Will it be a happy new year for theatregoers? Michael Coveney and Terri Paddock consult their crystal balls to see what’s coming up in 2010 in the West End and beyond, with major milestones including the unveiling of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s new theatre in Stratford-upon-Avon as well as the reopening of the refurbished Sheffield Crucible under new artistic director Daniel Evans, Stephen Sondheim’s 80th birthday, Andrew Lloyd Webber’s long-awaited Phantom of the Opera sequel and the first-ever transfer of an entire Broadway musical cast with Hair.


Spoilt for Shakespearean choice
Actor-turned-director Daniel Evans opens the doors of the refurbished Sheffield Crucible in February by following Trevor Nunn’s example in starting a new regime (as Nunn did at the National) with Ibsen’s An Enemy of the People, Antony Sher heading the cast in the same week as Judi Dench plays Titania for Peter Hall in A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Rose in Kingston.

Dench is odd casting, but one can envisage Titania as Gloriana more readily, perhaps, than Greg Hicks as King Lear or Kathryn Hunter as Cleopatra for the RSC in two of the final productions in the Courtyard at Stratford-upon-Avon, before the reopening of the Royal Shakespeare Theatre. The listed RST, which has undergone a £112.8 million redevelopment to turn it into a thrust stage auditorium, will begin to open to the public, with a gradual series of activities from November 2010 ahead of a return to full performances from February 2011, coinciding with the RSC’s 50th anniversary.

Other Shakespeare highlights this year include: Rupert Goold’s debut as an RSC associate director with Romeo and Juliet; Stephen Dillane and Juliet Rylance leading Sam Mendes’ second transatlantic season at the Old Vic in June in As You Like It and The Tempest; Cheek by Jowl’s Macbeth starring Will Keen at the Barbican in March; the Globe’s Kings and Rogues summer repertory, featuring the venue’s first stagings of Henry VIII and Henry IV parts 1 and 2; Michael Attenborough’s production of Measure for Measure at the Almeida with Anna Maxwell Martin and Rory Kinnear; and another Hamlet head-to-head, this time between Kinnear at the National and, back at Sheffield Crucible in September prior to a possible West End transfer, John Simm.

Heavyweight play revivals
The National Theatre launches its 2010 schedule with two heavyweight revivals: Boucicault’s London Assurance (with Fiona Shaw, Simon Russell Beale and Richard Briers) directed by artistic director Nicholas Hytner; and Mikhail Bulgakov’s The White Guard (with Pip Carter, Conleth Hill and Justine Mitchell) directed by Howard Davies. These will join a new play by Tamsin Oglesby, Really Old, Like Forty Five, in the repertoire in March.

Davies directs in the West End, too, revisiting Arthur Miller’s All My Sons (which he did at the NT in 2000) with David Suchet and Zoe Wanamaker at the Apollo in late May. And another NT alumnus, Richard Eyre, surprisingly, directs Noel Coward’s Private Lives with Kim Cattrall and Matthew MacFadyen at the Vaudeville in February.

Also in the West End, Roger Rees returns to the London stage this month, filling the shoes of Patrick Stewart opposite Ian McKellen in Sean Mathias’ Theatre Royal Haymarket production of Beckett’s Waiting for Godot, Iain Glen makes his directorial debut and co-stars with Lesley Sharp in Ghosts at the Duchess in February, Felicity Kendal takes the title role in George Bernard Shaw classic Mrs Warren’s Profession at the Comedy in March, and Toby Stephens stars in the Old Vic’s new production of Tom Stoppard’s 1982 play The Real Thing, directed by Anna Mackmin in April.

And watch out for strong programming at Trafalgar Studios where the new year kicks off with Linda Marlowe’s wonderful solo, The World’s Wife, based on the poems of laureate Carol Ann Duffy, a big hit at last summer’s Edinburgh Fringe, and Jonathan Pryce in his acclaimed Liverpool Everyman performance in Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker.

Courting more new work
The West End roster is further strengthened by the Royal Court transfers of two of last year’s biggest premieres: Jez Butterworth’s Jerusalem starring Mark Rylance and Rupert Goold’s Headlong production of Lucy Prebble’s Enron, starring Samuel West. Meanwhile, the Court continues to follow through with its new young writers: Bola Agbaje examines life on the council estates in Off the Endz while Laura Wade goes to other end of the social scale in Posh, tracking public school wild boys in Oxford.

The Tricycle Theatre focuses on recent Irish history with two new plays: the world premiere of Frank McGuinness' Greta Garbo Came to Donegal, directed by Tricycle artistic director Nicolas Kent, and the London premiere of Martin Lynch's Edinburgh Fringe hit Chronicles of Long Kesh, set in the infamous Maze prison.

In her last season as Soho Theatre’s artistic director, Lisa Goldman helms Behud (Beyond Belief), Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s new play about her experience with her allegedly “anti-Sikh” play Behzti (Dishonour), which provoked riots and death threats when it premiered at Birmingham Rep five years ago. At the Lyric Hammersmith, Sean Holmes continues his strong first season as artistic director with Filter’s version of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, featuring Romola Garai.

And at Hampstead Theatre, where Antony Clark’s successor as artistic director is due to be announced imminently, there are new plays by Sebastian Barry (care of Out of Joint), Jonathan Harvey (English Touring Theatre/Liverpool Everyman), Dennis Kelly and David Greig (both via the RSC), as well as this month’s star-studded 150th birthday jubilee in honour of Anton Chekhov.

Also, The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time author Mark Haddon makes his playwriting debut with Polar Bears, starring Richard Coyle and Jodhi May at the Donmar Warehouse, where 2010 launches with a rarely seen Lanford Wilson play, Serenading Louie.

The sound of musicals
The first big musical opening of the year is Broadway screen-to-stage import Legally Blonde, opening to the press next week at the Savoy Theatre starring Sheridan Smith and Duncan James. In April, we can all retreat to the Sixties and let the sunshine in when Hair bows at the Gielgud, Cameron Mackintosh bringing over the hit revival from New York more or less intact, with the full Broadway company reprising their performances in what’s believed to be a West End first.

Also in April, David Essex stars in his self-penned tuner All the Fun of the Fair, named after his top-selling 1975 album and featuring many of his greatest hits, at the Garrick Theatre. And in June, the record-breaking Off-Broadway musical The Fantasticks, loosely based Rostand’s play The Romancers, comes to the West End’s Duchess Theatre.

Those and any other musical offerings, however, will struggle to compete for hype and column inches with Andrew Lloyd Webber’s hugely anticipated and long-planned follow-up to The Phantom of the Opera. Set ten years after the original, Love Never Dies has its world premiere in March at the West End’s Adelphi Theatre, prior to Broadway and Australian productions. The cast includes Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess as the Phantom and Christine.

Celebrating Sondheim
The Donmar will wish Stephen Sondheim a happy birthday this year with a revival of his 1994 musical Passion, directed by Jamie Lloyd. Lloyd will - hopefully - lure Argentine Elena Roger, who he directed in Piaf, back to these shores to star.

The legendary American composer and lyricist’s 80th will also be marked with The Night of 1000 Voices concert at the Royal Albert Hall and new productions of Anyone Can Whistle (1964) at Jermyn Street and Into the Woods (1989) at the Open Air Theatre, where other summer highlights include a revival of Arthur Miller’s 1953 play about the Salem witchcraft trials (and McCarthyism), The Crucible.