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National Theatre

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  • South Bank
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  1. National Theatre, The Shed  (© Philip Vile)
    © Philip Vile
  2. © Philip Vile
    © Philip Vile
  3. © Philip Vile
    © Philip Vile
  4. Interior architecture (Rob Greig / Time Out)
    Rob Greig / Time Out
  5. National Theatre (Rob Greig / Time Out)
    Rob Greig / Time Out
  6. National Theatre architecture (Rob Greig / Time Out)
    Rob Greig / Time Out
  7. National Theatre interior (Rob Greig / Time Out)
    Rob Greig / Time Out
  8. National Theatre Stairs (Rob Greig / Time Out)
    Rob Greig / Time Out

Time Out says

The world's greatest theatre?

The National Theatre reopens in October with ‘Death of England: Delroy’. After that it will stage a pantomime, ‘Dick Whittington’. Both shows will take place in the Olivier, which has been reconfigured into a 500-seat socially distanced in-the-round theatre.

Arguably the greatest theatre in the world, the Royal National Theatre is also one of London's most recognisable landmarks and perhaps this country's foremost example of brutalist architecture. It boasts three auditoriums – the epic, ampitheatre-style Olivier, the substantial end-on space Lyttelton and the Dorfman, a smaller venue for edgier work. It's got a firm foothold on the West End, thanks to transferring shows like 'War Horse' and 'The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time'. In summer, it spills out onto Southbank with its River Stage line-up of outdoor events. And its NT Live programme beams its greatest hits to cinemas across the globe.

NT Live is just one of the initiatives to issue forth from the golden reign of former artistic director Nicholas Hytner, which saw a canny mix of modernised classics, popular new writing, and a splash of hip experimental work fill out the houses night after night. These days, Hytner's successor Rufus Norris calls the shots, with a programme that's stuck with many Hytner fundamentals but offered an edgier, more international spin, with a run of ambitious, experimental and often divisive works.

The NT is a popular hangout for theatre fans, thanks to its warren-like array of spots to work and play. The theatre's busy Kitchen churns out an impressively quirky, delicious array of seasonal baked goods, and there are pre-theatre dinners on offer at flagship restaurant House. But the real insider's hangout is The Understudy, a rough-and-ready riverside bar which brews its own lager and is thronged with theatre hipsters on pretty much any night of the week.


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What’s on

Jack Absolute Flies Again

  • Comedy

Richard Bean's farce ‘One Man, Two Guvnors’ has been one of the National Theatre's biggest hits of recent years, so it's no surprise that he's loosely adapting another historical comedy for the theatre's massive Olivier mainstage. Co-written with actor Oliver Chris, ‘Jack Absolute Flies Again’ is based on 1775 Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s ‘The Rivals’, which follows competing suitors who are after fashionable lady Lydia Languish's hand in marriage. Bean and Chris’s vigorous rewrite sets the action during WWII, when fighter pilot Jack woos a young heiress. One of the final cancelled plays from the NT’s 2020 season to finally be staged, ‘Jack Absolute Flies Again’ is no longer being helmed by original director Thea Sharrock, but rather NT assistant director Emily Burns. She directs a cast led by Laurie Davidson as Jack Absolute, Caroline Quentin as Mrs Malaprop, Natalie Simpson as Lydia Languish, Kelvin Fletcher as Dudley Scunthorpe and Kerry Howard as Lucy.

Much Ado About Nothing

  • Shakespeare

The last Shakespeare play to run at the Lyttelton did so under unusual conditions, with 2020’s Simon Godwin-directed ‘Romeo & Juliet’ cancelled by Covid and instead turned into a TV film made in situ at the NT’s middle auditorium. That seems to have drawn a line under staging it as a regular production, as in 2022 we’re getting a totally different Godwin-directed Shakespeare in the form of ‘Much Ado About Nothing’. It’s still set in the Italian city of Messina, but this time in 1931, which presumably means we’ll have a few background fascist vibes in evidence in what tends to be viewed as one of Shakespeare’s sunniest and least complicated comedies. Whatever the case, we’ll be getting Katherine Parkinson and John Heffernan as bickering lovers Beatrice and Benedict, with the rest of the cast TBA. 

All of Us

  • Drama

Francesca Martinez has made a name for herself as an actor, a comedian, and an outspoken campaigner on disabled rights; she has cerebral palsy, and delivered a powerful speech against government cuts on BBC’s ‘Question Time’. Now she's adding another string to her bow by writing her debut play ‘All of Us’. She'll star in it as a woman whose life is on the brink of being dismantled by austerity politics. The play was due to open in March 2020 and was deep into rehearsals when its run was cancelled – so it’s a great relief that it’s finally happening.

The Crucible

  • Drama

If the National Theatre under Rufus Norris has steered relatively clear of straight versions of canonical classics by anyone other than Shakespeare, then a massive revival of Arthur Miller’s seminal allegorical drama about the Salem witch trials never goes amiss: there’s not been a really big London revival of ‘The Crucible’ since Yaël Farber’s sturm und drang 2014 Old Vic take.  This one is directed in the Olivier by always worthwhile NT regular Lyndsey Turner in what we’re promised is an ‘urgent new staging’ that will star Brendan Cowell (best known for playing opposite Billie Piper in the Young Vic’s ‘Yerma’) as the play’s troubled hero John Procter, and ‘The Crown’s forever youthful-looking Eric Doherty as Abigail, the ‘possessed’ young woman calling out witchcraft in the small Massachusetts town.

Blues for an Alabama Sky

  • Drama

Bush Theatre boss Lynette Linton’s pandemic-delayed NT debut is a rare and welcome opportunity to see African American playwright Pearl Cleage’s 1995 drama. Set during the Harlem Renaissance, it follows four friends whose lives are upended when. a stranger from Alabama arrives. Samira Wiley, Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo, Osy Ikhile, Sule Rimi and Olivier-winning ‘Hamilton’ man Giles Terera star.

The Boy with Two Hearts

  • Drama

Hamed and Hessem Amiri’s book ‘The Boy with Two Hearts’ is a gripping true account of how their family fled a pre-US invasion Afghanistan after their mother spoke out against the Taliban. It details the gruelling journey through Russia and Europe that followed, and their experiences with the NHS after they arrived in the UK with their older brother Hussein, who required urgent surgery to alleviate a life-threatening heart condition. The novel was adapted for the Wales Millennium Centre last year, and now Phil Porter’s Amit Sharma-directed stage version transfers to the National Theatre’s Dorfman with its original cast of Afghan and Iranian performers intact.


  • Musicals

This all-singing adaptation of the Sleeping Beauty myth that raised a few eyebrows when it was announced in 2021 for being written by NT artistic director Rufus Norris (on lyrics) and his wife Tanya Ronder (book) alongside Jim Fortune (music), with Norris directing. Accusations have ranged from nepotism to the NT being desperately skint, but it seems more likely that after two chaotic years, they needed to pull a reasonably bankable Christmas show out of the hat in markedly less time than it takes to pull the average musical together. So they revisited one Norris revisiting one had made earlier - ‘Hex’ is in fact a reworking of a version of ‘Sleeping Beauty’ he did for the Young Vic way back in 2002. As it turned out, ‘Hex’s inaugural run was so disrupted by the first wave of Omicron that it never actually had a press night: what was salvageable was simply counted as a big preview. But it should finally open to press as it returns for the Christmas of 2022.  Casting is TBC, but fingers crossed that some of the original cast – headed by Rosalie Craig, Tamsin Carroll, Kat Ronney and Michael Elcock – return.

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