Category Archives: Waiting For Godot

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:; 020-7359 4404

National:; 020-7452 3000

Royal Court:; 020-7565 5000

Barbican:; 0845 1207500

Old Vic:; 0870 0606628

Donmar:; 0870 0606624 and; 0844 4825120

Haymarket:; 0845 4811870

Duke of York’s:; 0870 0606623

Trafalgar Studio:; 0870 0606632

Young Vic:; 020-7928 6363

Apollo: www.threedaysofrain; 0844 4124658

Gielgud:; 0844 4825130

Globe:; 020-7401 9919

Novello:; 0844 4825135

Courtyard, Stratford:; 0844 8001110

Birmingham Rep:; 0121-236 4455

West Yorkshire Playhouse:; 0113-213 7700

Tobacco Company, Bristol:; 0117-902 0344

Royal Exchange, Manchester:; 0161-833 9833

Nottingham Playhouse:; 0115-941 9419

Noel Coward:; 0844 4825141

Lyric, Hammersmith:; 0871 2211729

Palace:; 0844 7550016

London Palladium:; 0871 2970748

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.