THE FIVE BEST PLAYS

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The Independent Culture
Simply Heavenly

(Trafalgar Studios, London)

Langston Hughes's musical from 1957 has the hairs standing on the back of your neck. A dynamite cast lets rip with jazz, gospel and blues. (0870 060 6632) to 5 Mar

The History Boys

(NT: Lyttelton, London)

Entertaining and acutely wise work by Alan Bennett, set in a grammar school during the mid-1980s. (020-7452 3000) to 26 Apr

Festen

(Lyric Theatre, London)

Splendid production, by Rufus Norris, of the Dogme drama about an ill-fated family celebration. Paul Nicholls stars. (0870 890 1107) to 9 Apr

ZMary Poppins

(Prince Edward Theatre, London)

Richard Eyre gives new depths to the material, in what emerges as the year's most joyous musical. (020-7447 5400) to 24 Sept

Journey's End

(Duke of York's, London)

David Grindley's powerfully affecting and smartly acted production of R C Sherriff's potent First World War-set play. (0870 060 6622) to 26 Feb

AND ONE TO AVOID...

Tropicana (London Bridge Vaults, London)

Camp and inconsequential, Shunt's latest show is just an empty tease. Bogus mirth at its least infectious.

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