By Playbill Staff
01 Jan 2014
MARK SHENTON, Playbill.com London Correspondent
While the West End is still reeling from the disastrous collapse, mid-performance, of ceiling plaster in the 112-year-old Apollo Theatre, a brand-new indoor Jacobean theatre opens in Southwark within the recreation of Shakespeare's Globe on the South Bank. Lit predominantly by candelight, it promises to be a major addition to London's most vibrant theatrical quarter that already also contains the National Theatre, the Young and Old Vic Theatres, the Menier Chocolate Factory, the Unicorn children's theatre, and the fringe Union Theatre and Southwark Playhouse. (I happen to live in the area, too, within walking distance of every single one of those venues, so I'm not complaining!)
The new Sam Wanamaker Theatre, as it will be called in honor of the late Globe founder, it will open with a production of Webster's The Duchess of Malfi (from Jan. 9), starring rising film star Gemma Arterton in the title role who made her professional stage debut at the Globe back in 2007. The opening season will also include a new solo show by my favorite theatrical dame Eileen Atkins, celebrating the career of the great Ellen Terry (from Jan. 13).
The career of another, rather less well-known actor Ira Aldridge — a black American who took over the role of Othello in 19th-century London from Edmund Kean — is celebrated in Lolita Chakrabarti's Red Velvet, which returns to the Tricycle from Jan. 23, ahead of a transfer to New York's St. Ann's Warehouse. It has already won its star Adrian Lester a best actor award and its author the most promising playwright award in the Critics' Circle Theatre Awards.
Classical theatre is always strongly represented in London, of course, and the Shakespeare I'm most looking forward to is Simon Russell Beale reuniting with director Sam Mendes for King Lear at the National's Olivier (from Jan. 14), with a cast that also includes Kate Fleetwood, Anna Maxwell Martin, Adrian Scarborough, Stanley Townsend and Sam Troughton.
I'm also looking forward to the return to the West End stage, for the first time in nearly 40 years, of London-born Angela Lansbury when she reprises her 2009 Tony winning Broadway performance in Blithe Spirit (at the Gielgud from March 1). I've seen Lansbury in the last few years on the New York stage in Deuce, A Little Night Music and The Best Man, but somehow I missed Blithe Spirit, so it will be lovely to complete the set now. (It's an eternal regret that, on my very first trip to New York in 1983, I managed to miss her short-lived run in a revival of Mame by days; when I went to the box office to buy a ticket, I was told it had shuttered the previous weekend.).
But the revival theatre of the year, at least on paper, looks likely to be the Young Vic, with the most exciting program of any venue in town, with productions of Beckett's Happy Days (starring Juliet Stevenson as the woman buried in sand to her neck, from Jan. 23), Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge (directed by the phenomenal Dutch director Ivo van Hove, from April 4), Peter Brook's latest The Valley of Astonishment (from June 20, co-created with Marie-Hélène Estienne), Benedict Andrews directing Gillian Anderson as Blanche duBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (summer 2014) and Katie Mitchell directing The Cherry Orchard (from Oct. 10).
On the new plays front, I'm looking forward to several premieres at the Royal Court (including Abi Morgan's The Mistress Contract, from Jan. 30, Simon Stephens' Birdland from April 3, and Jennifer Haley's The Nether, from July 17), and Donmar Warehouse (including Peter Gill's Versailles from Feb. 20, and James Graham's Privacy from April 10, which asks a very pertinent question: whether there is any such thing as privacy in the 21st-centur?).
At the Barbican, I'm looking forward to seeing another performance I missed on Broadway, when Fiona Shaw reprises her role in Colm Tóibín's The Testament of Mary at the Barbican Theatre (from May 1), directed by her long-time collaborator Deborah Warner.
On the musicals front, I'm looking forward to the U.K. premieres for two musicals I originally saw on Broadway: Dirty Rotten Scoundrels (at the Savoy from March 10, with Robert Lindsay and Rufus Hound), and Urinetown (at the St. James from Feb. 22, with Richard Fleeshman, Jenna Russell and Jonathan Slinger). There are also revivals of Miss Saigon (just as Boublil and Schonberg's Les Miserables also makes a Broadway return this season) at the Prince Edward from May 3, and The Pajama Game (by way of Chichester where it was seen last summer, coming to the Shaftesbury from May 1).
And talking of Broadway: looking across the pond I can't wait to see the premieres of If/Then (at the Richard Rodgers, from March 4), scored by the team behind Next to Normal, my favorite musical of the century so far, Brian Yorkey and Tom Kitt; Jason Robert Brown's The Bridges of Madison County (at the Schoenfeld from Jan. 17), and Bullets Over Broadway (at the St. James from March 11).