I’d hate for you to ever think these lists come easily to me. They really don’t; I sweat over the selection for days. Ridiculous, really. But there’s this terrible balance between keeping the list short enough to hold attention but making sure great shows get shared. Hence why I’ve been defeated here, yet again, and we have a top twelve.
And that’s a top twelve that doesn’t include John, Amadeus, or Hamilton. Ridiculous really. But do note for those first two, we’re into the last few weeks so time is passing. As for Hamilton, I don’t think I can bring myself to recommend a show where a ticket in the gods has leapt to over seventy quid. A shame. And a betrayal, really.
And it’s not necessarily true that implies being a big-hitter gets you a place on this list either. For example, Macbeth is the big opener at the NT this month with Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff but *shrugs*. I’d rather go see one of the below or either Girls & Boys, Jubilee or Dust, which I recommended last month.
1. The Inheritance, Young Vic Theatre
Only a few tickets left for this two-parter that gives a panoramic view of gay life in New York City today, a generation after the height of the AIDS crisis. Directed by Stephen Daldry (who also directed The Jungle, one of the best shows of 2017) and with Vanessa Redgrave in the cast, there’s certainly a lot of starriness. But there is gripping drama here too. Of those fears that gripped the gay community in the 1980s, as well as that activism, the new communities and the new kinds of isolation, what has survived? And what does the experience of those terrible years mean to the young, overflowing with life, looking for love? Runs 2 March to 19 May. Tickets from £10.
2. Summer and Smoke, Almeida Theatre
Now, this isn’t the most famous of Tennessee Williams plays, but it’s certainly not alien subject matter for the great man as this centers around a passionate romance between a vicar’s daughter and a doctor, and examines themes of love and fears, and insecurity and self-destruction, that are all so familiar in his other famous works. And there’s much to look forward to here too with the marvelous Patsy Ferran, fresh from My Mum’s a Twat, leading an ensemble cast, and Rebecca Frecknall in the director’s chair returning to a play she helmed at the Southwark Playhouse six years ago. Runs to 7 April. Tickets from £10.
Misty, Bush Theatre
“Here is the city that we live in/Notice that the city that we live in is alive/Analyse our city and you’ll find that our city even has bodily features/Our city’s organs function like any living creature/Our city is a living creature/And if you’re wise enough, you’ll know not all of us are blood cells…/Some of us are viruses.” Arinzé Kene delivers an epic, lyrical journey through the pulsating heart and underground soul of inner city London. An inventive blend of gig theatre, spoken word, live art and direct address, Misty confronts the assumptions and expectations underpinning the act of telling a story. Runs 15 March – 21 April. Tickets from £10.
Humble Boy, Orange Tree Theatre
This witty comedy from writer Charlotte Jones won the Critics’ Circle Best New Play Award back in 2001. It premiered at the Cottesloe with Simon Russell Beale in the central role of Felix, a modern-day Hamlet who returns to his Cotswold family home, grief-stricken about his father’s death, only to find that his mother is already planning her second marriage to a lover she’s had on the side. There’s plenty of laughs but, much like Hamlet, there’s also weightier matter here with Felix weighing up which is trickier – affairs of the heart or unified string theory. As you do. Runs 8 March — 14 April. Tickets from £15.
Caroline, Or Change, Hampstead Theatre
I think there’s a more than a few of us who can’t wait to see this transfer of Tony Kushner’s musical from Chichester, complete with the glorious Sharon D. Clarke reprising her role as Caroline Thibodeaux in Michael Longhurst’s production. Set in Civil Rights-era Louisiana, Caroline is a black housemaid in a Jewish household. She washes the white family’s clothes to feed her hungry children but the change in the title refers as much to the moral dilemma brought about by sudden find of one the children’s pocket money amongst the washing, as it does to the winds of change sweeping the country. Runs 12 March to 24 April. Tickets from £10.
Black Men Walking, Royal Court Theatre
This play, written by rapper Testament, is based on an actual Black Men walking group in the UK set up some fifteen years ago to encourage Black British men out of a sedentary lifestyle to get some exercise in their life. Only the walking groups became more than this, allowing men to build up friendships and networks. This play centres around three men from a walking group who take the decision to go out and walk through the Peak District on a day when the walk should have been called off because of the weather. As Testament says, “Black Men Walking is a celebration of blackness, of Britishness, and the fighting spirit that Yorkshire has.” Runs 21 March – 7 April. Tickets from £12.
Tina Turner: The Musical, Aldwych Theatre
Approved by the icon herself, this musical doesn’t just have the great music from Tina herself in its score, it is written by Olivier Award-winning playwright Katori Hall (The Mountaintop) and directed by the internationally acclaimed Phyllida Lloyd. With such quality creatives we’ve damn good reason for our hopes to be high. The story itself? Well, from humble beginnings in Nutbush, Tennessee, to her transformation into the global Queen of Rock ‘n’ Roll, Tina Turner didn’t just break the rules, she rewrote them. This new stage musical promises to reveal the untold story of a woman who dared to defy the bounds of her age, gender and race. Bring it. Opens 1 March. Tickets from £10.
DollyWould, Soho Theatre
Ah, the welcome return of Sh!t Theatre. And, this time, we’re diving into the world of the icon, Dolly Parton. Only, being Sh!t Theatre, there will be side-tracks. Following its sell-out run at the Edinburgh Festival Fringe, DollyWould touches down at Soho Theatre, where this marvellous duo take the Dolly Wood resort as a starting point, with detours via the history of sheep cloning – hello Dolly (the sheep) – and the macabre Body Farm, the FBI facility that investigates the effects of decomposition on the body, which just so happens to be next door to the singer’s magical theme park in Tennessee. Runs March 19 – 14 April. Tickets from £11.
Electra, Bunker Theatre
This could well have me written all over it – a reinvention of the murderous Greek myth of power and prophecy as a lyrical modern epic with a live punk-rock score. Taking the Ancient Greek play as its framework, this modern Electra is set against a backdrop of a revolution, drawing inspiration from modern, international conflicts and uprisings. The revolution is sparked by issues familiar to a modern audience – austerity, unemployment and political corruption. This new adaptation blends the contemporary and ancient, creating a recognisable world that is also one step removed. Runs 27 February – 24 March. Tickets from £12.
The Great Wave, National Theatre
The Motherf**ker with the Hat was one of my favourite plays of 2015 and the Tricycle’s own Indhu Rubasingham is returning to the National to direct The Great Wave, a new thriller about teenage sisters caught in a tsunami. The play comes from the Tricycle’s own writer in residence, Francis Turnly, and it centres around teenage sisters Reiko and Hanako, one of whom survives the huge wave that engulfs a Japanese beach, and the other does not. Their mother, however, cannot reconcile herself to the loss of one of her daughters and her desperate search for her turns a family tragedy into a political issue. Runs 10 March – 14 April. Tickets from £15.
Br’er Cotton, Theatre 503
This one has ‘right now’ written all over it. We’re in Lynchburg, Virginia, on the former site of a cotton mill for this new play from American writer, Tearrance Arvelle Chisholm. 14-year-old Ruffrino is struggling to make sense of his place in an impoverished world filled with seemingly random killings of young black men. As his anger towards reality grows, he moves further away from his family. Losing himself online, Ruffrino’s world sinks around him while he battles to wake up the zombies and prove by any means necessary that Black Lives Matter. Runs 7 – 31 March. Tickets from £17 (concessions available).
Buggy Baby, The Yard
When I hear the phrase ‘horror-comedy,’ my eyes widen in, well, horror. These really do go either way, and yet there is so much here that draws me in. Not only is the glorious Ned Bennett (An Octoroon, Pomona) directing, but the plot is so dark it’s alluring. “My name is Aya. I’m eight months old and I live in a buggy. I share a room with my mum, Nur, and a strange man named Jaden. I bloody love bathtime.” And so we have three characters – Jaden, Nur and Aya – who’ve all escaped another country only to end up in a rotting room in London. Nur goes to college and when she isn’t there, Jaden chews leaves and hallucinates home. He sees giant rabbits with burning red eyes. He thinks the baby, Aya, is someone else, someone dangerous. But she’s just a baby, surely? Runs 7 March — 31 March. Tickets from £15 (concessions available).