Category Archives: Entertaining Mr Sloane

Theatre – our picks for 2009

  • , December 30, 2008

Maybe the West End will economically implode in 2009. Maybe the Arts Council will turn out to have invested its funds in an iffy bank in Lapland. But I can’t recall a year that, as early as now, looks so promisingly busy.

Will 2009 be yet another year in which upmarket revivals keep substituting for the new plays that a healthy theatre needs? Yes and no. The West End has yet to announce anything obviously fresh – though it does promise Judi Dench, Ian McKellen (pictured) and Jude Law in classics ancient and modern – but the nonprofit-making sector is compensating. The National offers Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice (starts February 4), which follows a pair of star-crossed lovers through four centuries, as well as Samuel Adamson’s Mrs Affleck (January 20), a 1950s story “inspired” by Ibsen’s Little Eyolf, and the return to the stage of Peter (Our Friends in the North) Flannery, although his Burnt by the Sun (starts February 24) is adapted from a Russian film about Stalin’s Terror.

Another welcome returner is Jez Butterworth, with two new plays: a comedy at the Almeida about “ordinary people who hate what they’ve become” called Parlour Song (March 19-May 9) and, at the Royal Court, Jerusalem (July 10-Aug 15), a “comic, contemporary vision of life in our green and pleasant land” that stars Mark Rylance. Both theatres promise other premieres, the Almeida a second Adamson, this time a play about a long-lost musician called The Quiet Island (Oct 22-Dec 5), and, at the Royal Court, Mark Ravenhill’s supposedly “visceral” Over There (Feb 25-Mar 21), as well as Wallace Shawn’s new Grasses of a Thousand Colours (May 12-Jun 13), starring Miranda Richardson and the author himself.

Meanwhile, the Barbican stages Shun-kin (Jan 30-Feb 21), which is Complicite’s latest imaginative take on a foreign writer, this time the Japanese Jun’ichiro Tanizaki. The Old Vic brings us Richard Dreyfuss in Complicit (Jan 7-Feb 21), a play about an embattled journalist by the American dramatist Joe Sutton. But, like our other major theatres, Kevin Spacey’s Vic will be relying a lot on revivals. Myself, I can’t wait to discover if Dancing at Lughnasa (Feb 26-May 9), which floored me at the National in 1990, is Brian Friel’s finest play. And at the end of the year comes the Bridge Project, a collaboration between the Vic and Brooklyn’s Academy of Music. This begins a three-year season with two productions by Sam Mendes (May 23-Aug 15) playing in rep: Chekhov’s Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare’s Winter’s Tale, each with Simon Russell Beale and Sinead Cusack.

Appetising stuff, as is the Donmar’s programme for 2009. At its West End base, Wyndham’s, Michael Grandage’s bold little theatre presents Judi Dench in Yukio Mishima’s Madame de Sade (Mar 13-May 23) a look at the predatory aristocrat through the eyes of his women, and Jude Law’s Hamlet. After Law is seen at Wyndham’s in a Donmar production (May 22-Aug 29) that was to have been directed by Kenneth Branagh and will now be staged by Michael Grandage, what next? The Daniel Craig Hamlet? Overdue, I’d say.

At its headquarters in Seven Dials the Donmar is scarcely less stellar, bringing us Ian McDiarmid as a troubled priest in his own adaptation of Andrew O’Hagan’s Be Near Me (Jan 22-Mar 14), Jonathan Pryce in Athol Fugard’s mythic Dimetos (Mar 19-May 9) and Gillian Anderson as drama’s most famous wife in Ibsen’s Doll’s House (May 14-Jul 18).

Other top actors are waiting in the wings, too, among them Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart will play Beckett’s clownish tramps in Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket (Apr 30-Jun 28), Ken Stott stars in Arthur Miller’s View from the Bridge at the Duke of York’s (Jan 22-May 16), Imelda Staunton and Matthew Horne in Joe Orton’s mischievous Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Trafalgar Studios (Jan 22-Apr 11), Pete Postlethwaite as a down-at-heel Lear at the Young Vic (Jan 29-Mar 28), James McAvoy in Richard Greenberg’s Three Days of Rain at the Apollo (Jan 30-May 2), and, at the Gielgud (Jan 27-May 2), Alison Steadman as a dotty Leeds housewife in the revival of Alan Bennett’s Enjoy.

Not that plays need big names, as Lee Hall’s fine Pitman Painters, which involves artistically inclined miners, should confirm when it returns to the National (Jan 27). There, it will join a revival of Tom Stoppard’s play about Soviet dissidents, Every Good Boy Deserves Favour (starts Jan 12) and will soon be joined by Rupert Goold’s production of J.B. Priestley’s elegiac Time and the Conways (starts April 28). The summer season at Shakespeare’s Globe includes Romeo and Juliet (Apr 23-Aug 23), Troilus and Cressida (Jul 12-Sept 20) and Euripides’s Helen (Aug 2-23). And the RSC will be pretty busy, too: at the Novello, where its imports from Stratford include Gregory Doran’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Jan 15-Feb 7) and at its temporary home base, the Courtyard, where Antony Sher will play Prospero in The Tempest (Feb 14-Mar 14).

Further north, at Birmingham Rep, expect an ambitious production of Philip Pullman’s His Dark Materials (Mar 13- Apr 11) and, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse in Leeds, a genuine curio: the comedian Lenny Henry as the Moor in Northern Broadsides’ production of Othello (Feb 14-Mar 14). Plums in the regions also include new plays at Manchester’s Royal Exchange and Nottingham Playhouse: Edna O’Brien’s Haunted (May 13-Jun 13), with Brenda Blethyn as a deeply troubled wife, and Stephen Lowe’s Glamour (Feb 6-21), about a local picture palace.

And the impending musicals? What will join the revival of Oliver! already in previews at Drury Lane? Well, Patricia Hodge and Lynda Bellingham come to Noel Coward in and as Calendar Girls (starts April 4), meaning WI ladies posing in the nude for charity. The musical version of Wedekind’s once-scandalous Spring Awakening comes from New York to the Lyric Hammersmith (Jan 23-Feb 28). At the Palace, Monty Python’s Spamalot gives way to the larky-sounding Priscilla Queen of the Desert (starts March 10), with Jason Donovan as an Aussie songbird. And the London Palladium plays host to Sister Act (starts May 7), a musical version of the film that saw Whoopi Goldberg as a singer on the run from the mob and will be co-produced by the actress herself. See what I mean by a frantic year?

Almeida: www.almeida.co.uk; 020-7359 4404

National: www.nationaltheatre.org.uk; 020-7452 3000

Royal Court: www.royalcourttheatre.com; 020-7565 5000

Barbican: www.barbican.org.uk; 0845 1207500

Old Vic: www.oldvictheatre.com; 0870 0606628

Donmar: www.donmarwarehouse.com; 0870 0606624 and www.donmarwestend.com; 0844 4825120

Haymarket: www.trh.co.uk; 0845 4811870

Duke of York’s: www.aviewfromthebridge.co.uk; 0870 0606623

Trafalgar Studio: www.theambassadors.com; 0870 0606632

Young Vic: www.youngvic.org; 020-7928 6363

Apollo: www.threedaysofrain; 0844 4124658

Gielgud: www.gielgud-theatre.com; 0844 4825130

Globe: www.shakespeares-globe.org; 020-7401 9919

Novello: www.rsc.org; 0844 4825135

Courtyard, Stratford: www.rsc.org.uk; 0844 8001110

Birmingham Rep: www.birmingham-rep.co.uk; 0121-236 4455

West Yorkshire Playhouse: www.wyp.org.uk; 0113-213 7700

Tobacco Company, Bristol: www.tobaccofactory.com; 0117-902 0344

Royal Exchange, Manchester: www.royalexchange.co.uk; 0161-833 9833

Nottingham Playhouse: www.nottinghamplayhouse.co.uk; 0115-941 9419

Noel Coward: www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk; 0844 4825141

Lyric, Hammersmith: www.lyric.co.uk; 0871 2211729

Palace: www.priscillathemusical.com; 0844 7550016

London Palladium: www.officiallondontheatre.co.uk; 0871 2970748

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