First the bad news: this month, West End ticket prices will, for the first time in history, officially become more expensive than those on Broadway. The good news, for now, is that only one show is thus affected.
A stage version of Victoria Wood’s Acorn Antiques tests the market for the £65 top weekend price (before booking fees) when it begins performances at the Theatre Royal Haymarket on 31 January, with no reductions for previews and a bottom price, in the remote fourth-tier gallery, at an equally extortionist £27 on weekends. True, for your money, there is Julie Walters reprising her classic role of Mrs Overall (and replaced by Wood herself on what the ads call ‘bingo nights’, namely Monday evenings and Wednesday matinees), as well as a supporting cast that includes TV originals Celia Imrie and Duncan Preston, plus Neil Morrissey, Sally Ann Triplett and Josie Lawrence under the direction of Trevor Nunn and choreography by Stephen Mear (Anything Goes, Mary Poppins). Still, Wood is a debuting West End composer, and it’s a bit of a stretch from a running joke insert of a comedy sketch show to a full-length musical.
Nevertheless, Acorn Antiques certainly has name recognition in both its title and the personnel attached, as does another film-to-stage crossover for Billy Elliot, previewing at the Victoria Palace from 23 March, with Stephen Daldry and Lee Hall respectively reprising their directing and scripting duties from the original film, with new songs by Elton John. A trio of young discoveries - 12-year-old Liam Mower from Hull, 13-year-old George Maguire from Essex and 14-year-old James Lomas from Sheffield - share the title role. Tim Healy (best known from TV’s Auf Wiedersehen Pet) plays Billy’s dad, Haydn Gwynne (TV’s Drop the Dead Donkey) plays Billy’s dance teacher Mrs Wilkinson, and stage veteran Anne Rogers (Polly Browne in the original 1954 production of The Boyfriend) plays Billy’s grandma.
There’s an even bigger star name attached to a new production of Frank Loesser’s immortal 1950 Broadway musical Guys and Dolls. Scottish screen heartthrob Ewan McGregor (last seen on the London stage in a 1998 production of Little Malcolm and His Struggle Against the Eunuchs) will play Sky Masterson in this musical fable of Broadway gamblers, nightclub dancers and evangelists. It’s revived at the Piccadilly (from 20 May) under the direction of Donmar Warehouse artistic director Michael Grandage, in his first Donmar production since taking over the venue that’s not being created at his home theatre.
Another Broadway classic – the 1944 show Leonard Bernstein scored On the Town to book and lyrics by Betty Comden and Adolph Green - gets the operatic treatment, courtesy of English National Opera at the London Coliseum, from 5 March for a run of 17 performances only, in rep to May. Director Jude Kelly and choreographer Stephen Mear (a busy man this season) reunite after their success with 2000’s Singin’ in the Rain. The cast includes Adam Garcia, Caroline O'Connor and opera singer Willard White.
On a smaller scale, more ‘forgotten’ American musicals are revived in the return, after a gap of a few years, of Ian Marshall Fisher’s ‘Lost Musicals’ stagings. The season of Sunday evening concert performances kicks off at the Lilian Baylis Theatre at Sadler’s Wells from 6 March with Harold Rome’s 1954 Broadway show Fanny, continuing with Cole Porter’s 1957 musical Silk Stockings. It culminates in a genuine first: the theatrical premiere of a 1967 television play Evening Primrose, featuring songs by Stephen Sondheim, that has not been seen publicly since it was first broadcast (though many of the songs, such as “Take Me to the World” and “I Remember”, have been widely embraced in the cabaret repertoire).
Ahead of that on the musical front, the year begins this week with a 20th-anniversary revival of Kern Goes to Hollywood, a tribute to the legendary Broadway composer Jerome Kern, at the King’s Head in Islington.
A stage version of The Far Pavilions, MM Kaye’s 1978 novel of lost identities and forbidden love, is promised at the Shaftesbury from 24 March. Telling the story of a romance between a British officer and an Indian Princess in 1857 India, it’s directed by Gale Edwards, whose previous credits include the original London production of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Whistle Down the Wind and the Lyceum revival of Jesus Christ Superstar. Though advance hype is fairly hushed, another original British-created musical (featuring music by Philip Henderson and book and lyrics by Stephen Clark) is surely welcome in the West End, where new musical voices continue to be thin on the ground. Both Victoria Wood and Elton John, the season’s other British composers of new shows, have, of course, established their names elsewhere.
That’s what would also make the hoped-for West End appearance of the Theatre Royal, Stratford East’s hit production of The Big Life so refreshing, too. This musical – created out of Stratford East’s Musical Development programme last year by debuting theatre composer Paul Joseph to a book by Paul Sirett – is a real-life, truthful and tuneful account of the arrival of immigrants to Britain from the Caribbean in the 1950s. It returns to Stratford East for a season from 4 February, ahead of a possible transfer.
Otherwise, expect some of the following to materialise this year. Producers at Clear Channel, having made a hit out of the Broadway import of The Producers, have plans to bring in another New York hit, Hairspray to the West End. They are also partnering with Really Useful to revive Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The Sound of Music, and may bring their touring production of Andrew Lloyd Webber and TS Eliot’s Cats back to town, too. There’s also talk of creating an original musical around the back catalogue of reggae’s Bob Marley. There’s no sign yet, however, of last year’s Tony-winning Best Musical, Avenue Q, reaching these shores: we can but hope.
On the plays front, just some of the names lining up to grace London stages in the coming months are Kevin Spacey, Kim Cattrall, Patrick Stewart, Vanessa Redgrave and brother Corin (in separate productions, but both for the RSC), Sheila Hancock, Derek Jacobi, Iain Glen, Eve Best, Penelope Wilton, Nicholas Lyndhurst, Ruby Wax, Ben Whishaw, Lennie James, Alison Steadman, Mary Stuart Masterson and Spanish film sensation Gael Garcia Bernal.
A busy winter for the West End kicks off with the return of Brian Clark’s 1978 right-to-die play, Whose Life Is It Anyway?, with Sex and the City’s Kim Cattrall playing the role originally created by Tom Conti at the Comedy Theatre from 7 January, under the direction of Peter Hall. Things continue with revivals of Bill MacIlwraith’s The Anniversary, with Sheila Hancock returning to a play she originally did in its 1966 premiere, albeit in a different role, at the Garrick from 20 January, David Mamet’s A Life in the Theatre, featuring Patrick Stewart and Dawson’s Creek star Joshua Jackson at the Apollo from 27 January, and Schiller’s Don Carlos, with Derek Jacobi leading the cast as the tyrannical father of the title character, played by Richard Coyle, at the Gielgud from 28 January.
There are also transfers for Roy Smiles’ play Ying Tong about Spike Milligan and The Goons, from Leeds (to the New Ambassadors from 10 February) and for Peter Hall’s touring revival of Ronald Harwood’s backstage comedy The Dresser (to the Duke of York’s from 22 February), starring Nicholas Lyndhurst in the title role and Julian Glover as the demanding actor-manager he serves. Birmingham Rep’s current touring production of Roald Dahl’s The Witches also flies into town briefly, with Ruby Wax joining the cast as The Grand High Witch at Wyndham’s Theatre from 3 March.
Spacey, the RSC & Almeida
At the Old Vic, new artistic director Kevin Spacey finally takes to the stage himself there for the next two productions, having already directed Cloaca there. He’ll appear shortly in the British premiere of Dennis McIntyre’s American suburban drama, National Anthems (from 1 February, with a cast that also includes Mary Stuart Masterson) and Philip Barry’s comedy classic The Philadelphia Story (from 3 May), which provided the source for the movie musical hit High Society.
The Royal Shakespeare Company continues its West End residency at the Albery with transfers from Stratford-upon-Avon of King Lear, starring Corin Redgrave in the title role (from 13 January), Macbeth (starring Greg Hicks and Sian Thomas, from 10 February) and Vanessa Redgrave as Euripides’ Hecuba (from 1 April). Three plays from the RSC’s Spanish Golden Age season also transfer from Stratford to London’s Playhouse Theatre, kicking off with Laurence Boswell’s production of Lope de Vega’s The Dog in the Manger (from 21 January). It’s joined in rep by Nancy Meckler’s production of Sor Juana Ines De La Cruz’s House of Desires (from 27 January) and Mike Alfreds’ staging of Miguel Cervantes’ Pedro, the Great Pretender (from 14 February). The RSC is also staging a New Work Festival at Soho Theatre, with new plays by Zinnie Harris and Joanna Laurens alongside readings and works-in-progress, from 28 February to 19 March.
In addition to the RSC Macbeth, there are two more in town imminently. Previously seen at the Arcola, Out of Joint’s promenade version, directed by Max Stafford-Clark and set in a contemporary African dictatorship, re-opens at Wilton’s Music Hall (from 6 January). And, at the Almeida, Simon Russell Beale takes the title role (from 13 January) with Emma Fielding as Lady Macbeth, under the direction of John Caird who previously worked with Russell Beale on the National’s productions of Hamlet and Humble Boy.
Future prospects at the Almeida include a new production of Ibsen’s Hedda Gabler, with Richard Eyre directing Eve Best in the title role and Iain Glen also in the cast (from 10 March), and hot young Spanish film actor Gael Garcia Bernal (best known for his roles in the films Bad Education and The Motorcycle Diaries) in Lorca’s Blood Wedding (from 6 May, under the direction of Festen’s Rufus Norris).
At the National & Barbican
The National also has Lorca on its schedule, with Penelope Wilton in The House of Bernarda Alba, directed by Howard Davies (in the NT Lyttelton from 5 March). There are also revivals of Complicite’s devised play about death, A Minute Too Late, first seen 21 years ago (in the NT Lyttelton from 20 January) and Strindberg’s A Dream Play, directed by Katie Mitchell (in the NT Cottesloe from 4 February). And, on tour, the National is reviving two of its earlier hits – Martin McDonagh’s The Pillowman will tour from 27 January, and (under the auspices of Birmingham Rep) Elmina's Kitchen, in which playwright Kwame Kwei-Armah will himself appear.
No further schedule details have yet been announced at the National, though expect the return of the Travelex £10 season in the NT Olivier, the adaptation of cult film hit Theatre of Blood and also the long-gestating (and still untitled) Mike Leigh project to finally reach fruition.
At the Barbican, BITE:05 kicks off with visits from Dublin’s Abbey Theatre (with Sean O’Casey’s The Plough and the Stars, from 18 January in the main house), and of Peter Brook’s latest piece Ta Main Dans La Mienne (Your Hand in Mine, from 26 January in the Pit). From 14 April, Deborah Warner will direct a cast of over 100, due to include Ralph Fiennes, in Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar. Also, Richard Maxwell’s New York City Players return with a double bill of Joe and Showcase from 2 March. The company was last seen at the Barbican in 2003 with Drummer Wanted (though the transfer of a subsequent production of Henry IV was suddenly aborted following unfavourable New York reviews).
Also returning to the Barbican, Theatre O (whose previous BITE productions were The Argument and 3 Dark Tales) present a new work, Astronaut, based on a short story by Andrea Valdes (in the Pit from 5 April), and performance artist Laurie Anderson presents the second in a trilogy of solo works, The End of the Moon (in the Barbican Theatre from 18 May). Lev Dodin’s production of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya for the Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg is presented (in the Barbican Theatre from 24 May) in Russian with English surtitles, and Jude Kelly directs Ridiculusmus in a two-person version of Oscar Wilde’s The Importance of Being Earnest (in the Pit from 8 June).
At the Donmar, Court & Hampstead
The Donmar Warehouse has a new stage version of the 1962 film classic Days of Wine and Roses in a version by Evening Standard Award winner Owen McCafferty, directed by Peter Gill (from 17 February); a revival of David Grieg’s The Cosmonaut's Last Message to the Woman He Once Loved in the Former Soviet Union, originally produced at the Edinburgh Festival in 1999 and now revived here from 7 April; a new play by confrontational American playwright Neil LaBute called This Is How It Goes, set in small-town America and putting race and infidelity under the microscope as it dissects an inter-racial love triangle (from 26 May) and Schiller’s Mary Stuart in a new version by Peter Oswald directed by Phyllida Lloyd (from 14 July).
Lloyd also kicks off the Royal Court’s year by directing April de Angelis’ new play Wild East (from 27 January). Next up in the main house by the premiere of Olivier Award-winning Debbie Tucker Green’s latest, Stoning Mary, that Marianne Elliott will direct from 1 April. Meanwhile, in the Court’s Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, Tim Fountain brings his controversial Edinburgh hit Sex Addict to town from 6 January, in which he nightly seeks to add to the tally of 5,048 men, one lesbian and a gothic Norwegian hairdresser he’s now slept with, by trawling the internet for dates. It’s followed by Laura Wade’s Breathing Corpses (from 24 February) and Alan Rickman directing My Name Is Rachel Corrie (from 7 April), taken from the writings of the 23-year-old American woman who lost her life as she came between a bulldozer and a Palestinian home.
Hampstead Theatre offers the world premiere of Simon Mendes da Costa’s Losing Louis, with Robin Lefevre directing a cast that includes Alison Steadman (from 20 January), then hosts the transfer of the National’s production of Primo, with Antony Sher reprising his solo performance in the title role of Auschwitz survivor Primo Levi (from 23 February).
At the Lyric, Theatre 503 & Trike
At the Lyric Hammersmith, there’s another a well-earned reprise: Lennie James and American actress Novella Nelson return to appear in Lorraine Hansberry’s A Raisin in the Sun (from 18 February) that they first did at the Young Vic in 2001, under the direction of David Lan. The Young Vic, currently on ‘Walkabout’ while its home base is entirely rebuilt, is also collaborating with Battersea’s Theatre 503 to present the annual Direct Action season that’s intended to provide challenging opportunities to young directors. It kicks off with 2004 Jerwood Award winner Yael Shavit directing Conor McPherson’s This Lime Tree Bower (from 8 February), and continues with actor Daniel Evans turning director to stage Peter Gill’s Lovely Evening and In the Blue (from 22 March).
At Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre, there’s the world premieres of Winsome Pinnock’s One Under (from 3 February), Dolly Dhingra’s The Fortune Club (from 10 March), and another in the Trike’s ‘tribunal’ plays, Bloody Sunday: Scenes from the Saville Inquiry (from 7 April), that replays scenes from the inquiry into the 1972 death of 13 civil rights marchers when British soldiers opened fire on them during a march in Londonderry, Northern Ireland.
Other Fringe Highlights
Elsewhere on the fringe, Thea Sharrock (currently represented in the West End by her production of Blithe Spirit) launches her regime as artistic director of Notting Hill’s Gate Theatre with Fermin Cabal’s Tejas Verdes, with a cast that includes Gemma Jones (from 10 January). At the Finborough, playwright Che Walker (whose own plays include Flesh Wound and Been So Long, both seen at the Royal Court) turns director to stage a revival of Malane Gomard Meyer’s Etta Jenks, originally produced at the Royal Court, with a cast that includes Daniela Nardini (from 2 February).
At Southwark’s Menier Chocolate Factory, new writing company Paines Plough kicks off a four-month residency (and the final season under the artistic directorship of Vicky Featherstone) with The Small Things by Enda Walsh, author of Disco Pigs, from 28 January. The season continues with Ben Whishaw – seen last year in the title role of Trevor Nunn’s Old Vic Hamlet – appearing in the next play there, Philip Ridley’s Mercury Fur (from 1 March); Evening Standard Best Actress award winner Paola Dionisotti in Pyrenees (from 29 March); and Douglas Maxwell’s If Destroyed True (from 26 April).
At Soho, Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre presents the London premiere of Ron Hutchinson’s Head/Case (from 12 January), then Soho artistic director Abigail Morris returns from maternity leave to direct a cast that includes Michael Pennington and Margot Leicester in Colder Than Here (from 3 February) by Laura Wade (a young playwright having a busy month as another play of hers is premiered at the Royal Court’s Theatre Upstairs in February, too).
That’s not all, folks!
But this, of course, isn’t all that’s happening this year in London – this is merely a taster for some of what to expect. As usual, Whatsonstage.com will be reviewing most of these shows and more, arranging visits and special offers to many of them, and breaking the news as it is happens. So make sure you keep visiting this site regularly – your one-stop guide to everything in theatreland. Though this feature has concentrated on what’s happening in the capital, there’s a wealth of fantastic theatre beyond London, too, so do try to venture further afield. Whatsonstage.com is also here to keep you abreast of life in the regions as well, with listings, a network of regional critics and regular news reports.