Michael Coveney: Savile play joins the queue of hits and disasters in the wings

The glut of Spring and Summer openings will include a controversial new drama about Jimmy Savile

Too soon? The poster image for An Audience with Jimmy Savile
Too soon? The poster image for An Audience with Jimmy Savile

"April is the cruellest month," begins T S Eliot's The Wasteland, "breeding lilacs out of the dead land, mixing memory and desire, stirring dull roots with spring rain." It's a good way of summarising a busy month of theatre openings, though June is already busting out all over, as they sing in Carousel, with news of a play that month about Jimmy Savile, the posthumously disgraced disc jockey.

Savile, who died in October 2011, was soon outed as a sexual predator and child abuser, and the charges against him now stand in their hundreds. Jonathan Maitland's play, An Audience with Jimmy Savile, opens at the Park Theatre in Finsbury Park, north London, on 10 June. The satirical impersonator Alistair McGowan will no doubt be donning a flaxen wig and hospital overalls (many of Savile's alleged crimes took place in Leeds General Infirmary and Broadmoor and Stoke Mandeville Hospitals), clenching a phallic cigar in his chops like some inane, oversexed and sordid Andrew Aguecheek ("I was adored once, too").

But do we really want to see, hear, or know anything more about Savile? And surely it's too close to the controversy and outrage for a theatrical riff on the subject? Maitland's play, though, is likely, by the sound of it, and on the evidence of his current debut piece at the Park, Dead Sheep, to be a reasonably sober-sided documentary piece of reportage, using material from transcripts, interviews and television shows (even the BBC draws the line at showing ancient Top of the Pops segments featuring Savile).

The only time Savile was remotely involved in the theatre was when members of the RSC wrote off to his television participation programme, Jim'll Fix It, asking for an audience with their own hectically busy boss, Trevor Nunn. Jim didn't oblige in this instance, but he did make a lot of other young people's dreams come true in between, we now assume, turning a lot of those dreams into nightmares.

Alan Bennett was no fan of fellow Yorkshireman Savile's even when his reputation was intact, expressing a sort of pained and stifled astonishment at the vulgarity of Savile's over-decorated golden coffin as it departed the Queen's Hotel in Leeds for a triumphal ceremony in the city's cathedral, the streets lined with thousands of fans and well-wishers. They've all changed their tune now.

In the light of the revelations about Savile, Bennett was asked if he'd re-write the role of Hector – the schoolmaster who's forced to resign for fondling his teenage pupils riding postilion on his motorbike – in The History Boys, probably the biggest and most commercially successful NT presentation of the Hytner years (it opened in 2004). He refused point blank. These things are part of everyday life in public school locker rooms across the country.

Imelda Staunton in Gypsy
'Tails off into mere brilliance' – Imelda Staunton in Gypsy
© Johan Persson

I've got at least three April openings a day on most days written into my diary: the business end comes quickly next week with Roald Dahl's The Twits, "mischievously" adapted by Enda Walsh, at the Royal Court (a project, it now transpires, that was instigated by Dahl's own estate); Imelda Staunton in Gypsy at the Savoy – a musical, said Kenneth Tynan, that tails off in the second act into mere brilliance; Owen McCafferty's Death of a Comedian at the Soho; and Simon Stephens' Carmen Disruption at the Almeida.

I’m particularly looking forward to Shakespeare at the end of the week: Declan Donnellan's Measure for Measure with his Russian company at the Silk Street, Barbican; and James Dacre's revival of King John, an underrated play that always goes well in the theatre, which I'm catching at the last of its Temple Church performances in the City of London before it decamps to another church in Northampton.

Then there is Janie Dee in the beautiful Eugene O'Neill play Ah, Wilderness! at the Young Vic; two other favourite actors, Clare Higgins and Greg Hicks, in Clarion, a political comedy about yet another power-crazy newspaper editor – on "Britain’s worst newspaper" (the author, Mark Jagasia, used to work on the Daily Express) – who dresses up as Julius Caesar on the weekends; Damian Lewis swearing his head off in David Mamet's blistering American Buffalo at Wyndham's; the re-opening of the Lyric, Hammersmith, with the surprise choice of Bugsy Malone, no doubt hoping to take the craze for musical theatre children (Billy Elliot, Matilda, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) to new heights; and Jonathan Pryce and his daughter Phoebe playing father and daughter, Shylock and Jessica, in The Merchant of Venice at Shakespeare's Globe.

Somehow, I've also got to fit in Doris Lessing's Each His Own at the Orange Tree in Richmond, Surrey, and my mother's funeral in Leigh-on-Sea, Essex, but I'm only certain to catch one of those two last gasp events.