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Looking Ahead: Theatre Highlights for 2009

Will it be a happy new year for theatregoers? Michael Coveney consults his crystal ball to see what’s coming up in 2009 in the West End & beyond, with the resurgence of West End plays versus musicals, Sam Mendes’ long-awaited Bridge Project, the continuing Donmar domination and strong seasons at other subsidised powerhouses.

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The return of the play

Apart from the long-anticipated arrival of Spring Awakening from Broadway at the Lyric Hammersmith in February and the revival of Oliver! at Drury Lane, musical theatre is stuck in movie retro groove next year, with Oz tuner Priscilla Queen of the Desert flying in at last with Jason Donovan at the Palace, Sister Act berthing at the Palladium in June and Legally Blonde expected.

Play-wise, so far the West End offers Ken Stott and Mary Elizabeth Mastrantonio in Arthur Miller’s A View from the Bridge; Alison Steadman and David Troughton in Alan Bennett’s Enjoy; a new look at Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain (starring James McAvoy and Nigel Harman); and a date with Lynda Bellingham and her fellow Calendar Girls at the Noël Coward in April.

Almeida & doubling up at the Donmar

The Almeida has announced a full year’s programme, Juliet Stevenson and Henry Goodman leading off with a revival of Tom Kempinski’s disabled artist show Duet for One, followed by new plays by Jez Butterworth, Christopher Hampton (adapting von Horvath’s Judgement Day) and Samuel Adamson, then Roger Michell directing Patrick Hamilton’s Rope.

Stir in the “Hey Jude” double act – Judi Dench (with Rosamund Pike) in Madame de Sade and Jude Law as Hamlet (both directed by Grandage) – in Michael Grandage’s continuing Donmar West End season at Wyndham’s, and add Waiting for Godot duo Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (kicking off the Theatre Royal Haymarket Company’s second year of in-house productions in May, this time helmed by Sean Mathias), and you have a healthy looking mix.

At the Donmar’s Covent Garden home base, Jonathan Pryce and Anne Reid will star in Athol Fugard’s rarely seen play Dimetos, directed by Donmar associate director Douglas Hodge, and Kfir Yefet directs a revival of Ibsen’s A Doll's House, with a cast led by former X-Files star Gillian Anderson.

Bridging the Old & Young Vic, 50 years at Hampstead

Sam Mendes’ Bridge Project at last arrives at the Old Vic in May too, Simon Russell Beale, Sinead Cusack and Ethan Hawke leading the company in The Winter's Tale and The Cherry Orchard. Before then, Old Vic artistic director Kevin Spacey directs Richard Dreyfuss, David Suchet and Elizabeth McGovern in a new play, Complicit, and Anna Mackmin revives Brian Friel’s wonderful Dancing at Lughnasa with a cast including Irish singer Andrea Corr.

Meanwhile, the Young Vic’s year begins with Pete Postlethwaite’s aged King Lear, directed by Rupert Goold, and Hampstead Theatre battles gamely on for its 50th anniversary season, presenting one play from each of its decades: Claire Price and Jasper Britton in Coward’s Private Lives for the 1960s, Michael Frayn’s Alphabetical Order for the 1970s, Frank McGuinness’ Observe the Sons of Ulster Marching Towards the Somme for the 1980s.

Around the Globe, Royal Court & RSC

The Royal Court will celebrate the work of Wallace Shawn in a spring season of plays by the American actor and playwright, comprising revivals of The Fever (starring Clare Higgins) and Aunt Dan and Lemon (starring Jane Horrocks) and Shawn’s first new play in ten years, starring the author himself alongside Miranda Richardson. Other Court highlights include: new plays by Jez Butterworth (starring Mark Rylance), That Face’s Polly Stenham and Mark Ravenhill and a season commemorating the 20th anniversary of the fall of the Berlin Wall.

Shakespeare’s Globe will stage its first full-scale Greek drama, a new version of Euripides’ Helen, and the 2009 summer season will also include a new play by Trevor Griffiths, A New World, written to commemorate the 200th anniversary of the death of Thomas Paine; a return run for Che Walker’s modern Tube-set play The Frontline; three new Shakespeare productions and a revival of the theatre’s 2007 production of Love's Labour's Lost.

Not least the National

And while the RSC hunkers down with its Stratford transfers at the Novello, the National surges ahead with Mrs Affleck, a re-write by Samuel Adamson of Ibsen’s Little Eyolf; Hytner directing Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice, a tale of East End immigrants across the centuries; Rufus Norris directing Wole Soyinka’s poetic masterpiece Death and the King's Horseman; and the ubiquitous, non-stop Goold making his NT debut with a revival of JB Priestley’s Time and the Conways. Also, Ciaran Hinds and Rory Kinnear will star in Peter Flannery’s new stage adaptation of the 1994 Oscar-winning Russian film Burnt by the Sun.

Further ahead, Helen Mirren tackles Phaedra, directed by Hytner; Bertolt Brecht’s Mother Courage and Her Children stars Fiona Shaw, directed by Deborah Warner; and there’s Shakespeare’s comedy All’s Well That Ends Well, directed by Marianne Elliott and Matt Charman’s new play The Observer, directed by former NT artistic director Richard Eyre.

A longer version of this article appears in the December/January double issue of What’s On Stage magazine, which is available now in participating theatres. Click here to thumb through our online version. And to guarantee your copy of future print editions - and also get all the benefits of our Theatre Club - click here to subscribe now!!


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