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Six reasons why 2017 could be a momentous year for London theatre

As the first big musical of the year – Gary Barlow’s ‘The Girls’ – arrives, here’s what's going to rock Theatreland this year

By Andrzej Lukowski
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Gary Barlow is going to take over

Take Thatter-in-chief Gary Barlow has never had a musical in the West End before. In a year’s time, it is quite possible he will have three: ‘The Girls’ (his adaptation of ‘Calendar Girls’ at the Phoenix Theatre); his Broadway adaptation of the film ‘Finding Neverland’ is pencilled to come over; and then there’s ‘Let It Shine’, the Take That jukebox musical currently being cast via BBC1’s Saturday night talent show (though it’ll tour regionally before any West End transfer). Is this a good thing? A bad thing? It’s certainly a thing – not since Lloyd Webber’s glory days has a single songwriter dominated our stages to this degree.

Everyone is going to be shafted by huge business rate increases

Though on some level it’s almost too boring to contemplate talking about, the most important thing to happen to Theatreland this year may be the imminent business rate hikes of around 40 percent, which could completely fuck up the West End. Rates are being reevaluated for the first time in seven years, and as they’re based on a property’s rental value, they are going to go up like a rocket. What are the consequences for this likely to be? Staff cuts, price rises and perhaps the outside chance of the odd theatre closure.

Hamilton

Is there anything else left to be said about ‘Hamilton’, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s enormo-hit, enormo-hype hip hop musical? You betcha, and you’re going to hear it all, ad nauseam, come November, when the show’s transfer finally enters previews at the renovated Victoria Palace. For the sake of your sanity I’m not going to bang on about it any more now. But as a cultural event it will dwarf anything else happening in the West End this year.

“Gary Barlow illustration

Illustration: Greg Bunbury

Not Hamilton

‘Hamilton’ is in fact totally unrepresentative of West End musicals this year – the general trend for 2017 lies in the opposite direction, with lavish revivals of tried-and-tested oldies like ‘An American in Paris’, ‘42nd Street’, ‘Carousel’ and ‘Annie’. Classic status is no guarantee of success but one suspects the issue is genuinely that producers are too scared of ‘Hamilton’ hogging the limelight to put on major new works.

Diversity is going to become a bigger issue

Julian Fellowes has been getting it in the neck recently for the all-white casting of his ‘Half a Sixpence’, while a report commissioned by Andrew Lloyd Webber made national headlines for calling UK theatre ‘disgustingly white’ (though in point of fact it was actually discussing touring shows). With the diverse ‘Hamilton’ the biggest hype show in town, 2017 may well be when the West End wakes up to the fact it might have to get woke.

Nick Hytner will return to sort everything out

Sir Nicholas Hytner, the man who turned the National Theatre around, might do the same for the commercial sector in 2017. This autumn he and Nick Starr (his executive director at the NT) are opening Bridge Theatre, a new West End-scale theatre at Tower Bridge. Will this impact on Theatreland proper? Quite possibly – for the best part of a century the West End has been confined to the same cramped, crumbling theatres in the same square mile of London. Could an actual modern theatre with comfy seats and bearable loos finally mark the slow beginning of the end? Even if it doesn’t, a major theatre at Tower Bridge and ‘Hamilton’ pitching up at Victoria will weaken Soho’s status as the epicentre of UK commercial theatre.

The best London shows this year

Tom Hiddleston, Betrayal
@ Charlie Gray

19 theatre shows not to miss in 2019

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Want to know which London theatre shows, plays and musicals you should be booking for in 2019? Let us make it easy for you with our list of the 19 shows we think will be best in 2019, in the West End and beyond. 

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