Into the Barbican from last summer at Stratford comes a critically controversial but rarely and hugely welcome revival of Camino Real, a Tennessee Williams that London last saw in 1957. Only a few nights later, we get his Not About Nightingales, an unperformed prison drama, which Vanessa Redgrave discovered among his papers and which now stars her brother Corin in a premiere production for the National by Trevor Nunn. As for Camino Real, with an RSC cast headed by Leslie Phillips and Susannah York, any drama featuring Lord Byron, Casanova and Camille has to be worth a look, especially when we also get Don Quixote and the Kilroy of "Kilroy Was Here" fame.
Elsewhere there's the new Alan Ayckbourn, Things We Do for Love, which has already won him a £25,000 playwriting award from Lloyds Private Banking (the last of its kind); Ayckbourn characteristically announced that he would be donating most of that to his Scarborough theatre-in-the-round, but that he might hold something back to buy myself a laptop, "so I can do some writing on the bus."
At the Playhouse from mid-March we get Liam Neeson as Oscar Wilde in The Judas Kiss, a script by David Hare originally written for the screen but then overtaken by the recent Stephen Fry movie in what remains a very Wilde time; still two years to the centenary, we also have Peter Hall's An Ideal Husband now at its fifth London theatre, having been to Broadway and back since it opened three years ago.
On the musical front we also get Kat and the Kings in its West End debut; one or two of us raved about this when it first turned up last year at the Almeida, an amazing and very moving true-life celebration of a South African close-harmony group who, in the apartheid 1950's, used to work as hotel porters by day and cabaret stars by night. Like Five Guys Named Moe (though for my money much better), this is both a biography and a concert and a cabaret, and it deserves as enduring a life.
While subsidized theatres are still bleeding from governmental cuts (Sir Peter Hall recently noted that political parties are only ever well-disposed to the arts when in opposition), help of an unexpected kind comes from the millionaire Marks & Spencer supplier Sir Peter Wolff, now 67. He has promised a million pounds to set up a West End trust; just one little snaghe thinks there is too much "filth and violence" to be found there, and is advocating a sharp return to Rattigan and Coward. Not that they have been exactly absent lately: Rattigan's last play, Cause Celebre, has just returned to Hammersmith, while the l999 Coward Centenary promises at least half a dozen major revivals in London alone.
MONTHS IN THE COUNTRY
Two of London's most distinguished fringe theatres, the Donmar Warehouse and the Almeida, have discovered that there is a world out there; both are now setting up "second" companies for touring and West End purposes, with the Almeida promising a revival of Plenty for this summer's Malvern Festival and the Donmar's alternate team setting out on a tour of Shaffer's Black Comedy.
Meanwhile, in what is said to be its farewell season, Cheek By Jowl will open Much Ado About Nothing at the Brooklyn Academy of Music before returning to Britain; BAM will also have five shows from the current RSC repertoire and the triumphant National Othello directed by Sam Mendes, whose Cabaret with Natasha Richardson opens this month on Broadway. -- By Sheridan Morley