Theatre in London: 2012 preview

The theatre shows we're most looking forward to in 2012

  • 2012 World Shakespeare Festival

    Apr-Sep 2012, Various venues

    The World Shakespeare Festival is the crowning glory of the 2012 Cultural Olympiad. Led by our very own Royal Shakespeare Company, the months-long, countrywide celebration will bring theatre companies from all over the world to the UK to present their own unique interpretations of the works of William Shakespeare. In London there's everything from a South Sudanese 'Cymbeline' to Jonathan Pryce starring in the Almeida Theatre's 'King Lear'. The centrepiece of the whole festival will be Globe to Globe, naturally at Shakespeare's Globe, in which 37 theatre companies from around the world will present 37 of Shakespeare's works in 37 different languages, kicking off on Shakespeare’s birthday, 21st April 2012. Other highlights include ‘What Country, Friends, Is This?’ – Shakespeare’s ‘shipwreck plays’, presented in rep from June 1-July 5 at the Roundhouse, and an acclaimed 1997 version of ‘Hamlet’ (Shakespeare’s Globe, June 2-3) starring Lithuanian rock star Andrius Mamontovas. Visit our Shakespeare Festival calendar for our month-by-month diary guide to the festival, and suggested highlights.

  • Love Letters Straight from Your Heart

    Last chance
    Until Tue Feb 14, Southbank Centre

    This astonishing performance piece from Bristol-based company Uninvited Guests was showered with praise at the 2009 Edinburgh Fringe, but no London transfer was forthcoming. It finally comes to the capital in February 2012 for a two-week stint that, appropriately enough, culminates in a Valentine’s Day performance. In it, the audience are invited to a banquet, hosted by performers Jess Hoffmann and Richard Dufty. What actually happens – or at least, how incredibly effective it is – is hard to describe, but in essence Hoffman and Dufty sequence and stylize a series of anonymous dedications to loved ones – the living, the dead, the missed – into a conflagration of emotion that inevitably reduces the room to tears. If anything else in 2012 is half as moving, it’ll be a very good year.

  • Singin' in the Rain

    Until Feb 23 2013, Palace Theatre

    After a series of flop jukebox musicals ('Love Story', 'Flash Dance', 'All the Fun of the Fair') the conservative West End seems to be playing it safe with the classics. There's 'Crazy for You' at the Novello, a transfer from Regent Park's excellent Open Air season, and now Jonathan Church's adaptation of the classic 1952 MGM musical 'Singin' in the Rain' finally sees 'Priscilla' out of town. A hit at the Chichester Festival this year, the Andrew Wright-choreographed musical features such timeless hits as 'Make 'em Laugh, 'Good Morning' and – duh – 'Singin' in the Rain'.

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  • Sweeney Todd

    Until Sat Sep 22, Adelphi Theatre

    Michael Ball and Imelda Staunton impressed the critics in a Stephen Sondheim revival which had good-to-fair reviews at Chichester Festival Theatre in 2011 and which looks set to rake in a large audience when it transfers to the West End for a limited 2012 season. Imelda Staunton is one of the funniest women in Britain and has a talent for lascivious malice that makes her dream casting for creepy Queen of Pies, Mrs Lovett. And Michael Ball, who rose to such ample comical-musical heights in hit US import ‘Hairspray’ that he overturned all Time Out’s prejudices, is apparently a revelation as Sweeney Todd. Director Jonathan Kent has updated the eponymous Demon Barber – who first appeared in Victorian penny dreadful ‘The String of Pearls’ in 1846 then became a staple of Victorian melodrama – to the 1930s. Sondheim’s Tony Award-winning 1979 musical was also the basis for Tim Burton’s 2007 film ‘Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street’, which starred Johnny Depp.

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  • The Master and Margarita

    RecommendedLast chance
    Until Sat Apr 7, Barbican Centre

    We’re having a Margarita moment in Theatreland: John Hodge’s 'Collaborators' – a witty, surreal fantasy about what might have happened when Josef Stalin met leading liberal writer Mikhail Bulgakov – is playing at the NT’s Cottesloe until March 2012. And that’s when Simon McBurney’s mighty Complicite premieres its new version of Bulgakov’s novelistic masterpiece at the Barbican – with a run starting on the Ides of March. The Barbican has provided a home for Complicite’s last two major shows: ‘Shun-Kin’, a delicate sado-masochistic exploration of the work of the writing of Jun'ichiro Tanizaki and the Shamisen, with puppets; and ‘A Disappearing Number’, which told the extraordinary story of mathematical pen pals Srinivasa Ramanujan, a penniless Brahmin from Madras, and the Cambridge don GH Hardy. Bulgakov’s fantastical and daring 1930s satire, in which the Devil comes to Moscow, seems like perfect material for London’s most groundbreaking theatre company.

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  • Gross und Klein (Big and Small)

    RecommendedLast chance
    Until Sun Apr 29, Barbican Centre

    Oscar-winning actress Cate Blanchett headlines the Barbican’s programme for the London 2012 Festival, in Martin Crimp’s adaptation of German playwright Botho Strauss’s ‘Big and Small’. In addition to her impressive film career, Blanchett also manages to be the Sydney theatre-scene’s answer to Kevin Spacey: she and her husband, writer Andrew Upton, jointly run the Sydney Theatre Company – which is bringing ‘Gross und Klein’ to London. The production opened in Sydney in November 2011 where Blanchett’s performance as Lotte, a woman who travels around Germany trying to find a sense of belonging, was praised as stunning. Crimp (‘Attempts on Her Life’, ‘The City’, ‘The Country’) has great form as a discomfiting writer and sharp, progressive adapter of European drama. Strauss is one of Germany’s most performed writers and his 1978 play, a three-hour-long series of ten vignettes, is fractured and surreal. At £65 for most stall and circle seats this isn’t a cheap option – but it’s an exceptionally tempting opportunity to see a fascinating actress on an extraordinarily demanding journey.

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  • Love Love Love

    RecommendedLast chance
    Until Sat Jun 9, Royal Court Theatre

    Mike Bartlett's recent diversions into political sci-fi with the National Theatre ('Earthquakes in London', '13') have proven rather divisive, but this altogether more earthy drama received ecstatic notices when it debuted as a Paines Plough touring show in 2011 – it won Best New Play at this year's Theatre UK Awards and is currently in line for a Whatonstage award for Best Regional Production. Tracing the declining fortunes of baby boomer couple Kenneth and Sandra, it's a viciously comic tragedy about the failure of the '60s dream that's been talked up as a reaffirmation of the talent of a hugely promising playwright who has baffled some followers with his big budget adventures at the NT. Paines Plough's James Grieve will again direct the play, in a new co-production with the Royal Court.

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  • World Stages

    May 2012, Various venues

    Our massively multicultural capital gets its theatre groove on for World Stages London: an innovative collaboration between eight of London’s best and most adventurous producing theatres, including the Royal Court, Battersea Arts Centre and the Young Vic, in a £3 million city-wide theatre festival. Its headline show ‘Babel’ is an epically ambitious piece of community theatre put together by BAC (whose last large-scale spectacle was Punchdrunk’s phenomenal ‘Masque of the Red Death’) and Wildworks (the company behind Port Talbot’s extraordinary ‘The Passion’ starring Michael Sheen). Other highlights include an adaptation of Jung Chang’s ‘Wild Swans’ at the Young Vic and ‘Three Kingdoms’ at the Lyric Hammersmith – playwright Simon Stephens in cahoots with No99 Theatre and the Munich Kammerspiele for a multilingual tale of the European vice trade, directed by Sebastian Nübling. If you can’t take the pain then Kneehigh, Sadler’s Wells and Theatre Royal Stratford East’s new Bollywood musical, ‘Wah! Wah! Girls’ by Tanika Gupta, looks like more fun.

  • Richard III / Twelfth Night

    Sat Jul 14 / Wed Sep 12, Shakespeare's Globe

    2012 looks like another great year for Shakespeare’s Globe. After its Cultural Olympiad season in Spring 2012, when it will stage all of Shakespeare’s plays each in a different language, ex-Globe boss and all-round theatre hero Mark Rylance returns to grace its stage in ‘Richard III’ and ‘Twelfth Night’. Right now, Rylance is such hot property that he could show up and recite an obscure poem by Louis Jenkins – as he did when accepting TONYs for ‘Boeing Boeing’ and ‘Jerusalem’ – and people would come. But authentically all-male Shakespeare productions were a major feature of Rylance’s pre-‘Jerusalem’ life at the Globe where he will reprise his role as the lovelorn Countess Olivia – who falls in love with a girl dressed as a boy who is actually played by a man – in ‘Twelfth Night’ in September 2012. First up, though, is hunchback de rigeur Richard III – recently played by Kevin Spacey in Sam Mendes’s final Bridge Season. Rylance will take on the much-monstered role of the man who (allegedly) killed the Princes in the Tower from 14th July. Both productions are directed by Tim Carroll, with original music by Claire van Kampen (also Mrs Rylance).

  • Bridget Jones's Diary

    Autumn 2012, West End venue TBC

    Bridget Jones: the musical has been in the offing for a while now but rumour has it that it will come to a theatre near you in autumn 2012. It looks like the highly loveable – and Olivier Award-Winning ‘Legally Blonde’ and ‘Flare Path’ star – Sheridan Smith will be stepping into the ‘fat’ suit to play London’s disaster-prone '90s answer to Samantha, Carrie, Miranda and Charlotte. The cast has not been announced, but the novel’s author Helen Fielding, who is scripting the West End adaptation, sent Smith a tweet saying ‘You ARE Bridget Jones’. Excitingly, extraordinarily versatile ‘Matilda’ star Bertie Carvel has also been workshopping the musical with Smith, in the role of preppie post-Austen heartthrob Mr Darcy. ‘Billy Elliot’ director Stephen Daldry was in charge of the London workshops. And Lily Allen and her frequent collaborator Greg Kurstin are on board to write the music.