December is just days away, which means that Christmas is almost upon us. In the time between then and now theatre can prove a huge help though, whether as inspiration for the perfect gift or as the perfect distraction from the stress and mayhem of the season, and in the spirit of giving, here’s a selection of the Top Picks of new shows opening in the West End this December.
THE KNIGHT OF THE BURNING PESTLE:
After a well-received run at Shakespeare’s Globe earlier this year, Francis Beaumont’s 17th century play is back for a festive re-run this December. One of the earliest comedies to hit the English stage, the ‘madcap meta-romp’ combines wicked humour with charming songs to delight audiences with a night of heckling, pratfalls and non-stop silliness, as a grocer and his wife who are dissatisfied with a play they’re watching invade the stage to re-direct it to suit their tastes. Phil Daniel and Pauline McLynn return as the Citizen and his wife, as does Matthew Needham as their guileless son Rafe. Joining them in the cast are Giles Cooper (Michael), Paul Brendan (Host/Tapster), Jolyon Coy (Jaspar), Louise Ford (Luce), Samuel Hargreaves (Boy), Hannah McPake (Mistress Merrythought), David Tarkenter (Venturewell) and Dicken Tyrrell (Humphrey). Directed by Adele Thomas and featuring music composed by Nigel Hess, this in-house production from Shakespeare’s Globe returns to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse on 11th December 2014 and runs throughout the Christmas season until 11th January 2014.
The smash hit variety troupe Slightly Fat Features are heading to the West End for Christmas with their riotous comedy cabaret for all ages, shapes and sizes. The leading British variety ensemble, comprised of Jon Hicks, Robert Lee, Richard Garaghty, Gareth Jones, Matt Barnard, Herbie Treehead and Goronwy Thorn, will showcase their astonishing physical skills and unique brand of comedy with such entertainment as tiger taming, bullet catching, dancing horses, circus tricksters, acrobatic elephants, live music, miniature cowboys, sing-a-longs, knife throwing, cling film escapology and piano-playing dogs, along with much, much more. Produced by Mick Perrin Worldwide, the part-Monty Python-part-Cirque du Soleil fun of VarietySoup has a single preview performance at the Leicester Square Theatre on 15th December before opening night on 16th December 2014. The show closes on 4th January 2015.
MISS HAVISHAM’S EXPECTATIONS:
This one-woman show draws on the text of Great Expectations to discuss what it means to be a woman in both the early 1800’s setting of Charles Dickens’ classic novel and the modern day. Written and directed by Di Sherlock, it also uses additional biographical material from Dickens’ own life along with her original material. Linda Marlowe plays the classic character of Miss Havisham, adapted from the beloved author’s novel by Sherlock, to relay episodes from the novel from her perspective. As she wrestles with love, loss and ageing, she ‘explodes the stereotype with laudanum-fuelled relish’ in this production from Julie Clare for One Spirit Productions and Tim Johanson Productions. Miss Havisham’s Expectations begins previews at the Trafalgar Studios 2 from 9th December 2014 and opens on 12th December 2014, closing there on 3rdJanuary 2015.
SIKES AND NANCY:
Running as a double-bill at Trafalgar Studios 2 with Miss Havisham’s Expectations (although both can be viewed separately), Sikes and Nancy is a new show adapted from Charles Dickens’ novel Oliver! Swanton also stars in his own creation, dressing entirely in black to recount the compelling and terrible story of Dickens’ most famous murder. Based on the legendary reading the author himself used to give, Swanton transforms seamlessly from the revolting Fagin to the unfortunate Nancy; from the righteous Brownlow to the ferocious and terrifying Sikes with his dark and physical form of storytelling. Sikes and Nancy begins previews at the Trafalgar Studio 2 from 9th December 2014 and opens on 12th December 2024, closing there on 3rd January 2015.
THE WIND IN THE WILLOWS:
The West End is welcoming choreographer and director Will Tuckett’s critically acclaimed adaption of the novel by Kenneth Grahame, which re-tells the adventures of four woodland friends – Ratty, Toad, Badger and Mole, – through song, dance, music and puppetry. The peaceful riverbank world they inhabit is rocked by a speeding car, a racing train, and criminal deeds cooked up in the Wild Wood in this stage show, which stars Martin Harvey as Ratty, Cris Penfold as Toad, Ira Mandela Siobhan as Badger and Sonya Cullingford as Mole. The musical also features puppet design by Toby Olie, narration by Andrew Motion, and music by Martin Ward. Produced by CMP, Act Productions, William Archer for Bob & Co and Celia Atkin/Royal Opera House Production, The Wind in the Willows began previews at the Vaudeville Theatre on 26th November 2014. Opening night is on 4th December 2014 and it plays there until 17th January 2015.
THE WAY BACK HOME:
This children’s opera is the creation of Rory Mullarkey, who wrote it after Oliver Jeffers’ book. Performed by members of the ENO, the show traces the intergalactic journey of a boy who, on discovering an aeroplane in his cupboard, flies off towards the stars in search of adventure. Things go horribly wrong when he runs out of fuel and crash lands on the moon. Hungry, afraid and unsure how he will get home, the boy meets a friendly Martian who is also marooned on the moon. Together they devise a plan to help each other. Directed by Katie Mitchell, this co-production from ENO/Young Vic opens at the Young Vic Theatre (The Maria) on 11th December for a limited run, closing on 23rd December 2014.
Daniel Clarkson and Tom Clarkson show is set in the rich and vibrant world of Arthur Conan Doyle, where plot twists, elaborate disguises and secret passages are compulsory. The three-strong cast of Daniel Clarkson, Jefferson Turner and Lizzie Wort work their way through the many characters of the Holmes canon to re-tell all sixty stories in eighty elementary minutes. Produced by Seabright Productions Limited and directed by Hanna Berrigan, this is fun for all the family (ages 6+). Potted Sherlock begins previews at the Vaudeville Theatre from 8th December 2014 and opens there on 12th December 2014. It is set to close on 11th January 2015.
Andrew Lloyd Webber’s award-winning show returns to the West End with its festive feline friends in tow, ready to entertain audiences here once again following the success and popularity of its UK Tour. Featuring the compositions of Andrew Lloyd Webber, the musical is based on the poems of T.S. Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats and introduces a variety of Jellicle cat characters on the night of the Jellicle Ball, when their wise and benevolent leader, Old Deuteronomy, must make the Jellicle choice and announce which of them will go up to the Heaviside Layer and be reborn into a whole new Jellicle life. Pop star Nicole Scherzinger makes her West End debut as Grizabella the Glamour Cat, performing alongside fellow cat cast mates Cameron Ball (Macavity/Admetus), Kathryn Barnes (Tantomile), Cassie Clare (Cassandra), Ross Finnie (Skimbleshanks), Charlene Ford (Bombalurina), Adam Lake (Alonzo), Paul F. Monaghan (Bustopher Jones/Asparagus/Growl Tiger), Joel Morris (Carbucketty), Natasha Mould (Jemima), Benjamin Mundy (Coricopat), Joseph Poulton (Quaxo/Mistoffelees), Nicholas Pound (Old Deuteronomy), Sophie Ragavelas (Alternate Grizabella), Clare Rickard (Jellylorum/Griddlebone), Adam Salter (Bill Bailey), Laurie Scarth (Jennyanydots), Hannah Kenna Thomas (Victoria/White Cat), Callum Train (Munkustrap), Zizi Strallen (Demeter) and Dawn Williams (Rumpleteazer), as well as Swings Ryan Gover, Barry Haywood, Alice Jane, Grace McKee, Dane Quixall and Libby Watts. The production from The Really Useful Group Limited is directed by Trevor Nunn and features choreography by Gillian Lynne. Previews of Cats The Musical start from 6th December 2014 and it re-opens in the West End at its new home at the London Palladium on 11th December 2014. The show is booking until 28th February 2015.
CITY OF ANGELS:
The much anticipated musical is returning to London twenty years after it made its premiere in this star cast revival by Donmar’s artistic director, Josie Rourke. Hollywood comes calling for a New York novelist. The offer is too good to refuse: adapt the private detective protagonist of his books into a big-screen hero. The siren songs of Los Angeles is a dangerous temptation and while his movie plays out in black and white, his new life is all-to colourful. This new production has an impressive cast attached to it. Real-life couple Hadley Fraser and Rosalie Craig appear together as Stine and Gabby/Bobbi respectively, alongside such other big names of the stage as Samantha Barks (Mallory/Avril), Marc Elliott (Pancho Vargas/Lieutenant Munoz), Katherine Kelly (Carla/Alaura), Tam Mutu (Stone), Rebecca Trehearn (Donna/Oolie) and Peter Polycarpou (Buddy Fidler), in addition to Cameron Cuffe (Peter Kingsley), Adam Fogerty (Big Six), Kadiff Kirwan (Angel City Four), Sandra Marvin (Angel City Four), Mark Penfold (Luther Kingsley), Jennifer Saayeng (Angel City Four), Jo Servi (Angel City Four) and Tim Walton (Jimmy Powers). Featuring music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by David Zippel and a book by Larry Gelbart, the musical production also has choreography by Stephen Mear and musical direction by Gareth Valentine. The in-house production of City of Angels starts previews at the Donmar Warehouse from 5th December 2014. Opening night follows on 16th December 2014, and it runs until 7th February 2015.
The Kos family argue, adapt, and fall in and out of love. World after world is erected and torn down around them. The one constant is the ivy-clad house in Zagreb, built by aristocrats, partitioned, owned by all, owned by a few; witness to four increasingly educated and independent generations of women. But when the family assemble for Lucia’s wedding, Alisa learns that her nouveau-riche brother-in-law has bought the once nationalized house. For the bride this is progress, for her sister it’s a shady act of greed. For their principled parents, finally, it’s one battle too many. The National is staging this drama from Tena Stivicic, which is directed by Howard Davies and includes music by Dominic Muldowney and fight direction by Terry King. 3 Winters stars Siobhan Finneran, Lucy Black, Peter Cadden, Susan Engel, Daniel Flynn, Hermione Gulliford, Jo Herbert, Alex Jordan, Gerald Kyd, James Laurenson, Jodie McNee, Alex Price, Adrian Rawlins, Sophie Rundle and Josie Walker. Previews began at Lyttelton, NT on 26th November 2014 and it opens there on 3rd December 2014, running until 3rd February 2015.
Bryony Lavery’s adaption of Robert Louis Stevenson’s Treasure Island comes to the National this December, in a Polly Findlay-directed production for audiences aged 10 and over. The show follows Young Jim Hawkins and his motley crew across the ocean in their search for hidden pirate spoils. Patsy Ferran stars as Jim opposite Arthur Darvill as Long John Silver, leading a cast which also includes Daniel Coonan, Claire-Louise Cordwell, Paul Dodds, Heather Dutton, Nick Fletcher, Joshua James, Helena Lymbery, Alexandra Maher, Alastair Parker, Tim Samuels, David Sterne, Ben Thompson, Zubin Varla and Roger Wilson. With previews at Olivier, NT beginning from 3rd December 2014, Treasure Island opens on 10th December 2014 and runs until 8th April 2015.
HENRY IV – PART I & II:
Following its premiere in Stratford-Upon-Avon and the subsequent UK Tour, this production of the Shakespeare classic is being welcomed into the West End just in time for Christmas. In Part I, Henry IV’s crown is under threat from enemies both foreign and domestic as he prepares for war. As his father gets ready to defend his crown, Prince Hal is languishing in the taverns and brothels of London, revelling in the company of his friend, the notorious Sir John Falstaff. With the onset of war, Hal must confront his responsibilities to family and throne. In Part II, King Henry’s health is failing but he is uncertain Hal is a worthy heir. Meanwhile, Falstaff is sent to the countryside to recruit fresh troops, where he gleefully indulges in the business of lining his own pockets. As the King’s health continues to worsen, Hal must choose between duty and loyalty to an old friend in Shakespeare’s heartbreaking conclusion to the pair of plays. Henry IV is played by Jasper Britton, alongside Alex Hassell as Prince Hal and Antony Sher as Sir John Falstaff. The rest of the cast is comprised of Oliver Ford Davies (Shallow), Elliot Barnes-Worrell (Prince John/Francis), Martin Bassindale (Peto), Antony Byrne (Pistol), Sean Chapman (Northumberland), Paola Dionisotti (Mistress Quickly), Jonny Glynn (Warwick), Nia Gwynne (Doll Tearsheet), Jim Hooper (Silence), Youssef Kerkour (Westmoreland), Sam Marks (Poins), Keith Osborn (Scroop), Leigh Quinn (Wart), Joshua Richards (Bardolph), Simon Thorp (Lord Chief Justice), Trevor White (Mowbray) and Simon Yadoo (Lord Bardolph). These RSC productions are directed by Gregory Doran and are running at the Barbican Theatre, with Part I starting previews from 29th November 2014 and opening on 11th December 2014. Part II begins previews from 2nd December 2014 and opens on 11th December 2014, with both productions closing on 24th January 2015.
By Julie Robinson: @missjulie25
Thursday 27th November 2014