The best theatre to look out for in 2018

With Carey Mulligan, Toby Jones, Ben Whishaw and Stephen Mangan, next year's stages look set to filled with the stars. Holly Williams picks the best plays from exciting debuts to returning hits

Holly Williams
Thursday 21 December 2017 16:20
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Toby Jones, Zoë Wanamaker and Stephen Mangan lead the cast in Pinter’s ‘The Birthday Party’ in London from 9 January
Toby Jones, Zoë Wanamaker and Stephen Mangan lead the cast in Pinter’s ‘The Birthday Party’ in London from 9 January

Big names

The stage continues to exert a strong pull for screen stars – 2018 is practically a glittering firmament of celebs getting their theatre on.

Bryony Lavery’s superb play Frozen is revived, starring Doctor Foster’s Suranne Jones, at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from 9 February, while Sheila Hancock stars in a new version of the cult classic film Harold and Maude at Charing Cross Theatre from 19 February.

Frozen, starring Suranne Jones, is at Theatre Royal Haymarket from 9 February

At the Royal Exchange in Manchester, Maxine Peake will be up to her neck in it in Beckett’s Happy Days, from 25 May, while Carey Mulligan also goes solo onstage for Dennis Kelly’s new play Girls & Boys, at the Royal Court from 8 February. Toby Jones, Stephen Mangan and Zoë Wanamaker star in The Birthday Party, appropriately at the Harold Pinter Theatre, from 9 January; Jones doing Pinter should be a perfect, unnerving combo.

The cast of Julius Caesar including Ben Whishaw (second from right) as Brutus at The Bridge

Ben Whishaw sticks the knife in as Brutus in Julius Caesar, Nicholas Hytner’s first Shakespeare at his new London theatre, The Bridge, from 20 January. There are not one but two notable Macbeths brewing: see Anne-Marie Duff and Rory Kinnear simmer at the National Theatre from 26 February, or watch Christopher Eccleston and Niamh Cusack stew in Stratford-upon-Avon at the RSC from 13 March.

Michael Grandage is back with a couple of starry revivals in the West End: it’s a welcome return for John Logan’s play Red, with Alfred Molina playing artist Mark Rothko, at Wyndham’s from 4 May, while by Poldark’s Aiden Turner tackles Martin McDonagh’s notoriously bloody terrorism satire The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward theatre from 23 June.

Interesting musicals

It looks like a promising year for musicals – not cheesy Disney adaptations or super-safe revivals, but interesting work tackling unlikely subject matters or experimenting with form.

Chris Bush and Matt Winkworth’s The Assassination of Katie Hopkins – which promises to pick at the thorny question of just how free we want free speech to be – will be starting conversations at Theatre Clwyd in Mold from 20 April. Fun Home, the Tony-winning American musical that adapts Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel, finally arrives in the UK, at the Young Vic from 18 June. It’s got music by Jeanine Tesori – who also wrote Caroline, or Change with Tony Kushner; 2017’s hugely acclaimed Chichester production of the civil rights drama makes a welcome transfer to Hampstead Theatre from 12 March.

Company is another revival to get excited about: not only will Marianne Elliott’s production star musical theatre legend Patti LuPone, but they’re gender-swapping the role of Bobby, to be played by Rosalie Craig – with Sondheim’s personal blessing, at the Gielgud, from 26 September.

It’s a good year for women in musicals, in fact: new shows to get excited by include Miss Littlewood, about badass theatre maverick Joan Littlewood, which is by Sam Kenyon at the RSC from 22 June, and Sylvia, a hip-hop telling of Sylvia Pankhurst and the suffragette movement by Zoo Nation’s Kate Prince, at the Old Vic from 1 September. Could it be a feminist Hamilton? Sign me up.

Returning hits

Sometimes, you just want to know you’ve got a good evening guaranteed. Happily, many of 2017’s best shows will transfer or return in 2018.

Jeremy Irons heads the cast as James Tyrone in ‘Long Day’s Journey into Night’ at Bristol Old Vic

Moving into the West End are Beginning, David Eldridge’s clever thirty-something romcom, at Ambassadors from 15 January; Robert Icke’s production of Mary Stuart, which sees Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams toss a coin for which role they’ll play, at Duke of York’s from 15 January, and Long Day’s Journey into Night – a sell-out at Bristol Old Vic starring Lesley Manville and Jeremy Irons – at Wyndham’s from 27 January.

Justine Mitchell (Laura) and Sam Troughton (Danny) in ‘Beginning’ at the National Theatre
Lia Williams as Mary Stuart and Juliet Stevenson as Elizabeth I

Amadeus returns to the National from 11 January, after Michael Longhurst’s production proved such a huge hit in 2016, while An Octoroon, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins’s super-smart deconstruction of racial representation on stage, gets a richly deserved transfer from the Orange Tree Theatre to the National in June.

Adam Gillen in the title role of ‘Amadeus’ at the National Theatre

Also back by popular demand is 2017’s most, er, batty musical: the overblown Bat Out of Hell brings the music of Meat Loaf roaring back into the Dominion from 2 April.

Ken Nwosu and Kevin Trainor in ‘An Octoroon’ at the Orange Tree Theatre

New writing

There are loads of new plays worth getting excited about. The Bridge boasts both emerging writers and big names: book in for Barney Norris’s rural drama Nightfall, from 28 April, and Martin McDonagh’s black comedy about Hans Christian Andersen, A Very Very Very Dark Matter, from 10 October.

My Mum’s a Twat, the debut play of Anoushka Warden, certainly wins best new name, but it also stars the sublime Patsy Ferran; catch this comedy about losing your mother to a cult at the Royal Court from 8 January. At the Sherman in Cardiff, Tremor by Brad Birch promises to be an intense look at a relationship decimated by tragedy, directed by the on-a-roll Rachel O’Riordan, from 12 April, while Josh Azouz returns to the Yard theatre in east London with Buggy Baby, a “horror comedy” about a family of refugees directed by Ned Bennett (An Octoroon; Pomona), from 7 March.

At the National, Brits get to see what the fuss was about with John, by American Pulitzer-winner Annie Baker, when it arrives 17 January, and with epic financial crash play, The Lehman Trilogy, in July; Italian writer Stefano Massini’s sprawling trilogy will be directed by Sam Mendes, no less.

Clever collaborations

There are a series of smart, and often intriguing, collaborations coming up this year. How’s this for widening the brief: contemporary composer Max Richter’s new version of Vivaldi’s Baroque masterpiece The Four Seasons, brought to life by puppetry company Gyre & Gimble, in a candle-lit Jacobean-style theatre? It’s at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse from 9 March. Meanwhile, opera arrives at West London’s tiny Gate theatre, when Ellen McDougall works with ENO on Effigies of Wickedness – a show of Weimar cabaret songs banned by the Nazis for being “degenerate”. Totally tantalising, and on from 3 May.

The first show from Eclipse Theatre’s brilliant initiative, Revolution Mix – dedicated to touring new, untold Black British stories – is Black Men Walking, a collaboration with Manchester’s Royal Exchange; it opens there 18 January, before touring right around the country, with Britain’s best theatres signed up. And Theatr Clwyd continues its barnstorming 2018 by premiering Laura Wade’s new play Home, I’m Darling before it goes to the National; Katherine Parkinson stars as a struggling domestic goddess, from 25 June.

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