For the musical theatre superfan
Stephen Sondheim’s Old Friends
Few names loom as large in American musical theatre as Stephen Sondheim, whose work built a devoted following on both sides of the Atlantic. It’s not hard to see why, with a list of classics including Company, Follies, Sunday in the Park with Georgy, Gypsy, Sweeney Todd and Into the Woods. He also collaborated with Leonard Bernstein on West Side Story. In short, a musical legend. A show of some of his best loved songs was put on to celebrate the composer after his death last year, and sold out instantly. It is now coming back for 16 weeks with Broadway stars Bernadette Peters and Lea Salonga alongside many others. A real West End event.
Gielgud Theatre, September 21 to January 6, 2024
The Little Big Things
This is a new British musical about an extraordinary true story. Based on the best-selling autobiography by Henry Fraser, this is about how his life changed forever following a diving accident in 2009 that left him a tetraplegic. But his determination to prosper means this is no dark tale of woe – it has been described as uplifting and colourful with an explosive theatrical pop soundtrack, as Henry became an artist, author and inspirational speaker. Last weekend, Andrew Lloyd Webber saw it and called it “the most exciting night in a theatre for years”. We are expecting big big things.
@sohoplace, to November 25
For the celeb spotter
The Hot Priest is returning to the stage in one of the most anticipated shows of the year. Surprised Chekhov could be the hottest ticket of the autumn? Well maybe it’s not that surprising, with Andrew Scott playing all the parts in a radical version of Uncle Vanya by Simon Stephens. According to the marketing material, the show explores “the kaleidoscope of human emotions, harnessing the power of the intimate bond between actor and audience to delve deeper into the human psyche”. I’m sure that’s what sold the tickets.
Duke of York’s Theatre, September 15 to October 21
Perhaps the biggest marmalade dropper of the theatre announcements in recent months was news that Nicole Scherzinger – yes she of the Pussycat Dolls – was swapping concert arenas for the West End stage to play Norma Desmond in Sunset Boulevard. Desmond has previously been played by Patti LuPone and Glenn Close, so can Nicole measure up? Well after Cheryl Cole, Frankie Bridge and Lily Allen have made the leap to the West End stage, who’s to say she can’t?
Savoy Theatre, September 21 to January 6, 2024
For the new-writing obsessive
A starry cast of Kristen Scott-Thomas and Lily James head up this new play by Penelope Skinner. No it’s not about the rise and rise of the England women’s football team but rather is the story of a reclusive actress who reappears after 30 years, ready to tell her story to a young film executive. It is billed as a play for our times about the stories we tell and how we tell them. And the chance to see Scott-Thomas and James on staget makes it a real must.
Harold Pinter Theatre, October 17 to December 23
For fans of The Crown who long to get more of a look inside the regal halls of Clarence House, Marcelo De Santos’ new comedy is about a pivotal moment in the 50-year relationship between the Queen Mother and her loyal servant William Tallon. It’s another show with a great cast, starring Luke Evans, who is equally likely to be seen in a Hollywood blockbuster these days as treading the boards in London, opposite the great Dame Penelope Wilton.
Duke of York’s Theatre, October 27 to January 27, 2024
The blockbuster Shakespeare
King Lear with Kenneth Branagh
Kenneth Branagh on the West End is always an event – most recently he played Archie Rice in John Osborne’s The Entertainer in 2016 – and the prospect of watching him do Lear is mouthwatering. Away from recent screen roles twiddling a ridiculous moustache as Poirot (A Haunting in Venice comes out in cinemas this week), playing a Nobel-winning physicist in Oppenheimer and even donning the prosthetics to play Boris Johnson in This England, fans can’t wait to see him back in a theatre getting stuck into one of Shakespeare’s greatest roles. Blow winds and crack your cheeks...
Wydham’s Theatre, October 21 to December 9
For those who couldn’t get to Edinburgh
Strategic Love Play
This is a love story for our times, or rather a hideously awkward first date story for our times, and proved a real hit at the Edinburgh Fringe this summer. Him and Her (the characters don’t have names) have both swiped right and now they’re stuck opposite each other, for the duration of a few pints at least. Told with acid wit by Miriam Battye, who has worked on TV shows including Succession and Rachel Wieczs drama Dead Ringers, this really takes a scalpel to modern romance. Just don’t take a first date.
This show explores the real stories of the deaths of men in HMP Woodhill in Milton Keynes, many self inflicted. As well as testimony from experts, it tells the story of three of these men through their loved ones. Our reviewer at the Fringe loved it, givng the show five stars and saying it “meets the senses on a deep, aching level” adding it was “a new, extraordinary way of doing justice to injustice”.
The shows for the footie fan in your life
For those who struggle to prise their loved one away from the telly when the Premier League is on, try this. This new play by James Graham – the playwright and screenwriter who can do no wrong – charts how Gareth Southgate turned the England team around from its nadir (or the most recent nadir) of losing to Iceland in the Euros, creating a new look team that played well and really connected with the country. After packing in the audiences at the National Theatre, this show is transferring to the Prince Edward Theatre in the West End. And if you’ve never experienced an entire theatre audience off its seats singing Sweet Caroline, then now’s the time.
Prince Edward Theatre from October 9 to January 13
If Dear England is about international footballers at the top of their game, Red Pitch looks at the other end of the footie pyramid. It’s about three friends playing on a south London pitch, dreaming of sporting stardom. But beyond their turf, change is happening, with the area gentrifying fast around them. It won writer Tyrell Williams the most promising playwright gong at the Evening Standard Theatre Awards, and returns for a much deserved second run.
For the box set obsessive
Stranger Things: The First Shadow
There have been various immersive experiences and events looking to cash in on the success of Stranger Things, one of Netflix’s most popular shows, but this looks the most intriguing. A proper West End show, this is a prequel to the TV series, set in 1959 (rather than the Eighties) in the small town of Hawkins, before, as the tagline says, “the world turned upside down”. With characters fans of the show will know and love (just younger versions) in Jim Hopper, Bob Newby and Joyce Maldonado (aka Byers), and a top theatre team from director Stephen Daldry and set designer Miriam Buether to visual effects by 59 Productions, this is sure to be a real West End spectacle.
For the literary snob
Maggie O’Farrell’s bestselling book about William Shakespeare’s son Hamnet who dies of the plague, and how the playwright and his wife Agnes Hathaway deal with their grief, was prime fodder for the Royal Shakespeare Company to adapt for the stage. It will shortly arrive from the RSC’s Stratford home, with one review suggesting that given the heartbreaking nature of the tale, Kleenex should set up a concession stand in the foyer.
The Arcola Theatre in east London is bringing this much loved book by Haruki Murakami to the stage. The production reunities director Melly Still with writer Bryony Lavery, who last adapted The Lovely Bones in a tale of writer Sumire who falls in love with Miu, a woman who is almost two decades older, but then disappears off the shores of Greece. It’s a story of connection, conformity and the cosmos, all ripe for translation to the stage.
For the history buff
The Father and the Assassin
Anupama Chandrasekhar’s play looks at the life of Nathuram Godse, during the battle for Indian independence, which went from his being a devout follower of Mahatma Gandhi to murdering him in 1948. It’s a play about oppression and extremism and brings to life an extraordinary and tragic story but also is laced through with humour - this is no dry history lesson, it is a hugely entertaining night at the theatre.
For those in need of a laugh
Frankly, who doesn’t need a laugh right now, and there’s no better play to get the sides splitting than Michael Frayn’s classic farce, set backstage at a comedy that is falling apart. Reviewers threw around descriptions such as “joyous” and “pure comic bliss” when the show ran earlier this year, so head over for a classic comic pick-me-up, with stars including Felicity Kendal, Jonathan Coy and Tamzin Outhwaite.
For those happy to head off the beaten track
Compositor E, Clapham Omnibus
It’s worth heading down to the Omnibus, a fringe venue with real verve, to search out this Shakespeare-themed show. Tying in with the 400th anniversary of the publication of the First Folio, this is about an apprentice typsetter working with printer Isaac Jaggard on a new commission: Shakespeare’s first ever complete works.
For those after a touching romance
This classic coming-of-age play about two lonely teenage boys on a south London estate, who find love in the face of bullying, is getting a major 30th-anniversary revival at Theatre Royal Stratford East. A funny and moving tale that has lost none of its power it stars Raphael Akuwudike and Rilwan Abiola Owokoniran as Ste and Jamie.
For the kids
What with Matilda coming to Netflix followed by Wes Anderson’s adaptation of The Wonderful Story of Henry Sugar, Roald Dahl is all the rage, and that proves true on stage too. What better way to entertain the kids for a few hours than by taking them to the National Theatre, which is putting on a new musical version ofThe Witches, adapted by Olivier-winning playwright Lucy Kirkwood. It features Daniel Rigby, fresh from his uproarious performance in surprise hit Accidental Death of an Anarchist, in this tale of a young boy and his grandmother who discover witches are turning children into mice. Eek.
For the Studio Ghibli fan in your life
My Neighbour Totoro
And there are a lot of Studio Ghibli fans out there. So many, in fact that when this show made its debut at the Barbican last year, it broke box office records for most tickets sold in a day. The inventive stage adaptation of Hayao Miyazaki’s 1988 animated film didn’t disappoint – it bagged six Olivier awards – and so it’s back for another run this year. For a magical coming-of-age tale exploring the fantasy world of childhood, look no further.
Barbican Theatre, November 21 to March 23, 2024
For those after a haunting tragedy
One of the theatrical talents to emerge in 2023 was actor Alison Oliver, who shone in the rather odd show Women, Beware the Devil, as well as the more straightforwardly great Dancing at Lughnasa at the NT. She is returning to the Almeida for the title role in Portia Coughlan, the 1996 play by Marina Carr. In it Portia is turning 30, haunted by her twin Gabriel who drowned when he was 15. Expect to be put through the wringer.
Almeida Theatre, October 7 to November 18
For lovers of Americana
Five years ago, Lynn Nottage’s play about the American rustbelt, directed by Lynette Linton, played to great acclaim at the Donmar Warehouse and then after its transfer to the West End. The writer and director have reunited for Clyde’s, set in a Pennsylvania truck stop, where former prisoners have been given another chance and are seeking to make the perfect sandwich.
Donmar Warehouse, October 13 to December 2