While theatre companies across the country pulled off impressive feats over the past year by finding ways to bring performances online, nothing quite beats the experience of sitting in a theatre and seeing actors bring scripts to life before your eyes. London theatre land has at last reopened its doors, so the question is simply, what to see first? From Emma Corrin’s West End debut in Anna X, a new play by Joseph Charlton about New York’s fashion elite, to Andrew Lloyd Weber’s new musical adaptation of Cinderella, with a script penned by the award-winning Emerald Fennell, there’s certainly plenty of tempting options to choose from. Here, we’ve rounded up the must-see London theatre shows to book tickets for now.
Hampstead Theatre, May 28 – July 10
Forty six years after its world premiere at Hampstead Theatre, Alfred Fagon’s poignant drama returns, a dark and complex tale of a group of friends in Seventies London pursuing a money making scheme. Directed by Dawn Walton, the play takes place in the wake of the West Indian team beating England in cricket, setting an optimistic mood that fuels 18 year-old wheeler-dealer Shakie’s (Nickcolia King-N’da) ambitions.
His life is already well set-up — he owns a successful furniture business and a flat on the uber cool King’s Road. So when his best friend Stumpie (Toyin Omari-Kinch) approaches him with a plan to crack the growing music industry together, and his ex-lover Jackie (Natalie Simpson) arrives at his doorstep, Shakie sees the possibilities for the future as wonderfully endless. But as they embark on their money-making schemes, the friends must tackle questions of how far they’re willing to go, and what — or who — they’re willing to sacrifice in order to achieve their dreams. Sharp and satirical, The Death of a Black Man offers a timely narrative on post-colonial prejudices and biases, as well as the complex path to a successful future.
National Theatre, June 2 – July 24
The first show on the Dorfman Theatre stage since March 2020 is Jack Thorne’s adaptation of Hirokazu Kore-eda’s surreal 1998 film After Life. Prodding at questions of humanity, memory and — of course — the afterlife, the drama centres on a group of strangers who find themselves in the waiting room between life and death. Limbo, it turns out, is a humdrum town that is subjected to an intensely bureaucratic system. Once there, the recently deceased souls must satisfy enigmatic officials by sifting through their personal history to find their happiest memory which they will return to and remain in for all eternity.
National Theatre, June 16 – July 24
On the National Theatre’s other stage, the Olivier theatre, visitors will be welcomed back with an imaginative adaptation of Dylan Thomas’ poetic masterpiece, Under Milk Wood. Directed by Lyndsey Turner, with additional material by Siân Owen, and starring Michael Sheen, the play will transport audiences to the Welsh seaside village of Llareggub, where a seemingly idyllic community is wrestling with hidden secrets and ominous realities.
With supporting performances by Karl Johnson and Siân Phillips, Under Milk Wood draws out the secret lives of neighbours in the small village – there’s the retired sea captain yearning for his lost love, the landlady who’s terrified of her guests, a father who’s losing his memory and a son searching for redemption.
Vaudeville Theatre, June 18 – September 12
For the Donmar Warehouse’s revival of Nick Payne’s searing, heartbreaking play about one couple’s relationship, the company has decided to introduce a new twist. The play’s run will be divided between four casts, each of which will take turns to draw out the couple’s journey through the multiverse, exploring the infinite possibilities of a relationship, and each refracting the play afresh.
Starring Sheila Atim and Ivanno Jeremiah (18 June – 1 August), Peter Capaldi and Zoë Wanamaker (23 June – 24 July), Omari Douglas and Russell Tovey (30 July – 11 September), and Anna Maxwell Martin and Chris O’Dowd (6 August – 12 September), the play focuses on the meeting of a quantum physicist and a beekeeper at a barbeque, and the relationship that ensues. Do they fall in love, or does their meeting fall flat? Do they go home together, or do they go their separate ways? In this multiverse, the possibilities are endless.
Shakespeare's Globe, June 26 – October 17
Director Ola Ince makes her Globe debut with her adaptation of Shakespeare’s most famous love story. After a pandemic-induced delay, the long-awaited play finally makes it to the stage, with Ince using the opportunity to find new relevance in staging the tragic tale after some of the most fractious and tempestuous years in recent history.
Alfred Enoch and Rebekah Murrell star as the star-crossed lovers from warring families who fall in love in fair Verona and are determined to find a way to be together, no matter the consequences. The story may be well-known, but Ince’s staging is sure to offer a fresh take on the classic play, and how better to return to the historic theatre than with a performance of one of the playwright’s most beloved tales.
The Old Vic, July 7 – July 10
Daniel Mays and David Thewlis star in the latest staging of Harold Pinter’s play that, as is typical of the British playwright, is an unsettling combination of funny and menacing. Mays and Thewlis star as Ben and Gus, a pair of seasoned hitmen hiding out in the basement of a supposedly abandoned cafe and waiting for instructions for their next hit.
All seems to be going well, until the cafe’s dumbwaiter begins sending down mysterious food orders. As the tension builds and things become even more ominously surreal, the hitmens’ waiting game begins to unravel. For those who can’t make it to The Old Vic in person, the theatre will also be live streaming the play as part of their Old Vic: In Cinema series.
Criterion, from 20 May
Following a sell-out tour in 2019, the highly acclaimed musical based on the five time Oscar-nominated film of the same name is finally coming to the West End. Grammy and Olivier Award nominated, the musical sees Audrey Brisson take the titular role of Amelie, an imaginative waitress who secretly carries out acts of incredible kindness to bring happiness to those she encounters. Her generous spirit and dreamer tendencies open up a whole world to her, that includes the opportunity to find true love.
Whimsical and fun, the musical promises to be a charming watch, with folksy love songs and a celebration of human connection that will resonate even more after a year of isolation.
Harold Pinter Theatre, 10 July – 4 August
After achieving global recognition for her turn as Princess Diana in the beloved Netflix series The Crown, actress Emma Corrin makes her West End debut with a leading role in this new play by Joseph Charlton. Corrin stars alongside Nabhaan Rizwan — also making his West End debut following an award-winning performance in the BBC series Informer — who together play a young couple who fall into the dazzling world of New York’s fashion elite.
Caught up in the addictive world of front-row fashion shows, private views, and endless parties, the pair of outsiders must navigate their way through this prestigious social circle and figure out how much they are willing to sacrifice in order to fit in. Exploring themes of self-invention, determination and constructing the life you want, this fictional tale offers a very real examination of New York’s most elusive social stratas.
Gillian Lynne Theatre, 25 June – Feb 2022
Andrew Lloyd Weber, the king of musical theatre, marks the reopening of London’s theatres with his take on the classic fairy tale. If his name wasn’t enough to convince you to book tickets, there’s the fact that the script and book was written by Emerald Fennell, who after an impressive turn writing season two of Killing Eve, stunned critics (and nabbed an Oscar) for her film Promising Young Woman.
Fennell has certainly put her spin on the tale, and the result is a far cry from the famous Disney cartoon. Stuck in the town of Belleville, where the residents strive for fairy tale perfection, Cinderella is determined to stay true to herself and to eventually be as far from the town as possible. But after her friend Prince Sebastian is forced to take over the throne following the mysterious disappearance of his brother Prince Charming, Cinderella is left wondering whether their relationship is something more than friendship, and if so, whether she must become the very thing she’s avoided her whole life in order to get her happily ever after.
This season, the Lyric Hammersmith is reopening its doors with the world premiere of three new short plays written by three of the UK’s leading playwrights, all of which are set in West London and explore questions of race, identity and our sense of belonging.
First up is The Overseas Student, written by Tanika Gupta and starring Esh Alladi, which tells the story of 18-year old Gandhi’s experience living in London while studying law, far from his family and faced with the struggles of class and imperialism. Then comes Blue Water and Cold and Fresh, written by Simon Stephens and starring Tom Mothersdale, set during the lockdown year and following one white man’s journey through London as he tries to understand the death of a loved one, his father’s racism and his own white privilege in the wake of the Black Lives Matter movement. Roy Williams’ Go,Girl also takes place during 2020, with Ayesha Antoine starring as as Westfield shopping centre security guard and mother to a teenage girl who begins to see her life in an entirely new way after one phone call.