Best of 2014: Theatre preview

Paul Taylor picks this year’s must-see theatre

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The Independent Culture

King Lear

This production reunites Simon Russell Beale with director Sam Mendes, for whom he has given many of his greatest performances, and with Adrian Scarborough (once perfectly paired in Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead), who will play the Fool. A mouthwatering prospect. National Theatre, London, 14 January to 25 March

The Mistress Contract

A home and an income in exchange for “all sexual acts as requested”. Abi Morgan (The Iron Lady, The Hour) makes her Royal Court debut with what is bound to be a provocative play based on transcripts of a real-life American couple’s conversation during their 30-year relationship. Royal Court, London, 30 January to 22 March

Brian Friel Season

After their splendid Michael Frayn season in 2102, Sheffield Theatres pay a similar tribute to the great Chekhovian Irish dramatist Brian Friel. Translations, Wonderful Tennessee and Afterplay (which catches up with two Chekhov characters 20 years on) will also feature. The Crucible and the Lyceum, Sheffield, 6 February to 8 March

Blithe Spirit

The legendary Angela Lansbury returns to the London stage after four decades to reprise her Broadway role as Coward’s eccentric medium Madame Arcati. Michael Blakemore’s show also brings together Charles Edwards and Janie Dee, two of our most delectable comic actors. Gielgud Theatre, London, 1 March to 7 June

The Testament of Mary

Colm Tóibín’s haunting novel takes to the stage with Fiona Shaw as the Virgin Mary. Exiled, grief-stricken, sceptical about her son’s divinity, she wishes to free his story from the myths. Deborah Warner’s daring production had a brief, controversial run on Broadway. Barbican, London, 1 to 25 May

The Roaring Girl

Director Jo Davies has described this comedy by Dekker and Middleton as “a sort of Jacobean Pussy Riot”, so we are on tenterhooks to see who she will cast as the feisty, cross-dressing swaggerer Moll Cutpurse, a role last played at the RSC 30 years ago by Helen Mirren. Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon, 9 April to 30 September


James Graham, author of the splendid This House, turns his trenchant wit and forensic insight to privacy in the digital age. Sparked by the revelations of Edward Snowden and drawing on interviews with experts, the piece will be directed by Josie Rourke. Donmar Warehouse, London, 10 April to 31 May

Behind the Beautiful Forevers

David Hare and the NT’s Director designate Rufus Norris will bring the slums of Mumbai to the Olivier in this hotly anticipated stage adaptation of the book by Katherine Boo about life in Annawadi, the poverty-stricken area next to the airport. A real-life Slumdog Millionaire. National Theatre, London, Autumn

2014 Comedy preview

2014 Film preview

2014 Visual art preview

2014 Pop preview