Michael Coveney: what to look forward to in 2016

WhatsOnStage critic Michael Coveney rounds up next year’s theatre offerings

Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mrs Henderson Presents and Ralph Fiennes in The Master Builder
Chitty Chitty Bang Bang, Mrs Henderson Presents and Ralph Fiennes in The Master Builder

There are probably good reasons why Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – inspirationally cast with Jamie Parker, Noma Dumezweni and Paul Thornley as the grown-up versions of Harry, Hermione and Ron Weasley — will open at the Palace in June, as opposed to the much larger capacity Palladium, where Andrew Lloyd Webber (who owns the venue) will be bringing his School of Rock, which is Matilda Mark 2 with heavy metal attitude.

One is that Harry Potter is in two parts on two separate evenings, which might be confusing for audiences, though Potter-mania should obliterate that as a problem. Another might be that the adaptation is by the writer/director team of Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, who are fairly high end, conceptual artists; their collaboration on Let the Right One In was brilliant, but Tiffany’s work on another children’s classic, The Twits of Roald Dahl, with another Royal Court-type writer, Enda Walsh, was pretty disastrous.

We shall see, and read and hear, lots more over the coming weeks. Musical theatre fans will have plenty more to get excited about with Mrs Henderson Presents, arriving from the Theatre Royal, Bath, Motown The Musical (how can that be a dud?) and Disney’s Aladdin with some of the lyrics by Tim Rice. They have to wait until 2017 when Cameron Mackintosh brings the hottest property of all, Lin-Manuel Miranda‘s Hamilton, from New York.

First time round, Jesus Christ Superstar was performed in huge open-air arenas in the United States before it even opened on Broadway, so it will be fascinating to see this glorious piece in Regent’s Park this summer. By then, the Shakespearean battle of the history plays will have been joined at the Barbican between the RSC – David Tennant returning as Richard II — and Ivo van Hove‘s Toneelgroep Amsterdam bringing their Kings of War, which comprises severely edited versions of Henry V and Henry VI followed by a truly remarkable, domesticated Richard III.

Ibsen and Pinter are revived at the Old Vic, with Ralph Fiennes in The Master Builder and Timothy Spall (can’t wait for this) in The Caretaker, while John Osborne strikes back with Kenneth Branagh soft-shoe shuffling up to the plate as Archie Rice in The Entertainer at the Garrick. Paul Rhys, a really fine actor, lean and lanky, is surprise casting as Uncle Vanya at the Almeida; Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville are equally unexpected somnambulists in Eugene O’Neill’s masterpiece Long Day's Journey into Night, directed at the Bristol Old Vic by Richard Eyre.

The National under Rufus Norris is striking out boldly, though it’s still hard to see where their next "essential" (according to departing chairman John Makinson) crowd-pleasing money-maker is coming from. Not from Ma Rainey's Black Bottom, surely, despite the star presence of Sharon D Clarke in the lead; the NT is a bit coy about mentioning that they did August Wilson’s play back in 1989.

Also at the NT, Katie Mitchell is reviving Sarah Kane’s terrific Cleansed (with a sadistic janitor called Tinker whom I like to think was named for Jack Tinker, one of the critics who rubbished Blasted on its first night); Yaël Farber directs Lorraine Hansberry’s Les Blancs, set in an African country on the brink of civil war; and Suhayla El-Bushra (a core writer on Hollyoaks) re-imagines Nikolai Erdman‘s great Russian classic The Suicide (a signature role for the late Roger Rees at the RSC and already "freely adapted" by Moira Buffini as Dying For Love at the Almeida in 2007) and, according to the NT, "smashes it into contemporary Britain." So we continue dragging the classics into "our" realities instead of going towards them to discover their innate value and characteristics and, in so doing, a more intelligent reason for their current application.

I hear good reports of Peter Brook’s The Battlefield, coming to the Young Vic, and fully expect Samuel West to be a perfect Gary Essendine in Noël Coward’s Present Laughter in Bath, and the peerless Isabelle Huppert – first and last seen on the London stage in Schiller’s Mary Stuart – a stupendous Phaedra(s) at the Barbican, directed by Polish genius Krzysztof Warlikowski. Royal & Derngate, Northampton, offers another attractive programme including a revival of Peter Whelan’s marvellous play about Shakespeare, The Herbal Bed; Roy Williams‘s new Marvin Gaye show, Soul; and Michael Pennington as King Lear, before going on the road.

Big tours abound, notably Pixie Lott as Holly Golightly in Truman Capote’s Breakfast at Tiffany's, coming into the Haymarket (where the same play flopped with Anna Friel in the nude in 2009) for three months in June; Graham Seed in Terence Rattigan’s Flare Path from January to May; and Jason Manford, Michelle Collins and Phil Jupitus heading up Chitty Chitty Bang Bang between February and November.