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Mark Shenton: Here are 35 theatre shows to look forward to in 2017

An American in Paris at the Dominion Theatre. Photo: Tristram Kenton
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It may be stating the obvious, but we have a lot of great theatre happening at the moment. Yes, the last few weeks may have seen the critics drawing their knives instead of getting rapturous over shows like Don Juan in Soho, The Philanthropist, Daniel Kramer’s production of Romeo and Juliet at the Globe, Shit-faced Shakespeare and The Braille Legacy, or expressed general disappointment over Ivo van Hove’s latest, Obsession at the Barbican, but then as the song goes, Into Each Life Some Rain Must Fall.

A sudden run of disappointing shows only makes you appreciate the good ones even more. And it’s actually where critics can be most useful – they see the shows so you don’t have to; they enable the public to spend their time and money more wisely. I’ve been the beneficiary of this myself: I won’t feel compelled to see The Philanthropist or Romeo and Juliet, having read colleagues’ notices.

Amber Riley in Dreamgirls. Photo: Brinkhoff/Mogenburg

But for all that, the West End has seldom felt more alive or the theatre more generally filled with a keener sense of anticipation than it is right now. Dreamgirls is a knockout at the Savoy, while also newly arrived, though admittedly old-fashioned, musicals such as 42nd Street and An American in Paris may push the nostalgia buttons, but do so with such style, grace and sheer spectacle that you’re happily whisked into the past. I’m also looking forward to revisiting such Broadway classics as On the Town and Annie in the next month, as well as the welcome return of last year’s hit production of Jesus Christ Superstar to Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre.

But then there are two shape-shifting masterpieces from Broadway in prospect. Sondheim and Goldman’s 1971 masterwork Follies, which brilliantly illuminates the story of imploding marital relationships against the backdrop of a theatre that is about to be torn down, is to be revived at the National from August 22, with a cast that includes Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee and Philip Quast; and, from more than 45 years later, the blistering Hamilton, receiving its UK premiere at the Victoria Palace from November 21.

Jamie Parker in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child. Photo: Manuel Harlan

Things are even more bracing on the plays front. Revivals of two Edward Albee classics spanning his creative career play around the corner from each other (Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? at the Pinter and The Goat at the Haymarket); last year’s biggest hit, Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, prepares to welcome its second cast from May 24; Jez Butterworth’s new play The Ferryman has opened at the Royal Court, and already has its West End transfer lined up at the Gielgud from June 20; on May 4, the most keenly anticipated revival of the year opens – a star-studded run of Tony Kushner’s Angels in America at the National, an epic pair of plays that run to nearly eight hours and feature Andrew Garfield (returning to a theatre that he first appeared at as a teenager), Russell Tovey, Denise Gough, James McArdle and US theatre legend Nathan Lane.

There are also the imminent West End transfers of Lee Hall’s Olivier award-winning comedy Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (at the Duke of York’s from May 9) and Andrew Scott’s Hamlet from the Almeida (at the Pinter from June 9). The latter, in Robert Icke’s penetrating new version, places the play in a stunning contemporary frame. Meanwhile, transferring from Broadway, six-times Tony winner Audra McDonald finally makes her West End debut to reprise her performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill (at Wyndham’s from June 17). Another stellar Billie – Billie Piper – will also reprise her astonishing Olivier, Evening Standard and Critics’ Circle award-winning performance in Yerma at the Young Vic from July 26.

John Boyega in rehearsals for Woyzeck. Photo: Manuel Harlan

The Old Vic has a returning local hero, John Boyega (look out for a forthcoming interview in The Stage), coming back to his stage origins in Jack Thorne’s new version of Woyzeck (from May 13), followed by Conor McPherson’s new play Girl from the North Country (from July 10), featuring songs by Bob Dylan. Other new plays on the horizon that are also enticing include Yael Farber’s retelling of Salome (now previewing at the National, prior to opening on May 9), Gary Owen’s Killology (at the Royal Court from May 25), DC Moore’s Common (at the National from May 30, with a cast that includes Anne-Marie Duff, Cush Jumbo and John Dagleish) and James Graham’s Ink (at the Almeida from June 17, with Bertie Carvel as Rupert Murdoch in a play about the birth of the Sun newspaper).

That’s just some of what the summer holds in London alone. Beyond the capital, there’s plenty happening, too. In Chichester, where Daniel Evans’ first season at the helm has just begun with Forty Years On, things continue with a new production of another Kushner-written project Caroline, Or Change, with music by Jeanine Tesori (from May 6), Sweet Bird of Youth (with Marcia Gay Harden, from June 2) and Fiddler on the Roof (from July 10, with Omid Djalili). This year’s Manchester International Festival runs from June 29 to July 16, and includes new work by Jane Horrocks, Simon Stephens and Thomas Ostermeier, while the Edinburgh International Festival in August will include an Alan Ayckbourn world premiere, The Divide, co-produced with the Old Vic where it will transfer afterwards.

Ayckbourn will, of course, also have a new play at Scarborough (A Brief History of Women, from September 1), as well as a revival there (his 1979 play Taking Steps, from July 13); and he’ll also see revivals of his double and triple bills House/Garden (at Newbury’s Watermill Theatre from May 25) and The Norman Conquests (at Chichester Festival Theatre from September 18).

That’s just a sampler of what we’ve got to look forward to in the next few months. The theatre is in another golden age.

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