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What are the best shows to see in 2019?

Katharine McPhee in Waitress, Matt Henry, who will star in One Night in Miami... and Lily James and Gillian Anderson who will star in All About Eve (Photo: Perou) Katharine McPhee in Waitress, Matt Henry, who will star in One Night in Miami... and Lily James and Gillian Anderson who will star in All About Eve (Photo: Perou)

The Stage’s lead critics Natasha Tripney and Tim Bano pick the shows they’re most looking forwards to in 2019. 

All About Eve – Noel Coward Theatre, London

While I’ve felt a bit of Ivo van Hove fatigue recently – when he’s good, he’s incredible, when he’s bad he slops liquids in women’s faces and delivers sleek machine-tooled ‘quality’ theatre that engages the brain but not the gut (also, note to UK theatres, other European directors exist), the prospect of Gillian Anderson in All About Eve is just too heady to dismiss. Monica Dolan and Lily James also star if you needed more incentive. It opens on February 12.

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Lily James and Gillian Anderson. Photo: James Perou

Mother Courage and Her Children, Royal Exchange, Manchester

Royal Exchange regular Julie Hesmondhalgh returns to the Manchester theatre to play the ionic title role in a new adaptation of Brecht’s play by Anna Jordan, following her touring show Pop Music (“warm, wonderful stuff,” according to The Stage’s Fergus Morgan) and the intense, wrenching Yen. Headlong associate artist Amy Hodge directs and it opens on February 13.

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Julie Hesmondhalgh. Photo: Lee Baxter

Berberian Sound Studio – Donmar Warehouse, London

Designer Tom Scutt makes his directorial debut with a stage adaptation of Peter Strickland’s delectably unsettling 2012 film about a sound engineer who takes a job at an Italian horror studio. Joel Horwood has adapted it for the stage and the always compelling Tom Brooke heads the cast. The Donmar no doubt has a lot of watermelons on order for this one. It opens on February 14.

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The Trick – Bush Theatre, London

Following the deserved success of Nine Night, magma-hot director Roy Alexander Weise takes on The Trick, an intriguing new play by Eve Leigh that interweaves themes of loss and magic – death as a vanishing act. It opens at the Bush Theatre on February 25.

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Eve Leigh, author of The Trick at the Bush Theatre

The Taming of the Shrew – Sherman Theatre, Cardiff

One of two intriguing reframings of The Taming of the Shrew (along with Justin Audibert’s production for the Royal Shakespeare) to open in 2019, Jo Clifford’s new version is set in a world in which women hold all the power. It opens at the Sherman Theatre in March.

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Waitress – Adelphi Theatre, London

The Broadway transfer I’m most excited about is Waitress. Sara Bareilles’ music for this adaptation of the 2007 film set in a diner is a really lovely blend of pop and ballads and cherry-pie sweetness. When it opened on Broadway in 2016, it was the first show whose four top creative spots – composer, book writer, director and choreographer – were all women – as was the musical director, the costume designer and, indeed, the three main actors. With Katharine McPhee, Marisha Wallace and Laura Baldwin in the London cast, it looks pretty promising. It’s set to open in March.

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Katharine McPhee will lead the UK cast of Waitress.

Local Hero – Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh

There are stirrings of something very exciting at the Lyceum Theatre in Edinburgh as Bill Forsyth reworks his wonderful film Local Hero along with David Greig. The music for the film was, of course, composed by the gazillion record-selling, Sultan-swinging, Romeo-and-Julieting, Brothers-in-Armsing front man of Dire Straits, Mark Knopfler – his theme for the film has become one of his most well-loved tracks. Well guess what? He’s writing the songs for the musical too. It opens in Edinburgh in March.

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Bill Forsyth and David Greig, who will adapt Local Hero for the stage

Nora: A Doll’s House – Tramway, Glasgow

Stef Smith (Human Animals, Swallow, Roadkill) has taken Ibsen’s play and reframed it across three time periods to explore just how much women’s role in society has changed over the last century. Former artistic director of Pentabus directs the Citizens Theatre production which opens at Glasgow’s Tramway in March.

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Summer and Smoke star Patsy Ferran: ‘I enjoy being goofy, manly, ugly on stage, it’s liberating’

Three Sisters – Almeida Theatre, London

Rebecca Frecknell follows her acclaimed, incredibly atmospheric take on Tennessee Williams’ somewhat unwieldy play Summer and Smoke with a production of Chekhov’s Three Sisters, adapted by Cordelia Lynn and once again starring the wondrous Patsy Ferran. It opens at the Almeida Theatre on April 16.

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Death of a Salesman – Young Vic, London

In an Arthur Miller-heavy year, the prospect of Wendell Pierce –aka the Bunk from The Wire – playing Willy Loman opposite Sharon D Clarke (currently blowing the roof off the Playhouse in Caroline, or Change) and Arinze Kene – writer and performer of the magnificent Misty, is an exceptionally exciting one. Marianne Elliot’s production opens in May.

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Arinze Kene. Photo: Bronwen Sharp

Operation Mincemeat – New Diorama, London

Based on a true story, this collaboration between three members of award winning Kill the Beast (be sure to catch the hilarious The Director’s Cut in February) and composer Felix Hagan is one of many tempting shows in the New Diorama’s 2019 season. It opens at the New Diorama in May.

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The Color Purple – Curve, Leicester

Leicester’s Curve is often criticised – very unfairly in my opinion – for being an NPO staging shows as brazenly commercial as An Officer and a Gentleman. Hopefully there will be a lot less grumbling about The Color Purple, the musical adaptation of Alice Walker’s novel. The 2013 Menier Chocolate Factory production, made a star of Cynthia Erivo when it transferred to Broadway, but it never made it to the West End. So it’s exciting to see Curve mount this revival with Birmingham Hippodrome, especially with the very talented Tinuke Craig at the helm. It opens in Leicester in June.

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Director Tinuke Craig
Director Tinuke Craig

One Night in Miami… – Nottingham Playhouse

Matthew Xia (director of the acclaimed Shebeen and recently announced as artistic director of ATC) helms a revival of Kemp Powers’ play One Night in Miami…, about a meeting between four black icons – Cassius Clay, Malcolm X, Sam Cooke, and American football star Jim Brown in a Miami motel room. The play was previously staged at the Donmar in 2016, in a production directed by Kwame Kwei-Armah. Xia’s production will star Matt Henry and open at Nottingham Playhouse in June.

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Director Matthew Xia: ‘The moment you lose an audience member, you’ve failed’

Evita – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, London

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s annual musical offering is often a delight – look at the luminescent revival of Little Shop of Horrors  and the hell-raising Jesus Christ Superstar. 2019’s production looks like being no exception, as champion of accessible theatre Jamie Lloyd takes on one of the musical greats with Evita.

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Dear Evan Hansen – Noel Coward Theatre, London

In 2019, we can expect a smorgasbord of musical delicacies from Broadway to arrive in the UK, including the much-anticipated transfer of Dear Evan Hansen, opening at the Noel Coward Theatre in November. This musical juggernaut is the work of Pasek and Paul, the songwriting team behind that other sing along success The Greatest Showman. Expect great things.

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