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Top shows to see in 2018

Sarah Crompton picks the shows that she's excited for this year

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Carey Mulligan
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Girls and Boys

Royal Court, from 8 February to 17 March

I love watching Carey Mulligan on stage – her performances have such subtlety – and I can't wait to see her in Dennis Kelly's dark monologue which describes how a woman meets her future husband in an airline queue and then tracks the development and ultimate disintegration of their relationship. The fact that Lyndsey Turner is the director and Es Devlin the designer are added bonuses.

The Way of the World at the Donmar Warehouse
© Elvind Hansen

The Way of the World

Donmar Warehouse, from 29 March to 26 May

At a time when contemporary theatre is poor at presenting the classical repertory, I am fascinated by Josie Rourke's consistent backing of Restoration comedy. Congreve's Way of the World was a staple of theatre until the latter half of the 20th century; it gave Maggie Smith one of her most celebrated roles. But it is rarely seen today so this is an opportunity to check whether its deliberate artifice and stylisation can stand up to the modern gaze. James Macdonald directs; Linda Bassett takes on the terrifying Lady Wishfort.

The four Macbeths: Anne Marie-Duff, Rory Kinnear, Niamh Cusack and Christopher Ecclestone
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage


National Theatre from Feb 26/ RSC from March 13

After a stream of Hamlets, this is the year that Shakespeare's Scottish play gets two rival productions from our two biggest theatres. The National has Rufus Norris as director and Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff as the murderous couple. The RSC version is directed by Polly Findlay and stars Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack. Other points of interest: this is only the second time Norris has directed Shakespeare; it's Eccleston's RSC debut; and Kinnear and Duff first played the Macbeths at the RSC, taking on the dagger scene in a gala to mark the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death.

Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich

The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich

RSC Swan Theatre, from 23 March to 14 June

A clever bit of retitling changes The Beau Defeated into the infinitely more appealing The Fantastic Follies of Mrs Rich and brings the lost work of Mary Pix to the RSC stage in the hands of director Jo Davies. Pix was a Restoration wit whose reputation waned much faster than that of Congreve so it will be interesting to see whether this revival restores her fortunes. The play, written in 1700, is about a rich widow on the lookout for a title and a mate.

Cillian Murphy
© Tim Cornbill

Grief Is The Thing With Feathers

Black Box Theatre, Galway /O'Reilly Theatre Dublin, from 16 March / 28 March

If I am honest, the simple presence of Cillian Murphy in the cast is enough to make this one of my potential highlights of 2018. But the fact that it is based on Max Porter's heartbreaking book about a widower and his two sons, is produced by Complicité, and adapted and directed by the wonderful Enda Walsh (Murphy's friend and regular collaborator) all make me feel that this could be a staggering production. After opening at the Galway Festival, it tours extensively.

Natasha Gordon
© Dan Wooller

Nine Night

National Theatre, from 21 April to 26 May

The National has a lot of epic productions, including Sam Mendes's direction of The Lehman Trilogy coming up this year, but this smaller affair is the play that catches my eye. It marks the playwriting debut of actress Natasha Gordon, and concerns the family rituals surrounding the death of a Jamaican grandmother – a nine night wake. Roy Alexander Weise directs a cast that includes Cecilia Nobel and Franc Ashman.

Maxine Peake in Happy Days
© Royal Exchange

Happy Days

Royal Exchange, from 25 May to 23 June

I am never sure what I think of Samuel Beckett's Happy Days, that mordant poem in which a woman, up to her waist in sand, talks happily of her life as the sand rises and hope seems elusive. But I am always riveted by it and I can't wait to see a production in which director Sarah Frankcom and actress Maxine Peake continue their fruitful artistic collaboration which has already seen them tackle other great plays such as Hamlet and A Streetcar Named Desire – always with revealing effects.

Kate Prince
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage


Old Vic, from 1 September to 22 September

One of the Old Vic's interesting innovations under Matthew Warchus's artistic directorship has been to bring dance and theatre closer together. It is in the bones of the theatre to do so; this was after all the place from which Lilian Baylis commissioned Ninette de Valois to start the dance company that became the Royal Ballet. So it is great that as part of the Old Vic's bicentenary season, the choreographer Kate Prince, who created such successful shows as Into the Hoods and Some Like It Hip Hop, has been commissioned to write (with Priya Parmar), direct and choreograph a musical about the life of Sylvia Pankhurst, the most interesting and the most left-wing of the campaigning Pankhurst family.

Rosalie Craig and Patti LuPone
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage


Gielgud Theatre, from 26 September

Marianne Elliott's determination to put women at the heart of her new company takes on a tantalising incarnation as Rosalie Craig becomes the first woman to play Bobby in Stephen Sondheim's musical Company. The switch, which has Sondheim's blessing and collaboration, is certain to cast his stupendously clever show about a 35-year-old sophisticate facing a mid-life crisis and seeking love in a new and dazzling light. Patti LuPone is the other cast member announced at this stage.

Matthew Dunster, Jim Broadbent and Martin McDonagh
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

A Very Very Very Dark Matter

Bridge Theatre, from 10 October to 29 December

The combination of the dark imaginations of playwright Martin McDonagh and the storyteller Hans Christian Andersen, who led an extraordinary and in many ways tragic life, is one of the most enticing prospects of the entire year. In fact, I can hardly wait for it to open. But I will have to. The great Jim Broadbent stars and Matthew Dunster directs.

Tom Burke
© Dan Wooller for WhatsOnStage

Don Carlos

Exeter Northcott / NST City / Rose Theatre, from 11 October / 23 October / 6 November

I am full of admiration for the way the actor Tom Burke is putting his not inconsiderable star power behind this revival of Friedrich Schiller's classic play, directed by Gadi Roll and translated by Robert David MacDonald. The epic themes of freedom and equality that shiver through the piece, and the part of Rodrigo, Marquis of Posa, dreamer and revolutionary, should fit Burke like a well-cut suit. The fact that the play tours to Nuffield Southampton Theatre and The Rose, Kingston after its Exeter opening is an added bonus.