(Bloomberg) — There’s something for everyone on the London stage this winter. You can catch smart new plays that explore gender and the left-right political divide, or world-class Shakespeare adaptations, or feel-good musicals where you’ll leave the theater with a grin on your face. There’s even anime brought to life on stage.
And that’s not to mention the celebrity-filled new productions building up buzz: Later this month, actor Paul Mescal, who was the breakout star of the Hulu hit Normal People, will play the role of Stanley Kowalski in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre. It’s directed by Rebecca Frecknall, fresh off her Olivier Award-winning (and Bloomberg Pursuits-recommended) revival of Cabaret. Streetcar has sold out before even the first preview performance, but lucky theatergoers should be able to snag return tickets at the door or online.
And superstar director Josie Rourke is back with two shows this winter: First, her version of As You Like It at the West End’s newest theater @Sohoplace, and in January, she directs Jenna Coleman (Victoria) and Aidan Turner (Poldark) in Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons, a rom-com about a world where words are rationed.
Below, the 10 best shows to see in London this winter.
Best of Enemies
Where: Noël Coward TheatreWhen: Through Feb. 18This thrilling show is centered on the explosive televised debates in 1968 between liberal Gore Vidal (Star Trek’s Zachary Quinto) and conservative Willam F. Buckley Jr. (Homeland’s David Harewood). James Graham’s smart script has so much to say about how toxic American political discourse and TV punditry developed over time—the debates devolve from policy to vicious attacks with Buckley being called a crypto-Nazi and Vidal’s sexuality insulted in front of a live TV audience. The staging is stylish and sexy, and the writing makes you think without being preachy or condescending.
Where: The Garrick Theatre When: Through Feb. 25Emma Corrin is magnetic as Orlando in director Michael Grandage’s version of the Virginia Woolf novel about a dashing English nobleman who skips through centuries and transforms into a woman at the age of 30. They command the stage in this joyful production about gender (the script breaks the fourth wall, saying hello to ladies, gentleman and everyone) and the way women have been treated over the centuries. It’s a riotous 90 minutes that cements Corrin’s place as a star after their much-praised turn as young Princess Diana in The Crown.
To Kill a Mockingbird
Where: Gielgud TheaterWhen: Through April 1The smash-hit Broadway show is lighting up the West End, with Matthew Modine (Stranger Things) now playing the iconic Atticus Finch. Aaron Sorkin wrote the script, with the award-winning writer giving his take on the beloved American novel about racism, good and evil, and the lack of justice in the American South. The show keeps the heart of the book, but the zippy dialogue from Sorkin updates it for modern audiences.
Where: National TheatreWhen: Through Jan. 21Giles Terera proves again why he’s one of the best British stage actors working today with his athletic, fiercely intelligent Othello in Shakespeare’s drama about jealousy, race and masculinity. Even as the audience knows the mistakes Othello is going to make after Iago manipulates him, the production still feels new and thrilling. Director Clint Dyer told the New York Times that the play broke his heart when he saw a photo of Laurence Olivier doing the titular role at the National Theatre in blackface. Now, as the first black man to direct the play at the National, Dyer says, “The beauty of that circle is almost overwhelming.” The first black man to play Othello at the National was David Harewood (can be seen now in Best of Enemies) in 1997, not so long ago.
Where: Harold Pinter TheatreWhen: Through Jan. 7This play has been postponed twice because of the pandemic, but London audiences finally have their chance to see David Tennant (Doctor Who, Broadchurch) in this chilling production set in Nazi Germany. Tennant is a “good” citizen with a Jewish best friend who falls down the rabbit hole of evil, not because he necessarily believes in the Nazi rhetoric but because of his own self-interest. It’s by no means an easy watch, but it’s a memorable show that lingered with me for days afterward.
My Neighbour Totoro
Where: The BarbicanWhen: Through Jan. 21Studio Ghibli’s beloved anime film comes to the stage via the Royal Shakespeare Company in this blockbuster production. It leans heavily into theatrical magic and make-believe as it tells the story of two young girls, Satsuki and Mei, who move to the countryside, encounter creatures and have adventures. The movie’s original composer, Joe Hisaishi, did the music as well, ensuring that the enchanting tunes are back. It’s a faithful adaptation, so fans of the film are sure to be delighted. But those who go in blind are likely to fall for the show’s charms as well.
Vardy v Rooney: The Wagatha Christie Trial
Where: Wyndham’s TheatreWhen: Through Jan. 10 and moving to the Ambassadors Theatre April 6-May 20Writer Liv Hennessy boils down seven days of court transcripts from a case that gripped a nation (or at least tabloids and online comment sections) into a hilarious production about what the spotlight and celebrity culture do to people. The show is based on the real-life own goal that was the libel case Rebekah Vardy (Lucy May Barker) brought against Coleen Rooney (Laura Dos Santos, really ratcheting up the Scouse accent) after her now famous social media posts alleging Vardy leaked her private Instagrams to the press. It’s perfectly timed for the World Cup, and it’s a fantastic night out.
Where: The GlobeWhen: Through Feb. 4This is a stripped-down version of Shakespeare that aims to reexamine the nationalism in the history play. (“Cry ‘God for Harry, England and Saint George!’”) Oliver Johnstone is a fantastic, tormented lead and, as Henry, delivers the famous “once more unto the breach” speech more as inspiration for himself than a cry for troops to go to battle and shed blood for him. The final scene is set in a modern-day immigration center, which is sure to ruffle feathers for some, but the direction goes for bold swings that almost always connect as the show zeroes in on masculinity and what it means to be British.
Where: Wyndham’s TheatreWhen: Feb. 16-Sept. 2After a sold-out run at the Young Vic this summer, most of the cast is back for a West End run of Daniel Fish’s bold take on the Rogers and Hammerstein classic. I’ll fully admit to not wanting to see this at first, having been in a (bad) production of it as a child myself. But I was won over. The show surprised me in the best way. Arthur Darvill as cowboy Curly and Anoushka Lucas as Laurey are sensational in a show about small-town danger, boredom and sex. You’ll never hear “Oh, what a beautiful mornin’” in the same way again.
Come From Away
Where: Phoenix TheatreWhen: Through Jan. 7This musical is chock-full of heart, based on the true story about a small town in Canada that offered shelter and friendship to 7,000 stranded people after Sept. 11, when American airspace was closed. Go see it before it ends, and soak in the show’s beautiful message of generosity and hope. We could all use a little cheer.