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The Best Theatre in London this June

30 May 2018 Will Rathbone

This month sees two enormous festivals taking place across the capital. LIFT, the London International Festival of Theatre, reaches its stride, whilst GDIF, the Greenwich and Docklands International Festival, opens at the end of the month. There are some amazing shows in each so, alongside the usual West End and fringe offerings, it really is a bumper month for theatre in London.

We’ll start with some LIFT highlights. Fly By Night sees 1500 LED-lit pigeons soar across the Thames at dusk in a truly unique experience, while the indefatigable Gob Squad present Creation (Pictures for Dorian) at the Southbank Centre, which explores notions of modern-day beauty. Over at the Royal Court, Anna Deavere Smith presents Notes From The Field, a look at an American system, which drives impoverished black children through school and into prison. American drag performance artist Taylor Mac takes the first act of his sensational 24-Decade History of Popular Music to the Barbican, where he re-defines America’s social history in an inspirational evening of song, accompanied by a 24-strong orchestra.
 
Belly of the Whale by Okham. Image by Mark Dawson Photography

GDIF encompasses free, al-fresco performances with a lean toward circus and spectacle, and a family-friendly feel. Kicking off on 22 June, highlights include a tightrope walk between the Old Royal Naval College’s twin domes in Undaunted and a new piece from fellow masters of gravity defiance Okham’s Razor. Belly of the Whale sees the playful troupe experiment with riding a giant seesaw, while in Origami performer Satchie Noro balances and slides around a slowly unfurling shipping container. Finally, Rise! involves a giant puppet woman travelling the streets of Woolwich whilst La Parade Amoureuse involves a herd of giant, glow in the dark deer travel down Roman Road. 
 
Machinal rehearsals. Emily Berrington. Photo credit Johan Persson

Back in regular theatreland, the Almeida Theatre continue their fine year with Machinal, Sophie Treadwell’s 1928 expressionist masterpiece about a woman suffocated by society, inspired by the true story of convicted murderer Ruth Snyder. Director Natalie Abrahami has a habit of imbuing classic texts with modern relevance, and this play looks to be shockingly relevant nearly a century later. It opens on 4 June. Another hotly anticipated revival sees Michael Grandage direct The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noël Coward Theatre from 23 June. Martin McDonagh’s 2001 dark comedy looks at attitudes to terrorism, as Mad Padraic - deemed too crazy for the IRA - returns from Northern Ireland to discover his cat has been killed. Poldark’s Aidan Turner stars as the lead.
 
An Octoroon at the Orange Tree Theatre, publicity photo by The Other Richard

Over at the National Theatre, renegade director Ned Bennet’s acclaimed production of Branden Jacob-Jenkins’ scorching An Octoroon opens from 7 June. It’s currently sold out, but this is a production that is definitely worth re-checking in case of returns, trying for day seats, or the weekly Friday Rush tickets released at 1pm every Friday. It’s a coruscating look at race in America, which transplants Dion Boucicault’s 19th century play, set on a Louisiana plantation, straight into today. Bennet’s typically brazen direction should ensure a production that really leaves an impression.
 
Ken Watanabe and Kelli O'Hara in The King and I at the London Palladium. Image: Paul Kolnik courtesy of Neil Reading PR.

Fans of classic musicals rejoice! 2015’s multiple Tony Award-winning revival of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s The King and I is transferring to the London Palladium from 21 June. Follow the story of rebellious schoolteacher Anna, whose relationship with the King of Siam grows as she teaches his wives and children in mid-19th century Bangkok. It’s a stunning revival. The Young Vic are reviving a Tony Award-winning musical of their own, with Fun Home opening on 18 June. Based on the Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel of the same name, audiences meet Alison at three different points in her life as she re-assesses her relationship to her father, her sexuality and the slipperiness of memory.
 
Ammar Haj Ahmad, John Pfumojena, Mohammad Amiri in The Jungle at the Young Vic. Photo: Leon Puplett

The Young Vic are also transferring their sell-out production of The Jungle to the Playhouse Theatre from 16 June. The West End venue is being transformed to host a sensational in-the-round staging originally seen in the Young Vic, where designer Miriam Buether lovingly recreated Afghan Café, a local meeting spot and cultural hub inside the Calais Jungle refugee camp. Audiences will witness the incredible conversations and encounters that take place every day between refugees from all over the world and volunteers. One of the most important shows of the year, this is not to missed.
 
Rachel Mars in Your sexts are Shit at Battersea Arts Centre

Finally, a chance to see Rachel Mars, one of the funniest and most original performers creating work today. Your Sexts Are Shit: Older Better Letters opens at Battersea Arts Centre on 19 June, and sees Mars compare modern sexts with hand-written examples from luminaries such as Frida Kahlo, Georgia O’Keefe and James Joyce. It’s a moving and poignant look at queer female bodies that asks who we really write these erotic messages for.

 
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