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Looking Ahead: Theatre Highlights for 2011

Looking ahead to a year that will mark the centenary of Terence Rattigan, the premiere of The Wizard of Oz and Betty Blue Eyes in the West End and the unveiling of a new artistic director at the Donmar Warehouse, our chief critic Michael Coveney consults his crystal ball to predict the shows that will make a splash in 2011.

You can already mark out next year with possible highlights: Michael Sheen as Hamlet at the Young Vic, and Keira Knightley in The Children’s Hour at the Comedy (both directed by Ian Rickson); Rebecca Hall in her father’s (valedictory?) Twelfth Night at the National, where Danny Boyle directs Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, adapted by Nick Dear, in February; Lord of the Flies in Regent’s Park; Robert Lepage at the Barbican with The Blue Dragon, a coda to his masterful seven-hour Dragon’s Trilogy.

Major musicals

And the musical theatre will be rocking big time with another great showdown between Andrew Lloyd Webber and Cameron Mackintosh, producing in their own theatres. First up in February at the Palladium is Lloyd Webber’s production of The Wizard of Oz, directed by Jeremy Sams, with Michael Crawford, Hannah Waddingham and Over the Rainbow winner Danielle Hope, as well as a few new songs, we are promised.

Then, in March, Mackintosh responds with a completely homegrown musical, Betty Blue Eyes, at the Novello, an adaptation of Alan Bennett’s hilarious 1987 movie A Private Function, with a score by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe, direction by Richard Eyre and the leading roles (Maggie Smith and Michael Palin in the film) taken by Sarah Lancashire and the League of Gentlemen’s Reece Shearsmith. The time is 1947 on the eve of a royal wedding with austerity measures in place; so it’s perfect timing for next spring…

Before then, in February, Million Dollar Quartet arrives at Mackintosh’s Noël Coward Theatre, charting one legendary night in 1956 when Elvis Presley, Johnny Cash, Carl Perkins and Jerry Lee Lewis all played together in what producers hope will be the ultimate jukebox musical. And in May and June, two more massive screen-to-stage shows: Ghost the Musical at the Piccadilly and Shrek the Musical at Drury Lane. Can we wait?

Remembering Rattigan

2011 is the centenary year of the birth of Terence Rattigan, whose slow rehabilitation over the past thirty years as a master dramatist should be sealed by several events: Anne-Marie Duff in Cause Célèbre at the Old Vic (directed by Thea Sharrock) in March; the new film of The Deep Blue Sea starring Rachel Weisz and Simon Russell-Beale; several regional productions; and a curiosity, the forgotten first draft of Love in Idleness, Less Than Kind, at the Jermyn Street, with Sarah Crowe and Michael Simkins.

Noel Coward returns with Alison Steadman and Ruthie Henshall in Blithe Spirit at the Apollo in March, bolstering a West End play scene where Clybourne Park should be a huge success at the Wyndham’s in February and The Hurly Burly Show brings a touch of nice-but-naughty sleaze and sauce to the Garrick in March. The Royal Court looks set fair again with Richard Bean’s new play, The Heretic, starring Juliet Stevenson in February, followed by Katie Mitchell directing Simon StephensWastwater in April.

Decision time for the Donmar

Who will take over from Michael Grandage at the Donmar Warehouse? I’m hearing Josie Rourke or Jamie Lloyd or even Chris Rolls, an outsider who’s made a big impression. Josie will surely want to steer her Bush Theatre into its new home round the corner, while Jamie follows Passion with The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee in Earlham Street. Then comes a revival of Harold Pinter’s Moonlight before Grandage signs off with Schiller’s Luise Miller starring Felicity Jones.

The Open Air Theatre in Regent’s Park seems to be tearing up its (unwritten) charter and leaving Shakespeare to the Globe, where Dominic Dromgoole piles in with All’s Well That Ends Well and Much Ado, as well as Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus. The park is offering a kids’ version of Pericles and a strictly faithful (ie, not jazzed up) version, directed by Lucy Bailey, of John Gay’s The Beggar’s Opera, the first British musical.

The verdict is still out on Edward Hall’s new regime at Hampstead Theatre, but he starts the year promisingly with Nina Raine’s new play, Tiger Country, which is likely to ruffle feathers in the medical profession, or at least start arguments; and Mike Leigh returning to direct his 1979 play Ecstasy, a bleak and boozy night in with the Kilburn bedsit crowd. And I shall certainly be looking out for Philip Ridley’s new play, Tender Napalm, at the Southwark Playhouse in April.

Barbican bites back

Since the Royal Shakespeare Company left the Barbican and failed to establish a replacement London home (they’ve now announced a five-year tenure of the Roundhouse starting in 2012), the city arts complex has gone from strength to strength in its international programming. As well as Lepage, the Barbican is bringing Antonioni Project from Amsterdam (a stunning – I’ve seen it – conflation of three great Monica Vitti movies) in February; Peter Brook’s A Magic Flute from Paris in March (nine actors, one piano, half the fairytale, which is why it’s not “The Magic Flute”); Declan Donnellan’s Russian company in The Tempest in April; and Deborah Warner’s intriguing – what on earth will she do with it? – revival of Sheridan’s difficult masterpiece, The School for Scandal.

I cannot imagine any London theatergoer wanting to miss any of those. About Lullaby in June I’m not so sure. This is London’s first sleep-over show, presented by Duckie, and you turn up at the Barbican with your jim-jams and toothbrush and bed down with fellow punters. Critics are only welcome if they are prepared to stay the night; I’m not sure I’m ready to share my nocturnal habits – or, more to the point, those of my colleagues – with honest, hard-working London theatre buffs. We shall see...


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