Mark Ludmon continues his look at theatrical highlights outside of London in 2019.
Birmingham Hippodrome is collaborating with Curve in Leicester on a new production of the musical, The Color Purple, based on the book by Alice Walker. It tells the turbulent life story of an African-American woman in America’s South, with a score by Brenda Russell, Allee Willis and Stephen Bray that draws on jazz, ragtime, gospel and blues. Directed by Tinuke Craig, it will be at Curve from 28 June to 13 July and at Birmingham Hippodrome from 16 to 20 July.
Nottingham Playhouse will stage One Night In Miami… (7 to 22 June), Kemp Powers’ in-your-face imagined account of what happened in 1964 when four legendary figures came together in a motel room: heavyweight champion Cassius Clay, activist Malcolm X, American football icon Jim Brown and soul star Sam Cooke. First performed at the Donmar Warehouse in London, the play features Olivier Award winner Matt Henry and will be directed by Matthew Xia. Other highlights at Nottingham Playhouse include a new production of Shelagh Stephenson’s Olivier Award-winning comedy, The Memory of Water (3 to 18 May), directed by Adele Thomas, and a retelling of David Almond’s hauntingly beautiful children’s story, Skellig (22 March to 7 April), adapted by the author and directed by Lisa Blair.
Other highlights in the Midlands include Yellow Earth and Tamasha theatre company’s Under the Umbrella which is produced by the Belgrade Theatre in Coventry from 2 to 16 March. Written by Amy Ng based on an idea by Lian Wilkinson and directed by Justine Themen, this new play explores tradition, trauma and triumph in the art of finding love, with the dual setting of Coventry and Guangzhou in China.
The lives of people living on Sheffield’s Park Hill estate have been turned into a new musical at the city’s Crucible Lyceum Studio, Standing at the Sky’s Edge (15 March to 6 April). Written by Chris Bush, it is based on the 2012 album of the same name by singer-songwriter Richard Hawley. The studio will also stage Debbie Tucker Green’s provocative and haunting play Hang (21 February to 9 March), directed by Taio Lawson. In the Crucible’s main theatre, Max Webster will direct a stage adaption of Yann Martel’s 2001 novel Life of Pi (28 June to 20 July), with animals brought to life with puppets. Before this, Githa Sowerby’s classic family drama Rutherford & Son will be revived by director Caroline Steinbeis from 8 to 23 February.
Another Debbie Tucker Green play features in the 2019 programme for Leeds Playhouse which has shifted to its 350-seat pop-up space while redevelopment continues. Running from 4 to 16 February, Random tells the story of a family caught up in catastrophe and grief after one random act and stars Kiza Deen. Gender shifts in Amy Leach’s production of Hamlet (1 to 30 March) with Tessa Parr in the title role, followed by some uplifting comedy in a new adaptation of Around the World in 80 Days (9 to 28 April). The theatre will also stage a new production of Amanda Whittington’s Be My Baby (11 May to 1 June), a moving story told with warmth and humour alongside music from the 1960s.
The highlight of the upcoming season at the Stephen Joseph Theatre in Scarborough will be a revival of Charlotte Jones’s comedy Martha, Josie and the Chinese Elvis (28 March to 20 April), directed by Gemma Fairlie.
After the Lyric in Belfast gives us one murderous barber, Liverpool Everyman provides us with another in a new production of Sondheim’s Sweeney Todd directed by Nick Bagnall from 12 April to 18 May, starring Liam Tobin in the title role.
Down south, Theatre Royal Plymouth continues to champion new work with You Stupid Darkness! (7 to 23 February) by rising star Sam Steiner. Following four volunteers working for a helpline, it is about “the struggle for optimism and community amid the chaos of a collapsing world”. Staged in The Drum, it is a collaboration with theatre company Paines Plough. Also in The Drum, the theatre will present Phil Porter’s God of Chaos (7 to 23 March), a funny and provocative new play about the world of online censorship. In the larger space of The Lyric from 27 to 29 March, acclaimed Belgian theatre company Ontroerend Goed will have the British premiere of their latest piece, Loopstation, a large-scale performance on a revolving stage with live music that explores some of the familiar patterns that shape our lives.
Another powerhouse for new work in the south-west is the Theatre Royal Bath with its Ustinov Studio, where highlights of 2019 include Blue Door (7 February to 9 March), a play by Tanya Barfield with original songs. Starring Ray Fearon and Fehinti Balogun, it sees a prominent African-American professor grappling with three generations of his ancestors to explore race and culture. It is part of a season of UK premieres of plays from the Americas which also includes the global Argentinian hit The Omission of the Family Coleman (28 March to 27 April), an absurdist comedy about a family trying to cope without the controlling influence of their grandmother. Written by Claudio Tolcachir, this new version by Stella Feehily is directed by Laurence Boswell.
Check back on BritishTheatre.com for our round-up of the UK tours to look out for in 2019.