.

Meanwhile, they also launch their new artistic model with a promenade season of three of Shakespeare's late plays at north London's Roundhouse in March that will see Matthew Warchus directing A Winder's Tale, followed by The Tempest (to be directed by Michael Boyd) and Pericles (Adrian Noble). Two more ensemble companies, based at Stratford's Royal Shakespeare Theatre and the Swan, will respectively perform Shakespeare and a collection of five rarely seen Elizabethan and Jacobean plays.

At Shakespeare's Globe, this year's season will include two plays also being produced by the RSC, Twelfth Night and A Midsummer Night's Dream, as well as a new play specially written for the theatre by Peter Oswald, The Golden Ass.

Plays Old & New

That rare thing, a West End play premiere, comes into view at the Duchess in February, when Michael Blakemore directs Stephen Dillane in Australian writer Hannie Rayson's Life After George. Before that, the year kicks off at the Duchess with a six-week season of an Irish rugby comedy, John Breen's Alone It Stands.

The National, meanwhile, has February transfers on the cards for two of its new plays last year: the impossible-to-get-a-ticket for Humble Boy, moving to the Gielgud but with Diana Rigg replaced by Felicity Kendal, and a short return run of Mark Ravenhill's Mother Clap's Molly House at the Aldwych. The latter is wedged between revivals of Caryl Churchill's Top Girls, in an Oxford Stage Company production, and Alan Ayckbourn's Bedroom Farce, itself originally premiered at the National and now due to star Richard Briers and June Whitfield in Loveday Ingram's production.

At the Haymarket, Peter Hall follows The Royal Family with another high-profile revival, when he directs Vanessa Redgrave and daughter Joely Richardson in Oscar Wilde's Lady Windermere's Fan in February.

The Old Vic hosts what is billed as the final London season of The Island, a play by Athol Fugard, John Kani and Winston Ntshona and performed by the latter two, as they did when it was premiered in 1973 and revived in 2000 at the National. In March, Fugard's new play, Sorrows and Rejoicings will receive its London premiere at the Tricycle. Another South Africa originated show, The Mysteries, seen last year at Wilton's Music Hall to great acclaim, will transfer to the West End's Queen's in February for a twelve-week season.

Soho Theatre hosts the transfer of Janet Munsil's Smoking with Lulu from Leeds, with Thelma Barlow starring as silent movie icon Louise Brooks in a play about her meeting with theatre critic Kenneth Tynan, in February. At Riverside Studios, Sheila Gish will star in the title role of Racine's Phaedra for a six week season from January 28. Jude Law will return to the Young Vic, this time to star to star in Marlowe's Dr Faustus, scheduled for March.

West End Musicals

Boy George opens 2002 with Taboo, being presented at the Venue, off Leicester Square, this month, with brand-new songs alongside some of his greatest hits. In May, Nigel Planer (last seen in Feelgood) will lead the cast of a new musical based on the music of rock group Queen, We Will Rock You, with a book by Ben Elton, at the Dominion.

Between those two rock musicals, The Last Empress comes to the Apollo Hammersmith from Korea for 19 performances in February, the Gershwin musical My One and Only transfers to the Piccadilly from Chichester starring Tim Flavin and Janie Dee, and a stage version of The Full Monty arrives from Broadway at the Prince of Wales in March.

In April, the London Palladium hosts the stage premiere of Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, with Michael Ball starring in Adrian Noble's production of an adaptation by Jeremy Sams and featuring the original Sherman brothers songs from the film. Shockheaded Peter makes yet another welcome return, this time to the Albery, for a season from April to June. At the Savoy, D'Oyly Carte Opera Company will present a reworking of their 1997 production of Iolanthe from February to April, and then a new production by Ian Talbot of The Yeomen of the Guard from April to June. Also in June, Sadler's Wells hosts a brief London season for Opera North's acclaimed production of Sondheim's Sweeney Todd.

On April 22, RSC and National Theatre actor Alex Jennings follows in the footsteps of Jonathan Pryce to turn musical lead for Cameron Mackintosh when he takes over as Professor Higgins in My Fair Lady at Drury Lane. Later in the year, look for Bombay Dreams to replace Starlight Express at the Apollo Victoria.