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12 theatre faces to look out for in 2020

With a new generation of talent making their name in the industry, we select 12 individuals worth watching for 2020

Some of the top faces to look out for in 2020

Every year here at WhatsOnStage we select notable individuals that we think are really worth keeping an eye on. From writers to directors, actors to sound designers, the raft of talent of all ages making exciting work on stages up and down the country is one of the reasons we keep writing every day. While we have only picked 12, there are always thousands more ready to make a splash!



1. Darren Clark

Darren Clark

The New Zealand-born composer and lyricist had a big bold hit on his hand when The Curious Case of Benjamin Button opened at Southwark Playhouse earlier this year. The Stiles and Drewe Mentorship Award recipient is already gearing up to present a brand new musical The Wicker Husband at The Watermill (a veteran producer of great productions) next spring, based on Ursula Wills-Jones' short story. Southwark Playhouse also seems to be teasing some sort of return for Benjamin Button, while The Wicker Husband has been receiving peachy feedback during its various workshops. We shall wait and see! The Wicker Husband runs at The Watermill from 12 March to 4 April. AW


2. Emily-Mae

Emily-Mae in Pippi Longstocking
© Manuel Harlan

Performer Emily-Mae Walker (stage name Emily-Mae) has had a spectacular 2019 – from Storyhouse Theatre, Chester's Little Shop of Horrors to Greenwich Theatre's Brooklyn the Musical, she is now starring in family show Pippi Longstocking at the Royal and Derngate. She has shown her ability to stand out as from the crowd as a narrator, a diva and the strongest girl in the world. We're predicting some great future roles for this actor – maybe leading & Juliet, or as a Hamilton Schuyler sister? Perhaps even Eurydice in a much-hoped for Hadestown return? Pippi Longstocking is running at the Royal and Derngate until 31 December. DP


3. Sami Ibrahim

Sami Ibrahim
© Theatre Uncut

Most playwrights can only dream of a 2019 like Sami Ibrahim's. First of all, the writer recently won the inaugural Theatre Uncut Political Playwriting Award, earning his play two palestinians go dogging a slot in the Royal Court's 2020 programme where it'll be directed by Misty's Omar Elerian. Secondly, he made the shortlist for the 2019 Bruntwood Prize, while also being the writer-in-residence at Theatr Clwyd and part of the Globe's Scriptorium. 2020 is going to be a big year for this new voice. two palestinians go dogging runs at the Royal Court from 9 April to 9 May. AW


4. Chris Bush

Chris Bush

The UK Theatre Award-winner (Best Musical for Standing at the Sky's Edge) currently has a Christmas show play in Oxford and will present a gender-swapped version of Faustus at the Lyric Hammersmith Theatre in January as part of Headlong's 2020 season. She has also been appointed an associate artist at Sheffield Theatres, so you can bet there will be some exciting collaborations to come out of this northern venue in 2020. Faustus: That Damned Woman will run at the Lyric Hammersmith from 22 January to 22 February before embarking on tour. DP


5. SpitLip


© Savannah Photographic

There's nothing more exciting than being present in a room where a brand new smash-hit musical is concocted and SpitLip's brand new show Operation Mincemeat supplied exactly that in the summer of 2019. The show gained a whole raft of five-star reviews and a Best Best Lyrics/Composer nod at The Stage Debut Awards, and the piece is already gearing up for two runs in 2020. The company, composed of members of three members of hit theatre troupe Kill the Beast alongside glam-punk composer Felix Hagan, bring a unique, pun-laden and whimsical humour to their work which zips along with a rollicking rapidity. Operation Mincemeat has sold out its run at Southwark Playhouse from 4 to 11 January, and has a second run from 14 to 23 May. AW


6. Zoe Spurr

The NYT Rep Company performing A Midsummer Night's Dream
© Helen Murray

This Off-West End Award-winning lighting designer has had a busy 2019! Here's a run-down of some of her shows this year alone – An Edinburgh Christmas Carol (Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh), A Midsummer Night's Dream (NYT REP company, Criterion Theatre), Hedda Tesman (Minerva Theatre, Chichester), The Seven Ages of Patience (Kiln Theatre), Toast (The Other Palace and UK tour), The Phlebotomist (Hampstead Theatre) and Emilia (Vaudeville Theatre). We're exhausted just reading them all! And with Wuthering Heights and Run Sister Run confirmed so far for 2020, Spurr once again proves herself a lighting designer worthy of the spotlight. An Edinburgh Christmas Carol is running at the Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh until 4 January, and A Midsummer Night's Dream is running at the Criterion Theatre until 17 January. DP


7. Francesca Martinez

Francesca Martinez
© Spencer Murphy

Francesca Martinez is a well-known name for many – her comedy and performance talents know few bounds. Martinez now has a rather exciting gig making her playwriting debut at the National Theatre with All of Us, about the biting impacts of austerity. Awesome director Ian Rickson helms the project alongside a top-tier cast and we're itching with anticipation. All of Us runs from 18 March to 16 May. AW


8. Anita-Joy Uwajeh

Anita-Joy Uwajeh
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Who wouldn't jump at the chance to act in the West End opposite James McAvoy and be directed by Jamie Lloyd? The leading role of Roxanne in the five-star show Cyrano de Bergerac is occupied by Uwajeh, whose other productions include Two Trains Running (Royal and Derngate), King Lear (Duke of York's Theatre), Emma Rice's Twelfth Night (Shakespeare's Globe) and Girls (Soho Theatre). Uwajeh's performance in the Martin Crimp's translation of Edmond Rostand's text is spellbinding, so we're already keeping an eye out to see what she turns her hand to in 2020. Cyrano de Bergerac is running at the Playhouse Theatre until 29 February. DP


9. Miranda Cromwell

Miranda Cromwell
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

As co-director of the West End's Death of a Salesman, Cromwell already has two shows in the pipeline for 2020. She makes her debut at the Royal Exchange, Manchester with Winsome Pinnock's Rockets and Blue Lights and she returns to Bristol Old Vic – where she was a young company director – to run their Christmas show, The Little Mermaid. Cromwell's reimagining of the Arthur Miller classic with Marianne Elliott made it to the number one on our chief theatre critic's top theatre shows of 2019, so it seems a no-brainer to watch out for her in 2020. Death of a Salesman is running at the Piccadilly Theatre until 4 January. DP


10. Ross Willis

Ross Willis' debut play Wolfie was one of the most assured in years – a rollercoaster fantasy that simmered with its own unique sensibility and style. His second looks to be even more exciting – collaborating with renowned director Sally Cookson, Willis will be staging Wonder Boy at the Bristol Old Vic. It follows a young boy overcoming the stigma surrounding his stammer, and having to perform in a school production of Hamlet. Wonder Boy runs from 19 October to 9 November. AW


11. Nicola Chang

Nicola Chang
© Aks Huckleberry

As a sound designer and composer, Chang has been behind a number of highly successful Off-West End shows this year – Arinzé Kene's Little Baby Jesus (Orange Tree Theatre), The King of Hell's Palace (Hampstead Theatre), White Pearl (Royal Court), Algorithms (Soho Theatre) and William Golding's Lord of the Flies (Greenwich Theatre). Work for 2020 already includes Garden of Words (Park Theatre), Daniel York's Hidden in Screen (Southbank Centre) and Emma Dennis-Edwards' Funeral Flowers (Hackney Empire and Roundhouse). Oh and not only that, but she has also played keys in Six in the West End – what a start to the next decade! DP


12. Tarek Iskander

Tarek Iskander
© Slav Kirichok

Following in the footsteps of David Jubb, who had been artistic director of Battersea Arts Centre for 20 years, may to many be a daunting task. Not so for Tarek Iskander, who recently unveiled a cracking first season for the recently restored (and utterly gorgeous) south London venue, featuring Florencia Cordeu and Omar Elerian, Lucy McCormick, Javaad Alipoor and more. We imagine that's only the tip of the iceberg in terms of what Iskander has planned for the building. AW

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