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Theatre 2020: Pick of the plays

Here are a just a few of the plays The Man in the Grand Circle has his eye on this year.

Among the star names coming to the London stage are Game of Thrones’ Emilia Clarke (see above photo) in Anya Reiss’s adaptation of Chekhov’s The Seagull for the Jamie Lloyd Company at the Playhouse Theatre in March.  Timothee Chalamet and Eileen Atkins appear in 4000 Miles at the Old Vic the following month, while back at the Playhouse Theatre in June is one of my favourite actresses (I’ve been lucky enough to interview her twice), Jessica Chastain, in Ibsen’s A Doll’s House.

If you can’t wait that long for your Ibsen fix, then check out Stef Smith’s Nora: A Doll’s House – a “radical” retelling of the story at the Young Vic in February.

For Samuel Beckett fans it’s like Christmas all over again in January. Trevor Nunn directs a triple bill at London’s Jermyn Street Theatre (Krapp’s Last Tape, Eh Joe, The Old Tune) with a cast that includes Niall Buggy, Lisa Dwan, James Hayes and David Threlfall, while over at the Old Vic Alan Cumming, Daniel Radcliffe and Jane Horrocks star in Endgame.

February’s offerings include David Mitchell making his West End debut in Ben Elton’s Shakespearean comedy Upstart Crow at the Gielgud Theatre. I’m also intrigued by Hampstead Theatre’s The Haystack, a thriller by Al Blyth about GCHQ and surveillance.

Those who like their thrillers with a supernatural edge might want to check out The House on Cold Hill, starring Debbie McGee, at The Mill at Sonning in April.

On the National Theatre’s programme I like the look of Lucy Kirkwood’s The Welkin, starring Maxine Peake and Ria Zmitrowicz (opening this month). In April, Thea Sharrock directs  Jack Absolute Flies Again, a new play by Richard Bean and Oliver Chris based on Richard Brinsley Sheridan’s The Rivals. And in August Josh O’Connor and Jessie Buckley are the star-crossed lovers in Romeo and Juliet.

Talking of unmissable Shakespeare, Cush Jumbo takes on Hamlet at the Young Vic in July.

Further afield, my theatrical sweet tooth is tempted by Quality Street, Northern Broadsides’ revival of JM Barrie’s farce by  which opens in February in Halifax’s Viaduct Theatre and then tours. Barrie’s play was so popular at the time that it gave the chocolates their name.

And there I was trying to give up chocolate this month…

If you missed Laura Wade’s The Watsons at the Menier Chocolate Factory in 2019, be sure to catch it at the Harold Pinter Theatre where it opens in May. This genius trip into the Jane Austen universe owes a lot to Pirandello, as does the title of this play at the Southwark Playhouse in April: Five Characters in Search of a Good Night’s Sleep.

Finally, to the Royal Court for a play (in June) which has quite possibly best title of the year: Purple Snowflakes and Titty Wanks.

Happy New Year!



The Watsons review – Menier Chocolate Factory


5 star review

I remember the thrill, back in my distant university days, of my first encounter with Pirandello’s meta-theatre classic Six Characters in Search of an Author.

Well, Laura Wade has stirred me into a similar state of excitement with her new play, based on an unfinished novel by Jane Austen.

For the first half an hour or so The Watsons runs like a familiar period drama – all ball gowns, marriage talk and dashing suitors – and then in walks a maid who drops a jarring Star Wars reference during a conversation with the lead character, Emma Watson.

The maid turns out to be Laura, the playwright, who has written herself into the story just at the point where Jane Austen gave up on it.

Grace Molony (Emma Watson) in The Watsons (photo: Manuel Harlan)

Are you keeping up? What follows is a glorious exploration of the creative process and what it would be like if fictional characters could decide their own destinies.

“Yes, it is a bit like the Pirandello,” admits Laura during a phone call in which she’s pitching her play idea. Meanwhile, Jane Austen’s creations are adjusting to life in the modern world, discovering smart phones and voting for self-determination.

Director Samuel West injects the whole meta experience with a huge sense of fun as well as emotional punch.  There’s a wonderful moment where the Austen characters spy a plastic chair as they arrive for a meeting with Laura, and regard it with a mix of bewilderment and suspicion.

The Watsons cast (photo: Manuel Harlan)

Grace Molony is perfect in the role of Emma, who from the outset seems a heroine destined to break from convention. Her sparky conversations with the excellent Louise Ford as Laura are a joy. There’s great support too from Laurence Ubong Williams as the handsome cad Tom Musgrave and Joe Bannister as the socially awkward Lord Osborne.

Overall, this is a fantastic timey-wimey trip into the Jane Austen universe that’s surely destined for even bigger things in the West End.

Go on, Laura, you could write that ending now.

The Watsons is at the Menier Chocolate Factory until 16 November