LONDON SPRING SEASON PREVIEW: In the West End and Beyond, Expect Helen Mirren, Daniel Radcliffe, Jude Law and More
By Mark Shenton
Just as Broadway often lives by its star power, London theatre is also full of big names this spring, with many returning home to the stage where their careers began and have long drawn sustenance from.
The year ahead already promises Judi Dench, Helen Mirrren, Daniel Radcliffe, Jude Law, Kristin Scott Thomas, Rufus Sewell, Rupert Everett, Antony Sher, Felicity Kendal, Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones, Fiona Shaw and James McAvoy, as well as returning stage comics Rowan Atkinson and Lee Evans in plays and Kim Cattrall — British-born and trained but long resident in the U.S. — joining them.
Two Tony-winning musicals, The Book of Mormon and Once, arrive from New York to lead the musical race, joined by the first West End revival of A Chorus Line since the original production was recreated here, plus new musical adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and From Here to Eternity.
The sell-out 2011 winner Book of Mormon, by South Park writers Matt Stone and Trey Parker joining forces with Avenue Q's Robert Lopez, comes to the Prince of Wales Feb. 25, with Gavin Creel and Jared Gertner as Elder Price and Elder Cunningham, respectively, who previously played the roles in the U.S. national touring company.
The 2012 Tony-winning Best Musical winner Once, based on the Irish indie film of the same name but first made into s stage musical at New York Theatre Workshop before transferring to Broadway, comes to the Phoenix from March 16, but it is cleverly doing an Irish try-out at Dublin's Gaiety Theatre beforehand, from Feb. 22.
Also from Broadway, there are revivals for two classics and one mostly forgotten flop. Marvin Hamlisch's A Chorus Line receives its first West End revival since the original production played the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane; this time, Bob Avian, co-choreographer on the original production, will recreate it at the London Palladium from Feb. 2 with a new British cast led by John Partridge as Zach, Scarlett Strallen as Cassie, Leigh Zimmerman as Sheila and Victoria Hamilton-Barritt as Diana. And this summer's musical at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park will be The Sound of Music, the first Rodgers and Hammerstein ever presented there, to be directed by Rachel Kavanaugh (from July 25).
Jerry Herman's 1969 Broadway flop Dear World will receive its British premiere at the Charing Cross Theatre, beginning performances from Feb. 4. Broadway's Betty Buckley will play the role originally created by Angela Lansbury under the direction of Gillian Lynne, choreographer of the original productions of Cats and The Phantom of the Opera. Lynne helped guide Buckley to her Tony win in the original Broadway company of Cats.
One Roald Dahl story "Matilda" is already a smash-hit musical in the West End (and Broadway bound in March); can another, even more famous one, strike lucky, too, when Charlie and the Chocolate Factory comes to the Theatre Royal, Drury Lane from May 18? With a book by prolific British playwright David Greig and new songs from Hairspray's Marc Shaiman and Scott Wittman, it is directed by Sam Mendes, with Douglas Hodge — recently on Broadway as Cyrano de Bergerac — swapping a giant nose with a talent for creating sweets to play Willy Wonka.
From Here to Eternity, based on a 1951 novel that's best known for a film version of the same name, is also being musicalised, with lyricist Tim Rice working with new composer Stuart Brayson and book writer Bill Oakes, at the Shaftesbury from Sept. 30. It will be preceded by the return of Burn the Floor, the ballroom dance show that previously played there as well as on Broadway, running from March 6 and headlined by "Strictly Come Dancing" stars Robin Windsor and Kristina Rihanoff. Also returning is Midnight Tango, another tango-based dance show that will run at the Phoenix Theatre from Jan. 30 with a cast that includes two more "Strictly Come Dancing" stars, Vincent Simone and Flavia Cacace.
Off-West End, Soho Theatre will host the world premiere of LIFT, a musical by Craig Adams and Ian Watson, from Jan. 30, set in the elevator of a London tube station. The fringe will also see the return of Ivor Novello's 1951 backstage musical Gay's the Word at Jermyn Street Theatre from Feb. 7, that marks the first full London run of a Novello musical in over 40 years.
New Plays and Adaptations
There is nothing like a dame, and there is nothing like the two called Helen Mirren and Judi Dench. Mirren, who has previously played Britain's reigning monarch in the Peter Morgan scripted film "The Queen" (for which she won an Oscar in 2007), will now star in the same role in a new play, also written by Morgan; The Audience, which comes to the Gielgud Theatre from Feb. 15, imagines a series of pivotal meetings between the Queen and various prime ministers in their weekly meetings. Stephen Daldry directs a cast that also includes Haydn Gwynne as Margaret Thatcher, Robert Hardy as Winston Churchill and Paul Ritter as John Major, amongst others.
Judi Dench will join forces with Ben Whishaw to star in the world premiere of John Logan's Peter and Alice, presented as the second in the Michael Grandage Company's residency at the Noel Coward Theatre (previewing from March 9). Grandage and Logan previously collaborated on Red, a play about painter Mark Rothko, that premiered at London's Donmar and subsequently transferred to Broadway; now they reunite for a new play also based on real people, but who are best known for for the fictional ones they inspired: It revolves around a meeting between Alice Liddell Hargreaves (the original Alice in Wonderland) and Peter Llewelyn Davies (the original Peter Pan) at an exhibition in 1932.
Another writer/director team — Bruce Norris and Dominic Cooke — reunite at the Royal Court, where the latter bows out as artistic director by staging the premiere of Bruce Norris' The Low Road, which the theatre commissioned from March 21. Cooke previously directed Norris' The Pain and the Itch and Clybourne Park at the theatre, with the latter subsequently transferring to the West End. (Meanwhile, the fringe Gate Theatre will offer the U.K. premiere of another Norris play, Purple Heart, from Feb. 28, directed by that theatre's artistic director, Christopher Haydon).
Also at the Royal Court are a new play about the politics of global banking (If You Don't Let Us Dream, We Won't Let You Sleep, from Feb. 15) and the premiere of Polly Stenham's third play (No Quarter, in the upstairs studio from Jan. 11); her first two works That Face and Tusk Tusk also premiered there. The Bush, another theatre that specializes in new writing, will also stage a new play about the roots of the financial crisis, Clare Duffy's Money the Game Show, from Jan. 31.
The National Theatre's sell-out production of Simon Stephens' stage adaptation of Mark Haddon's novel The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, originally seen at the Cottesloe Theatre, will transfer to the West End's Apollo from March 1, with Luke Treadaway reprising his performance as Christopher Boone, a 15-year-old math genius with behavioral problems. It is directed by Marianne Elliott, co-director of the NT's worldwide hit War Horse. Transferring within the National itself, from the Cottesloe to the largest Olivier auditorium, is James Graham's House of Commons drama This House, which resumes performances there from Feb. 28.
More new plays will also be premiered at other theatres around the London suburbs. At Hampstead Theatre, actress/playwright Amelia Bullmore's Di and Viv and Rose (from Jan. 17) will be followed by novelist-turned-playwright William Boyd's Longing, based on two Chekhov short stories (from Feb. 28). Islington's Almeida will present The Turn of the Screw, newly adapted by playwright Rebecca Leinkiewicz from the Henry James novella from Jan. 18 and the world premiere of Lucy Kirkwood's Chimera, co-produced with Headlong, from May 17.
At Kilburn's Tricycle, Indhu Rubasingham's first season as artistic director continues with the U.K. premiere of leading African-American playwright Don Evans' One Monkey Don't Stop No Now (from Jan. 16), and it is followed by Paper Dolls, adapted from Tomer Heymann's award-winning documentary about Filipino care workers for elderly Orthodox Jewish men in Tel Aviv (from Feb. 28).
At the Young Vic Rufus Norris will direct Feast, a collaborative show written by five playwrights (from Jan. 25), and film director Joe Wright (best known for "Anna Karenina," "Atonement" and "Pride and Prejudice") will direct Chiwetel Ejiofor in the London premiere of Aimé Césaire's A Season in the Congo, a re-telling of Congo's turbulent first year of freedom (from July 6).
Kneehigh's production of Steptoe & Son, adapted from Gallon and Simpson's TV scripts, will play a London season at the Lyric Hammersmith from March 19, after premiering previously in Leeds; and Stratford East's Theatre Royal will host a London transfer for Cora Bisset's Glasgow Girls from Scotland (from Feb. 8).
On the literary front, there will also be new stage adaptations of Dickens' Great Expectations (at the Vaudeville from Feb. 6), adapted by prolific Scottish playwright Jo Clifford (formerly John Clifford) and Jane Austen's Pride and Prejudice, dramatized by Simon Read (at the Open Air Theatre, Regent's Park from June 20, where another classic stage version of Harper Lee's To Kill a Mockingbird will also be staged from May 16). Phyllida Lloyd will direct Fiona Shaw and dancer Daniel Hay-Gordon in a stage version of Samuel Taylor Coleridge's epic poem The Rime of the Ancient Mariner (at the Old Vic Tunnels from Jan. 4).
The West End will see the world premiere of Barking in Essex by the late television writer Clive Exton, starring Lee Evans and Sheila Hancock at Wyndham's from Sept. 6. Prior to that, leading Swedish actor Krister Henriksson, who is best known for playing the title role in the Swedish TV series "Wallander," is to make his West End debut in an adaptation of Hjalmer Söderberg's novel Doktor Glas, at the same theatre from April 6.
Revivals in London
More West End Shakespeare will also see the launch of the new Jamie Lloyd company at a transformed, reconfigured Trafalgar Studios with James McAvoy playing the title role in Macbeth (from Feb. 9), and Vanessa Redgrave and James Earl Jones reuniting after their previous Broadway and West End triumphs in Driving Miss Daisy to star as Beatrice and Benedick in Mark Rylance's production of Much Ado About Nothing (at the Old Vic from Sept. 7).
Also at the Old Vic there will be revivals of Terrence Rattigan's The Winslow Boy (from March 8) and Tennessee Williams' Sweet Bird of Youth, starring Kim Cattrall as a Hollywood actress down on her luck (from June 1), under the direction of Marianne Elliott. There's a double helping of Ibsen at the Young Vic across the street from the Old Vic, where Carrie Cracknell's production ofA Doll's House, starring Hattie Morahan and Dominic Rowan, returns from April 2, and is followed by Public Enemy, directed by Richard Jones, from May 4.
At the Donmar Warehouse, Joe Wright — who was himself brought up in the shadow of the Little Angel Theatre in Islington that his parents founded — will stage Pinero's Victorian backstage play Trelawny of the Wells (from Feb. 15), to be followed by the first London revival of Conor McPherson's 1997 play The Weir (from April 18), directed by the Donmar's artistic director Josie Rourke.
Simon Stephens' 2002 play Port receive a new production at the National, again directed by the busy Marianne Elliott, who also staged its original production (in the Lyttelton Theatre from Jan. 22). Also at the National, Antony Sher will star in the title role of the 1931 German play The Captain of Kopenick, directed by former RSC artistic director Adrian Noble making his NT debut (in the Olivier from Jan. 29).
In the West End, there will be revivals of Harold Pinter's Old Times (starring Kristin Scott Thomas, Rufus Sewell and Lia Williams, at the Pinter Theatre from Jan. 12) and Simon Gray's Quartermaine's Terms (starring Rowan Atkinson at Wyndham's from Jan. 23, whose original production was directed by Pinter). Zoe Wanamaker will star in a revival of Peter Nichols' Passion Play (at the Duke of York's from May 1), and Felicity Kendal and Kara Tointon will appear in a West End transfer for Bath Theatre Royal's touring production of Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking (at Wyndham's from May 14).
Hampstead Theatre's recent revival of David Hare's The Judas Kiss will transfer to the Duke of York's (from Jan. 17), with Rupert Everett reprising his performance as Oscar Wilde and Freddie Fox as his lover Lord Alfred "Bosie" Douglas. Another more contemporary (and happier) gay love story classic, Jonathan Harvey's Beautiful Thing, will return to the Arts in a new production starring Suranne Jones, from April 13.
Another modern classic making a welcome return, under its original director Max Stafford-Clark's auspices, is Timberlake Wertenbaker's Our Country's Good, which concludes a national tour for his Out of Joint company with a season at the St. James Theatre (from Jan. 30).
At Leicester's Curve, Frances Ruffelle (Tony winner for the original production of Les Miserables, in which she created the role of Eponine) will play the title role in Pam Gems' Piaf (from Feb. 22), and at Bath Theatre Royal, Lenny Henry will star in a revival of August Wilson's Fences (from Feb. 18), prior to a national tour.
Big musicals heading on the U.K. touring road in 2013 are Priscilla Queen of the Desert (kicking off at Manchester's Opera House from Feb. 9), Ghost (starting at Cardiff's Wales Millennium Centre in April) and Wicked (at Manchester's Palace Theatre from Sept. 12). While the tour of Agatha Christie's The Mousetrap continues into 2013, another West End comic thriller The 39 Steps sets out on the road, too, starting at Cambridge's Arts Theatre from Jan. 19.
Finally, Barry Humphries will return to the U.K. for his final farwell tour as Dame Edna and other characters in Eat Pray Laugh!, starting at Milton Keynes from Oct. 23.
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