LONDON FALL PREVIEW 2011: New Works by Mike Leigh and Conor McPherson, Matilda Moves, Daisy Drives

Special Features   LONDON FALL PREVIEW 2011: New Works by Mike Leigh and Conor McPherson, Matilda Moves, Daisy Drives Joanna Lumley, Douglas Hodge, Vanessa Redgrave, Ralph Fiennes, James Earl Jones, Michael Sheen and Scott Bakula are among performers populating London stages in the coming weeks, in a fall season that will see works by authors as varied as Shakespeare, Conor McPherson, Alfred Uhry, Mike Leigh, John Osborne and Arthur Miller. Here's a look ahead. 

Mark Rylance
Mark Rylance Photo by Simon Annand

Amongst the major stars gracing London stages this fall will be Ralph Fiennes, Tracey Ullman, Thandie Newton, Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones, Mark Rylance, Scott Bakula, Simon Russell Beale, Alex Jennings, Michael Sheen, Lenny Henry, Robert Lindsay, Joanna Lumley, Douglas Hodge, James Corden and Sharon Gless, while regionally, headliners will include Michael Ball, Imelda Staunton, Dominic West and Clarke Peters.

Some of the big shows of the fall transferring to the West End after runs elsewhere are the National’s wild farce One Man Two Guvnors and the RSC's funny, poignant musical Matilda, plus Broadway's Rock of Ages and Driving Miss Daisy, and the returns of Jez Butterworth's Jerusalem and Lee Hall's The Pitmen Painters to London, both following successful runs on Broadway. There are also new plays by Mike Leigh, Conor McPherson, Nicholas Wright and even Oscar Wilde, plus revivals of plays by Arthur Miller, Arnold Wesker and John Osborne, amongst others. There's a new West End musical about the Beatles, and fringe revivals of Ragtime; You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown; and The Baker's Wife.

Those are just some of the headlines of a busy London fall. Now for some of the detail.

James Corden in One Man, Two Guvnors
photo by Johan Persson

TRANSFERS
When the National's One Man, Two Guvnors, Richard Bean's hilarious re-write of the classic Goldoni comedy A Servant of Two Masters updated to Britain's seaside resort of Brighton in the 1950s, opened on the South Bank in May, it became an instant hit and the most impossible-to-get ticket of the summer; but now, following its current regional tour, it is transferring to the West End's Adelphi Theatre (from Nov. 6, opening Nov. 21), the first non-musical to play at that address in decades, though there is a live skiffle band on hand to make it feel almost like one. There's also an outrageously funny performance from James Corden, one of the original line-up of the National's The History Boys that he subsequently reprised on Broadway, who has since gone on to become a major British TV star.

Meanwhile, the RSC also has a major hit waiting in the wings: Already anointed by some local critics as the finest homegrown musical since Billy Elliot after its Stratford opening last December, Matilda now transfers to the Cambridge Theatre (from Oct. 18, opening Nov. 22), where it replaces the long-running Chicago (though fear not, fans of fishnet and tights: that show will return to give 'em the old razzle-dazzle at the Garrick in November). Matilda, based on the Roald Dahl novel of the same name about a young girl abused at home and school, has been adapted for the stage with a score by Australian comic Tim Minchin and book by playwright Dennis Kelly, and directed by Matthew Warchus. The Pitmen Painters, originally produced at Newcastle's Live Theatre and subsequently seen at the National and on Broadway, now returns for another London run, this time at the West End's Duchess Theatre (from Oct. 5, opening Oct. 11), with several members of the original cast still on board. Mark Rylance, now with a Tony Award added to his collection of awards for Jerusalem (though he actually gave the award to the man who inspired the character he plays), also returns to reprise his stunning performance in the play, again at the Apollo Theatre (from Oct. 8, opening Oct. 17), where it originally played after transferring from the Royal Court.

Vanessa Redgrave, James Earl Jones and Boyd Gaines are also reprising their Broadway performances in Alfred Uhry's Driving Miss Daisy when it comes to the West End's Wyndham's Theatre (from Sept. 26, opening Oct. 5), while there's yet another West End run for a Broadway hit, Rock of Ages, but re-cast with local stars Justin Lee Collins and Shayne Ward (2005 winner of the U.K.'s "X Factor"), at the Shaftesbury Theatre (now previewing, opening Sept. 27).

Tracey Ullman rehearses My City.
photo by Hugo Glendinning

NEW PLAYS
Amongst the fall highlights, two writer/directors recently best known for their film work return to their stage origins: Stephen Poliakoff comes to the Almeida with the new play My City (from Sept. 8, opening Sept. 15), in a production that also brings English actress and TV star Tracey Ullman, long based Stateside, back to the British stage, and Mike Leigh, whose films include "Vera Drake," "Naked." "Topsy Turvy" and "Secrets and Lies," joins forces with one of his frequent film collaborators, actress Lesley Manville, to create a new, as yet still untitled, play for the National (from Sept. 14, opening Sept. 21).

Simon Russell Beale and Alex Jennings will both return to the National to star in another new play, John Hodge's Collaborators (from Oct. 25, opening Nov. 1), where they both previously appeared together in The Alchemist. Beale will play Stalin and Jennings is dissident Russian playwright Mikhail Bulgakov, who is offered a commission to write a play to celebrate Stalin's 60th birthday. Also at the National, Conor McPherson (whose previous plays include the West End and Broadway hit The Weir) will premiere The Veil (from Sept. 27, opening Oct. 4), and Mike Bartlett — who was last represented there by Rupert Goold's production of Earthquakes in London (which is coincidentally also touring this fall) — returns with a new play 13 (from Oct. 18, opening Oct. 25), which will be directed by Thea Sharrock (After the Dance at the National, and Equus in London and on Broadway).

Meanwhile, Goold — currently represented in Stratford-upon-Avon by a production of The Merchant of Venice and has previously seen his productions of Macbeth and Enron transfer to Broadway — turns from the story of the collapse of the energy giant in the latter that prefigured the global financial crisis to Decade, a new, multi-authored play that examines the impact and legacy of 9/11. It will be staged in a site-specific production at St. Katharine's Dock, beside the Tower of London (now previewing, opening Sept. 8).

Decade director Rupert Goold
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

At Hampstead Theatre, Steve Thompson's No Naughty Bits (from Sept. 8, opening Sept. 13) revolves around the true story of the U.S. coast-to-coast broadcast of the U.K.' "Monty Python's Flying Circus" in 1975... but somebody cut out all the naughty bits! Michael Palin and Terry Gilliam flew to New York to persuade the network to reinstate the cuts — and, somewhat by accident, found themselves at the center of a landmark court case concerning freedom of expression and the protection of artistic integrity. It will be followed immediately by another play based on real-life events: Nicholas Wright's The Last of the Duchess, based on Caroline Blackwood's book of the same name, revolves around the last days of the life of Mrs. Wallis Simpson. Richard Eyre directs a cast that includes Sheila Hancock, Angela Thorne and Anna Chancellor (from Oct. 20).

The hit factory that is the Menier Chocolate Factory will offer the world premiere of Saul Rubinek's Terrible Advice (from Sept. 22, opening Sept. 29), with Frank Oz directing a cast that includes Golden Globe Award-winning Scott Bakula ("Quantum Leap," "Star Trek: Enterprise"). In the West End, Marc Warren will star in Cool Hand Luke, a new stage adaptation of Donn Pearce's 1965 novel of the same name (from Sept. 23, opening Oct. 3) at the Aldwych Theatre, and The Ladykillers, a new stage version of the 1955 Ealing film comedy, will come to the Gielgud Theatre (from Nov. 26, opening Dec. 7). At the fringe King's Head, Oscar Wilde's final, previously unproduced play Constance will receive its world premiere (from Sept. 13, opening Sept. 16), and at Riverside Studios in Hammersmith Sharon Gless will play A Round Heeled Woman (from Oct. 18, opens Oct. 19), based on Jane Juska's best-selling true-story book of the same name.

Ralph Fiennes stars in The Tempest.
photo by Joseph Marzullo/WENN

REVIVALS
Shakespeare is, as usual, high on the list, with stellar productions ahead of The Tempest (starring Ralph Fiennes as Prospero, directed by Trevor Nunn, now previewing, opening Sept. 6 at the Theatre Royal, Haymarket), Hamlet (with Michael Sheen in the title role, from Oct. 28, opening Nov. 9 at the Young Vic), Richard II (with Eddie Redmayne — Tony-nominated on Broadway for Red — returning to the Donmar Warehouse in the title role, from Dec. 1, opening Dec. 6, under the direction of Michael Grandage in his final production for the Covent Garden theatre he has run) and The Comedy of Errors (starring Lenny Henry at the National Theatre's Olivier from Nov. 22, opening Nov. 29). Beyond London, there is also a high-profile new production of Othello at Sheffield’s Crucible Theatre (from Sept. 15, opening Sept. 20), reuniting Clarke Peters (in the title role) and Dominic West (as Iago) from TV's "The Wire."

Other more modern classics being revived include Arnold Wesker's The Kitchen (at the National, now previewing, opens Sept. 7), Arthur Miller's Broken Glass (transferring from the Tricycle to the West End's Vaudeville from Sept. 14, opens Sept. 16, starring Antony Sher), Frank MarcusThe Killing of Sister George (at the Arts Theatre from Oct. 5, opens Oct. 7), John Osborne's Inadmissible Evidence (at the Donmar Warehouse from Oct. 13, opens Oct. 18, starring Douglas Hodge in his first London stage role since his Tony-winning success with La Cage aux Folles), Ariel Dorfman's Death and the Maiden (starring Thandie Newton, at the West End's Comedy Theatre from Oct. 13, opens Oct. 24), and James Goldman's The Lion in Winter (starring Joanna Lumley and Robert Lindsay, at the Theatre Royal Haymarket from Nov. 4, opens Nov. 15).

Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess
photo by Catherine Ashmore

MUSICALS
The big musical event on the horizon is, of course, the 25th anniversary performances of The Phantom of the Opera, being given in a specially staged new production at London's Royal Albert Hall Oct. 1-2 for three performances only, and starring Ramin Karimloo and Sierra Boggess as the Phantom and Christine, recreating roles they have both previously played in London and Las Vegas, respectively, before they played the same characters in the original cast of Love Never Dies, the sequel to Phantom.

In addition to Rock of Ages mentioned earlier, the West End will also offer Backbeat, based on the film of the same name about the birth of the Beatles (from Sept. 24, opens Oct. 10 at the Duke of York's Theatre). Five decades of iconic divas from Beyoncé to Bassey will be celebrated in Respect La Diva (at the West End's Garrick Theatre from Sept. 7, opens Sept. 8). A stage musical version of Arthur Ransome's Swallows and Amazons, featuring songs by Neil Hannon of the pop band The Divine Comedy and directed by Tom Morris (Tony winning co-director of War Horse), will come to the Vaudeville for a Christmas season (from Dec. 15, opening Dec. 19). The Young Vic revives its 2008 Evening Standard Award-winning production of Kurt Weill's Street Scene, featuring a large community chorus (from Sept. 15, opens Sept. 20).

On the fringe, there are new productions of three Broadway musicals: Ahrens and Flaherty's Ragtime (at Clapham's Landor, from Sept. 1, opens Sept. 6), Stephen Schwartz's The Baker's Wife (at Southwark's Union Theatre, from Sept. 21, opens Sept. 23) and Clark Gesner's You're a Good Man, Charlie Brown (incorporating the revisions made to the 1999 Broadway production, including Andrew Lippa's new songs, at Chiswick's Tabard Theatre from Oct. 4, opens Oct. 6, featuring Leanne Jones, who won the Olivier Award for Best Actress in a Musical for playing Tracy Turnblad in the London premiere of Hairspray, as Lucy). Beyond London, a new production of Stephen Sondheim and Hugh Wheeler's Sweeney Todd at Chichester has Michael Ball in the title role and Imelda Staunton as Mrs. Lovett, under the direction of Jonathan Kent (from Sept. 27, opens Oct. 6).

This is not an exhaustive list of all the openings in the coming months. For full details, and further breaking news as it is announced, be sure to visit Playbill.com regularly.

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