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Sarah Crompton's top shows to see in 2020

The WhatsOnStage chief critic picks her favourite shows for the coming year

Jake Gyllenhaal in Sunday in the Park with George
© Matthew Murphy

With 2020 fast approaching, WhatsOnStage's chief critic Sarah Crompton has picked ten shows that she's particularly excited about.

The Welkin

The Welkin

I've come to think that Lucy Kirkwood's The Children was one of the best and most severely under-valued plays of the past decade, rivalled only by her own Chimerica. I've never not been interested by anything she's written and love the way her imagination ranges into such diverse fields. This new play, starring Maxine Peake, is set in rural Suffolk in 1759 when the country is waiting for the arrival of Halley's comet, just as a girl called Sally Poppy is put on trial for murder. The fact that it's directed by James Macdonald is another bonus. National Theatre, 15 January to 23 May


Felicity Davidson, Faye Castelow and Adrian Scarborough
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

A new play by Tom Stoppard is always an event; his first nights have brought me some of the greatest theatrical experiences of my life, thought-provoking, incisive, and often – contrary to popular belief – full of feeling. So I can't wait for this epic, that begins in Vienna in 1900 and spans 50 years as it follows a Jewish family through the early 20th century. "It's not about me but it's a play I couldn't have written if I hadn't life the life that fate has dealt me," he told me. Patrick Marber directs, Tom's son Ed is among the cast. Wyndham's Theatre, 25 January to 13 June

Far Away, Donmar Warehouse / A Number, The Bridge

Simon Manyonda, Jessica Hynes and Aisling Loftus will star in Far Away
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

It's interesting how women directors are bringing their view to our greatest living woman playwright in these two Caryl Churchill plays, the first from 2000 about a dystopian future where everything in nature is at war and the second from 2002 which takes cloning as the motor of its plot. Both still seem uncannily like warnings. Far Away is directed by Lyndsey Turner and stars Jessica Hynes and Aisling Loftus; A Number is directed by Polly Findlay and stars Roger Allam and Colin Morgan as a father and his sons. Far Away, Donmar Warehouse, 6 February to 28 March / The Bridge, London 14 February to 14 March

4000 Miles

Timothée Chalamet and Eileen Atkins
© Left: Kristin Goehring, right: Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

The almost irresistible combination of Eileen Atkins, an actress who I could watch read a computer manual, and hot Hollywood star Timothée Chalamet, who has made his name on the back of interesting career choices and even more interesting performances, is the reason to look forward to this play by Amy Herzog, which was nominated for the Pulitzer Prize for drama when it was seen on off-Broadway in 2012. They play grandmother and grandson in a production directed by Matthew Warchus. The Old Vic, 6 April to 23 May

A Doll's House

Jessica Chastain in A Doll's House
© Charlie Gray

I saw Jessica Chastain on stage in New York, where her combination of fragility and strength illuminated The Heiress, which is a pretty dusty old play. So I'm excited to see the Hollywood superstar make her UK debut in Ibsen's A Doll's House – an undoubted masterpiece – in a new version by Frank McGuinness, directed by the in-form Jamie Lloyd. I'm also looking forward to Nora: A Doll's House, Stef Smith's radical reimagining of the same play at the Young Vic, with three Noras in different eras, from 6 February to 21 March. Playhouse Theatre, London WC2, 10 June to 5 September

The Glass Menagerie

Isabelle Huppert
© Carole Bellaiche

I've been slightly out of love with the work of Ivo van Hove recently; I am still trying to forgive him for the punishing length of The Fountainhead. But Tennessee Williams' The Glass Menagerie is one of my favourite plays, full of the empathy van Hove's own adaptations can sometimes lack and the idea of seeing Isabelle Huppert on stage, with the Odéon-Théâtre de L'Europe, playing Amanda, the determined mother of two lost adult children, is a very enticing prospect. Barbican Theatre, 5 to 11 June

Sunday in the Park with George

Jake Gyllenhaal and Annaleigh Ashford in the New York production of Sunday in the Park with George
(© Matthew Murphy)

Sometimes, when the world seems very bleak, I play "Sunday" from Stephen Sondheim's musical about the painter Georges Seurat just to cheer myself up. The idea of a painter transforming the world by his art is a magical one and this is a show full of wonderful tunes – "Finishing the Hat", "Children and Art" – as well as profound words of wisdom. Add in the prospect of seeing Jake Gyllenhaal in this transfer from Broadway and it was one of the first shows on my must-see list. Savoy Theatre, 11 June to 5 September

Life of Pi

The previous cast of Life of Pi
© Johan Persson

Lolita Chakrabati's adaptation of Yann Martel's Booker prize-winning novel won five-star reviews all round when it premiered at Sheffield Theatres last year. But it had a frustratingly short run, which made it hard to catch. So its London transfer is much-anticipated, especially by me; I didn't much like the film but I love the sound of the stage show, directed by Max Webster, with puppet and movement director Finn Caldwell in charge of conjuring the animals. Wyndham's Theatre, London, 22 June to 4 October


Cush Jumbo in Hamlet
© Dean Chalkley

Women in leading Shakespearean roles are becoming – thankfully – less of a sensation than they used to be. But that doesn't lessen my excitement about seeing Cush Jumbo take on Hamlet under the direction of Greg Hersov. Anyone who saw her as Mark Antony in the Donmar's groundbreaking all-female Shakespeare Trilogy will remember just how potent and dangerous she made Shakespeare feel; she wanted to play Hamlet then, and now she gets the opportunity. Young Vic, 6 July to 22 August

Romeo and Juliet

Jessie Buckley and Josh O'Connor
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

The National under Rufus Norris is sometimes accused of lacking star power. If so, this production is designed to silence doubters by casting two of the most exciting young talents around – Jessie Buckley who seems omnipresent, and Josh O'Connor who has just played Prince Charles in The Crown – to star as the star cross'd lovers in a production directed by Simon Godwin (for my money, one of the best Shakespearean directors around at the moment.) It might even convince me to revise my opinion that this is a play that's invariably better as a ballet. National Theatre, summer

An addendum:

I apologise for the London-centric nature of this list, but it does genuinely represent the theatre I am most likely to see, since it is increasingly hard to get to things out of London. Here's a link to a piece that I wrote about that.

But of regional shows that have been announced, I am hoping to catch Rockets and Blue Lights, a new play by Winsome Pinnock, at the Royal Exchange, Manchester, and Monsoon Wedding, Mira Nair's adaptation of her film, at Leeds Playhouse.