james debate
james debate

Monday 6 February 2017

Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2017 Hot List. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting theatrical productions coming to the stage in the coming year.

best anticipated new theatre theatrical production 2017 hot list

2016 was a year of some very dazzling productions, from Damon Albarn's wild wonder.land, to Tim Minchin's successful adaptation of Groundhog Day to musical. Elsewhere the National Theatre wowed audiences with two of the year's biggest shows, the Threepenny Opera and Amadeus, while the dream team of Sirs Ian McKellan and Patrick Stewart helped sell out the Duke of York's production of No Man's Land in record time.

Now I'm a man who enjoys his theatre, but even by usual standards this year is looking exceptionally well stocked with exciting productions. In 2017 we Londoners will once again be spoilt for choice by the world's greatest theatre town. The National once again hogs some of the year's biggest tickets, but the Royal Court is holding its own by bringing one Sam Mendes back to the London stage. Elsewhere the Almeida continues its revitalisation under Rupert Goold with some of the more exciting productions of the year ahead. So here's our list of the top 10 theatrical productions to keep an eye on in 2017, starting with number 10:

10. "Against" by Christopher Shin, at the Almeida

against london best theatre 2017 almeida christopher shin ben whishawWe begin with one of Britain's most promising young film actors, Ben Whishaw, best known for his role in the recent James Bond movies.

His star turn in the Almeida theatre's latest production, Against, sees Whishaw take on the role of an aerospace billionaire in Silicon Valley. Following an epiphany from God, Whishaw sets out to change the world, but violence stands in his way.

Intriguing concept, with a headline grabbing movie star. But probably the most exciting aspect is the direction of Ian Rickson, a director perhaps best recognised for his work on the acclaimed West End hit, Jerusalem.

A topical, 21st Century fable for the world we live in. This collaboration with the Pulitzer Prize nominated writer Christopher Shin has the potential to be something quite special.

9. "Ugly Lies the Bone" by Lindsey Ferrentino, at the National Theatre

ugly lies the bone lindsey ferrentino national best theatre 2017
The National Theatre's headline act for Spring 2017. Ugly Lies the Bone brings Lindsey Ferrentino's award winning production from New York to the London stage.

A war veteran returns from Afghanistan to her home on the space coast and must come to terms both with the scars of war, and the reality of a home that has changed beyond recognition. Experimenting with groundbreaking virtual reality therapy, she creates a breathtaking new world where she can begin to restore her relationships, her life, and herself.

Rave critical reviews from New York, a highly regarded young writer, and accolades everywhere bode well for this new production. The cast features seasoned theatre and film actors in Buffy Davis and Kate Fleetwood, but the recognisable face for most people will be Kris Marshall of Love Actually fame.

In this age of contrasts between geopolitical instability and the breakthroughs of technology, and the under-reported toll it all takes on those who suffer the worst of it, this is a production that can't help but feel remarkably relevant. This should be one of the big theatre highlights of early 2017.

8. "Hamlet" by William Shakespeare, at the Almeida

london 2017 best theatre hamlet almeida andrew scott sherlock moriarty cumberbatchAnother year, another Hamlet production. This time the Almeida theatre takes a crack at the bard's most famous tragedy, despite the still fresh shadow of the Barbican's recent production looming large.

While the Barbican's production famously starred superstar Benedict Cumberbatch, the Almeida has their own headline grabber in the form of Cumberbatch's Sherlock co-star Andrew Scott, the actor behind that show's Moriarty character. The rest of the cast is equally strong with Juliet Stevenson, Downton Abbey's Jessica Brown Findlay, Angus Wright, and my old school-friend, the up-and-coming Joshua Higgott.

A hugely talented cast and production company, at one of London's most consistent theatres. London has a great tradition of Hamlet productions, and I look forward to seeing the latest.

7. "The Glass Menagerie" by Tennessee Williams, at the Duke of York's Theatre

best theatre 2017 london glass menagerie duke of york tennessee williamsThe classic Tennessee Williams play, The Glass Menagerie, brought to the London stage courtesy of the Duke of York's theatre in the spring of 2017.

Cast includes the Tony award winning Broadway star Cherry Jones, Michael Esper, and Kate O'Flynn, while the behind the scenes crew is stocked with multi-Tony and Olivier award winners including Steven Hoggett, Bob Crowley, and Paul Arditi.

Marshalling all of this into the Duke of York's flagship 2017 production is director John Tiffany, now something of a hot commodity following the success of his Harry Potter and the Cursed Child production last year. It's easy to see why this is being tipped as one of the biggest theatre events of 2017.

6. "The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui" by Bertolt Brecht and Bruce Norris, at the Donmar Warehouse

london best theatre 2017 the resistible rise of arturo ui lenny henry bertolt brechtA surprisingly light schedule from Covent Garden's Donmar Warehouse is nevertheless punctuated by a new production of the classic Bertolt Brecht play, The Resistible Rise of Arturo Ui.

Brecht's satirical allegory for the rise of Hitler's Nazi party could not be more relevant given the recent events in world politics, perhaps a little too obviously so. Given the subject matter, the choice of casting comedian Lenny Henry in the starring role seems a bold move, but it is one that has ensured that all tickets have been quickly sold out. We will have to see whether he has the depth to do justice to a more nuanced form of wit.

This one gets started late spring, early summer. Tickets are currently sold out but may become available in limited quantities. Grab some if you can, a show at the Donmar is always worthwhile.

5. "Angels in America" by Tony Kushner, at the National Theatre

london 2017 best theatre angels in america national andrew garfield
Now we're getting to the cream of the crop. Each of this year's top five is an absolute blockbuster of a production and a major event in theatre. First up is Angels in America, the summer tentpole of the National Theatre.

Angels, subtitled "a gay fantasia on national themes", is set in 1980s New York amidst an AIDS crisis, the explosion of mainstream conservatism and deals with issues of life and death, love and sex, heaven and hell. It's another very considered political statement, re-imagining the highly regarded and award winning original text of Tony Kushner with an eye towards modern context.

This promises to be an epic of a production in a literal sense. Split into two separate plays of three hours each, a production and marketing budget to rival a Hollywood film, and starring the Oscar nominated talent of Andrew Garfield. Unsurprisingly tickets are very hard to come by right now.

4. "The Ferryman" by Jez Butterworth, at the Royal Court Theatre

london 2017 best theatre ferryman sam mendes royal courtThese are all hot tickets, but without doubt the number 1 top seller of 2017 so far is the Royal Court Theatre's production of The Ferryman.

Set in a Derry farmhouse in 1981, the Carney family prepares for a traditional night of feasting and celebration, until preparations are interrupted by the arrival of a mysterious visitor.

So why all the hype? It's simple: Sam Mendes. The superstar Academy Award winning filmmaker is returning to his spiritual home of the London stage, and that's a good reason to get excited. But there's more to appreciate here than just the director. The script comes courtesy of Jez Butterworth, another alumnus of that great Jerusalem production.

Beyond this little is currently known, and a cast has yet to be announced. Previews start in April. Tickets are probably long gone, but many are expecting an extension or even a move to the West End given the show's high demand.

3. "The Kid Stays in the Picture" by Simon McBurney at the Royal Court Theatre

best theatre 2017 london the kid stays in the picture simon mcburney royal court
Back to the Royal Court, no mean feat considering the inconsistency of their quality of production in recent years. But here we are for the second time on this list, and with quite a tantalising prospect.

The Kid Stays in the Picture is an adaptation of the autobiography of legendary film producer Robert Evans, and is brought to the stage by writer/director/theatre Complicite legend Simon McBurney.

That alone is enough to make one break out their wallet, but a starring role for the always watchable Danny Huston seals the deal. Who doesn't love a good play about the film industry? And with a team this good behind it, one has to have confidence that they'll do the genre justice.

This one lands in the Spring, March to early April. Busy time of year, but snap it up if you can.

2. "Ink" by James Graham, at the Almeida

london best theatre 2017 ink almeida this house rupert murdochA close contender for our top spot, Ink is the latest play from the wonderful writer James Graham, who you might know as the scribe behind This House.

Ink sticks with the political theme, focusing on the story of a young Rupert Murdoch and the events which transpire as he sets out to create what would go on to be the nation's most influential newspaper. Rupert Goold directs. A cast has yet to be announced.

Topical political theatre is tricky to get right, but Graham has exceptional pedigree. This House was an excellent production, whip smart, funny, and strong in its message. If he can bring the same quality to his latest work then this will surely be one of the theatre highlights of the year.

1. "Network" by Lee Hall and Paddy Chayefsky at the National Theatre

london best theatre 2017 network bryan cranston national
And indeed Ink was my top pick for 2017, at least until last week, when Network was announced. See, sometimes being behind schedule on a blog post can have unintended benefits!

Network is, of course, the theatrical adaptation of the classic multi-Academy award winning movie, commonly regarded as one of the great political and mass media satires of all time. With everything going on the world, the timing could not be more perfect.

This is one of those projects that just oozes quality from every point. One of the best production teams in the business from the National Theatre, the highly pedigreed Ivo Van Hove directing, and to top it all off, the great Bryan Cranston in the iconic starring role made famous by the late Peter Finch.

This sounds pretty fantastic, one of the most exciting projects in years. It doesn't start until later on in 2017, beginning in November, and so tickets aren't even on sale yet. You'll want to see this, so keep an eye on those on-sale dates.

So there you have it folks: 2017 in theatre. Tune in next week for our final instalment of the Hot List, covering the essential new music coming up in 2017!

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