What’s Hot in London: Year in Review

News   What’s Hot in London: Year in Review
A look at the top trends and stories in London theatre from 2016.
What’s Hot in London
What’s Hot in London

The biggest theatrical event of the year—and very probably the century so far - has unquestionably been the arrival in the West End of Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, an all-new Harry Potter story that continued the saga of the boy who lived19 years after when the seventh book finished.

Comprising the eighth instalment in the series, it has been written by series author J.K Rowling, playwright Jack Thorne, and director John Tiffany. It instantly became the fastest-selling theatrical enterprise of all time in London, with each release of tickets selling out instantly (it is currently sold out through February 2018, which is as far ahead as tickets have been released). The playscript, released at midnight July 30 coinciding with the show’s world premiere at the Palace Theatre, quickly became the biggest selling book of the year as well as the best-selling play text of all time. It sold 800,000 copies in its first week of release alone.


Anthony Boyle (Scorpius Malfoy) and Sam Clemmett (Albus Potter)
Anthony Boyle (Scorpius Malfoy) and Sam Clemmett (Albus Potter) Manuel Harlan

Just as the final book in the series, Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows, was made into two cinematic parts, released in 2010 and 2011, this new story is staged in two parts. It finds Harry Potter, now 37, married to Ginny Weasley, and a father of three, and Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley (now married with children of their own) navigating the Ministry of Magic. Rowling personally urged theatregoers to #KeepTheSecrets so as not to spoil its surprises and revelations for future audiences and reviewers have mostly honored this.

Next stop: Broadway as the show lines up for a spring 2018 bow at the Lyric Theatre. According to the show’s producers, “A unique theatre space tailored to the specific needs of the production over the play’s two parts” is being created at a reconfigured Lyric Theatre. They have stated the plans will provide the show with “a bespoke home that will be intimate enough for a drama, yet big enough for us to deliver on our commitment to provide audiences with access to low priced tickets throughout the auditorium.”

It was a year for big Broadway imports to the West End, from Motown (that opened at the Shaftesbury in March) and Aladdin (opening at the Prince Edward in May) to School of Rock (opening at the New London to rave reviews, and returning Andrew Lloyd Webber to his home shore. The show is the first to have premiered in New York before bowing in London since Jesus Christ Superstar also received its first production on Broadway ahead of the West End 45 years ago).

London also received the belated West End bow of Dreamgirls (35 years after its original New York production in an all-new staging by Casey Nicholaw, who now has three shows running simultaneously both in the West End and on Broadway). Grey Gardens, Lazarus, Murder Ballad, The Adding Machine and Burnt Part Boys all received their London premieres, too. The Off-Broadway revival of Into the Woods by Fiasco Theatre also transferred to the Menier Chocolate Factory.

Amber Riley in Dreamgirls at the Savoy Theatre (2). Credit Brinkhoff & Mögenburg.jpg
Amber Riley Brinkhoff & Mögenburg

In 2017, we will see the West End bows of An American in Paris (to open at the Dominion in March with original Broadway stars Robert Fairchild and Leanne Cope reprising their roles) and Hamilton (to open at the Victoria Palace in October)

Heading the other direction, the current season will send Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (newly helmed by Jack O’Brien, replacing London’s Sam Mendes), the new Tim Minchin-scored musical Groundhog Day, and a revival of Sunset Boulevard (with Glenn Close reprising the role she won a Tony for in 1994) from London to Broadway. From the London Fringe, Sweeney Todd—originated in a real-life pie shop in Tooting in South East London—will transfer to Barrow Street with many members of its original London cast.

International entertainment conglomerate Stage Entertainment shut its London producing office in February, after the sequential failures of I Can’t Sing! and Made in Dagenham in the West End.

But at the year’s end, it separately announced that it was developing a new musical based on the life of music legend Tina Turner. In fact, she joined the creative and producing teams (including writer Katori Hall, director Phyllida Lloyd and designer Mark Thompson) in London for a workshop presentation of the new show.

Meanwhile, several major theatres or producing bodies have also had a change of personnel. In May, it was announced that Howard Panter and Rosemary Squire had departed suddenly from the helm of Britain’s largest theatre owners Ambassador Theatre Group that they had co-founded, and which now operates 45 venues across the West End, the U.K. regions, and on Broadway (where the group owns the Lyric and the soon-to-open Hudson). They are being succeeded by Mark Cornell (formerly managing director of Sotheby’s Europe) as group chief executive officer and Adam Kenwright as executive vice president, stepping down from the theatrical marketing firm he co-founded, AKA, which has offices in London, New York, Europe and Australia.

Emma Rice
Emma Rice Joseph Marzullo/WENN

In October, it was announced that Emma Rice will end her term as artistic director of Shakespeare’s Globe in 2018 after it was determined that “the theatre programming should be structured around ‘shared light’ productions without designed sound and light rigging, which characterised a large body of The Globe’s work prior to Emma’s appointment.”

Another short-lived appointment was Laurie Sansom. He left the National Theatre of Scotland after three years at the helm; Jackie Wylie succeeds him.

After just nine months as leader of Sydney Theatre Company, Jonathan Church moved on to pursue his independent projects. In a statement, he declared, “Regrettably, it has not proved viable for me to continue as STC’s Artistic Director while balancing my other interests as we had hoped.” Those other interests include an independent production company, Jonathan Church Productions, in partnership with Delfont Mackintosh Theatres. Its first production of The Dresser played at at the Duke of York’s Theatre, with The Miser opening at the Garrick in March 2017. Church has also been announced to helm the 2017 summer season at Theatre Royal Bath.

The troubled English National Opera, who lost its artistic director in 2015, announced that Daniel Kramer will take over beginning with the 2018-2019 season. An American-born director, he previously worked for the company on the award-winning Punch and Judy (seen at the Young Vic) and Tristan and Isolde. The 2017-2018 season will be programmed by the organisation’s senior artistic team.

For further news…
Stay tuned to Playbill.com and follow me on Twitter @shentonstage, for rolling news updates as they happen.


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