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London theatre for 2020 – shows not to miss

Our pick of the best plays, shows and musicals coming to London’s theatres in 2020

101 Dalmations, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2020
Photograph: Feast Creative & Oliver Rosser
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From mega-budget West End musicals to arty European takes on classic plays, plus lashings of big-name celebrities, London theatre is as busy as ever in 2020. Here are the shows we’re looking forward to the most next year; it’ll be regularly updated as more are announced.

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Photograph: FotografiaBasica
Theatre, Drama

The Effect

Boulevard Theatre, Soho

At last! A first London revival of the brilliant drama by Lucy Prebble about two people who fall in love (or think they do) while on a drug trial. This production will be directed by arch surrealist Anthony Neilson, who you suspect will absolutely go to town on the script’s trippier elements.

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Emilia Clarke, The Seagull, 2019
Photograph: Charlie Gray
Theatre, Drama

The Seagull

Playhouse Theatre, Charing Cross

A busy 2020 for the Jamie Lloyd Company kicks off with the West End debut of Emilia Clarke, who’ll be trading in dragon riding and romantic encounters with ghosts for the role of vain young actress Nina in Chekhov’s first great play ‘The Seagull’…

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"Daddy", Almeida Theatre, 2019
Theatre, Drama

“Daddy”

Almeida Theatre, Islington

Another feather in the cap for the Almeida, which bags the UK debut for controversial US playwright Jeremy O Harris. "Daddy" depicts a corrosive relationship between a young black artist and an older white art collector. It’s not technically billed as a transfer, but design is by Matt Saunders, whose infinity pool set was quite the talking point in the original production.

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Sunday in the Park with George, Jake Gyllenhaal
Theatre, Musicals

Sunday in the Park with George

Savoy Theatre, Strand

Jake Gyllenhaal made his stage debut in London back in 2002, but has stayed away since, even as his star has risen and he’s become an increasingly regular presence on New York stages. Finally, though, he’s back, reprising his lead role in this recent Broadway revival of Stephen Sondheim’s brilliant 1984 musical about Georges Seurat and his troubled great-grandson George.

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101 Dalmations, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, 2020
Photograph: Feast Creative & Oliver Rosser
Theatre, Musicals

101 Dalmations

Regent's Park Open Air Theatre, Regent’s Park

The Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre season starts with this all-singing adaptation of Dodie Smith’s iconic kids’ novel – best known, of course, for the Disney cartoon film – which is, astonishingly, the theatre’s its first-ever original musical commission. Zinnie Harris writes the book and actor/director/general polymath Douglas Hodge the songs, Toby Olié is puppetry designer and Kate Fleetwood will be setting her distinctive angular features to the roles of baddie Cruella de Vil.

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The Glow, RoyaL Court, 2020
Photograph: Albert von Schrenck-Notzing
Theatre, Experimental

The Glow

Royal Court Theatre, Sloane Square

Alistair McDowall hit upon a rich, dark seam of brilliance with his last two plays, the Lovecraftian and audacious ‘Pomona’ and the brain-melting sci-fi ‘X’. The much-anticipated follow-up ‘The Glow’ is set in 1863, and follows a young woman with no memory who is plucked from an asylum to serve as the assistant to a spiritualist medium, a course of action which unlocks both her past and new powers. 

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To Kill a Mockingbird, West End, 2020
Theatre, Drama

To Kill a Mockingbird

Gielgud Theatre, Soho

Aaron Sorkin’s stage adaptation of Harper Lee’s civil rights classic ‘To Kill a Mockingbird’ took Broadway by storm last year. And now Bartlett Sher’s production is coming here. Rhys Ifans will star as principled white Southern attorney Atticus Finch, who defends black man Tom Robinson in a rape trial in deeply prejudiced Alabama. 

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Isabelle Huppert, The Glass Menagerie, Barbican, 2020
Photograph: Carole Belaiche
Theatre, Drama

The Glass Menagerie

Barbican Centre, Barbican

Brilliant Belgian director Ivo van Hove will tackle Tennessee Williams’s dreamy early masterpiece ‘The Glass Menagerie’ in a French-language production (aka ‘La Ménagerie de Verre’) starring the great Isabelle Huppert. She’ll play monstrously deluded matriarch Amanda, whose suffocating love has cursed her children: angry, gay Tom and painfully delicate Laura. 

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The Contingency Plan, Donmar Warehouse, 2020
Photograph: Damien Frost
Theatre, Drama

The Contingency Plan

Donmar Warehouse, Seven Dials

Steve Waters’s double bill of eco-disaster plays ran to acclaim at the Bush Theatre in 2009, and the intervening decade has not only seen our environment deteriorate terrifyingly, but has demonstrated how hard it is to write a decent play about the climate emergency. Hence, ‘The Contingency’ plan is a smart and timely revival from the Donmar, staged in partnership with Theatr Clwyd…

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Jessica Chastain stars in ‘A Doll's House’
Photograph: Charlie Gray
Theatre, Drama

A Doll’s House

Playhouse Theatre, Charing Cross

Henrik Ibsen’s proto-feminist masterpiece ‘A Doll’s House’ has appeared in some wild London incarnations lately. Jamie Lloyd’s production is based upon a straight-down-the-line 1997 Frank McGuinness adaptation, but don’t think it’ll be lacking in distinguishing features: big Hollywood star Jessica Chastain will play Ibsen’s heroine Nora, who feels stifled by her marriage and family. 

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Life of Pi, 2020
© Johan Persson
Theatre, Drama

Life of Pi

Wyndham's Theatre, Charing Cross Road

This spectacular puppet-driven stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s bestselling novel was a massive success when it premiered in Sheffield in 2019, and now it’s heading to the West End. The novel, if you somehow missed it, concerns Pi, an Indian boy who ends up adrift on the ocean with a small group of animals – a hyena, a zebra, an orangutan… and a giant Bengal tiger named Richard Parker.

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Paradise, Kate Tempest, Lesley Sharp, 2020
Theatre, Drama

Paradise

National Theatre, South Bank

Kate Tempest has had a busy last few years becoming a household name as a performer, but now she’s writing plays again – and at epic scale as she tackles the NT’s huge Olivier with ‘Paradise’, an adaptation of Sophocles’s drama ‘Philoctetes’ starring Lesley Sharp.

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Cush Jumbo, Hamlet, Young Vic, 2020
© Dean Chalkley
Theatre, Shakespeare

Hamlet

Young Vic, Southwark

Although Shakespeare’s masterpiece is always around in some form of other, there hasn’t really been a big London ‘Hamlet’ since 2017 and Andrew Scott. Here we finally go, though: Cush Jumbo follows in the footsteps of her ‘The Good Fight’ co-star Michael Sheen and will appear as the Bard’s doomed Danish prince at the Young Vic. The production will be directed by Greg Hersov, who gave Jumbo her first really big stage breaks at the Royal Exchange in Manchester.

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The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage, Bridge Theatre
Theatre, Drama

The Book of Dust – La Belle Sauvage

Bridge Theatre, Tower Bridge

Seventeen years after Nicholas Hytner directed His Dark Materials at the NT, he’ll do the honours for Bryony Lavery’s adaptation of Philip Pullman’s prequel ‘La Belle Sauvage’.

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Whoopi Goldberg and Jennifer Saunders star in 'Sister Act'
Photograph: Matthew Murphy and Oliver Rosser
Theatre, Musicals

Sister Act

Eventim Apollo Hammersmith, Hammersmith

Oh happy day! Whoopi Goldberg is jetting into London next summer to reprise her second-to-nun performance in ‘Sister Act’. She’ll get back into the habit in ‘Sister Act – The Musical’, which’ll be her first ever live performance as Deloris. Jennifer Saunders is lined up to play Mother Superior, who casts a beady eye on Deloris’s efforts to get a convent full of nuns singing disco hits. 

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Aaron Taylor-Johnson, The Pillowman, 2020
Theatre, Drama

The Pillowman

Duke of York’s Theatre, Covent Garden

Martin McDonagh’s ‘The Pillowman’ is probably the greatest play of modern times to not transfer to the West End. But now it’s happening: McDonagh’s latterday director of choice Matthew Dunster will direct Aaron Taylor-Johnson and Steve Pemberton will star in the first-ever UK revival of McDonagh’s sinister masterpiece set in a totalitarian state in which a writer, Katurian, is questioned over a spate of killings with an uncanny similarity to his gristly short stories…

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Giles Terera, Hamilton,
Photo: Rob Greig
Theatre, Musicals

Sammy

Lyric Hammersmith, Hammersmith

Giles Terera landed an Olivier Award for his turn as canny, smooth talking-politician Aaron Burr in 'Hamilton'. Now, he's getting his shot at originating the title role of 'Sammy', a brand new musical about Rat Pack entertainer Sammy Davis Jnr - and a chance for Terera to showcase a bigger, brasher side to his performing chops…

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Imelda Staunton
Photograph: Courtesy of Storyhouse PR
Theatre, Musicals

Hello Dolly

Adelphi Theatre, Strand

Following their blockbuster ‘Follies’, Imelda Staunton and Dominic Cooke are reuniting for a crack at another classic musical, ‘Hello, Dolly’, which hasn't had a London revival in over a decade…

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David Tennant, 2020, Good
Photograph: Georgia Tennant
Theatre, Drama

Good

Playhouse Theatre, Charing Cross

David Tennant’s near-obsessive latter-day penchant for playing antiheroes continues with Dominic Cooke’s revival of Scots playwright CP Taylor’s great 1982 play ‘Good’…

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Frozen Broadway
© Deen van Meer
Theatre, Musicals

Frozen

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Covent Garden

In the autumn of 2020, the extremely venerable Theatre Royal Drury Lane will emerge from more than a year of lavish upgrade and restoration work to play host to what is surely set to be the biggest show of the year: Michael Grandage’s musical adaptation of Disney’s ‘Frozen’, which has already taken Broadway by storm.

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