Category Archives: Grandage Michael

Theatre: what not to miss in 2009

Polly Stenham’s Tusk Tusk opens in London in March. Photograph: Sarah Lee/Guardian

Polly Stenham

Spring Awakening

This rock-musical version of Frank Wedekind’s play about teenage sexual angst in 19th-century Germany was a big hit in New York. Now the Atlantic Theater Company production, directed by Michael Mayer and choroegraphed by Bill T Jones, comes to London with a young British cast. Let’s hope it doesn’t shy away from the original play’s controversial scene of communal masturbation.

• Lyric Theatre, Hammersmith (0871 221 1729), 23 Jan-28 Feb

The Hounding of David Oluwale

The stage version of an astonishing book by Kester Aspden, described as «a kind of In Cold Blood set in Leeds». It tells the story of the eponymous hero, whose battered body was found in the river Aire in 1969, and who proved to have been the victim of systematic police brutality. Aspden’s book has been adapted for Eclipse Theatre by Oladipo Agboluaje and is directed by Dawn Walton. Its staging promises to reopen old wounds and ancient scandals.

• West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (0113 213 7700), 31 Jan-21 Feb, then touring.


This looks like being the key Shakespeare play of 2009 with two prominent productions on offer. The first of the year, directed by Kathryn Hunter for the RSC, stars the tremendous Patrice Naiambana, who hugely impressed in the Shakespeare history cycle. The second has Shakespeare debutant Lenny Henry as the Moor, in a Northern Broadsides production directed by Barrie Rutter. Since both go on extensive spring tours, they should offer a fascinating chance to contrast and compare.

• RSC production is at the Arts Centre, Warwick (024 7652 4524) from 30 Jan – 7 Feb, then touring. Northern Broadsides’ production opens at West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (0113 213 7700) from 14 Feb-14 March, then touring.

England People Very Nice

Richard Bean addressed the state of the nation in The English Game in 2008. Now he tackles the subject of immigration, from the 17th century to today. In this epic comedy he shows how the French Huguenots, the Irish, the Jews and the Bangladeshis have successively entered the chaotic world of Bethnal Green in east London. Nicholas Hynter, opening a new NT Travelex £10 season, directs a large cast headed by Olivia Colman and Sacha Darwan.

• Olivier Theatre, London (020-7452 3000), 4 Feb-30 April.

Madame de Sade

Judi Dench and Rosamund Pike head an all-star cast, including Frances Barber and Deborah Findlay, for the third play in the Donmar’s sell-out West End season. The play itself, written by Yukio Mishima and translated by Donald Keene, is set in Paris on the eve of revolution and brings to life the story of the Marquis de Sade, through the experience of six remarkable women. Given that director Michael Grandage can seemingly walk on water at the moment, this should be another success.

• Wyndham’s Theatre, London (0844 482 5120), 13 March-23 May.

Tusk Tusk

Polly Stenham won golden opinions, and a shelf-full of awards, for her first play, That Face, in 2007. But the second play is always the real test. Again she turns her attention to a dysfunctional family, starting with three children playing hide and seek and waiting for a mobile phone to come to life. But whose call are they waiting for, and why are they home alone? The answers, one hopes, will be revealed by Jeremy Herrin’s production designed by Robert Innes Hopkins.

• Royal Court Theatre Upstairs, London (020 7565 5000), 28 March-2 May.

Waiting For Godot

Reviled in 1955 for its obscurity, Beckett’s play has now achieved the status of a pop-classic: «the laughter-riot of two continents», it was once dubbed in a New York revival. It now comes to us with Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart as the two odorous old tramps waiting for the non-arriving Godot. Since both actors are well schooled in the tradition of north-country, music-hall comedy, they should have no difficulty with Beckett’s vaudevillian humour. Sean Mathias directs.

• Theatre Royal Haymarket, London (0845 481 1870), 30 April-28 June.


Famed as a novelist, Edna O’Brien is certainly underrated as a playwright. Here, in this brand new play, she returns to her familiar themes of love and betrayal. The story revolves around a middle-aged man, his wife and his passion for a young girl. Brenda Blethyn, who won glowing reviews for her performance in The Glass Menagerie both in Manchester and on tour, stars in this production, and the ever-reliable Braham Murray directs.

• Royal Exchange, Manchester (0161 833 9833), 13 May-13 June.

Julius Caesar

Lucy Bailey, with her productions of Titus Andronicus and Timon of Athens at the Bankside Globe in London, has emerged as one of the best directors of Shakespeare’s more difficult plays. Although this Roman tragedy is always seen as a gilt-edged classic, it rarely lives up to expectations. Can Bailey take the curse of this broken-backed epic? One hopes so, especially as she will be working with the RSC’s newly created three-year ensemble.

• Courtyard, Stratford-upon-Avon (0844 800 1110), 15 May-2 Oct.

Everybody Loves a Winner

Bingo was once seen as theatre’s deadly enemy. Now it takes over the Royal Exchange, with the in-the-round auditorium turned into a bingo parlour, and some of the audience taking part in the action. The play itself, which kicks off the 2009 Manchester International Festival, will be devised by the director, Neil Bartlett, and the cast in rehearsal, so who knows what to expect? An entertaining shambles, or a triumphant full house in which some spectators may actually turn a profit?

• Royal Exchange, Manchester (0161 833 9833), 1 July-1 Aug.