You may have seen a new name on the WhatsOnStage website over the past fortnight, and that’s because there’s a new writer on the scene. Hi, I’m Sophie Thomas, and after five years in theatre journalism, I’ve just completed a two-week stint as a freelance writer covering all the latest news at WhatsOnStage. To mark the occasion, I thought I’d take a few moments to share some of the theatrical highlights that are firmly in my own 2023 theatrical diary.
It’s hard to know where to begin with theatre this year, as we’ve been spoiled for choice. Operation Mincemeat now flies the flag for homegrown shows taking over the West End. For Black Boys… and My Son’s a Queer both picked up Olivier Award nominations and highlighted the need for diverse stories in theatre. The good news isn’t limited to London though; regional theatres and UK tours continue to champion thrilling revivals: Assassins and The Lord of the Rings to name just a couple. There’s plenty of incredible new stories being told at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe. And then who can forget the WhatsOnStage Award winners?
I did say there was lots to celebrate.
As we enter the latter part of 2023, the new shows come thick and fast. The West End becomes a star-spotting paradise, thanks to Lyonesse with Lily James and Kristin Scott Thomas, and King Lear with Kenneth Branagh. Plus, there are world premieres taking place in UK theatres, and I’m already planning my cross-country trips. Here’s a few shows opening soon that I’m really looking forward to — but rest assured, I’m looking forward to everything in the coming months!
Next to Normal, from 14 August, Donmar Warehouse
It’s been a long time coming for this Broadway smash to hit our shores. But, the 14-year wait is sure to be worth it as Next to Normal commands the Donmar, an appropriately intimate space for this family drama. Caissie Levy takes the reins as Diana Goodman, a wife and mother living with bipolar disorder, in Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s Pulitzer Prize-winning musical. I’m already listening to Levy singing “I Miss the Mountains” on repeat — it’s definitely whet my appetite.
Vanya, from 28 August at Richmond Theatre, and from 15 September at Duke of York’s Theatre
There’s been an influx of one-person shows in recent months. Sheridan Smith’s Shirley Valentine transported us to Greece, Mike Birbiglia will make a splash with The Old Man and the Pool in a few weeks’ time, and Succession star Sarah Snook is set to transform The Picture of Dorian Gray into a mammoth one-woman task in 2024. But, for now, it’s Andrew Scott taking on Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya as a solo feat that’s piqued my interest. How will Simon Stephens adapt the classic text into a modern reimagination of our times, and do it in under 100 minutes? Time will tell.
Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends, from 16 September, Gielgud Theatre
I can’t ignore the three-time Tony-Award-winning actress, Bernadette Peters, commanding centre stage in a 16-week season of the celebratory Stephen Sondheim musical revue. During her career, she’s originated Sondheim roles such as Dot in Sunday in the Park with George, and the Witch in Into the Woods. The thought of catching a reprise of her stellar roles in London has me weak at the knees.
Peters is joined by a whole host of West End and Broadway legends, including Lea Salonga, Bonnie Langford, Gavin Lee, and Haydn Gwynne. I’m personally hoping for a snippet of Here We Are, Sondheim’s final musical playing at The Shed in New York this autumn. May we all be so lucky!
Sinatra The Musical, from 23 September, Birmingham Rep
Start spreading the news, there’s a Frank Sinatra musical opening today. Ok, maybe not today, but later this year! After last year’s Birmingham success with What’s New Pussycat?, Joe DiPetro returns to the Midlands with the world premiere of this jazzy jukebox musical, with Tony winner Matt Doyle donning the iconic black trilby. Plus, with Kathleen Marshall (Anything Goes) directing and choreographing, I can’t wait to see what happens. Maybe if it can make it in Birmingham, it can make it anywhere…
Dear England, from 9 October, Prince Edward Theatre
The venn diagram charting fans of theatre and football may have a small intersection. But, that’s only grown in recent months, thanks to Dear England, James Graham’s celebration of the England men’s football team under Gareth Southgate. In a five-star review during its premiere at the National Theatre, Sarah Crompton said “you’ll be left full of admiration for the way Graham has created another powerful epic for our times”. Thankfully, Dear England will go into Extra Time with a West End run at the Prince Edward Theatre. Plus, with the Lionesses still in the World Cup, it’s the perfect time for football fever to take over Theatreland.
The Witches, from 7 November, National Theatre
It seems that any Roald Dahl story adapted into a musical is worth its weight in gold. Matilda is now in its 12th year at the Cambridge Theatre, and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory continues its 18-month UK and Ireland tour. So I’m definitely intrigued about the world premiere of The Witches musical at the National Theatre this winter. Katherine Kingsley will play the Grand High Witch, an evil-spirited character who plans to turn children into mice. It shouldn’t be too scary though; there’s sure to be lots of enchanting theatre magic throughout, all helmed by director Lyndsey Turner.
Stranger Things: The First Shadow, from 17 November, Phoenix Theatre
If you’re anything like me, then you’re still blasting Kate Bush’s “Running Up That Hill” for the second consecutive summer. The 1980s track became synonymous with one of the greatest scenes in Stranger Things lore. Soon, that same lore will only grow with the official prequel to the television series, as the Duffer Brothers bring The First Shadow to London. As it’s a new show, the storyline remains under wraps, but I’m chomping at the bit for the chance to escape to Hawkins, Indiana. There may even be a new portal to the Upside Down.