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Looking Ahead: Theatre Highlights for 2008

Will it be a happy new year for theatregoers? Michael Coveney & Terri Paddock consult the stars to see what’s coming up in 2008 in the West End & beyond, with plenty of plays, big name actors & the ascendancy of the Donmar.

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Plays to please

The Theatre Royal Haymarket’s establishment of a permanent company under the direction of Jonathan Kent was rightly named one of the Theatre Events of the Year for 2007 in the Whatsonstage.com Awards. And it will remain a focus of attention in 2008, with Eileen Atkins heading the cast in Edward Bond’s black social comedy The Sea and Ruthie Henshall taking the title role in Marguerite by Les Misérables by writers Alain Boublil, Claude-Michel Schonberg and Herbert Kretzmer and with a score by Michel Legrand.

The first two big new plays of the year at the Royal Court will be David Hare’s The Vertical Hour starring beautiful Indira Varma and Anton Lesser in January and Martin Crimp’s The City in March. In the Jerwood Upstairs, the Court persists with two of its Young Writers Programme graduates, Levi David Addai, in a play set in Oxford Street, and Mike Bartlett whose Contractions will be staged in the theatre’s offices.

Kevin Spacey appears alongside fellow Hollywood star Jeff Goldblum in David Mamet’s Speed-the-Plow at the Old Vic in February and will then present Peter Hall’s acclaimed Theatre Royal Bath production of Pygmalion with Tim Pigott-Smith and Michelle Dockery in May. Hall’s Felicity Kendal-led production of Noel Coward’s The Vortex is also due at the West End’s Apollo in February, the same month that Kneehigh’s new adaptation of another Coward classic Brief Encounter, the 1945 film based on his 1935 one-act play Still Life, takes residence at the newly established theatrical venue, The Cinema on Haymarket.

The Kneehigh is presented in the West End by the ever-savvy commercial producers David Pugh and Dafydd Rogers who, in March, will also premiere what will surely be one of the year’s hottest play tickets: Art author Yasmina Reza’s new comedy, The God of Carnage, starring Ralph Fiennes, Tamsin Greig, Ken Stott and Janet McTeer.

Other West End arrivals to look out for include Penelope Keith in Peter Gill’s revival of Wilde classic The Importance of Being Earnest, a starry double bill of Harold Pinter’s rarely seen one-act plays The Lover and The Collection, the Young Vic transfer of a sublime South African version of The Magic Flute and, further ahead, Roy Dotrice reprising his John Aubrey in Patrick Garland’s one-man play Brief Lives 40 years after he originated the role.

Subsidised servings

Highlights opening the National’s new year include Simon Russell Beale in a Nicholas Hytner-directed revival of George Bernard Shaw’s Major Barbara and new plays by Roy Williams, Dennis Kelly, Lin Coghlan and Lucinda Coxon. But all eyes will be on the Donmar Warehouse, where Michael Grandage’s programme includes Arthur Miller’s rarely seen fable The Man Who Had All the Luck followed by a revival of Peter Gill’s 1976 Cardiff idyll Small Change and Edith Bagnold’s last hurrah in the West End in 1956, The Chalk Garden, starring Penelope Wilton.

At the end of the year, the Donmar expands into the West End at Wyndham’s Theatre, offering Kenneth Branagh in Chekhov’s Ivanov and Derek Jacobi as Malvolio in Twelfth Night for next Christmas. (If you’ve got a two-year forward planner, make a note of March and June 2009 for Judi Dench in Madame de Sade and Jude Law in Hamlet, respectively.)

Meanwhile, the Barbican theatre programme looks as adventurous as ever, with controversial German director Thomas Ostermeier returning with a contemporary version of Hedda Gabler in late February, and Cheek by Jowl bringing its Russian ensemble production of Boris Godunov in May. And there are rich pickings in the upcoming seasons at Almeida (Helen McCrory and Paul Hilton in Rosmersholm), the Lyric Hammersmith (the 50th anniversary of Pinter’s The Birthday Party at its birthplace), the Young Vic (Jane Horrocks in in Brecht’s The Good Soul of Szechuan) and Hampstead (a Russian-themed quintuplet) theatres as well.

Musical matters

Trevor Nunn stays on at the New London after the RSC season there to direct a new musical version of Gone with the Wind, starring Jill Paice as Scarlett O’Hara. The last time this epic hit the stage, at Drury Lane, a horse dropped a steaming packet on the first night and Bonnie Langford screeched childishly at the burning of Atlanta. Noel Coward remarked that if they’d shoved Bonnie’s head up the horse’s posterior they would have solved two problems at once.

At some stage, we should hear about Andrew Lloyd Webber’s sequel to The Phantom of the Opera. Never Forget, the feelgood Take That back catalogue show, is already booked into the Savoy in May, and Priscilla Queen of the Desert, the Australian stage musical based on the 1994 movie, ought to bring glamour to Theatreland come the autumn.

Never Forget will struggle against one of the best compilation shows ever, Jersey Boys, at the Prince Edward from the end of February. The great thing about Jersey Boys, which I saw in New York, is how it tells the story of the Four Seasons from four different viewpoints and you don’t even hear a hit song for the first 20 minutes. It’s a play with music, in fact.

The musical I really look forward to is the Tony-garlanded Spring Awakening, the surprise Broadway smash hit (I loved it over there) pulsating with new musical theatre talent that brings Wedekind’s 1891 shocker of repressed adolescent sexuality right into the mainstream rock musical tradition of Hair and Rent. Where and when exactly these will turn up in the West End remains to be seen.

A version of this article appears in the December / January issue of What’s on Stage magazine (formerly Theatregoer), which is out now in participating theatres. Click here to thumb through our online edition. And to guarantee your copy of future print editions - and also get all the benefits of our Theatregoers’ Club - click here to subscribe!


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