The stars are out in force this autumn. From young name-makers Gemma Arterton and Rory Kinnear to old hands Michael Gambon and Derek Jacobi, London’s theatres are awash with talents hoping to entertain you as the nights draw in. No song-and-dance numbers for these drama-loving actors: all of them are appearing in plays. Following last year’s bumper crop of quality drama, this year is shaping up to match it in terms of classy revivals, enticing new plays and farcical capers featuring masters of comic timing.
The autumn has got off to a flying start. Among those plays already running in the West End are Martin Sherman’s drama Onassis, starring Robert Lindsay as the Greek shipping magnate, Michael Gambon in Beckett’s solo piece Krapp’s Last Tape and the new stage adaptation of Sebastian Faulks’s hugely popular wartime novel Birdsong, directed by Trevor Nunn. Meanwhile Simon Russell Beale, Claire Skinner and Jonathan Groff continue to bring a little frisson to the Noël Coward theatre in the thriller – albeit it a tongue-in-cheek one – Deathtrap.
Elsewhere, stars of the small screen are making their presence felt on stage. Sharon Small, well known for her role in TV’s Mistresses and Inspector Linley, takes the lead in Men Should Weep at the National Theatre, while Judge John Deed colleagues Martin Shaw and Jenny Seagrove team up for Clifford Odets’s drama about a fading star, The Country Girl.
As for new plays, expectations run high for the Royal Court’s Tribes, the latest venture of playwright and director Nina Raine, who won several awards for her debut play Rabbit.
Noël Coward, Oscar Wilde, JB Priestley, George Feydeau, Richard Brinsley Sheridan: these long-gone masters of astringent social comedy will be chuckling from the grave as their work is revived in the West End this autumn, proving that human relationships make the best subject for humour.
At the Old Vic, Coward’s Design For Living draws the comedy out of an entangled ménage à trois, before Feydeau’s marital farce A Flea In Her Ear takes us into the Christmas season. Real-life husband and wife Alexander Hanson and Samantha Bond face off in Wilde’s An Ideal Husband at the Vaudeville theatre, while former screen spouses Penelope Keith and Peter Bowles star in Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Meanwhile director Christopher Luscombe, whose comedy pedigree continues to rise, tackles matrimonial mix-ups with Maureen Lipman in Priestley’s When We Are Married.
It is left to Anthony Jay and Jonathan Lynn to bring us the new comedy of the autumn, albeit one based on the much-loved political sitcom they created in the 80s, Yes, Prime Minister. David Haig and Henry Goodman play the infamous PM and his Cabinet Secretary, whose relationship is more war than love.
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 at least. In December, 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, followed by Stephen Dillane and the girl of the moment, Gemma Arterton, in Ibsen’s The Master Builder. Also north of the river, Antony Sher, Nigel Lindsay and Lucy Cohu star in Arthur Miller’s Broken Glass at the Tricycle theatre, the Barbican enjoys the return of the hugely acclaimed Iraq War drama Black Watch, and new Hampstead theatre Artistic Director Ed Hall welcomes South African playwright Athol Fugard to the venue to direct his own new play The Train Driver. Finally, there’s still time to catch Annie Baker’s The Aliens, starring Mackenzie Crook and Ralf Little, which plays at West London new writing theatre the Bush until 16 October.