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Simon McBurney in The Encounter

The Best Theatre in London in 2018

31 December 2017 Will Rathbone

2018: a new year, a new you. An ocean of possibility stretches out ahead - dotted with small islands of landmark theatre that we thoroughly recommend visiting. From the biannual London International Festival of Theatre to a feminist re-imagining of Chekhov in Hackney, Touretteshero tackling Beckett in Battersea to a Tony-Award winning musical striding into town, 2018 already looks like a vintage year.

We’ll begin with a festival that brings together some of Europe’s most innovative and exciting theatre-makers and delivers them to venues across London. LIFT (London International Festival of Theatre) hasn’t announced it’s full programme yet, but two shows to book early for are Fatherland at the Lyric Hammersmith - a look at the complexities of modern fatherhood, based on interviews with real fathers from the hometowns of playwright Simon Stephens, movement director Stephen Hoggett and musician Karl Hyde - and the first part of performance artist/drag extraordinaire Taylor Mac’s retelling of America’s social history through popular song at the Barbican Centre in a show named 24-Decade History of Popular Music: The First Act.


Image credit: Taylor Mac at the Barbican Theatre

The Bush Theatre’s entire 2018 season looks astonishingly good. Highlights include The Believers Are But Brothers, which examines how the internet has revolutionised the revolution, The B*easts, dealing with the sexualisation of children and the pornification of modern culture, and Misty - a one-man show that blends spoken word, theatre and live music while journeying through the underground heart of inner London. 2018 also marks the start of Kwame Kwei-Armah’s tenure as Artistic Director of the Young Vic, and their year gets off to a flying start with The Brothers Size - a story about two African-American brothers who, after leaving prison, re-discover their bond through live music and Yoruba mythology. Playwright Tarell Alvin McCraney is the man behind the incredible Moonlight, Best Picture winner at last year’s Oscars.
 
London’s newest commercial venue, the Bridge Theatre, also has an exciting year ahead, beginning with a star-studded revival of Shakespeare’s ever-pertinent Julius Caesar. With Ben Whishaw as Brutus, David Morrisey as Mark Anthony, Michelle Fairley as Cassius and David Calder as Caesar himself, this is almost too good to be true. Much later in the year, A Very Very Very Dark Matter sees Jim Broadbent take to the stage in a show which reveals the secret life of beloved children’s author Hans Christian Anderson, in Martin McDonagh’s first London play since 2015’s Olivier Award-winning Hangmen. Expect gallows humour and grisly action.
 
Three solo shows to get excited about include BAFTA-winning Carey Mulligan’s long-awaited return to the London stage in a new show from playwright Dennis Kelly and director Lyndsey Turner. Girls and Boys, at the Royal Court, looks at the unravelling of a once-fiery relationship. Over at the Battersea Arts Centre, Jess Thom (AKA Touretteshero) brings her much-lauded take on Samuel Beckett’s single-mouth, spotlit monologue Not I to London. Finally, Simon McBurney and the ever-innovative Complicité re-stage their one-man binaural sound experience The Encounter back at the Barbican Centre. Based on the incredible true story of National Geographic photographer Loren McIntyre’s 1969 journey into a remote area of the Brazilian jungle, this multiple award-winning production plugs the audience into headphones to provide a theatrical experience like no other.
 
For musical-lovers, there’s plenty to get excited about in 2018. Tony Kushner’s Olivier Award-winning musical Caroline, or Change comes to the Hampstead Theatre starring the fantastic Sharon D. Clarke as Caroline Thibodeaux, the maid who befriends a little boy as the burgeoning Civil Rights Movement gains traction. Bartlett Sher’s Tony Award-winning revival of classic musical The King and I leaps across the pond and transfers into the London Palladium. Spectacular dancing and sumptuous orchestration will accompany the tale of a Welsh governess to the King of Siam. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s summer season culminates in the always enjoyable Little Shop of Horrors, a cult doo-wop inspired musical featuring highly contagious tunes, a man-eating plant and a sadistic dentist.
 
Highlights from The National Theatre’s year include an intriguing trilogy of plays inspired by the financial crash of 2007. The Lehman Trilogy sees Sam Mendes directing, and charts the story of the behemoth financial institution that was Lehman Brothers - from its beginnings in 1844 to becoming the first domino in a global economic meltdown 164 years later. Meanwhile, Michael Grandage marks his return to the West End at the Wyndham Theatre with Red, a revival of his seminal 2009 Donmar Warehouse production about abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, starring Alfred Molina as the iconic American artist.
 
Finally, on the fringier side of things, Education, Education, Education was a firm favourite at 2017’s Edinburgh Fringe, and arrives at Shoreditch Town Hall looking fondly back at the 90s and asking serious questions about our current education system, what we are taught, and why. A new RashDash show is always cause to celebrate, and The Yard in Hackney are the lucky recipients this time around. Chekhov’s masterpiece Three Sisters marks the first time the inventive, feminist duo have re-worked a classic, and that’s a very exciting prospect indeed
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