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Looking Ahead: Theatre Highlights for 2012

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With new blockbuster musicals, artistic directors and, of course, the Olympic Games on the horizon for 2012, our chief critic Michael Coveney dusts off his crystal ball to see what's in store for theatregoers in the coming 12 months...

How many more musicals can London support? Matilda the Musical and Crazy For You are the hits of the moment, but neither is sold out, and they are soon to be joined by two big, equally attractive imports from last summer’s Chichester Festival, Singin' in the Rain at the Palace in February, and Sweeney Todd at the Adelphi in March.

Adam Cooper stars in the first and has already been described by one critic as better than Gene Kelly in the movie, which is some claim. Sweeney, directed by Jonathan Kent, stars Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton, both rapturously acclaimed at Chichester and determined to prove that Stephen Sondheim’s darkest score is not necessarily box office poison.

Completing a trio of American classics, and resorting to a celluloid model once more, the touring production of Top Hat with Tom Chambers and Summer Strallen sashays into the Aldwych in May. Will Tom and Summer be as good as Fred and Ginger? The Irving Berlin songs from that sublime movie will be supplemented with ten more from the Berlin back catalogue. Word on the road is fairly promising.

Sometime soon we should hear more about the two big musical projects announced for later next year: From Here to Eternity, with music and lyrics by unknown Stuart Brayson (with extra lyrics by Tim Rice, who’s also co-producing), directed by Tamara Harvey. But will anyone erase, or compare with, the memory of Burt Lancaster and Deborah Kerr rolling on the sand at the edge of the surf together in the movie?

The other big musical is Viva Forever, based on the Spice Girls pop songs, and produced by Judy Craymer, her first show since Mamma Mia!. Marianne Elliott was slated to direct but she’s withdrawn, with no-one else announced as yet.

London 2012

Another directorial replacement affects the London 2012 Festival, part of the cultural Olympiad, at the Barbican: Luc Bondy withdrew from directing Cate Blanchett in Martin Crimp’s new version of Botho Strauss’s Big and Small (first and last seen in London starring Glenda Jackson), and he’s replaced by Benedict Andrews. Cate comes from Sydney with the show in April, her first London stage appearance since knocking us dead in a revival of David Hare’s Plenty; coltish, she was, and bang on the money.

Other Festival highlights at the Barbican include the five-hour opera Einstein on the Beach by Philip Glass and Robert Wilson in May; Complicité’s production of Mikhail Bulgakov’s masterpiece The Master and Margarita - and that is not about Noël Coward having a cocktail - in March; the Pina Bausch dance programme in June; and Juliette Binoche - like Cate, a true movie star with genuine stage glamour - in Strindberg’s Mademoiselle Julie in September.

There are already rumblings that the Olympics are going to cause a major downturn in West End attendance figures, and some theatres may even shut up shop. But not before Tyne Daly and David Haig arrive in January in their respective revivals of Terrence McNally’s Master Class (the one about Maria Callas) at the Vaudeville and Alan Bennett’s The Madness of George III at the Apollo.

And we must remain optimistic about two more big West End revivals: Lindsay Duncan and Jeremy Northam in Coward’s Hay Fever, directed by Howard Davies, suitably enough, at the Noël Coward; and, in April, David Suchet and electrifying newcomer Kyle Soller in Anthony Page’s production of Eugene O’Neill’s poetic misery-fest, Long Day’s Journey Into Night.

Some of the shows predicted to make a splash in 2012

Creative collaborations

The off-West End and subsidised sectors, collaborating with foreign companies, are piling up the options for adventurous customers. An enterprise called World Stage London, for instance, offers Jung Chang’s famous novel Wild Swans in a stage version with the American Repertory Theatre in Boston at the Young Vic in April; a new Simon Stephens play, Three Kingdoms, in a co-production from Munich, in May; and a Palestinian import, The Beloved at the Bush.

And then there is the massive World Shakespeare Festival kicking off at the Globe in April, featuring 37 international companies in all 37 plays in 37 different languages: a Sudanese Cymbeline, a Chinese Richard III, The Comedy of Errors from Afghanistan (as opposed to the comedy of errors in (itals) Afghanistan), an Iraqi Romeo and Juliet and an RSC co-production with the Wooster Group in New York of Troilus and Cressida, which should set the cat among the pigeons.

You’re probably relieved to learn that Simon Russell Beale will play the lead in Timon of Athens at the National, Meera Syal an RSC Beatrice in Much Ado, and Jonathan Pryce, a no doubt ferocious King Lear, at the Almeida. In Stratford-upon-Avon, the RSC is presenting a three-play season titled “What Country Friends Is This?” with a permanent company: The Comedy of Errors, Twelfth Night and The Tempest (with Jonathan Slinger as Malvolio and Prospero) will come to the Roundhouse later in the year.

Changing of the guard

We hold our collective breath for new regimes at the Donmar, the Bush and the Tricycle. Madani Younis and Indhu Rubasingham - many congratulations, and good luck to both - have yet to declare their hands at the Bush and the Tricycle, but Rourke rushes right in at the Donmar with the Restoration masterpiece The Recruiting Officer by George Farquhar in May followed by Friedrich Dürrenmatt’s The Physicists (an early RSC success at the Aldwych) in June; in between, Peter Gill will direct Robert Holman’s Making Noise Quietly (a Bush play in 1986).

New plays to look out for at the Royal Court include David Eldridge’s In Basildon, Mike Bartlett’s Love Love Love (in a new production following last year’s tour) and Joe Penhall’s Birthday. And the irrepressible, ageless Nicholas Wright has a new play, Travelling Light starring Antony Sher, about immigrants in Hollywood, at the National in the New Year.

Revivals to relish

Intriguing revivals in the early part of the National’s year include Errol John’s Moon on a Rainbow Shawl and Jamie Lloyd’s NT debut with Oliver Goldsmith’s tricky comedy She Stoops to Conquer. Lloyd has obviously decided to sort out the tough classics: he’s also doing The School for Scandal for Danny Moar’s summer season at the Theatre Royal, Bath.

Yet more changes afoot at the Open Air, Regent’s Park, where the season running from May to September will comprise just two shows, playing in repertory: A Midsummer Night’s Dream and the Broadway musical Ragtime. The creative team for both, one of the most potent in town, is that of Timothy Sheader and his co-director Liam Steel, and designer Jon Bausor.

And Joely Richardson must be making history at the Rose, Kingston, in February, when she opens as Ellida Wangel in Ibsen’s The Lady from the Sea, a role played formerly by both her mother, Vanessa Redgrave, and her sister, the late Natasha Richardson. If she can amalgamate the considerable virtues of both interpretations, and add her own ingredient, that should be some special performance. It’s certainly some special play.


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