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Best theatre shows for 2018: Our critics’ picks

Sharon D Clarke and Abiona Omonua in Caroline, Or Change in Minerva Theatre, Chichester. Photo: Marc Brenner Sharon D Clarke and Abiona Omonua in Caroline, Or Change at the Minerva Theatre, Chichester. Photo: Marc Brenner
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At the start of the new year our lead critics reveal the shows they are most looking forward to in 2018…

Natasha Tripney

1. Girls and Boys – Royal Court Theatre, London

Best known to many for writing the book to Matilda the Musical, Dennis Kelly has written some pretty brutal plays in the past. His latest, Girls and Boys, is a one-woman play about the unravelling of a relationship. The production which stars Carey Mulligan in her first stage role since David Hare’s Skylight and is directed by Lyndsey Turner, opens at the Royal Court in February.

Frankenstein at the Royal Exchange

2. Frankenstein – Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester

The Royal Exchange’s spring season is stuffed full of tempting things – including the prospect of Maxine Peake in Beckett’s Happy Days – but it’s the opening production, Matthew Xia’s take on Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein, in a new version by April De Angelis, that is most intriguing. It opens in February.

3. The Duchess of Malfi – Swan Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon

Maria Aberg’s 2016 production of Christopher Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus, in which the two actors playing Faustus and Mephistopheles flicked a match to determine who was playing which role each night, was one of the most exciting shows the RSC has staged of late. The director also spliced a Dirty Dancing routine into her production of King John and cast Pippa Nixon as the Bastard well before female actors in key male Shakespearean roles were a regular sight on our stages. All of which bodes well for her take on John Webster’s magnificently murky revenge tragedy, in which Joan Iyiola is playing the title role. It opens in March.

4. One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest – Crucible Theatre, Sheffield

Javaad Alipoor, associate director at Sheffield Theatres and the writer and performer of The Believers Are But Brothers, a superbly smart and innovative piece about radicalisation and masculinity, directs a stage version of Ken Kesey’s iconic novel at the Crucible Theatre in June.

The Believers Are But Brothers review at Summerhall, Edinburgh – ‘bold and gut-twisting’

5. An Adventure – Bush Theatre, London

The Bush Theatre’s 2018 line-up is full of gems and among the most anticipated is Vinay Patel’s new play, An Adventure. Patel wrote the acclaimed BBC drama Murdered by My Father and his new play, an epic tale of a couple’s journey from India to London, set in the 1970s, is being directed by Madani Younis and Omar Elerian (director of the wonderful Nassim). It opens in September.

Mark Shenton

1. Caroline, Or Change – Hampstead Theatre, London

Chichester’s 2017 revival of Jeanine Tesori and Tony Kushner’s musical – originally premiered at New York’s Public Theater, where Hamilton made its first bow – transfers to London’s Hampstead Theatre. It brings the show back to London where it was originally seen in the National’s 2006 transfer of the 2003 New York staging. The phenomenal Sharon D Clarke will reprise her astonishing performance as Caroline.

2. Bananaman, Pippin, The Rink and Bring It On – Southwark Playhouse

Southwark Playhouse looks like it is going to be the most dynamic musical theatre in London in 2018. It has the first new musical opening of the new year with the world premiere of Bananaman the Musical (now previewing, opens January 4), based on the cartoon strip that became a TV cartoon in the 1980s; then Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre transfers its revival of Stephen Schwartz’s Pippin in February. Later in May, Adam Lenson directs a new production of Kander and Ebb’s 1984 musical The Rink, and Bring It On, which includes songs by Lin-Manuel Miranda. It opens in August.

Casting announced for Bananaman the Musical world premiere

3. Fun Home – Young Vic Theatre, London

Yet another musical originally seen at New York’s Public Theater in 2013, before transferring to Broadway two years later. Fun Home is a radical and surprising musical based on a graphic novel memoir by Alison Bechdel about her own upbringing and the relationship with her gay father. It will now receive its UK premiere, with original director Sam Gold at the helm, on June 27.

4.  Chicago – Phoenix Theatre, London

Kander and Ebb will also be represented by the London return of Chicago, which originally played in the West End for 15 years from 1997 to 2012; it is now the longest-running American musical in Broadway history, where it is now in its 21st year. It will return to London from March 26.

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5. Strictly Ballroom the Musical – Piccadilly Theatre, London

The stage version of Baz Luhrmann’s 1992 film about competitive ballroom dancing in Australia comes to the West End after premiering in Leeds in 2016. This version has a new set of principals led by Jonny Labey (winner of ITV’s Dance Dance Dance and best known for EastEnders), Zizi Strallen and Will Young. Drew McOnie directs and choreographs the show, which will open officially on April 11.

Drew McOnie’s Strictly Ballroom review at West Yorkshire Playhouse – ‘thrilling choreography’

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