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Looking forward: London theatre’s spring 2014

Published 8 January 2014

The new year. A whole world of opportunities opening before you. A blank page. An unwritten book.

It’s the second week of January, so you’ve probably already broken at least one resolution. If you’re anything like team Official London Theatre you’ve considered running every day this week, decided it’s too cold/dark/much like hard work and had a leftover Christmas chocolate instead.

So let’s regain some of that 1 January positivity and optimism. Let’s grasp 2014 by the horns – or any other metaphorical appendage that presents itself – and look forward to the fantastic new shows we can see in the coming months.

More marvellous musicals

Last year boasted an abundance of tuneful shows for musical fans to enjoy, from Broadway imports to brand new British productions. Far from lurking in 2013’s melodic shadow, 2014 has come out fighting on the musical front, or at least seeing off its predecessor with some very aggressive jazz hands.

By the end of March, three huge new productions will have opened in London, adding once more to the theatre capital of the world’s unique harmony. At the Savoy Theatre, Robert Lindsay, Rufus Hound Katherine Kingsley and Samantha Bond come together in the UK premiere of Dirty Rotten Scoundrels. The musical adaptation of the Steve Martin/Michael Caine film premiered on Broadway in 2005, when it received 11 Tony Award nominations. Original choreographer Jerry Mitchell, who brought Legally Blonde The Musical to London, directs the new production.

Another UK premiere of a Broadway hit, Urinetown opens at the St James Theatre. With a title that has sparked a few wee discussions around Theatreland, the tale of a town where public toilets have been monopolised and peeing profligately carries a pernicious penalty is one of the year’s most eagerly awaited shows, not least because of the involvement of rising directorial star Jamie Lloyd.

A world premiere, no less, comes to the London Palladium, where TV funny man Harry Hill has turned musical maker with I Can’t Sing – The X Factor Musical, which will lovingly send up the Saturday night TV juggernaut. It will also feature Olivier Award winner Nigel Harman, possibly wearing ridiculously high-waisted trousers.

And let’s not forget the Theatre Royal Stratford East revival of Oh What A Lovely War, restaged 50 years after the satirical piece’s first performance at the East London venue and 100 years after the start of the First World War.

Catching up on classics

If the final weeks of 2013 whetted your appetite for Shakespeare – an amuse-bouche of Henry V, a Coriolanus canapé or a light starter of Richard II – spring 2014 gives you the chance to continue your Bardic banquet and tuck into a nice juicy King Lear. The National Theatre production has quietly built an astounding cast of stage masters led by Simon Russell Beale and including Kate Fleetwood, Anna Maxwell Martin, Tom Brooke and Adrian Scarborough.

Beckett fans can dive head first into 2014, catching two productions in three venues. Lisa Dwan’s trilogy of short pieces Not I/Footfalls/Rockaby opens at the Royal Court for a one week run that has proved so popular, a West End transfer to the Duchess Theatre was announced. If three short plays aren’t enough, Juliet Stevenson will take to the Young Vic stage to star in Happy Days, not to be confused with the touring musical adaptation of the US sitcom. Beckett’s piece does not feature high school students in 1950s America… it is about a woman buried up to her waist in a mound of earth.

Also at the Young Vic this spring, Arthur Miller’s tale of obsession A View From The Bridge will be staged by visionary director Ivo van Hove, while back in the West End Angela Lansbury returns to the London stage for the first time in nearly 40 years to star in Noël Coward’s spooky comedy Blithe Spirit at the Gielgud Theatre. The Murder, She Wrote star is joined in the production by Atlantis’ Jemima Rooper, double Olivier Award winner Janie Dee and Downton Abbey’s Charles Edwards.

From screen to stage

Speaking of Downton Abbey, many of the hit drama’s characters will appear at the Trafalgar Studios this spring, though none of its actors. One-man impressions show The Only Way Is Downton finds the Granthams in a spot of bother which, much to their dismay I imagine, they can only escape from with the help of today’s less refined celebrities.

Films are heading to the stage as well. The Full Monty – first a movie, then a musical, now a drama written by the original screenwriter Simon Beaufoy that has already been wildly successful in Sheffield – brings its tale of unemployed steelworkers who find a way out through stripping to London’s Noël Coward Theatre.

Putting fear into the hearts of rabbit lovers everywhere – and rabbits I’d imagine – thriller Fatal Attraction, which starred Michael Douglas and Glenn Close on screen, opens at the Theatre Royal Haymarket in a production directed by Sir Trevor Nunn.

2014 comebacks

With all the brand new productions opening, we must not forget the returning shows so successful when first staged that they are being revived or transferred.

Frightfest Ghost Stories was originally a hit when it scared punters at the Lyric Hammersmith out of their wits in spring 2010, before transferring to the West End where it made theatregoers leap out of their seats and hide behind handbags for a further year. Just as we’ve stopped jumping at every shadow on Shaftesbury Avenue it’s back and opening at the Arts Theatre.

Another spooky tale, though of a more serious nature, Conor McPherson’s The Weir transfers to the Wyndham’s Theatre, giving all who didn’t see it at the Donmar Warehouse a chance to catch the atmospheric evening of ghost stories, male one-upmanship and shocking revelations.

An entire stage configuration makes a return at the Old Vic Theatre, which brings its in-the-round CQS space out of hibernation for a season opened by the UK premiere of Other Desert Cities, a tale of a family pushed to breaking point by a daughter’s announcement that she will be publishing a memoir exposing a key moment in the family’s past.

Further afield at Kilburn’s Tricycle Theatre, award-winning drama Red Velvet, the first play by Lolita Chakrabarti, is revived ahead of a New York transfer. Chakrabarti’s husband Adrian Lester leads the cast of the piece that tells the story of Ira Aldridge, a black American actor tasked with stepping into the imposingly large 19th century shoes of Edmund Kean.

What else?

What else indeed? Not everything fits under a hastily thought through sub-heading, which is annoying when looking forward at what the next few months hold.

The Royal Court, as ever, has a host of intriguing pieces of new writing, not least The Hour writer Abi Morgan’s debut at the venue, The Mistress Contract, the tale of a couple with a unique relationship, and the latest play by Simon Stephens, one of London theatre’s busiest writers of recent years, Birdland.

Lesley Sharp and Kate O’Flynn star in Shelagh Delaney’s taboo-breaking play A Taste Of Honey at the National Theatre, while at the Almeida Theatre Artistic Director Rupert Goold’s former company Headlong brings its acclaimed production of 1984 to the Islington venue.

All in all, there’s much to see this spring, too much, in fact, to waste any time running, cycling or going to the gym. Let’s all shelve that resolution for now. Go on, have a chocolate…

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