Mark Ludmon and Paul T Davies highlight some of the theatre that has them excited this December.
The Tragedy of King Richard the Second, Almeida Theatre
Joe Hill-Gibbins has earned a reputation as an inventive, visually creative director, most notably for re-imaginings of classics with a contemporary context. After bringing a new perspective to A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Measure For Measure at the Young Vic, he looks set to bring the same flair to another of Shakespeare’s plays, Richard II, at the Almeida Theatre, using the original full title of The Tragedy of King Richard the Second. The incomparable Simon Russell Beale takes the title role of the careless leader whose arrogance and vanity put the kingdom at risk.
10 December to 2 February. Opening night: 18 December
Doctor Faustus, The Globe
Staying with Elizabethan drama, another highlight this month is a new production of Doctor Faustus in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe from director Paulette Randall. After artistic director Michelle Terry’s acclaimed performance as Hamlet, Christopher Marlowe‘s play stars Jocelyn Jee Esien as Faustus, who pledges his soul to the devil in exchange for knowledge, and Pauline McLynn as the diabolic tempter, Mephistopheles.
1 December to 2 February. Opening night: 6 December
The Tell-Tale Heart, National Theatre
Another classic, Edgar Allan Poe’s 1843 haunting story The Tell-Tale Heart, is given a contemporary re-imagining at the National’s Dorfman Theatre in the hands of Anthony Neilson, whose previous plays include The Prudes and Unreachable. Set in Brighton, it follows a young playwright suffering from writer’s block and her increasingly complex relationship with her landlady. It promises to be “a twisted, graphic and darkly comic treat”.
5 December to 9 January. Opening night: 12 December
Nine Night, Trafalgar Studios
Transferring from the National Theatre into The Trafalgar Studios, Natasha Gordon becomes the first black female British writer to have a plays staged in the West End with Nine Night. As if that wasn’t cause for celebration enough, she won the Evening Standard Theatre Award for Most Promising Playwright a few weeks ago- all this for her debut play! The play works because it is derived from lived experience, and Gordon’s observations of family life are an absolute joy. I couldn’t resist reading the script, and the play abounds with sharp, funny and poignant dialogue. When Gloria’s time comes, her family gather to celebrate her passing with the traditional Jamaican Nine Night Wake. Nine nights of music, food, memories and stories proves to be something of a test, and the play brims with characterisation. It’s a truly wonderful piece, and I’m so looking forward to seeing the superb ensemble bring it to life.
The Cane, Royal Court Theatre
Since his breakthrough play Shopping and Fucking, Mark Ravenhill has sustained a long and successful career whilst other “In-yer-Face” writers of the 1990s have faded or have become mainstream and a little bland. His new play, The Cane, premieres at the Royal Court this month, and promises to be as edgy and absorbing as any of his work. After 45 years as a dedicated teacher, Edward is looking forward to the imminent celebration to mark his retirement. But his home is under siege. A mob of angry students have gathered. A brick has been thrown through the window, he and his wife haven’t left the house for six days, and now his estranged daughter has arrived with her own questions. It has a superlative cast of Alun Armstrong as Edward, Maggie Stead as Maureen, and Nicola Walker as Anna, three of the best actors around! This should be a memorable play and production, directed by Vicky Featherstone, and a significant addition to Ravenhill’s output.
Caroline Or Change, Playhouse Theatre
I saw the National Theatre’s production of Caroline or Change a few years ago, and now the Chichester Festival Theatre production opens at the Playhouse Theatre, starring Sharon D. Clarke. Tony Kushner’s book is set in America during the time of great social change in the 1960s, following of poorly paid maid Caroline as the winds of change test her and her life. The score by Jeanine Tesori is soulful, and features blues, classical influences, and traditional Jewish music. I remember thinking it was a radical, inspiring piece, and I suspect Trump’s America and the rise of nationalism will give it even more of an edge and urgency. Sharon D. Clarke is an outstanding performer, and the run is limited, so don’t leave it too late to book!