London 2014: Mainstream Theatre

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(c) Tristram Kenton

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A Taste of Honey
Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby
Handspring Puppet Company - A Midsummer Night's Dream
Inner Voices
Sizwe Bansi is Dead
Shakespeare's Globe Theatre


From a radical theatre version of George Orwell's '1984' to a West End production of the Eighties movie 'Fatal Attraction', here Rachel Halliburton looks at the best mainstream theatre in London 2014.

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Mainstream Theatre: Surveillance

1984 - (c) Tristram Kenton


(c) Tristram Kenton


Theatre is an inherently voyeuristic medium, so it's not surprising that two of London's hottest young artistic directors have seized on surveillance as the hot topic of the year. Directorial wunderkind Rupert Goold took over the Almeida Theatre last autumn, and has decided to kickstart 2014 with a radical theatre version of George Orwell's 1984. Directors Robert Icke and Duncan Macmillan have infiltrated the text to update it for a twenty-first century audience that is no longer sure it can even take a bath without being spied on by the NSA. This new version - which has already received rave reviews on tour - looks at surveillance culture, identity, and, intriguingly, how thinking you can fly might be the first step towards flying in a daring update of Orwell's observations on systematic thought control.

Artistic director of the Donmar Warehouse Josie Rourke tackles the topic docudrama-style with Privacy, a production inspired by interviews with journalists, politicans and analysts about Edward Snowden's revelations. The main question it seeks to pose the audience is 'how much do we give away when we share?'

A fascinatingly different answer to this question is provided by the real-life couple in Abi Morgan's The Mistress Contract at the Royal Court, who have also been extensively recorded, but this time by themselves. He is 93, she is 88 and a committed feminist. They met at university, and then lost touch. Twenty years later they met again and started an affair. Over thirty years, he has provided her with a house (separate from his own) and income in return for mistress services.In their taped conversations, they debate different aspects of their relationship including the question of whether this is a betrayal of all she stands for, or a radical act of courage.

Another production looking at extramarital affairs is Andrew Lloyd Webber's Stephen Ward musical, which tells the story of the illicit encounters between Secretary of State John Profumo and Christine Keeler, putting Ward's story in the spotlight.


Mainstream Theatre: Sexual Mores

A Taste of Honey

A Taste of Honey


'The Mistress Contract' is not the only production to put the microscope on sexual mores. Landmark works on the topic prove to be another theme of 2014, with a revival of the Sixties play A Taste of Honey at the National Theatre, and a West End production of the Eighties movie Fatal Attraction directed by Trevor Nunn, fresh from the success of his 'Scenes From A Marriage'.

For those who don't have the stomach for bunny boiling, a more irreverent take on the nature of attraction comes in the theatrical version of The Full Monty at the Noel Coward Theatre. This thrusts its way into the West End after a well-received tour of the regions.


Mainstream Theatre: Female Leads

Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby - Photo credit: Finn Beales

Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby

Photo credit: Finn Beales


There are plenty of productions in which women gain the upper hand, not least Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, which finally transfers to London after many years of dazzling Broadway. Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound become the con-artists played by Michael Caine and Steve Martin in the original movie, while Katherine Kingsley plays Christine Colgate, the woman who ends up outwitting them both.

Noel Coward's Charles Condomine in Blithe Spirit is of course another theatrical figure who ultimately feels he is at the mercy of the women in his life. In one of the hottest castings of the year, director Michael Blakemore has invited Angela Lansbury to play Madame Arcati, while Janie Dee plays Ruth, the flesh-and-blood wife who is displaced by the return of the ghostly Elvira.

A more sober reflection on the nature of what it is to be a woman comes with The Testament of Mary adapted from Colm Toibin's Man Booker nominated novel.  In a reprisal of one of our great theatrical partnerships Deborah Warner directs Fiona Shaw as a mother struggling to come to terms with the loss of her son in a production which has already been highly praised on Broadway.

Seven years ago the two presented Beckett's Happy Days at the National Theatre. Now Juliet Stevenson takes on the role of Winnie in a production at the Young Vic that is so keenly anticipated the booking period has already been extended.

For Beckett fans, Not I, Footfalls and Rockaby will also be produced at the Royal Court Theatre, with Lisa Dwan playing the central female role in each. Dwan has been tutored by Billie Whitelaw, Beckett's close collaborator, so her performance represents a true handing over of the baton.


Mainstream Theatre: Shakespeare

Handspring Puppet Company - A Midsummer Night's Dream - ©Simon Annand

Handspring Puppet Company - A Midsummer Night's Dream

©Simon Annand


If there's excitement in 2014 because of Rupert Goold taking over the Almeida, there's also sadness because it's the last year of Nicholas Hytner's visionary reign at the National Theatre. In 2015, Rufus Norris takes on the challenge, but in the meanwhile it's perhaps appropriate that one of the productions marking Hytner's departure is King Lear. This is a chance to witness another great theatrical partnership in action, since Sam Mendes directs Simon Russell Beale in the title role.

Over at the Barbican, Tom Morris, a former associate director of the National, also tackles Shakespeare with a radical reinvention of A Midsummer Night's Dream. Morris reunites with Handspring Theatre Company - with whom he helped devise the West End and Broadway hit 'War Horse' - to create a 'Dream', which includes a shape-shifting Puck constructed from workman's tools and an eight-foot Titania.


Mainstream Theatre: The Barbican

Inner Voices - Photo credit: Fabio Esposito

Inner Voices

Photo credit: Fabio Esposito


This is a bold experimental year for the Barbican - it also presents 'theatre concert' Mozart Undone, a cross between a rock concert/cabaret show/spectacle presented by Danish director Nikolaj Cederholm.

For those in search of something a little more conventional, Toni Servillo - Italian star of films including 2013 hit The Great Beauty - brings Eduardo De Filippo's Inner Voices (Le voci di dentro) to the venue. The play, in which a man who confuses a dream with reality accuses his neighbours of murder, is a black comedy about the corruption of human relationships in the wake of World War II.


Mainstream Theatre: Diminutive Venues

Sizwe Bansi is Dead - Photo by Richard Hubert Smith

Sizwe Bansi is Dead

Photo by Richard Hubert Smith


For those who think small is more beautiful, the more diminutive venues are punching well above their weight - as well as Privacy at the Donmar, we can look forward to Peter Gill's ambitious new play Versailles. This timely new work looks at how the 1919 Treaty of Versailles redefined Europe and the Middle East from the perspective of Leonard Rawlinson, a young man sent as a delegate to the conference. Artistic director Josie Rourke's production of 'The Weir' is also transferring from the Donmar to Wyndham's Theatre. This extends the venue's successful conquest of the West End.

At the Young Vic, there's more politics in award-winning young director Matthew Xia's production of Athol Fugard's Sizwe Bansi is Dead, a must-see for anyone wanting to refresh their minds about Nelson Mandela's great ideological battle.

Happily spanning the generations, the venue also welcomes back legendary director Peter Brooke, who co-directs the neurological drama The Valley of Astonishment with Marie-Hélene Estienne. The play combines its neurological research with Persian verse to explore the relationship between Islamic mysticism and the brain. Western culture is also healthily represented there - celebrated experimental Belgian director Ivo van Hove directs Arthur Miller's A View From The Bridge.


Mainstream Theatre: All The World's A Stage

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre

Shakespeare's Globe Theatre


Despite the fact that 2013 provided conclusive proof that Britain can do a fabulous summer when it puts its mind to it, Shakespeare's Globe has unveiled its new Sam Wanamaker indoor theatre where productions will be presented by candlelight. Artistic director Dominic Dromgoole will present Gemma Arterton as The Duchess of Malfi there, while Eileen Atkins will reincarnate herself as Ellen Terry, the acclaimed nineteenth century Shakespearean actress.

For those who don't think the Globe - or indeed any other theatre - can show them enough of the world, then maybe they should head to the O2 this June, where Sean Foley is presenting a massive production of Around The World In Eighty Days. The multimedia show will feature a 360 degree dome the size of 10 Imax screens along with a hot air balloon and a twenty-foot-high steam-powered elephant. When Shakespeare said 'All the world's a stage' could he ever have imagined it might look like this?



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