With Simon Russell Beale in Deathtrap, Rory Kinnear taking on Hamlet and Derek Jacobi’s King Lear, not to mention Matt Willis in Flashdance, this autumn is shaping up to be a theatregoer’s paradise. However, unless you have the dedication of a theatre critic, the social life of Greta Garbo and the deep pockets of Aristotle Onassis, you are unlikely to catch every single theatrical treat in store this season. But take a look at the line-up below and you might just be tempted to try your best…
It is a bumper autumn for quality drama this year. Martin Shaw – hopefully recovered from recent illness – teams up with Judge John Deed colleague Jenny Seagrove for The Country Girl, Michael Gambon indulges in a spot of Beckett with Krapp’s Last Tape and Simon Russell Beale leads the cast of Matthew Warchus’s production of the thriller Deathtrap. As for new plays, expectations run high for the new venture by young playwright Nina Raine, Tribes, and the Chichester Festival Theatre transfer of Martin Sherman’s Onassis, starring Robert Lindsay as the Greek shipping magnate. But it is that anticipation-creator Trevor Nunn who has perhaps heaped the most expectation on himself, by directing the adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s hugely popular wartime novel Birdsong.
Noël Coward, Oscar Wilde, JB Priestley…and Antony Jay and Jonathan Lynn? The long-gone masters of astringent social humour are joined by the writers of classic sitcom Yes, Prime Minister in the roster of autumn comedy. Coward’s relationship drama Design For Living brings style and substance to the Old Vic, real-life husband and wife Alexander Hanson and Samantha Bond face off in Wilde’s An Ideal Husband, and director Christopher Luscombe, whose comedy pedigree continues to rise, tackles matrimonial mix-ups in Priestley’s When We Are Married. It is left to Jay and Lynn to bring us the new comedy of the autumn, albeit one based on the much-loved political sitcom they created in the 80s. David Haig and Henry Goodman hope to have us in stitches as the PM and his Cabinet Secretary.
Song-and-dance shows may be not be dominating the autumn as they have in previous years, but the ones that are gracing the West End will certainly make an impact, and what a varied bunch they are. Spearheading the 80th birthday celebrations for composer Stephen Sondheim, the Donmar Warehouse is hoping for fireworks in Passion, which stars Argentinean Elena Roger in this tale of thwarted love; meanwhile an entirely different kind of Love Story will be told at the Duchess theatre as Erich Segal’s enormously popular 1970 romantic novel is recreated on stage. In November the National Theatre lends gravitas to the musical genre as it presents the Broadway transfer of Fela!, the true story of Afrobeat legend Fela Anikulapo-Kuti, written by Spring Awakening’s Bill T Jones. But there is nothing like a good old big, bold, dancetastic musical and Flashdance promises just that with its tale of Alex: welder by day, flashdancer by night. Let’s hope the show can finally erase our memories of Robert Webb in that leotard…
Finally, one musical is celebrating a significant birthday this year: Les Misérables. While the original production of the French revolutionary tearjerker continues at the Queen’s theatre, a new production will enjoy a short stay at the Barbican in late September, while a one-off birthday party at the O2 on 3 October will parade past and present stars of the show.
Every actor has his time: Rory Kinnear, the Simon Russell Beale of his generation, is finally taking on Shakespeare’s greatest role for a young actor, Hamlet. After the recent Hamlet-off between David Tennant and Jude Law, Kinnear should be relieved that his turn as the procrastinating prince at the National Theatre has no current competition in London. Later this autumn the Donmar Warehouse sets up another must-see Shakespeare: Sir Derek Jacobi plays King Lear.
Off West End
The West End doesn’t have all the treats. Head to Islington to catch London stage regulars Amanda Drew and Nancy Carroll in David Mamet’s House Of Games at the Almeida theatre, or Kilburn for Antony Sher in Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass at the Tricycle theatre. The Barbican welcomes the return of the hugely acclaimed Iraq War drama Black Watch, based on interviews with real soldiers, while Ed Hall’s first season at the Hampstead theatre includes a rare directorial outing on these shores of South African playwright Athol Fugard, who directs his own play The Train Driver. Lastly, for a dash of New York jazz head to the Theatre Royal Stratford East, which hosts Edinburgh Festival hit Five Guys Named Moe, with the show’s writer and star of The Wire, Clarke Peters, in the lead role. The West End might just get jealous…