London 2015: Mainstream Theatre (July - December)

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To Kill a Mockingbird

Photo Johan Persson

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To Kill a Mockingbird
The Seagull
King John
enneth Branagh Theatre Company
Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company
Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company
Mark Rylance in Farinelli and the King
Three Days in the Country
Bakkhai
Oresteia
Henry IV (Part I)
Henry IV (Part II)
 

 

The stages of London's major theatres are graced with the presence of a raft of big stars and compelling new productions in the second half of 2015. Here Rachel Halliburton helps you decide which tickets you need to be purchasing.

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Open Air Theatre

 

In July and August, London theatregoers prepare to do battle with the elements, packing both their umbrellas and their optimism as they look at the increasingly high quality offerings they can sample along with champagne and pork pies. Under Timothy Sheader's artistic direction, the beautiful Open Air Theatre at Regent's Park continues to flourish. A daring First World War 'Peter Pan' - transposed to a field hospital by the trenches of the Somme - has garnered fantastic reviews, while Matthew Dunster's 'The Seagull' is one of the most intelligently alternative productions you'll see of Chekhov's masterpiece. 'Seven Brides for Seven Brothers' opens at the theatre later in July, and a highly praised 'To Kill A Mockingbird' transfers to the Barbican. On top of this, Sheader's much feted production of 'Lord of the Flies', described by one critic as 'in a class of its own' when it first played in 2011, returns in early September - perhaps all too appropriately right at the end of the summer holidays.

 
 
 

Shakespeare's Globe

 

Across town, Shakespeare's Globe is now in the middle of its final summer season by Dominic Dromgoole with a programme that shows off the international reach the venue has attained under his leadership. In late July there's a chance to see the National Theatre of China's production of 'Richard III' in Mandarin, while in August you can catch 'Macbeth' in Cantonese.  The Globe also continues with its promotion of intelligent new writing. Award-winning playwright Rory Mullarkey updates 'The Oresteia', Helen Edmundson investigates Christianity at its most repressive in 'The Heresy of Love,' and Jessica Swale brings to life Charles II's mistress, Nell Gwynn, in a play of the same name. There will also be more traditional work playing through the summer including acclaimed productions of 'As You Like It' and 'King John'.

 
 
 

The Barbican

 

Whatever the Globe's pleasures, however, as we noted at the start of this year there's little doubt that the hottest Shakespeare ticket in town this summer and early autumn is Benedict Cumberbatch's 'Hamlet', directed by Lyndsey Turner at the Barbican. The venue will be staking a lot on the success of those famous cheekbones, but for those inspired by the latest royal birth to seek out something more monarchic, the RSC's Great Cycle of Kings will also be returning. RSC artistic director Gregory Doran will direct Alex Hassell as Henry V, following on from his performance as Prince Hal in 'Henry IV parts I and II' earlier this year. All three plays, plus David Tennant's magnetic 'Richard II' can be seen together at the Barbican right at the start of 2016.

 
 
 

Theatrical Big Beasts

 

Alongside Cumberbatch, there are a lot of theatrical big beasts stalking the West End and Off West-End landscape this autumn. For those who saw theatre as the new rock'n'roll in the Eighties, with Kenneth Branagh as one of its brightest stars, there's an exciting moment as he brings his own company to the Garrick Theatre to do 'The Winter's Tale'. The company of actors, which includes Judi Dench as well as Branagh himself, will also perform 'Harlequinade', Terence Rattigan's comedy about a theatre company trying to put on 'The Winter's Tale'.  A further much heralded event will be the arrival of Nicole Kidman in London. She will be directed by Michael Grandage at the NoŽl Coward Theatre in 'Photograph 51', which puts the microscope on the fascinating story of Rosalind Franklin, the scientist whose crucial role in the discovery of DNA was initially overlooked.

 
 
 

Donmar Warehouse

 

Kidman's decision to play Rosalind Franklin is the latest triumphant unearthing of the achievements of a woman who changed the world and was at first not acknowledged for it. Artistic director of the Donmar, Josie Rourke, is also doing much to celebrate strong and interesting women in the second half of this year. She kicks off with 'Splendour', Abi Morgan's play about four women - an Eastern European dictator's wife, her friend, a photographer, and an interpreter - who are awaiting the arrival of the dictator on the day that the revolution against him starts. Phyllida Lloyd's Donmar production of 'Henry IV' - the second of her Shakespeare trilogy set in a woman's prison - transfers to St Ann's Warehouse in Brooklyn, New York. And one of the most controversial leading female figures of all time - the Marquise de Meurteuil - will be part of the Donmar's Christmas offering in the revival of Christopher Hampton's 'Les Liaisons Dangereuses'. Janet McTeer and Dominic West will be in the leading roles.

 
 
 
 

Almeida Theatre

 

A battle of the Medeas will play itself out as London moves into autumn. Kate Fleetwood, wife of director wunderkind Rupert Goold, and acclaimed actress in her own right will be directed by Goold in Rachel Cusk's new version of Euripides's great tragedy at the Almeida. Indeed, as Europe frets about Grexit, the Almeida has an entire season dedicated to the Ancient Greeks. There will also be Anne Carson's version of 'Bakkhai', directed by James Macdonald, and starring Ben Whishaw, while a well-received 'Oresteia' plays till July 18. In November, the Gate Theatre will stage its 'Medea' - presented in association with Belvoir St Theatre, Sydney, in a version by Kate Mulvany and Anne-Louise Sarks. This has caused huge excitement already in Australia, and its modern, provocative take should also make ripples in London.

 
 
 

Musicals

 

Musicals, as ever, are a great magnet for those who travel to the capital to go to the theatre, and there are rich pickings for all tastes. In November, Damon Albarn and Moira Buffini's 'wonder.land' - a new musical about a bullied child inspired by Lewis Carroll's great work - will open in the National Theatre's Olivier auditorium. At the other end of the spectrum, the multi-media 'Sinatra at the London Palladium' plays, where else, but at the London Palladium from July through to October, 65 years after he made his debut there. 'Kinky Boots - The Musical' - based on the movie in which a drag queen comes to the rescue of a man who has inherited a shoe factory - opens at The Adelphi in August while the musical of 'Back to the Future', somewhat ironically, is yet to announce a start date. In an announcement that should have traditionalists purring, this autumn, Andrew Lloyd Webber's 'Cats' is also making its triumphant return, replacing 'Sinatra at the London Palladium' after its run. And for those seeking out something completely different, Claire Van Kampen's great castrato-play 'Farinelli and the King' - starring her husband Mark Rylance - transfers in triumph from The Globe to the Duke of York's.

 
 
 

The Old Vic

 

Kevin Spacey's reign at the Old Vic ends this year, and Matthew Warchus has the tough act of following him. He starts his inaugural season by directing Rob Brydon in Tamson Oglesby's new play 'Future Conditional', which looks at the controversial topic of British schooling. In October, bracingly controversial director Richard Jones will direct Eugene O'Neill's 'The Hairy Ape' there, while Christmas will be celebrated with David Greig's adaptation of Dr Seuss's 'The Lorax'. (Dr Seuss will also be a strong influence in the Barbican's Christmas show, Told By An Idiot's 'Get Happy', a world of 'artfully controlled chaos' aimed at everyone from four and up.)

 
 
 

The National

 

Just up the road, Rufus Norris continues to maintain the National Theatre as a bastion of quality and innovation in his first year. Among many delights the Bristol Old Vic's highly praised 'Jane Eyre' transfers there from September; 'Pomona' a thriller about a girl who has gone missing in Manchester will be on at the National's 'Temporary Theatre'; Patrick Marber will direct his adaptation of Turgenev's 'Three Days in the Country'; and Timberlake Wertenbaker's colonial Australian masterpiece 'Our Country's Good' plays there from August. Norris is not the only artistic director in London to prove a worthy successor to his eminent forebear, something of a relief during a major period of transition in London theatre. Rourke's work at the Donmar and Warchus's ambitious programme for the Old Vic all prove that, despite significant changes, the pulse of London theatreland continues to beat strong and well.

 
 
 
 
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