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Stranger Things: The First Shadow, Phoenix Theatre, 2023
Photo: Manuel Harlan

The best new London theatre openings in December

From David Tennant in ‘Macbeth’ to Bluey’s stage debut, it’s a December to remember

Andrzej Lukowski
Written by
Andrzej Lukowski
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Though pantomime season is in full swing and the halls are now thoroughly decked, December actually means a last-gasp burst of prestige theatre to finish the year, as celebrities cram in a cheeky play outside of filming season and big new stage shows look to launch during a season of maximum attention. From David Tennant doing Shakespeare to the London stage debut of beloved cartoon dog Bluey, it’s a blockbuster month. 

Macbeth, Donmar Warehouse, 2023
Photo: Charlie Gray

1. Macbeth

A massive pre-Christmas celebrity Shakespeare play is always appealing: accepting it’s returns only, we’d have doubtless been recommending the Donmar’s ‘Macbeth’ if it had been an ultra-trad hey nonny nonny doublet and hose job, because it stars David Tennent and Cush Jumbo. The Scottish play will feature advanced binaural sound design that necessitates the audience wear headphones – colour us massively intrigued.

Donmar Warehouse. Dec 8-Feb 10 2024.

Stranger Things: The First Shadow, Phoenix Theatre, 2023
Photo: Manuel HarlanLouis McCartney (Henry Creel)

2. Stranger Things: The First Shadow

In what is no question the most audacious stage crossover since ‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’, a crack team headed by ‘Stranger Things’ staff writer Kate Trefry – writing to an original idea by show creators the Duffer Brothers and playwright Jack Thorne – have created a spectacular prequel to the retro-horror smash, focussing on the early life of the show’s troubled antagonist Henry Creel.

Phoenix Theatre. Booking until Aug 25 2024. Buy tickets here

Pandemonium, Soho Theatre, 2023
Illustration: Andy Riley

3. Pandemonium

Master satirist Armando Iannucci warms up for next year’s huge West End shop ‘Dr Strangelove’ by sneaking in his debut as a playwright this Christmas. ‘Pandemonium’ is a ‘history’ play dealing with the Johnson-Truss-Sunak years in Downing Street, with a particular focus on the pandemic response. Should at the very least be a laugh, and is directed by Iannucci’s old ‘Day Today’ mucker Patrick Marber.

Soho Theatre, until Jan 24 2024.

Cold War, Almeida, 2023
Photo: Marc BrennerLuke Thallon and Anya Chalotra in rehearsals

4. Cold War

Although there have been a few grumbles at the lack of Polish talent involved, there’s no denying that the Almeida’s new musical is a very handsome prospect, as Elvis Costello and Conor McPherson adapt Paweł Pawlikowski’s hit indie film about a pair of star cross’d lovers who vow to escape communist Poland. Anya Chalotra and Luke Thallon star in Rupert Goold’s production.

Almeida Theatre, until Jan 27 2024.

Ulster American, Riverside Studios, 2023
Photo: Johan PerssonUlster American, Riverside Studios, 2023

5. Ulster American

In quite the celebrity-tastic turn up for the seasonal books, Woody Harrelson and Andy Serkis return to the UK stage for the first time in years to star opposite Louisa Harland from ‘Derry Girls’ in a revival of David Ireland’s breathtakingly savage comedy about an American film star with no concept of the difference between Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland.

Riverside Studios, Dec 4-Jan 27 2024. Buy tickets here.

The Homecoming, Young Vic, 2023
Photo: Manuel Harland

6. The Homecoming

It’s been a little while since we’ve had a major Pinter revival – but now the cryptic twentieth-century titan is back on our stages via Matthew Dunster’s major Young Vic revival. Jared Harris and Joe Cole head the cast of Pinter’s classic about a man who returns to his family with his new wife, only for very strange shifts to start occurring in their relationship. 

Young Vic, until Jan 27 2024. Buy tickets here.

Rock ’N’ Roll, Hampstead Theatre, 2023
Image: Hampstead Theatre

7. Rock ’N’ Roll

If you’re looking for something a little more cerebral this Christmas, why not check out the first major London revival of Tom Stoppard’s superb 2005 play about Czechoslovakia’s twentieth-century revolutions? Nathaniel Parker and Nancy Carroll star in the drama about a student and his teacher who come to take a very different view of communism as the century wears on from the Prague Spring to the Velvet Revolution.

Hampstead Theatre, Dec 6-Jan 27. Buy tickets here.

Gwyneth Goes Skiing, Pleasance Theatre, 2023
Photo: Awkward Productions

8. Gwyneth Goes Skiing

Awkward Productions have forged out a culty reputation making surreal, queer, cabaret-ish satirical comedies. Then the duo of Linus Karp and Joseph Martin announced their new show would be about Gwyneth Paltrow’s recent legal trial vis a vis a 2016 ski slope collision with a retired optometrist… and the internet went nuts, with major US publications writing ‘Gwyneth Goes Skiing’ up as if it was going to be a major West End musical. In truth it’s going to be smaller, weirder and not really a musical, but it’s certainly worth a look this Christmas.

Pleasance Theatre, Dec 13-23.

Talking About the Fire, Royal Court, 2023
Photo: Andreas J Etter

9. Talking About the Fire

Nothing says ‘tis the season’ more than an experiemntal one-man-play about the prospect of nuclear armageddon, and here comes the dourly brilliant Chris Thorpe with a performance piece exploring the likelihood of annihilation at the hands of our own weapons. It might not be a barrel of laughs, but expect it to be fascinating, following Thorpe’s visceral explorations of nationality (‘Status’) and confirmation bias (‘Confirmation’).

Royal Court, Dec 6-16.

Bluey’s Big Play, 2023
Photo: Madison Square Garden

10. Bluey’s Big Play

A genuine treat for the whole family as the intensely beloved cartoon dog and her family rock up the Southbank for Christmas. With a story by show creator Joe Brumm and voice recordings from the cast – the live action is performed by puppeteers – ‘Bluey’s Big Play’ received glowing notices in its native Australia. Hopes are high it holds on to the magic of the show.

Royal Festival Hall, Dec 20-Jan 7 2023. Buy tickets here.

The best new London theatre shows to book for in 2024.

The best Christmas shows in London.

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