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Take Ten ... London Autumn Season Highlights

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As the nights draw in and the distractions of summer pass, here's a run down of ten highlights of London's autumn theatre season.

Cambridge Theatre

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s acclaimed stage adaptation of Roald Dahl's classic children’s book, Matilda, opens in the West End on 22 November 2011 (previews from 18 October) after a successful run in Stratford last Christmas.

Writer Dennis Kelly, who has previously gained accolades for Taking Care of Baby and Orphans, among others, adapts the piece for the musical stage with Australian comedian and musician Tim Minchin.

Many of the original cast reprise their roles, including Lauren Ward as Miss Honey and Bertie Carvel as Miss Trunchbull, in the story of a young girl down trodden by her repulsive family and headmistress, but who is actually a genius with magical abilities.

Theatre Royal Haymarket

Recently retired from playing Lord Voldemort in the Harry Potter film series, Ralph Fiennes returns to the stage as Prospero in Trevor Nunn's latest Theatre Royal Haymarket production. The third in his year-long residency at the venue, this marks the first time Nunn has helmed a production of the play.

The Tempest - set on an island inhabited by magical beings and spirits that can be controlled and manipulated by the magical Prospero - opened at the Haymarket on 6 September (previews 27 August 2011), with a cast which also includes Only Fools and Horses' Nicholas Lyndhurst as the jester Trinculo.

Lyric Hammersmith

Writer Edward Bond is allowing this controversial play its first public outing in 25 years. Opening on 13 October (previews from 6 October 2011), Saved is a look at the moral black hole in poorer communities of 1960s London.

Originally censored during debut run because of violent scenes, including the stoning to death of a baby, the play helped curtail the Lord Chamberlain's control over the British stage.

This production is directed as part of Sean Holmes third season as artistic director at the Lyric Hammersmith with a cast lead by Michael Feast.

Wyndham’s Theatre

Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones bring the Broadway revival of Driving Miss Daisy to the West End's Wyndham’s Theatre for a limited season from 5 October (previews from 27 September).

Directed by David Esbjornsonis, the play centres on the blossoming of a friendship between the elderly Daisy Werthan (Redgrave), whose son hires Hike Coleburn (Jones), an African-American man to act as her chauffeur. Set in mid-19th century Atlanta, what starts as hostility grows into a life changing friendship, despite the division in class and race.

Duke of York’s Theatre

Go back to the sixties with Backbeat, the West End production of Iain Softley’s award winning 1994 British film and subsequent Citizens Theatre play about the early life of the Beatles.

Focusing on the band's original bassist, Stuart Sutcliffe, and the relationship with his best friend, John Lennon and German photographer Astrid Kirchherr, Sutcliffe chooses love over the band, handing the reigns to Paul McCartney just before the group’s astronomical rise to fame.

Audience members will be treated to musical renditions of period classics including “Twist and Shout” and “Please Mr Postman”. Backbeat opens on 10 October (previews from 24 September) at the Duke of York's Theatre.

National Theatre Olivier

Olivier Award-winning playwright Mike Bartlett, returns to the National Theatre with his latest play 13 which premieres at the NT Olivier on 25 October (previews from 18 October).

Thea Sharrock, who helmed last summer's multi award-winning After the Dance, directs the play which is set in an imagined London where against a backdrop of a bleak economy, the Prime Minister about to declare war.

This dark play includes singing pensioner and imminent war: a London on the brink of disaster.

Donmar Warehouse

Acclaimed writer and angry young man, John Osborne’s play is set for revival from 18 October (previews from 13 October) at London’s Donmar Warehouse. Directed by Jamie Lloyd and starring Dr Who’s Karen Gillan.

Typically for an Osborne play the central character, Bill Maitland (Douglas Hodge) is struggling to deal with the harsh truths of life. A middle aged lawyer, those around him are slowly drawing away as Maitland fights to retain his sanity. As is usually the case with Osborne, this play displays powerful rhetorical venom to powerful effect.

Young Vic

This time Michael Sheen takes to the stage as the latest in a long line of celebrity Hamlet’s (see Jude Law, David Tennant et al).

The story of he young Danish Prince, haunted by the ghost of his father and convinced he was killed by his uncle, is the classic story of betrayal, death and revenge. Hamlet must decide whether or not to avenge the death of his father, and the torture of this decision, wrestling with his conscience to come to a decision.

The former director of the Royal Court, Ian Rickson, tackles Shakespeare for the first time in this revival which opens on 9 November (previews from 28 October).

Aldwych Theatre

Based on Donn Pearce's 1965 novel - famously made into an Oscar-winning film starring Paul Newman - Cool Hand Luke is the story of a World War II veteran Luke Jackson, who refuses to conform to life in a Florida Prison.

Starring Marc Warren, best known as Danny from the BBC’s Hustle in the title role and two-time Golden Globe nominee Lisa Eichhorn as Luke’s mother, this is a raw and uncompromising tale of sticking it to ‘The Man’.

Andrew Loudon directs Emma Reeves' adaptation at the Aldwych Theatre from 3 October (previews from 23 September).

Shaftsbury Theatre

A celebration of rock culture in 1980’s Los Angeles, Rock of Ages opens on 27 September (previews from 31 August) at the Shaftesbury Theatre starring television personality Justin Lee Collins and the X Factor’s Shayne Ward.

Set in 1987 this Tony Award-nominated musical and follows the love story of a small town girl and a big city rocker, against a backdrop of well known eighties tunes such as "We Built This City" and "Don’t Stop Believing".

Also Worth a Mention:

Apollo Theatre

Smash hit play Jerusalem returns to the West End following a sell-out run at the Apollo Theatre in Spring 2010 and a stint on Broadway.

Mark Rylance reprises his multi-award winning performance alongside Mackenzie Crook in this comic and contemporary vision of life in modern England which opens at the Apollo on 17 October (previews from 8 October).

Former Royal Court artistic director Ian Rickson directs Rylance as Johnny, a wanted man, who faces council officials, Troy Whitworth (Crook) and a motley crew of mates wanting his supply of drugs, all while his children just want him to take them to the fair.

- Katherine Graham


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