The Flick, National Theatre, Playing from April 2016.
Annie Baker might be my favourite playwright in the world. She writes with such intensive care for her characters, all of whom are as brittle and terrified as the best of us. Set in a smalltown cinema, in the gaps between films, The Flick focuses on the invisible employees that clean up your popcorn and coke spills. It’s an extraordinary play, a deserving Pulitzer Prize winner, that picks at the way we live today against a backdrop of digitisation and mechanisation. Simply unmissable.
London International Festival of Theatre (LIFT), various venues, 2 June – 2 July 2016
LIFT is, without fail, the best of the year. For 35 years, it has pushed British theatre forwards with programmes of the best theatremakers on the planet. In a few short weeks, it can transform your understanding of the art-form. The line-up’s emerging slowly, but there are some treats already on sale. Belgium’s Lies Pauwels is putting 13 year-old girls onstage with a weightlifter in The Hamilton Complex and Blitz Theatre Group, from Greece, will embody the end of an era in Late Night. Book as much as you can afford.
The Complete Deaths, Brighton Festival (7-29 May) then touring, from May 2016
Those ludicrous clowns Spymonkey have alighted on one of the best ideas ever: a death-rattle through every demise in Shakespeare – even the fly that tops it in Titus. With Tim Crouch directing, expect this devised piece to question the nature of theatre: Why it is we so enjoy watching people die? How we even start to play dead? Why some deaths are more equal than others? This being Spymonkey, however, expect it to be some of the silliest art theory ever theorised.
Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, 12 March – 13 August
Hamlet is a role for big names – Cumberbatch, Tennant, Kinnear and co. – but it’s a young man’s role. When was the last time we got to discover a great new actor in the part? Probably not since 2004 – and look what’s become of Ben Whishaw. Now it’s Paapa Essiedu – a skilful and agile Guildhall graduate – at the RSC, the first black actor to take the role in a major production since Adrian Lester. He’s joined in Simon Godwin’s all-black production by Tanya Moodie, Clarence Smith and Cyril Nri.
X, Royal Court, 30 March – 7 May
After Pomona, Pluto. Yes, Alistair McDowall – the playwright who put a time machine in a Middlesborough sink estate and dropped Cthulhu into the middle of Manchester– is taking the Royal Court into space. 'X' goes further than Matt Damon in The Martian, about three billion miles further to be precise, joining up with a crew of astronauts on Pluto that have lost contact with their home planet. Could this be the first state of the universe play?
Sans Objet, Norfolk and Norwich Festival, 17 – 18 May 2016
Had Paris won the 2012 Olympics, Aurélien Bory was set to be its Danny Boyle. You’ll understand exactly why when you see Sans Objet and it’s star, a giant robotic arm. Wrenched out of a car plant and plonked on a stage, this 12-foot metal machine takes on a life of its own. It rips up the stage. It chucks its human co-performers about. It turns out to us in the audience, LEDs like eyes and, for a second, it threatens to rampage through the auditorium and out into the city. One of my all-time favourite shows.
The Nap, Sheffield Crucible, 10 – 26 March
The Crucible leads a double life. In fact, most people know it in its other guise: as the home of snooker. It’s a bizarre sport: intense, knife-edge stuff, but formal and square too. Its mixture of the macho and the anoraky, not to mention its window onto class, makes it perfect territory for a Richard Bean play. Jack O’Connell‘s a big casting coup too. Having risen from Skins to Angelina Jolie’s Unbroken, he returns to the stage for the first time in nine years in Richard Wilson‘s production.
Made Visible, Yard Theatre, 15 March – 9 April
Deborah Pearson is a deft and diligent theatre writer; not a playwright, per se, more like an onstage essayist. Her writing always pushes itself to maximum precision. In The Future Show, for example, she tried to predict and pin down the exact chain of events that would unfold after the end of that night’s show. Detail and attention meant everything. So who better to address the question of white privilege – a real banana skin of a subject? Based on a "real encounter" in Victoria Park, or so the blurb says, Made Visible is likely to tease the listener in all manner of ways.
Kings of War, Barbican Centre, 22 April – 1 May
Having slammed together Shakespeare’s Roman tragedies to mass critical hysteria in 2009, Belgain director Ivo Van Hove brings another Bardic mash-up to the Barbican. Kings of War is a history cycle, but compressed like compacted metal: Henry V, Henry VI (Parts 1, 2 and 3) and Richard III played consecutively as an examination of the cycle of power. It’s what Trevor Nunn managed to make so dully old-fashioned in Wars of the Roses. By all accounts, Van Hove and his Toneelgroep Amsterdam cast bring it bang up to date.
Bird, Manchester Royal Exchange, 8 – 25 June 2016
The Bruntwood Prize unearthed some gems last time round: Anna Jordan’s Yen and Chris Urch’s The Rolling Stone arrive in London in January garlanded with five-star raves. Katherine Chandler’s Bird was another winner in 2013. A story of two young women on the brink of adulthood, about to leave the safety of their care home and fly their own particular nest. Chandler’s a highly-rated Welsh writer with a style that’s both lyrical and visual. The Sherman Theatre’s Rachel O’Riordan, who directed Gary Owen’s Iphigenia in Splott, directs this co-production.