Mark Ludmon previews some of the new plays and revivals of classic dramas on tour in the UK in 2020.
If you want more drama in your life, there are revivals of modern classics with stellar casts through to exciting new plays tackling life in Britain today.
One of the highlights will be A Monster Calls, the Olivier Award-winning production based on the novel by Patrick Ness, which has also been made into a film. It tells the story of 13-year-old Conor who, while struggling with problems at home including his mother’s declining health, is visited by a monster at his window. The tour starts at Chichester Festival Theatre where it runs from 6 to 15 February.
Kay Mellor has created a stage version of her popular TV series Band of Gold, a drama focusing on four women. At times both heart-breaking and humorous, it follows a young mother drawn into the notorious red-light district. With a killer on the loose, it’s a battle to survive. The cast includes Gaynor Faye, Laurie Brett, Emma Osman, Shayne Ward, Kieron Richardson, Sacha Parkinson and Andrew Dunn. It starts on tour at Theatre Royal Nottingham from 14 January.
York Theatre Royal’s production of Alan Bennett’s The Habit of Art returns for a new tour with The Original Theatre Company after its success last year. Centred on a fictional meeting between poet WH Auden and composer Benjamin Britten, it explores friendship, rivalry and heartache, the joy, pain and emotional cost of creativity. Starting off at Devonshire Park Theatre in Eastbourne from 18 March, the new tour again stars David Yelland and Matthew Kelly.
In the UK premiere of Maya Arad Yasur’s play Amsterdam, a pregnant violinist receives a mysterious unpaid gas bill from 1944 which leads to a devastating past being reconstructed to make sense of the present. Originally staged in autumn 2019 at London’s Orange Tree Theatre, it is Matthew Xia’s first production as artistic director of Actors Touring Company. It is in collaboration with Leeds Playhouse, Northern Stage and Theatre Royal Plymouth, where the tour starts from 27 February to 14 March.
Another modern classic, The Dresser, by Ronald Harwood will return in a new production directed by Terry Johnson. It stars Matthew Kelly and Julian Clary as an old-school actor and his dresser and explores the complex bond that keeps them together. It starts off on tour at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham from 10 September.
In its drive to deliver new black British stories, Eclipse Theatre is taking a new play, The Gift by Janice Okoh, on tour in association with Belgrade Theatre in Coventry. Switching between the present day and the story of an African girl adopted by Queen Victoria, it is described as an “outrageous comic drama about imperialism, cross-racial adoption, cultural appropriation…and tea”. With a cast including Donna Berlin and Joanna Brookes, the tour starts at Belgrade Theatre from 18 to 25 January.
Gwen Taylor will star in a new play The Croft, a thriller in which the intertwining stories of three women reveal a terrifying truth behind a croft in a remote Scottish Highlands village. Written by Ali Milles and directed by Philip Franks, it will be taken on tour by The Original Theatre Company, starting at the Everyman Theatre in Cheltenham from 22 January.
Shakespeare’s Romeo and Juliet has been reinvented by writer Gary Owen and director Rachel O'Riordan in Romeo and Julie, set in Cardiff. The lovers are two working-class 18-year-olds: one a struggling single dad, the other fighting to follow her dream of studying at Cambridge. Co-commissioned and co-produced by Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre with the National Theatre, it will premiere at The Lowry in Salford from 5 to 13 June.
Nottingham Playhouse’s inventive stage show, Holes, takes to the road in 2020. Written by Louis Sachar, it is a thrilling off-beat comedy adventure based on an award-winning novel and Hollywood blockbuster of the same name. The tour is led by The Children’s Theatre Partnership and Northampton’s Royal & Derngate where it sets off from 24 January onwards.
Michael Morpurgo’s classic story Private Peaceful will tour in a new ensemble version by Simon Reade, directed by Elle While and presented by Nottingham Playhouse Theatre Company. It follows a country boy who finds himself fighting in a war he doesn’t understand for people he cannot respect. It debuts at Nottingham Playhouse from 27 March to 11 April before going on tour.
Theatre company Frantic Assembly is celebrating 25 years with a new show, I Think We Are Alone, written by Sally Abbott and co-directed by Kathy Burke and Scott Graham. This uplifting play about the need for love and forgiveness opens at Theatre Royal Plymouth from 3 to 8 February.
Home in Manchester and The Place in London have commissioned a new play, A Little Space, from leading theatre companies Gecko and Mind the Gap. With Gecko’s devising performer Dan Watson, it promises to be an intricately crafted piece of physical theatre about finding space where we can escape the world and be ourselves. The tour starts at Home where it runs from 12 to 15 February.
After success at Edinburgh Fringe, HIV+ theatre-maker Nathaniel Hall presents his “hilarious” and “heart-breaking” autobiographical solo show, First Time, about attempting to stay positive in a negative world. He will take it round England after starting at Vault Festival in London from 28 January to 2 February.
Another Edinburgh Fringe and Vault Festival hit is Ladykiller, written by Madeline Gould and directed by Madelaine Moore. A chambermaid contemplates the body of the woman she has just killed in this blood-soaked morality tale about power, privilege and tearing up the gender rule book on psychopathy. Produced by The Thelmas, it is going on an extensive UK tour, with over 30 dates scheduled, powering off on 3 March at Ventnor Exchange on the Isle of Wight.
Theatre company Fifth Word are touring a new production of Lava by James Fritz, whose debut play Four Minutes Twelve Seconds is being revived at Oldham Coliseum in February. Originally staged at Nottingham Playhouse in 2018, Lava is set in a Britain that is recovering from the impact of a small asteroid, where a young man, Vin, finds he cannot speak despite the help of his friend Rach. This tender, compassionate play starts its tour at Salisbury Playhouse from 23 to 25 April.
Another play returning for more touring in 2020 is The Kite Runner, based on Khaled Hosseini’s international bestselling novel. Set in Afghanistan, this haunting tale of friendship spans cultures and continents and follows one man’s journey to confront his past and find redemption. The tour takes off at Waterside Theatre in Aylesbury from 21 February.
Malory Towers, Emma Wise’s musical inspired by Enid Blyton’s tales of a girls’ public school, returns for a new tour this spring and summer. The new term kicks off on 27 March at Theatre by the Lake in Cumbria.
Blackeyed Theatre’s new adaptation of another literary classic, Jane Eyre, continues its tour with many more dates in 2020. Adapted by Nick Lane and directed by Adrian McDougall, it features Kelsey Short, Ben Warwick, Camilla Simson, Eleanor Toms and Oliver Hamilton. Jane’s next stop will be at the Hazlitt Theatre in Maidstone, Kent, from 15 to 16 January.
Read our Touring Preview Part One