Mark Ludmon takes a look at some of the great shows touring the UK in 2019.
Touring theatre was a lifeline for the young Ian McKellen growing up in Lancashire, and his belief in its vitality is reflected in his decision to celebrate his 80th birthday this year by taking his solo show to 80 different venues around the UK. While no other tour quite matches this for locations, we look ahead at some of the other new touring highlights of 2019, from musicals and comedies to classics and modern drama.
Musicals are the throbbing heart of the UK’s touring scene, and this year sees plenty to choose from. Current shows include Annie, Avenue Q, Cabaret, Calendar Girls, Fame The Musical, Grease, Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, Priscilla Queen of the Desert and The Rocky Horror Show.
The hit 2006 film Little Miss Sunshine has been adapted into a musical that will have its European premiere at the Arcola Theatre in London from 21 March to 11 May before going on tour. First staged in the US in 2011, it was created by James Lapine (Into the Woods) and William Finn (Falsettos) and follows a family’s eventful road trip across the US to attend a children’s beauty pageant.
Another hit film, Amélie, has been transformed into a musical which ran on Broadway in 2017, with music by Daniel Messé and lyrics by Messé and Nathan Tysen. This whimsical “feelgood” musical tells the story of a young woman who ventures out of her quiet life when given a chance for love. Directed by Michael Fentiman, it debuts at the Watermill Theatre in Newbury in Berkshire from 11 April to 18 May before going on tour.
The hits of the 1980s come together in a new musical called Club Tropicana, described as a “hilarious feelgood show”. It stars X Factor and stage star Joe McElderry with Neil McDermott, Kate Robbins, Emily Tierney and former Sugababes star Amelle Berrabah. It sets off on the road from 24 January to 2 February at Churchill Theatre in Bromley.
Metta Theatre and Exeter Northcott Theatre will present a new family musical based on The Wind in the Willows, called In the Willows. Written by Poppy Burton-Morgan and Keiran Merrick, it brings the classic story into the 21st century with ballads, beats and backflips. It debuts at Exeter Northcott Theatre from 22 February to 2 March.
Alongside musicals, there is a plenty of drama heading round the country. After running 67 years in London, Agatha Christie’s The Mousetrap embarks on a new tour in 2019, starting at Guildford’s Yvonne Arnaud Theatre from 28 January to 2 February.
Another classic mystery, The Lady Vanishes, takes to the stage with husband and wife Juliet Mills and Maxwell Caulfield leading the cast along with Downton Abbey’s Matt Barber, Robert Duncan and EastEnders’ Lorna Fitzgerald. It is directed by Roy Marsden and has been adapted by Antony Lampard from Alfred Hitchcock’s film version of Ethel Lina White’s original story.
A more recent thriller comes to the stage for the first time with an adaptation of Paula Hawkins’s best-selling novel, The Girl on the Train. EastEnders’ Samantha Womack stars as Rachel Watson who becomes a witness in the search for an apparently happily married woman she watches through the train window every day. Also starring Oliver Farnworth, it is directed by Anthony Banks and makes its first stop at Milton Keynes Theatre from 23 to 26 January.
A new stage version of The House on Cold Hill by Peter James, the master of supernatural horror, promises to send chills down your spine. Adapted by Shaun McKenna and directed by Ian Talbot, it stars Holby City and Strictly Come Dancing’s Joe McFadden as well as Rita Simons who played the sister of Samantha Womack’s Ronnie in EastEnders. They are joined by another ex-EastEnder, Charlie Clements, and Hollyoaks’ Persephone Swales-Dawson. As part of a 20-venue tour, it will first be tingling spines at Orchard Theatre in Dartford from 23 to 26 January.
One of the most anticipated tours of 2019 is a new stage version of Louis de Bernières’ best-selling novel Captain Corelli’s Mandolin. Set on the Greek island of Cephalonia, this unforgettable love story plays out against the turbulent backdrop of World War II. Directed by Melly Still, it has been written by leading playwright Rona Munro, who worked with crime writer Ian Rankin on another show currently on tour, Rebus: Long Shadows. Captain Corelli’s Mandolin will start breaking hearts at Curve in Leicester from 13 to 20 April.
After the huge success of the touring stage version of Khaled Hosseini’s The Kite Runner, this year will see the European stage premiere of what is described as the book’s “spiritual sequel”, A Thousand Splendid Suns. Adapted by Ursula Rani Sarma, it follows the lives of two women against a backdrop of war and upheaval in Afghanistan from the 1990s, exploring how love can grow and sustain the human spirit even during the hardest of times. It is presented by Birmingham Rep and Northern Stage in association with Nuffield Southampton Theatres and directed by the Rep’s Roxanna Silbert. It opens at the Rep from 2 to 18 May.
Kazuo Ishiguro’s award-winning masterpiece of memory and regret, The Remains of the Day, has been transformed into a stage play by theatre company Out of Joint with leading playwright Barney Norris and director Christopher Haydon. It is set in 1930s England as fascism builds and boils in Europe, told from the perspective of dutiful butler Stevens. It is a co-production with Royal & Derngate in Northampton, where it premieres from 23 February to 16 March, and with Oxford Playhouse where it runs from 16 to 20 April, with more dates to be added.
A perennially popular stage classic, Abigail’s Party by Mike Leigh, has a new outing in 2019, with Jodie Prenger taking the iconic role of hostess Beverly. Depicting a fraught drinks party on the Essex-London border in the 1970s, this dark comedy also stars Vicky Binns and Daniel Casey and is directed by Sarah Esdale. The cocktails and barbs start to flow at Theatre Royal Brighton from 10 to 19 January.
Another popular modern classic embarks on a major tour this year, with a new production of Willy Russell’s Educating Rita starring Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson. Directed by Max Roberts, it charts the journeys of a young woman and her university tutor whose lives are changed by learning from each other. It is a co-production between David Pugh & Dafydd Rogers and Theatre by the Lake in Keswick in Cumbria where it debuts from 18 to 27 April.
Simon Callow and Jane Asher star in a revival of one of Noël Coward’s last plays, A Song at Twilight. Bittersweet, entertaining and full of sharp wit, it is a semi-autobiographical comedy about an ageing writer who is confronted by the secrets and regrets of the past when an old flame arrives back in his life. It starts its tour at Bath Theatre Royal from 13 to 23 February.
Bill Kenwright presents a new touring production of Tom Stoppard’s Rough Crossing, a comedy about two playwrights trying to prepare a show for opening night while stuck on an ocean liner. It stars John Partridge, Charlie Stemp, Issy Van Randwyck, Matthew Cottle, Simon Dutton and Rob Ostlere and is directed by Rachel Kavanaugh (who also directed Stemp in the hit revival of Half A Sixpence). It also features songs and music by André Previn. The tour sets sail from Windsor Theatre Royal where it runs from 30 January to 9 February.
The acclaimed West End revival of David Mamet’s Glengarry Glen Ross, directed by Sam Yates, takes off on tour in 2019, with a new cast led by Mark Benton and Nigel Harman. Set in an office of cut-throat Chicago salesmen, it shows how far desperate men will go to seal a deal. It also stars Denis Conway, Wil Johnson, Scott Sparrow, James Staddon and Zephryn Taitte. The tour starts at New Victoria Theatre in Woking, where it runs from 14 to 16 February.
Torben Betts’s biting comedy, Caroline’s Kitchen, debuted at Park Theatre in London in the summer under the title of Monogamy and is now setting out on tour with a new cast. The Original Theatre Company production, directed by Alastair Whatley, now features Caroline Langrishe as a TV cook whose private life is revealed to be not as perfect as her public persona. It also stars Aden Gillett alongside James Sutton, Jasmyn Banks, Elizabeth Boag and Tom England. The first performance is served up at Derby Theatre from 24 to 26 January.
Award-winning director Ned Bennett is creating a bold new staging of Peter Shaffer’s modern classic, Equus, about a psychiatrist delving into the darkest recesses of the human psyche in his attempts to understand a teenager’s pathological fascination with horses. This is a co-production between English Touring Theatre and Theatre Royal Stratford East where the show debuts from 15 February to 23 March before going on tour.
Tamasha theatre company continues to tour in 2019 with exciting new theatre, bringing us Approaching Empty by Ishy Din in collaboration with London’s Kiln Theatre and Newcastle upon Tyne’s Live Theatre. The drama aims to lay bare the everyday struggles of a post-industrial generation of British men through the story of two best friends, Mansha and Raf, who work together in a minicab business. Directed by Pooja Ghai, it stars Kammy Darweish and Nicholas Khan. It goes on tour after premiering at Kiln Theatre from 9 January to 2 February.
The Dukes Theatre in Lancaster and “radical” theatre company Red Ladder in association with Tamasha present another new show, Glory by Nick Ahad, which dives into the world of wrestling. Directed by Red Ladder’s artistic director Rod Dixon, it is described as a painfully funny, sweaty and gutsy story about what people will do to achieve glory. It premieres at The Dukes from 21 February to 2 March before going on tour.
As part of a phenomenally packed 2019 programme, Home in Manchester presents a new play by David Judge called SparkPlug (13 to 23 February) before taking it on tour. It is described as a punchy and poetic exploration of family, race, identity and love, telling the story of a white man who becomes the adoptive father, mother and best friend of a mixed-race child.
After hits such as All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, acclaimed Hull-based theatre company Middle Child will premiere a new show, Us Against Whatever, in 2019. Written by Maureen Lennon in collaboration with Nastazja Somers, it is described as an “electrifying cabaret” about two women who are brought together through the power of karaoke, featuring music by James Frewer. Directed by Paul Smith, it opens at Liverpool Everyman from 20 to 23 March and then at Hull Truck from 27 March to 3 April.
British comedy legend David Tomlinson, now most fondly remembered for playing Mr Banks in Mary Poppins, is celebrated in a new show from comedian and actor Miles Jupp. In The Life I Lead, he takes us through the actor’s story including his relationship with his father, creating a richly comic and moving tale of fathers and sons across the generations. It is produced by Exeter Northcott Theatre where it premieres from February 6 to 9 before going on tour in partnership with Jonathan Church Productions
Jon Brittain’s award-winning comedy Rotterdam is heading out on tour after premiering at Theatre503 in London and transferring to Trafalgar Studios. Directed by Donnacadh O’Briain, it explores gender and sexuality through the evolving relationship of young couple Alice and Fiona. It opens at the Rose Theatre in Kingston from April 4 to 6 before touring.
Other hit plays from London touring in 2019 include Emma Rice’s Wise Children from the Old Vic, Iman Qureshi’s The Funeral Director which premiered at Southwark Playhouse, Laura Wade’s Home I’m Darling and Barber Shop Chronicles – both successes at the National Theatre.
Headlong theatre company describes its new production of Shakespeare’s Richard III as “revelatory”. Starting at Bristol Old Vic from 1 to 9 March, it features Tom Mothersdale as the iconic villain and is directed by Headlong associate artist John Haidar.
Northern Broadsides theatre company will cast its magic over Shakespeare with its touring production of Much Ado About Nothing starring Reece Dinsdale as Benedick. Calling it “Shakespeare’s greatest romantic comedy”, the tour opens at The New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme in Staffordshire from 8 February to 2 March.