Matt Trueman: ten shows I'm looking forward to in 2018
The WhatsOnStage critic picks his top recommendations for the next 12 months
The Storm Cycle I & II
Ceredigion and Cardiff, from 15 February
Mike Pearson and Mike Brookes have turned in some of National Theatre Wales' most epic work. Their vast site-specific shows, The Persians, Coriolan/us and their acclaimed Iliad, have tied today's world to that of antiquity and their new three-year project, a cycle of six multimedia shows across the entire country, will do the same. Starting with a take on Ovid's Metamorphosis, The Storm Cycle will swing into the Cardiff riots of 1919 and on from there in what promises to be a wildly ambitious study of history's tempestuous times.
Barbican Centre, from 24 January
Belgian dance theatre company Peeping Tom refract motherhood into a myriad in this woozy, bamboozling surrealist show. Set in an art gallery where paintings bleed, coffee machines seduce and children live their whole lives in incubators, it's an entrancing, alluring and disarming watch – richly comic and horribly queasy. A real treat at the London International Mime Festival.
The Great Wave
National Theatre, from 10 March
Rufus Norris's National looks epic this year. Sam Mendes is directing a vast trilogy expounding the history of the Lehmann Brothers, but it's Francis Turnly's expansive family drama about life in – and outside of – North Korea that really intrigues. The regime's propaganda machine, its lies about life elsewhere, makes North Korea strangely hyper-real – less a nation-state than a staged nation. Where better to explore it than in theatre? It's not like you can visit.
New Vic, from 28 March
This year marks the 250th anniversary of British circus – and the nationwide celebrations will make a welcome change from the serial Shakespeare ceremonials we're subjected too. Six cities around the country will lead the festivities and conjure the full range of ringside excitement – from old-school big tops to contemporary artistry. It's a thriving art-form. For evidence, look no further than NoFitState's new show LEXICON – a show that will start with circus history and looks to its future.
A Monster Calls
Bristol Old Vic / Old Vic London, from 31 May / 7 July
I heart Sally Cookson. Her Jane Eyre set hearts fluttering all over the country. Her recent evocation of Narnia bewitched us with rough magic. Next up: Patrick Ness's devastating child's eye view of grief A Monster Calls at two Old Vics – Bristol and London. With its unshakeable faith in the power of stories and the way it spins a psychological reality into a fly-by-night fantasy, it's surely found its ideal interpreter.
Battersea Arts Centre/New Diorama/HOME, from 5 February/12 May/14 June
Among the most exciting emerging companies around, Breach Theatre has a sharp sense of the oddities of re-enactment. Their debut tried to trace the truths behind the Battle of the Beanfield, before Tank staged a '60s story of scientists communing with dolphins. This time, they're looking ahead – to the way we rehearse our responses to imagined emergencies. In our age of anxiety, threat levels constantly on guard, it's should be fruitful material.
The Paper Man
Norfolk and Norwich, from 14 May
The mighty Improbable should be national treasures by now. After a brief foray into astonishing operas – including one for infants – they're back in small-scale theatre with this story of a sportsman who stood up to the Nazi regime. A footballing tale told by a team of women, it headlines the Norfolk and Norwich Festival in May. The company have a cracking track record with stationery incidentally. Sticky, back in the day, created a spectacular cityscape out of sellotape. What they'll do with reams of paper is anyone's guess.
The Brothers Size
Young Vic, from 19 January
Long before Tarell Alvin McCraney's star shot through the roof with his Oscar-winning screenplay Moonlight, the Young Vic was an ardent supporter. This January, it's reviving his wrenching tale of two brothers torn apart – one a realist, the other a dreamer. Bijan Sheibani's star's on the up too, after Barbershop Chronicles, and his spare, rich staging should be motored by magnificent performances. Sope Dirisu arrives fresh from the RSC's Coriolanus, while the electrifying Anthony Welsh returns to the role he played the first time around.
The Almighty Sometimes
Royal Exchange Manchester, from 9 February
The Bruntwood Prize throws up some of the most unusual scripts around, and Kendall Feaver's play about the ways in which we medicate mental health sounds as fascinating as it does formally daring. Starring the ever-fixating Julie Hesmondhalgh, The Almighty Sometimes shows a series of events as perceived by different people and different brains as a young woman with bipolar disorder comes off the drugs that have defined her life to date.
Five Easy Pieces
Unicorn Theatre, from 27 April
After a false start last year, Milo Rau's controversial performance piece finally makes it to the Unicorn. The children's theatre's outgoing artistic director Purni Morell introduced a strand of programming aimed at adults and its born fruit again and again. Five Easy Pieces promises something complex and challenging, as the Swiss director puts police statements about an infamous Belgian serial killer into the mouths of children.