After nearly a year of the lights being down on the capital’s stages, theatre companies and audiences are clamouring to make the most of their reopening. There are plenty of exciting new plays opening this summer, from Andrew Lloyd Weber’s new musical adaptation of Cinderella, with a script by the award-winning Emerald Fennell, to 2:22: A Ghost Story, a spooky new thriller that sees Lily Allen make her West End debut. Here, we’ve rounded up the best new theatre shows in London to book your tickets for now.
The Best New Theatre Shows in London
4 August – 11 September
Kae Tempest — who previously went by Kate — has become something of a household name over the past few years. Now perhaps best known for their music, poems and books, most notably their dramatic poem Brand New Ancients, which won the prestigious Ted Hughes Prize for innovation in poetry, this summer they are returning to their original passion, playwriting, this time at a suitably epic scale.
Directed by Ian Rickson, the new play stars Lesley Sharp as Philoctetes, a once celebrated wartime hero who is now a wounded outcast on a desolate island, dreaming of his escape. But when a young soldier appears, his hope of escape is tainted with suspicion, and when an old enemy resurfaces, Philoctetes must decide whether he’ll take the opportunity to get his freedom, or give in to the temptation of revenge.
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.
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.
Noel Coward Theatre
3 August – 16 October
Lily Allen follows in the acting shoes of her brother and father this summer, making her West End debut in this chilling new play. Written by Danny Robins, who created the popular ‘The Battersea Poltergeist’ BBC podcast, and directed by Matthew Dunster, this new drama is setting out to prove that ‘The Woman in Black’ isn’t the only horror success story on the West End stage.
Allen plays Jenny, who after moving into a new home with her husband Sam (Hadley Fraser), quickly becomes convinced the home is haunted. Sam refuses to believe her, leading to an argument in front of their first dinner guests, their friend Lauren (Julia Chan) and her new partner Ben (Jake Wood). But as belief and scepticism clash, the house appears to join in the debate, leading the group to wonder if the dead really can walk again?
7 August – 30 October
Tom Stoppard’s Olivier Award-winning new drama managed to play seven weeks of sold-out shows before being shut down due to the pandemic. Thankfully, the critically acclaimed performance is making a grand return this summer, with its heart-wrenching and intimate tale of a Jewish family navigating the turmoil and upheaval of the 20th century.
Set in Leopoldstadt, the old, crowded Jewish quarter of Vienna, the play focuses on the Hermann family. Hermann Merz, a manufacturer and baptised Jew married to Catholic Gretl, has moved up in the world, and at the start of the play we see him with his relatives, gathered in his apartment in a fashionable part of the city. Little do they know that they’re about to experience — as we see drawn out on stage — decades of war, revolution, impoverishment, annexation by Nazi Germany and the Holocaust, in which 65,000 Austrian Jews were murdered. It’s a haunting and heart-breaking play that is sure to stay with you long after the curtain falls.
17 July – 13 August
Following a sold-out run of live-streamed video performances, stars Adrian Lester and Danny Sapani take to the stage for in-person performances of the play written by award-winning playwright Lolita Chakrabarti.
The play starts with the meeting of two men at a funeral. Gil knew the deceased, Benny did not, but soon the two develop a deep bond. Together, the two navigate the challenges of their life — Benny is a loner anchored by his wife and children, while Gil longs to fulfil his potential. But as the cracks become increasingly apparent in their fragile lives, they start to realise that courage for each of them may present itself in different forms. A soulful and sensitively told play full of music, this new drama explores grief, growth and the power of male friendship.
17 July – 28 August
When you hear the name Tennessee WIlliams, there are a number of plays that might come to mind, and which have been staged with various casts for decades — Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, The Glass Menagerie, A Streetcar Named Desire. But there are a number of other, smaller plays that often get less attention, and this one which the Hampstead Theatre is finally staging after multiple pandemic-induced delays is a perfect example. Given that Williams’ described it as his best play since A Streetcar Named Desire, it’s certainly an intriguing event.
Kate O’Flynn and Zubin Varla star as siblings and actors who have been on tour for far too long. When the rest of their troupe abandon them, the duo are left with an empty stage and an expectant audience, with only one another to rely on. Forced to adapt, the two decide to perform the only appropriate work in their repertoire: The Two Character Play.
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.
Old Vic Theatre
17 July – 28 August
Following on from her success at the Old Vic in 2018 with Wise Children, director Emma Rice returns to the theatre with her adaptation of Percy and Eleonore Adlon’s 1987 movie Bagdad Cafe. Set on a dusty highway in the American Southwest, the play focuses on the meeting of stranded tourist Jasmin, who has stumbled out of her unhappy marriage, and Brenda, who owns the remote cafe and motel, the Bagdad Cafe, where Jasmin has to stay.
Isolated, the two women who otherwise might have no reason to meet begin to strike up an unexpected and extraordinary friendship. A beautiful tale of lost souls finding connection, the play traces how the two women begin to forge an eclectic community bound by music, magic and some very strong coffee. For those not feeling comfortable enough to sit amongst a theatre audience inside just yet, the Old Vic will also be live streaming the performance for one week as part of the Old Vic: In Camera series.
Gillian Lynne Theatre
25 June – 13 Feb
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 (played by Carrie Hope Fletcher) is determined to stay true to herself and to eventually be as far from the town as possible. But after her friend Prince Sebastian (Ivano Turco) is forced to take over the throne following the mysterious disappearance of his brother Prince Charming (Caleb Roberts), 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.
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.