Last Updated on 16th January 2018
To talk about every show I’m looking forward to in 2018 would extend this column beyond your patience, so I thought I would focus on three different aspects-and throw in a few more!
One of my favourite directors is Emma Rice, who got me back into the Globe theatre after feeling that it had become too staid for my tastes in the years before. Now she is free of any shackles they may have put on her, I’m excited to see her new work, and to welcome back one of her classics. Her new company, Wise Children, is the new company in residence at the Old Vic, London, and the first production will be an adaptation of Angela Carter’s classic novel Wise Children. A story of twins born on the wrong side of the bed sheets to a theatrical knight, its theatricality and storytelling makes it a perfect match for Rice’s visionary, playful theatre making. No details yet of its appearance, but it should be sometime in 2018. Meanwhile, her classic Kneehigh production of Brief Encounter returns to the West End, in the newly restored Empire Cinema. It’s rare for me to see a show more than once. I saw the first London run three times- if you haven’t seen it, you really do need to catch it! It remains on my list of all time favourite productions.
One of my faves is Martin McDonagh, so a new play by him is always a major event. Hangmen was a triumph at the Royal Court and West End in 2015, so it’s a relief that the wait has been short for A Very Very Very Dark Matter which opens at the Bridge Theatre in October. Starring Jim Broadbent in his first collaboration with McDonagh since The Pillowman, it’s the tale of Hans Christian Anderson and the dark secret that dwells in his attic upstairs, her existence a secret from the outside world. The Bridge is a beautiful theatre, with enough leg room for even a giant like me, and I can’t wait to see this play! It should be one of the hits of the year, but if a new play wasn’t enough, another McDonagh, the rarely performed The Lieutenant of Inishmore, is revived. The West End debut of Aiden Turner has set the box office alight for this production, and it’s directed by Michael Grandage, who is also reviving Red, starring Alfred Molina, revisiting his role as Mark Rothko. Both plays should be major events this year.
Much has been made in some critical circles of the National Theatre’s Oliver stage ‘flops’ in 2017. Personally, I really liked Salome, didn’t see Common, but agreed with my fellow critics (and audience), that Saint George and the Dragon couldn’t be saved. But that ignores Angels in America, Follies, Network, My Country: A Work in progress and the powerhouse of new writing that the Dorfman became, (catch the transfer of Beginnings by David Eldridge at the Ambassadors from January). For me, it was the theatre I enjoyed most last year, and the signs are that a strong 2018 is ahead. Macbeth with Rory Kinnear and Anne Marie Duff should be a classic, and Amadeus makes a welcome return in the Olivier. I’m really looking forward to the new production of Rodney Ackland’s Absolute Hell. Judi Dench is on record stating that the role of Christine Foskett is her favourite role of all time, and the DVD of the production, (in the box set Judi Dench at the BBC), demonstrates that love, it’s a barn storming part. Set in bomb blasted post war Soho, there is no news yet on casting, but, naturally, many are hoping for Olivia Coleman! In the Dorfman, John is a new play by Annie Baker, whose The Flick was a major hit here in 2016, The Great Wave is an epic new thriller beginning with a storm on a Japanese beach, and Natasha Gordon’s Nine Night explores the celebration of the Jamaican Nine Night Wake. Later in the year Sam Mendes will direct The Lehman Trilogy in the Lyttleton, an epic telling of the rise and fall and the Lehman brothers. The National could be the place to be again this year!
AND ON THE RADAR….
My regional theatres are the New Wolsey Theatre and the Mercury Theatre, and both are staging new musicals this season- the new British musical seems to be in robust health! At the New Wolsey, they have gone local and are celebrating the 40th anniversary of Ipswich Town winning the FA Cup, with a show created from fan memories and a live soundtrack of hits from 1978. At the Mercury, Pieces of String, a new musical by Gus Gowland, is set simultaneously in the 1940s and the present day, and given the Mercury’s excellent recent record of staging musicals, it should be a highlight. I am also looking forward to the staging of the Mercury’s Playwriting Prize 2017 Europe After the Rain by Oliver Bennett. I was one of the readers of this completion, and singled out this play as the winner, Bennett is an original voice, and it’s a topical play teeming with ideas and staging finesse. Not to be missed!
Whatever you see in 2018, I hope theatre continues to reward you, and you find many productions to hug to your heart and remember forever.