Mark Ludmon previews some of the UK tours coming up in 2020, from comedies to supernatural thrillers…
If you need some laughter in your life, a flock of comedies – old and new – is flying into theatres in 2020. Ian Hislop and Nick Newman’s A Bunch of Amateurs focuses on a Hollywood action hero who discovers he has been accidentally booked for an amateur production of King Lear in a Suffolk village called Stratford. The revival premieres at Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham from 23 April to 2 May.
John Cleese makes his stage-writing debut with a new adaptation of classic farce Monsieur Chasse! by Georges Feydeau. Renamed Bang Bang!, it is described as a “delicious blend of French farce and Fawlty Towers”, with a cast including Tessa Peake-Jones, Tony Gardner and Wendi Peters. It debuts at Northcott Theatre in Exeter from 6 February.
A lesser-known English farce from the start of the 20th century is being dusted off and revived by leading director Laurie Sansom for his first production as artistic director at Northern Broadsides. Quality Street was a massive hit for JM Barrie, whose other works include Peter Pan, and even had a brand of chocolate assortments named after it. Set in a northern town, it sees a woman disguise herself as someone younger and more glamorous to win over an old flame. The show starts its tour in a northern town at The Viaduct Theatre in Halifax from 14 February.
Ben Jonson’s 17th-century satire of cunning and greed, Volpone, is re-imagined by Tangle Theatre under director Anna Coombs, with a musical backdrop of jazz-fusion, performed by a multi-skilled ensemble inspired by southern African township theatre. The tour starts in The Egg at Theatre Royal Bath on 25 February.
Two of Alan Ayckbourn’s classic comedies can be caught in new productions this year. London Classic Theatre brings back Absurd Person Singular, following a group of people through a succession of parties, exposing class differences and flawed relationships. With over 20 venues scheduled, it begins at Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne on 25 February.
Bill Kenwright’s revival of Ayckbourn’s Ten Times Table reveals the tensions within a disparate group of people organising a local folk festival. Under the banner of The Classic Comedy Theatre Company, it embarked on tour in December, with a cast including Robert Daws, Craig Gazey, Gemma Oaten, Deborah Grant, Mark Curry, Robert Duncan and Elizabeth Power.
Two icons of comedy are celebrated in The Strange Tale of Charlie Chaplin and Stan Laurel, a show with music from leading theatre company Told by an Idiot in association with Theatre Royal Plymouth, Northampton’s Royal & Derngate and Liverpool’s Unity Theatre. “Playing hard and fast with the facts”, it explores a bond rooted in the pair’s early careers.
Richard Cameron’s hit play The Glee Club is being revived, telling the story of five hard-working, hard-drinking miners and a church organist whose lives are changed by music in the early 1960s. The production is a collaboration with Northern Stage in Newcastle upon Tyne, Kiln Theatre in London and Cast in Doncaster where the new production premieres on 28 February. It stars Bill Ward.
Jonathan Maitland’s satire, The Last Temptation of Boris Johnson, finds the current prime minister in 2029 out of power in the political wilderness and explores what Britain might look like in the decade after Brexit. As events in 2020 move on, the script will be updated, nightly if necessary. After premiering at London’s Park Theatre, its tour starts at Festival Theatre in Malvern on 22 January.
An explosive new “pre-apocalyptic” comedy The Last Quiz Night on Earth by Alison Carr is to tour pubs and other local venues. You can catch it first at The Welcome Inn in Salford, in association with The Lowry, from 11 to 15 February before it gallops off around Britain.
For families, Gonzo Moose theatre company returns with Once Upon a Time…, a comedy fairy tale adventure bursting with physical comedy, absurd jokes and magical illusion with a healthy dose of silliness and mayhem. They start the tour in The Drum at Theatre Royal Plymouth from 21 to 25 January.
Another fun family show continuing to tour this year is Oi Frog and Friends! which has just completed a West End run at the Lyric Theatre. It brings to the stage Kes Gray and Jim Field’s bestselling and award-winning picture books Oi Frog!, Oi Dog!, Oi Cat! and Oi Duck-billed Platypus!. Its next stop will be the Beck Theatre in Hayes from 11 to 12 February.
Rhum and Clay’s acclaimed show, The War of the Worlds, goes on tour this spring. Inspired by both HG Wells’ novel and Orson Welles’ controversial radio play, this legendary science fiction thriller is playfully re-imagined for our “fake news” era. It blasts off at NST City in Southampton on 15 April.
After a successful tour last year, Willy Russell’s classic comedy drama Educating Rita returns to mark the play’s 40th anniversary. The production – developed for Theatre by the Lake in Cumbria – retains the cast of Stephen Tompkinson and Jessica Johnson and sets off again at Oxford Playhouse from 4 February.
John Willard’s classic comedy thriller, The Cat and the Canary, is being brought back to the stage by Bill Kenwright and The Classic Thriller Theatre Company with Roy Marsden directing. Set in a creepy old house, it sees the descendants of a rich eccentric enter battle over who will inherit his fortune. The cast includes Britt Ekland, Mark Jordon, Tracy Shaw, Marti Webb, Gary Webster, Ben Nealon, Nikki Patel and Eric Carte. The scares start at Windsor Theatre Royal from 15 January.
Tom Chambers stars in another classic thriller, Dial M for Murder, made famous by Alfred Hitchcock’s 1950 film. He plays a jaded ex-professional tennis player who plots “the perfect crime” when he discovers his wife has been unfaithful. The tour starts at London’s Richmond Theatre from 14 January.
Agatha Christie’s record-breaking murder mystery, The Mousetrap, continues its UK tour with many dates in 2020. Its next scheduled stop-off is at Poole Lighthouse from 21 to 25 January. JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls also continues to tour, with plenty of dates coming up, starting with The Lowry in Salford from 14 to 18 January.
For more up-to-date scares, the highlight is the first UK tour of Ghost Stories after the success of its runs in London and a film adaptation. Combining a series of terrifying supernatural tales, Andy Nyman and Jeremy Dyson’s show sets off to scare the nation from the Alexandra Theatre in Birmingham on 7 January.
If flesh-eating zombies are more your taste, theatre company Imitating The Dog has created a live performance, shot by shot, of George A Romero’s classic 1968 horror film in Night of the Living Dead – Remix. With a seven-strong cast, it is in association with Leeds Playhouse where it premieres from 24 January to 15 February before going on tour.