Last year was a stellar one for London theatre and 2019 is shaping up to be just as exciting. With over 50 shows opening over the next two months, the choice is overwhelming. Here are my six recommendations to help narrow down the field:
National Theatre, 12 March – 27 April
If there’s a safe bet for 2019 it’s that this new play from Pulitzer-prize winner Bruce Norris will get people talking. Set in a small community of convicted sex offenders, the play is billed as an unflinching black comedy about compassion, forgiveness and revenge. Norris’s last play, Clydbourne Park, stormed the West End with its unflinching take on race relations in 21st century America, before catching us all off-guard with its surprisingly tender ending. Reviews from America suggest this one will be just as good.
Cost of Living
Hampstead Theatre, 24 January – 2 March
Another day, another Pulitzer – this time, it’s Polish-born playwright Martyna Majok and the UK premier of Cost of Living. The play stars Adrian Lester (who was fantastic in the absolutely superlative Red Velvet in 2012) as a down-on-his-luck truck driver trying to support his paralysed wife. When the play opened in Manhattan, critics praised its wit, originality and unsentimental approach – ‘it slams the door on uplifting stereotypes’, teased the New York Times in its review (contains spoilers). Expect this one to sell-out.
Home, I’m Darling
Duke of York’s Theatre, 26 January – 13 April
This quirky domestic drama was the biggest hit in a reasonably good 2018 for the National Theatre – after a sell-out run, it now gets its West End transfer. The setup is amongst the best in years, peering into the lives of a 21st century couple determined to live like it’s the 1950s. But will a lifestyle of fairy-cakes and frocks really be enough for neo-housewife June – or is this cozy domesticity on a collision course with reality? To be fair, you can probably guess the answer…
Berberian Sound Studio
Donmar Warehouse, 8 February – 30 March
Few films have been turned into plays; even fewer have managed the transition well. Perhaps this acclaimed horror, praised as one of the most imaginative British films of the 21st century, might be the one to break the mold? Tom Scutt, who’s been a solid force at the Donmar, makes his full directorial debut in what will certainly be an interesting test. Billed as a ‘darkly comedic, sonic experience’, this one is probably the most intriguing on the list. Well worth a punt for an advance ticket.
Old Red Lion, 8 January – 2 February
This one is the outside bet. The Old Red Lion is one of the most remarkable theatres in London: a charming pub theatre which manages to produce dozens of new works each year. In the last few years it’s housed the world premiere of an Arthur Miller play, as well as hosting Cressida Bonas in the acclaimed Mrs Orwell. I absolutely love the place – so much so that I’m prepared to overlook its occasionally hit-and-miss output.
For this play, though, the signs look good. The writer, Liv Warden, has been coached by both Soho Theatre and the National. The play itself is a taut post-Weinstein drama promising to explore ‘sisterhood, reputation and loyalty’. I have high hopes.
Jesus Hopped the ‘A’ Train
Young Vic, 14 February – 30 March
Stephen Adly Guirgis’s last play in London – a sizzling urban thriller called The Motherfucker with the Hat – was an interesting one: while it had some wonderful dialogue and characterization, the play itself never quite knocked me off my feet. One to watch, I figured. Interestingly, though, the Young Vic has chosen to resurrect one of Guirgis’s older works, first seen in New York in 2000. Ordinarily, I’d be wary but if there’s anyone in London with a good ear for solid drama it’s the Young Vic’s creative honcho Kwame Kwei-Armah. Either way, it will be fun.