Never mind the new year sales: there are now only 38 shopping days till Valentine's Day, and, for lovers of dazzlingly inventive theatre, the hottest ticket on that February night will surely be the UK premiere of Robert Lepage's Playing Cards 1: Spades. It's the first in a planned sequence of productions by the world-renowned Québécois theatre-maker, each inspired by a different suit in the pack. Spades promises to be visually stunning, set on a giant revolve at north London's Roundhouse, with actors morphing into multiple characters as Lepage intertwines the lives of US troops, training for desert combat in Iraq, with those of newlyweds fighting their demons in Sin City, Las Vegas.
Equally tempting, and running through February, is the latest production by the site-responsive troupe dreamthinkspeak. In the Beginning Was the End is a promenade, winding through subterranean passages under London's Somerset House and King's College. It's inspired by Leonardo da Vinci's hydraulics and his musings on the marvels and dangers of science.
London faces some stiff competition from pioneering theatres and festivals round the country this year. Bath's Ustinov Studio, run by Laurence Boswell, has a very strong line up of premieres by American writers (March – June), including The American Plan (directed by David Grindley) and 2012's Obie-winning 4000 Miles (transferring to Notting Hill's Print Room in May).
The Trafalgar Studios, in Whitehall, boast a Macbeth starring James McAvoy in February, however Kenneth Branagh will be vying with him in July, playing the usurping King of Scotland in a deconsecrated church for the Manchester International Festival.
In turn, Bristol Old Vic's Tom Morris of War Horse fame, is teaming up once more with Handspring Puppet Company, this time for A Midsummer Night's Dream, opening in March, which may well rival the Michael Grandage Company's West End production with David Walliams as Bottom, in September.
That said, Grandage's Noël Coward Theatre residency has Jude Law lined up to direct Henry V in December, and in March Judi Dench and Ben Whishaw star in Peter and Alice. That's John Logan's new biodrama about Lewis Carroll's Alice Liddell and Peter Llewelyn Davies, J M Barrie's model for Peter Pan.
Nicholas Hytner is playing much of the NT's 50th-anniversary year scheduling close to his chest, but promises an Othello with Adrian Lester, plus Rory Kinnear as Iago, for April. Meanwhile, the Royal Court's outgoing AD Dominic Cooke gets his teeth into the topical issues of global banking and avarice with If You Don't Let Us Dream, We Won't Let You Sleep by fast-rising Anders Lustgarten, in the Theatre Upstairs during February, and The Low Road by Bruce Norris, Downstairs in March.
For classy lighter entertainment, Felicity Kendal is set to twinkle in Alan Ayckbourn's Relatively Speaking at Wyndham's in May, even as Peter Nichols's Passion Play is revived, with Zoë Wanamaker, at the Duke of York's, just up the road. Indeed, this may be a vintage year for leading actresses, with Anna Maxwell Martin and Gina McKee playing ex-university pals in Di and Viv and Rose at Hampstead, and with Kristin Scott Thomas and Lia Williams, alongside Rufus Sewell, in Old Times, fittingly at the Harold Pinter Theatre (both this month).
Those hungry for more musicals should be sated by Sam Mendes staging Charlie and the Chocolate Factory at Drury Lane's Theatre Royal (from 25 June) and by The Book of Mormon at the Prince of Wales (from 25 February). This satire of religious follies, co-created by South Park duo Trey Parker and Matt Stone, has been trumpeted as "the best musical of this century" by The New York Times, a tad prema- turely perhaps. Still, sounds promising.
Face to watch
Keep an eye out for Bafta-winner Joe Wright, who debuts as a stage director at London's Donmar in February, with Trelawny of the Wells, Pinero's Victorian celebration of charming theatrical types. Moving to the Young Vic in July, he'll tackle A Season in the Congo, a political drama about rebellions, elections and tribal divisions.
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