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Life of Pi, 2020
© Johan Persson Hiran Abeysekera (Pi) and Richard Parker the Tiger

The best new London theatre for 2021 – shows not to miss

Our pick of the best new plays, shows and musicals to book for in London’s theatres in 2021

By Andrzej Lukowski
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It’s finally happening: the theatres are reopening, social distancing is hopefully on its way out, and it feels like there’s a reasonable chance that you can book for plays and musicals with the reasonable expectation that they’ll actually go ahead.

We’re still a long way from back to normal  but if we can get through to the press nights for ‘Frozen’ and ‘Back to the Future’ without a hitch, it might just be okay.

So let’s get excited for London theatre in 2021.

Please note: these are ‘new’ productions. For a list of the return dates of long-running shows and musicals, see when will London’s big, long-running shows and musicals return?

Unmissable theatre shows coming to London in 2021

Under Milk Wood, National Theatre, Michael Sheen, 2021
Under Milk Wood, National Theatre, Michael Sheen, 2021
Under Milk Wood, National Theatre, Michael Sheen, 2021

1. Under Milk Wood

Theatre Drama National Theatre, South Bank

Lockdown legend Michael Sheen heads up a new stage version of Dylan Thomas’s immortal radio drama about the eccentric inhabitants of the fictional Welsh village of Llareggub. The cavernous Olivier will be set up in the round for the entire run, with only 500 socially-distanced seats – it’s sold old but check for rush tickets on Fridays.

Out West, Lyric Hammersmith, 2021
Out West, Lyric Hammersmith, 2021
Photo by Lyric Hammersmith

2. Out West

Theatre Drama Lyric Hammersmith, Hammersmith

After scrapping one comeback season due to the third lockdown, the Lyric Hammersmith is hopefully back for good with ‘Out West’, a trio of short plays on identity, race and belonging from big-name writers Tanika Gupta, Simon Stephens and Roy Williams. 

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Bach and Sons, Bridge Theatre, 2021
Bach and Sons, Bridge Theatre, 2021
Photo by Bridge Theatre

3. Bach & Sons

Theatre Drama Bridge Theatre, Tower Bridge

Nina Raine’s new play concerns the relationship between irascible musical genius JS Bach and his sons. Bridge boss Nicholas Hytner directs the mighty Simon Russell Beale – last seen here in the recent ‘A Christmas Carol’ – as Bach Snr.

Constellations, Vaudeville Theatre, 2021
Constellations, Vaudeville Theatre, 2021
Photo by Donmar Warehouse

4. Constellations

Theatre Drama Vaudeville Theatre, Strand

Michael Longhurst revives Nick Payne’s cosmic tragicomedy ‘Constellations’ with four different, equally impressive casts: Sheila Atim and Ivanno Jeremiah, Peter Capaldi and Zoë Wanamaker, Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey, and Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd.

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Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe 2021
Romeo & Juliet, Shakespeare’s Globe 2021
Photo by Marc Brenner

5. Romeo & Juliet

Theatre Shakespeare Shakespeare's Globe, South Bank

Rising star Alfred Enoch takes on the role of Romeo opposite Rebekah Murrell’s Juliet in the Globe’s latest take on Shakespeare’s romantic classic, delayed from 2020.

Carrie Hope Fletcher will star in Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical 'Cinderella'
Carrie Hope Fletcher will star in Andrew Lloyd Webber's new musical 'Cinderella'
Photograph: StoryHouse PR

6. Cinderella

Theatre Musicals Gillian Lynne Theatre, Covent Garden

After copious covid-related delays and a huge barney over social distancing rules, the newie from Sir Andrew Lloyd Webber looks like it’s finally set to open this summer. This gritty all-singing take on the beloved fairytale was first supposed to open, scriptwriter Emerald Fennell has gone and won an Oscar, for ‘Promising Young Woman’. Fan fave Carrie Hope Fletcher is on board to play a grungier take on Cinders. 

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Sutton Foster, Anything Goes, Barbican, 2021
Sutton Foster, Anything Goes, Barbican, 2021
Photo by Anything Goes

7. Anything Goes

Theatre Musicals Barbican Centre, Barbican

A lengthy run for classic Cole Porter musical ‘Anything Goes’, with stars Robert Lindsay and Sutton Foster – who won a Tony for the role back in 2011 – heading up the cast as Moonface Martin and Reno Sweeney. Brit stars Felicity Kendal and Gary Wilmot also feature.

Principal cast of Carousel, Open Air Theatre, 2021
Principal cast of Carousel, Open Air Theatre, 2021
Photo by Open Air Theatre

8. Carousel

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

It’s time for the Open Air Theatre’s big summer musical: stylistically flamboyant artistic director Timothy Sheader helms up the great tale of small-town tragedy and cosmic redemption, with choreography from Drew McOnie.

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Kenneth Branagh, 2021
Kenneth Branagh, 2021
Photo by Johan Persson

9. The Browning Version

Theatre Drama Riverside Studios, Hammersmith

Kenneth Branagh returns to the London stage for the first time in years to star in and direct a revival of Terence Rattigan’s painfully brilliant 1948 play ‘The Browning Version’. In this limited-run fundraiser for Rada, he’ll star as Andrew Crocker-Harris, an embittered classics teacher on his last day of teaching at an English boys’ school.

Initially there will only be a capacity of 170 tickets per performance, although this will double if social distancing is in fact dropped. 

Tickets go on sale 10am on Monday June 21.

2:22 – A Ghost Story, 2021
2:22 – A Ghost Story, 2021
Photo by Olaf Heine, Matthew Murphy and Simon Turtle

10. 2:22 – A Ghost Story

Theatre Drama Noël Coward Theatre, Covent Garden

‘2:22 - A Ghost Story’ is a (duh) ghost story starring Lily Allen in her West End debut, written by Danny Robins of hugely successful supernatural podcast ‘The Battersea Poltergeist’. 

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The Windsors: Endgame, Harry Enfield
The Windsors: Endgame, Harry Enfield
Photo by The Windsors: Endgame

11. The Windsors: Endgame

Theatre Comedy Prince of Wales Theatre, Leicester Square

You thought you’d had enough of the British Royal Family? Well, maybe there’s room for just a little more, as George Jeffrie and Bert Tyler-Moore’s gloriously batshit monarchical sitcom ‘The Windsors’ makes the leap to the West End.

Frozen Broadway
Frozen Broadway
© Deen van Meer

12. Frozen

Theatre Musicals Theatre Royal Drury Lane, Covent Garden

It didn't happen in 2020 for obvious reasons, but it could still be the biggest show of 2021, all being well: Michael Grandage’s musical adaptation of Disney’s ‘Frozen’, aka the most successful animated film of all time. Musical theatre actress Samantha Barks will play frosty antagonist Elsa.

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Back to the Future: The Musical, Adelphi Theatre, 2021
Back to the Future: The Musical, Adelphi Theatre, 2021
Photograph by SEAN EBSWORTH BARNES

13. Back to the Future: The Musical

Theatre Musicals Adelphi Theatre, Strand

You know what ‘Back to the Future’ is – ‘80s highschooler Marty McFly travels back to the 1950s in Doc Brown’s time-travelling DeLorean and gets up to sundry delightful time-travelling antics including almost having it off with his own mum. This musical version was well-received in Manchester before the pandemic hit, and now it finally arrives in London.

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

14. Hamlet

Theatre Shakespeare Young Vic, Waterloo

Delayed a year by Covid, Cush Jumbo follows in the footsteps of her ‘The Good Fight’ co-star Michael Sheen to feature as the Bard’s doomed Danish prince at the Young Vic.

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Saoirse Ronan
Saoirse Ronan
Tinseltown/Shutterstock.com

15. The Tragedy of Macbeth

Theatre Shakespeare Almeida Theatre, Islington

Four-times Oscar-nominated Irish-American film star Saoirse Ronan takes on the role of Lady Macbeth in the mighty Yaël Farber’s new production of The Scottish Play. Here going out under its official name ‘The Tragedy of Macbeth’, we’re promised a production that will place equal emphasis on Ronan’s Lady M and James McArdle’s Macbeth.

Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell, The Mirror and the Light, 2021
Ben Miles as Thomas Cromwell, The Mirror and the Light, 2021
Photo by Keith Pattison

16. The Mirror and The Light

Theatre Drama Gielgud Theatre, Soho

The third and very final part of Hilary Mantel’s ‘Wolf Hall’ trilogy makes it to the stage barely a year after the book’s publication. Ben Miles, who reprises his fantastic turn as the inscrutable Thomas Cromwell.

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Bob Marley, Get Up, Stand Up! musical
Bob Marley, Get Up, Stand Up! musical
Photograph: Adrian Boot

17. Get Up, Stand Up! The Bob Marley Story

Theatre Musicals Lyric Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue

Arinzé Kene plays Bob Marley in this long-awaited new musical based upon the reggae legend’s life and songs, directed by Clint Dyer and written by Lee Hall.

Life of Pi, 2020
Life of Pi, 2020
© Johan Persson

18. Life of Pi

Theatre Drama Wyndham's Theatre, Charing Cross Road

This spectacular puppet-driven stage adaptation of Yann Martel’s bestselling novel was a massive success for Sheffield Theatres just before the pandemic and should finally make it to London in autumn 2021.

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Moulin Rouge, Broadway 2019
Moulin Rouge, Broadway 2019
Photograph: Matthew Murphy

20. Moulin Rouge! The Musical

Theatre Musicals Piccadilly Theatre, Soho

Voulez-vous coucher avec moi, ce soir? Well, maybe not without dinner first. But come the end of 2021 you will have the option to spend your evening at ‘Moulin Rouge! The Musical’, the acclaimed Broadway stage ‘remix’ of Baz Lurhmann’s fabulous jukebox musical feature film.

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