Having been given the partial greenlight by Downing Street, theatre and the live arts are slowly returning to the capital.
That said, one of the consequences of the government’s strict social distancing rules is a dramatic reduction in capacity – so you’d best be quick off the mark if you want to see a show this autumn. Here are eight well worth catching:
Death of England: Delroy, National Theatre, October (TBD)
Having made a decent chunk of its recent back catalogue available online during lockdown, the National Theatre again delivers the goods by becoming one of the first big theatres to reopen – and not a moment to soon. The original Death of England – in which a jaded football supporter, played by Rafe Spall, raged against all things multiculturalism during a funeral eulogy for his father – went down an absolute storm in February. Now Roy Williams and Clint Dyer have written a sequel: a fiery rebuttal from Delroy, the original protagonist’s previously mentioned ‘black best friend’.
Talking Heads, Bridge Theatre, until 31 October
If the National deserves applause for its efforts, then the Bridge – run by ex-NT boss Nick Hytner funnily enough – gets a full-on standing ovation. Not content with just giving us one production, London’s newest large theatre returns with a whole series of one-person plays spread throughout the autumn. A revival of Alan Bennett’sTalking Heads might not be the definition of cutting edge theatre, but it does at least allow Sir Nick to flaunt his enviable rolodex. Maxine Peake, Imelda Staunton, Kristin Scott Thomas and Lesley Manville all take turns to star.
La bohème, ENO at Alexandra Palace, 19 – 27 September
The government’s safety guidelines for opera – which demand ‘safer’ back-to-back formations for orchestras and singers – have rightly been ridiculed by culture buffs. Rather admirably the ENO has attempted to try to do what it can within the rules with its season of drive-in performances. The action kicks off with a condensed (90 minute) version of La bohème playing to an opera-starved audience in the grounds of Alexandra Palace. As for those Londoners who don’t have a car, the ENO says it’s looking at options to rent bicycles or static terminals instead.
Various comedy at 21Soho, from September
21Soho – a small space tucked just off Soho Square – is the West End’s latest comedy venue. With the Edinburgh Fringe Festival cancelled, the team behind the venue have managed to rustle up an impressive line-up of names to tempt comedy fans through their doors – with Phil Wang, Paul Chowdry and Jamali Maddix all making appearances during August. At the end of the month, it’s over to panel show queen Aisling Bea to do her thing, as she heads up a bill of comedians for a socially-distanced evening of mirth.
An Evening With…. , London Palladium, September/October
The Palladium – which famously hosted the Spectator’s evening with Jacob Rees-Mogg – earned its place in history when it hosted the first ever socially-distanced live performance in Britain, as soul legend Beverley Knight performanced to an audience of Whitehall mandarins in order to show how it could be done. While it might be a while until the musicals return, the Palladium hosts a season of evening talks this autumn. Graham Norton, Elizabeth Day (host of the much-loved How to Fail podcast) and explorer Ranulph Fiennes all feature.
The Mousetrap, St Martin’s Theatre, TBD October
Having played for 68 years straight, it was perhaps inevitable that The Mousetrap would survive a pandemic. Even so, who would have predicted that Agatha Christie’s murder mystery – which is far about as far from a socially-distanced monologue that you can get – would be the first of the West End shows to return? These tourist-oriented shows attract a lot of snobbery but between this and the crusading efforts of Andrew Lloyd-Webber, they’ve really done their bit to bring back live theatre.
An Evening with an Immigrant, Bridge Theatre, 18 September – 15 October
Inua Ellams is the poet and playwright behind the acclaimed Barbershop Chronicleswhich charmed audiences in 2017 and 2019 before becoming a memorable addition to the National Theatre’s live season in lockdown. Based on his award-winning Edinburgh show from some years back, An Evening with an Immigrant is a stand-up memoir that takes the audience from Ellams’ childhood in north Nigeria’s Islamic stronghold to his encounter with Queen Elizabeth II and his work as one of Britain’s most distinctive poets. Another gold star for The Bridge for this one.
Greenwich Comedy Festival, National Maritime Museum, 23 – 27 September
Dylan Moran, Bill Bailey and Sara Pascoe are the stand-out names in this year’s Greenwich Comedy Festival which will now take place in the grounds of the National Maritime Museum. With virus massively on the wane in London, let’s hope the comics aren’t afraid to poke fun at the festival’s ultra-cautious safety guidelines (taken directly from Whitehall, no doubt) which state that audience members should try to use the toilets ‘as little as possible’ and also ‘reduce movement’ throughout the evening.