Dames & Other West End Names

Maggie Smith always loved the title of Edward Albee’s play The Lady from Dubuque; so much so that she used the moniker as a friendly greeting for a fat camp dresser in New York. Now she will assume the title herself, enlivening the West End spring in Anthony Page’s production at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in March.

It’s likely, too, that Maggie’s great friend and fellow Dame Judi Dench will come to town with the Royal Shakespeare Company’s musical version of Merry Wives, a consummation of the Complete Works season in Stratford-upon-Avon devoutly to be wished.

In Stratford itself, Ian McKellen’s long-awaited King Lear will be seen in a double-header with Chekhov’s The Seagull; this “detachable” company within the RSC under Trevor Nunn’s direction is also almost certain to hit the West End at some stage. By then, we will have seen Christopher Hampton’s new Seagull at the Royal Court in late January, with Kristin Scott Thomas and Chiwetel Ejiofor leading outgoing artistic director Ian Rickson’s farewell production.

The trend for revisiting the hit commercial plays of the 1970s continues with Peter Shaffer’s Equus at the West End’s Gielgud from mid-February starring Richard Griffithsas the psychologist and Daniel Radcliffe (aka “Harry Potter”) as the horse-blinding teenager played originally by Alec McCowen and Peter Firth. Thea Sharrock’s production will have to go some way to improve on the late John Dexter’s original, but she does have a head start with designer John Napier, Dexter’s designer, on board.

Look out too that month for another 1970s revival, Christopher Hampton’s Treats, with Doctor Who’s Billie Piper making her stage debut. After a brief regional tour, it transfers to the West End’s Garrick Theatre.

Producer Sonia Friedman harks back a decade further for her first two West End offerings of 2007: revivals of Harold Pinter’s 1960 play The Dumb Waiter and Marc Camoletti’s 1961 farce Boeing-Boeing. Lee Evans and Jason Isaacs star in the former, while the stellar cast of the latter includes Roger Allam, Mark Rylance and Frances de la Tour. Both open in February, at Trafalgar Studios and the Comedy Theatre respectively.

Plays Versus Musicals

Following the Broadway-bound revival of O’Neill’s A Moon for the Misbegotten, Kevin Spacey is likely to build on his new impetus at the Old Vic with Edward Hall’s all-male Propeller company visiting this month and next with The Taming of the Shrew and Twelfth Night, followed in March by Robert Lindsay as Archie Rice in the 50th anniversary of John Osborne’s The Entertainer.

Over on Shaftesbury Avenue, bulking up the play offerings fighting back after last year’s domination of musicals in the West End, Hollywood heavy hitter Jessica Lange will reprise her Broadway performance as Amanda Wingfield in a new production of Tennessee Williams’ The Glass Menagerie, directed by Rupert Goold at the Apollo in February.

That said, though not a patch on 2006’s level of activity, musicals tuning up for 2007 openings include revivals of Grease and Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, both cast by How Do You Solve a Problem Like Maria?-style reality TV vote care of now rival producers David Ian and Andrew Lloyd Webber. And all holidays are on hold for producer Kevin Wallace and director Matthew Warchus until mid-June when their £12.5 million, three-hour version of The Lord of the Rings at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane. Assuming there are any theatres available for them, the Menier Chocolate Factory’s Little Shop of Horrors and Sheffield’s Fiddler on the Roof have also been tipped for transfers as have Broadway hits Jersey Boys and The Drowsy Chaperone.

Big Seasons at the NT & Barbican

The National’s The History Boys returns to London this week for a long-anticipated West End season, while further ahead for the NT on the South Bank the heart leaps at the prospect of Deborah Warner directing Fiona Shaw in Beckett’s Happy Days in late January; Nicholas Hytner directing George Etherege’s marvellous Restoration comedy The Man of Mode (with my new favourite actress, Nancy Carroll) and Richard Eyre directing a new Nicholas Wright play, The Reporter, about the late, lugubrious investigative journalist James Mossman, both in February; and, in March, Katie Mitchell directing a revival of Martin Crimp’s brilliant, fragmentary Attempts on Her Life.

The Barbican celebrates its first 25 years with the return in March of Lev Dodin’s sensational swimming pool Platonov for the Maly Theatre of St Petersburg. May at the Barbican brings Cheek by Jowl’s Russian Three Sisters and Peter Brook’s French Sizwe Banzi Is Undead (two months after John Kani and Winston Ntshona reprise their original performances in the modern South African classic at the National).

Other Subsidised Showcases

There’s plenty happening at London’s other leading subsidised houses too. The newly refurbished Young Vic revives Thomas Otway’s The Soldier’s Fortune in February and premieres the stage adaptation of DBC Pierre’s Booker Prize-winning Vernon God Little, directed by one of our most inventive young directors Rufus Norris in April.

The Almeida offers a trio of intriguing premieres: Frank McGuinness’ There Came a Gypsy Riding starring Imelda Staunton and Eileen Atkins this month; Moira Buffini’s Dying for It after Nikolai Erdman’s The Suicide in March; and Theodore Ward’s ‘lost’ Afro-American drama Big White Fog in May. And at the Donmar Warehouse, Michael Grandage directs David Eldridge’s new version of Ibsen’s penultimate play, 1896’s John Gabriel Borkman, with Ian McDiarmid and Penelope Wilton in February.

Following its run last year at Sheffield Crucible – which will be looking for a new artistic director following Samuel West’s surprising resignation last month – the Nigel Harman-headed revival of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker arrives at the Tricycle in March. And we’re eagerly awaiting details of Dominic Cooke’s inaugural programming at the Royal Court. And speaking of new artistic directors, it will be interesting to see who steps into the shoes of Thea Sharrock and Mike Bradwell and what they have in store for west London’s Gate and Bush theatres respectively.