The best West End shows to see this Christmas

Our take on the six best shows to catch while you still can

Summer and Smoke

Credit: Marc Brenner

Duke of York’s Theatre, until 19 January

When it opened at Islington’s trendy Almeida back in March, this largely-forgotten Tennessee Williams play – given new life in a sleek production by Rebecca Frecknall – quickly cemented itself as the sleeper hit of the year. Now transferred to the West End (and proudly displaying its five-star reviews), its haunting and poetic ambience continues to mesmerise audiences, not least for the lead performance from relative newcomer Patsy Ferran.

The Inheritance

Credit: Marc Brenner

Noel Coward Theatre, until 19 January

Named best play at this year’s Evening Standard Theatre, The Inheritance is one of those plays which truly deserves to be called an epic: clocking in at just over six hours long (don’t worry – like The Cursed Child it’s in two separate parts), the drama follows two generations of gay men as they come to terms with the fallout of the AIDS crisis. Capturing the story itself would take up this whole article (and then some), but rest assured it’s an extremely moving and vivid production. Kyle Soller – who plays a data whizz in Channel 4’s upcoming Brexit drama – stars, while Stephen Daldry (who made Netflix’s The Crown) directs. Just make sure you take the tissues – it’s a weepy.

Sweat

Claire Perkins & Martha Plymton in Sweat. Credit: Johan Persson

Donmar Warehouse, until 29 January

Set amongst a struggling steel town in working class Pennsylvania, this Pulitzer Prize winning play by Lynn Nottage premiered in America in 2015 – which makes its prescience downright incredible. With its stirring lament to lost jobs, left-behind communities, and short-sighted trade deals, much of this play could have been a first draft of President’s Trump’s inauguration speech. ‘Rusted out factories scattered like tombstones across the landscape of our nation,’ intoned the President on the steps of Capitol Hill – this play tells their story.

The Convert

Young Vic, until 26 January

Written by Walking Dead and Avengers actress Danai Gurira, this smart play follows Jekesai, a young woman in colonial Africa (what is now Zimbabwe) who falls under the influence of a charismatic Christian preacher. Developed in the tiny Gate Theatre in Notting Hill, this production doesn’t quite make the best use of the Young Vic’s expansive space. Nevertheless, it’s a tight drama driven by very believable characters.

Nine Night

Cecilia Noble as Aunt Maggie, Nine Night. Credit: Helen Murray

Trafalgar Studios, until 23 February

The ‘big family dinner’ might not be the most original setup, but this razor sharp comedy drama – which follows a British/Jamaican family brought back together by the death of the family matriarch – certainly executives it well. With probably the highest laugh count in the West End, the play boils slowly before letting loose with an explosion of family secrets and unspoken grudges. Excellent performances across the board (The Spectator’s reviewer singled out the show-stealing Cecilia Noble) help make this a richly enjoyable evening. It’s just a shame it’s at the Trafalgar Studios (notorious for being one of the least comfortable theatres in London).

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Everybody’s Talking About Jamie. Credit: Johan Perrson

Apollo Theatre, until 28 September

Showtunes fans will have no doubt spotted that my recommendations so far have all been dramas – so it’s only fair to end up on a musical. Based on a 2011 BBC Three documentary about a gender non-conforming teenager in County Durham, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie was always going to pick up comparisons to Billy Elliot – but for once, said our reviewer, they were actually merited. Catch it before it escapes to Broadway was Lloyd’s advice. A life-affirming evening guaranteed.


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