What to see on London stages this summer
The First Art Newspaper on the Net    Established in 1996 Thursday, July 25, 2024

What to see on London stages this summer
Marianne Oldham and Em Thane in Richard III at Shakespeare's Globe. Photo: Marc Brenner.

by Matt Wolf

LONDON.- London’s theaters offer something for everyone. Whether in big West End venues or on stages tucked away above a pub, the city’s shows include the classics, new plays and some productions that defy classification. Open air playhouses attract audiences willing to brave the unpredictable summer weather, and venues spread throughout the city make for an accessible theater landscape that extends far beyond the heavily trafficked tourist hot spots.

Whether you’re looking for frothy musicals or fiercely charged political writing, chances are your wishes can be answered somewhere around town. Below, in seven categories, are some of the shows vying for the attention of visitors and residents seeking out London theater this summer.


‘Alma Mater’

Few London playhouses generate as much buzz as the Almeida, and expectations are high for its run of this new play from Australian playwright Kendall Feaver, whose theatrical debut, “The Almighty Sometimes,” impressed British critics when it played in Manchester, England, in 2018. Feaver’s latest is set on a university campus rocked by sexual assault allegations, and Polly Findlay directs a cast led by Phoebe Campbell and Justine Mitchell. (Through July 20 at the Almeida Theater.)

‘The Boys from the Blackstuff’

The regional accents may prove a challenge — especially if English isn’t your first language — but there’s no denying the passion and power that course through James Graham’s stage adaptation of this era-defining 1982 British TV show. Through a community of Liverpool road builders’ struggles, Kate Wasserberg’s empathic production reminds us that employment is crucial to self-esteem. (Through Aug. 3 at the Garrick Theater.)

‘My Father’s Fable’

The Bush Theater in West London might seem off the beaten path, but it’s where the stage version of “Baby Reindeer” had its London run, before Netflix’s runaway hit adaptation brought it to TV screens all over the world earlier this year. The Bush’s current offering is the debut play from British Nigerian actress Faith Omole, who was a 2023 nominee for London’s equivalent to the Tonys, the Olivier Awards. “My Father’s Fable” follows a character named Peace, who discovers a brother she didn’t know she had; Rakie Ayola stars and Rebekah Murrell directs. (Through July 27 at the Bush Theater.)

‘People Places and Things’

Duncan Macmillan’s take-no-prisoners account of addiction and recovery — with snippets of Anton Chekhov’s “The Seagull” thrown in — won awards aplenty in London nearly a decade ago for its leading lady Denise Gough, who then brought the show to New York in 2017. Here it is again, with Gough in fearless form once more as the angsty, anguished Emma, and a supporting cast led by Gough’s fellow Irishwoman Sinead Cusack. (Through Aug. 10 at the Trafalgar Theater.)


‘Richard III’

This production at Shakespeare’s Globe — a reconstruction of the 16th-century theater where many of the Bard’s plays were first performed — has been a talking-point in London’s theater world after disability activists objected to the theater’s artistic director, Michelle Terry, taking the title role, because she is not disabled (and Terry performs the role without its typical hunch). That brought some renewed attention to a venue that has always been popular with visitors, where you can stand in an arena under an open sky, as Jacobean theatergoers did, or opt for seats around the side. (Through Aug. 3 at Shakespeare’s Globe.)

‘Suite in Three Keys’

Nol Coward is a London favorite and his “Private Lives” received two major revivals here in 2023 alone. Now, director Tom Littler is turning the attention of the Orange Tree Theater toward three lesser-known Coward plays from 1965, all set in the same Swiss hotel suite and all dealing with relationships on the rocks. Tara Fitzgerald, Stephen Boxer and Emma Fielding lead the cast, and the Orange Tree Theater presents the plays as a double-bill and a stand-alone show, which can be seen in either order. (Through July 6 at the Orange Tree Theater.)

‘A View from the Bridge’

Each decade seems to offer up a defining London production of Arthur Miller’s 1950s tragedy. This go-round finds small-screen star Dominic West (“The Wire,” “The Affair”) returning to his theatrical roots to play Eddie Carbone, the Brooklyn longshoreman with a guilty secret. The protean Kate Fleetwood plays his wife, Beatrice, who learns far more about her husband than she ever expected. (Through Aug. 3 at Theater Royal, Haymarket.)

‘The Grapes of Wrath’

Frank Galati’s adaptation of John Steinbeck’s enduring novel played the National Theater in 1989 on the way to a Tony-winning Broadway run. Now, it’s back in a new production that underscores the timeless importance of the Joad family’s Depression-era travails on the largest of the National’s three stages. Expect large-scale emotion in a big theater, not least with the mighty Cherry Jones, a two-time Tony winner, heading the cast. (Runs July 17 to Sept. 14 at the National Theater.)


‘The Constituent’

It’s been a dozen years since James Corden took the play “One Man, Two Guvnors” to Broadway; he went on to win a Tony and launch a successful career in the United States as a late-night talk show host. This summer, he’s back on the London stage for the first time since then, leading the cast for a new play by Joe Penhall set in the world of British politics, a timely production given Britain votes this summer in a general election. Matthew Warchus, who runs the Old Vic, directs. (Through Aug. 10 at the Old Vic.)

‘Hello, Dolly!’

Leading lady Imelda Staunton has shown a career-long interest in the American repertory, from Edward Albee to Stephen Sondheim. This summer, she lends her powerful singing voice to a revival of the Jerry Herman Broadway favorite, here directed by Dominic Cooke, who also worked with Staunton on an acclaimed revival of Sondheim’s “Follies.” Her character, the matchmaking Dolly Gallagher Levi is a funnier, frothier one than Staunton often plays, so look for smiles both onstage and in the audience; Andy Nyman and Jenna Russell co-star. (Runs July 6 to Sept. 14 at the London Palladium.)

‘Romeo and Juliet’

The last time Tom Holland was on a West End stage, he was a prepubescent member of the company in “Billy Elliot the Musical.” The 28-year-old “Spiderman” star has now graduated to the big league with his Shakespeare debut in “Romeo and Juliet”: a heavily cut, stripped-back version that bears the stark signature of its director, Jamie Lloyd. With Holland’s name attached, the show sold out in just hours, even before Juliet had been cast (she’s played by Francesca Amewudah-Rivers), but last-minute box office visitors have been known to snap up returned tickets. (Through Aug. 3 at the Duke of York’s Theater.)

‘Slave Play’

Kit Harington may have come to worldwide attention as Jon Snow on “Game of Thrones,” but the actor returns regularly to his theatrical roots. And despite his star power, he’ll be getting alphabetical billing in the West End premiere of the Jeremy O. Harris drama “Slave Play,” which made headlines in New York for its bold depiction of race, sex and power in the American South. The London cast includes alumni from the New York cast, such as James Cusati-Moyer and Chalia La Tour; Robert O’Hara directs again. (Runs June 29 to Sept. 21 at the Nol Coward Theater.)


‘Fawlty Towers: The Play’

The BBC only made 12 episodes of this TV show in the 1970s, but that was enough to secure Basil Fawlty and his wife Sybil spots in the canon of British comedy, along with the employees and guests of their seaside hotel. A dashing Adam Jackson-Smith is the spitting image of John Cleese as the easily flustered Basil, and Anna-Jane Casey, sporting surely the heaviest wig on the West End, steps ably into Prunella Scales’s shoes as his sly and snarky wife. (Through Jan. 4, 2025, at the Apollo Theater.)

‘The Play That Goes Wrong’

It’s nearly 10 years since the West End opening of this Mischief Theater company production about an amateur theatrical troupe attempting — not very successfully — to stage a 1920s murder mystery. After many cast changes and a heap of international acclaim, Mark Bell’s staging continues to offer up both mayhem and mirth, not to mention a Tony Award-winning set from Nigel Hook that collapses on cue in each performance. (At the Duchess Theater.)

‘The 39 Steps’

This frothy stage version of Alfred Hitchcock’s 1935 spy thriller ran for nine years on the West End, won a 2007 Olivier Award for best comedy and toured to 39 countries. Its late-summer London return will surely beguile audiences anew. Tom Byrne, who played Prince Andrew in “The Crown,” is the star this time around, supported by three multitasking colleagues who take on a dizzying array of roles. (Runs Aug. 16 to Sept. 28 at the Trafalgar Theater.)


‘The Baker’s Wife’

A busy summer for American musicals in London includes a rare outing of “The Baker’s Wife,” a portrait of French provincial life in the 1930s from book writer Joseph Stein (“Fiddler On the Roof”), and composer Stephen Schwartz, whose subsequent monster hit, “Wicked,” is soon to be a two-part film. This latest production of “The Baker’s Wife” is in the hands of American director Gordon Greenberg, whose Huey Lewis musical “The Heart of Rock and Roll” just closed on Broadway; Clive Rowe (“Carousel”) and Lucie Jones (“Waitress”) play the middle-aged baker and his beautiful young wife. (Runs July 6 to Sept. 14 at the Menier Chocolate Factory.)

‘Guys and Dolls’

Frank Loesser’s gorgeous 1950 musical chronicling two love affairs is especially adored in London, where it seems to get revived every few years. But Nicholas Hytner’s acclaimed production for the Bridge Theater is the first time this show has been presented as an immersive experience. You can watch the performance on foot, following the cast from one shifting location to another, or you can sit and watch the action from the above. Whatever you choose, you’ll thrill anew at Arlene Phillips’ high-kicking choreography and a cast whose affection for the immortal score is palpable from the first note. (Through Jan. 4, 2025, at the Bridge Theater.)

‘Kiss Me, Kate’

The Barbican Theater, once home to the Royal Shakespeare Company, gives itself over every summer to a production of an American musical. This year it’s Cole Porter’s feisty 1948 backstage musical “Kiss Me, Kate,” about two warring lovers putting on “The Taming of the Shrew.” American director Bartlett Sher is at the helm of an international cast headed by the expert Stephanie J. Block, on loan from Broadway, in the dual roles of Lilli Vanessi and Shakespeare’s Katharine; Irish actor Adrian Dunbar (“Line of Duty”) makes his mainstream musical theater debut playing Fred Graham and Petruchio. (Through Sept. 14 at the Barbican Theater.)

‘Mean Girls’

High school can be an unforgiving place, as we are reminded by this stage musical version of the popular 2004 film. Six years after its Broadway run led to 12 Tony nominations, “Mean Girls” has reached the West End, directed, as in New York, by Casey Nicholaw. Charlie Burn plays the wayward class newbie, Cady, who finds herself confronting Georgina Castle’s Regina, the meanest of the girls in her midst. (At the Savoy Theater.)


‘The Gruffalo’

This adaptation of Julia Donaldson’s 1999 children’s book reached the stage in 2001, courtesy of the Tall Stories theater company. Here’s a chance to revisit the tale of the hungry mouse whose quest for hazelnuts brings him into contact with the titular forbidding buffalolike creature. The show is being performed during the day in the same West End theater where the more adult musical “Hadestown” runs in the evening. (Runs July 17 to Sept. 8 at the Lyric Theater.)

‘Harry Potter and the Cursed Child’

J.K. Rowling’s Hogwarts saga was a benchmark achievement in children’s literature long before the stage version pushed the narrative forward to encompass Harry and his school friends’ adult lives. On Broadway, director John Tiffany’s ceaselessly imaginative two-part production has been compressed into one play; New York visitors wanting to see the more capacious original can still do so on the West End, where the eye-popping production celebrates its eighth birthday on July 30. (At the Palace Theater.)

‘The Secret Garden’

Frances Hodgson Burnett’s tale of 10-year-old Mary Lennox, dispatched from India to northern England to live with an uncle she doesn’t know, has been refashioned many times and reaches the stage anew this summer, alfresco in Regent’s Park. (Check the weather forecast before heading out.) Puppets have been added to the mix in this version, directed by Anna Himali Howard. (Through July 20 at the Open Air Theater, Regent’s Park.)


There’s something rather sweet about watching girls dressed as Anna or Elsa heading into the West End production of “Frozen,” which is now the Disney musical’s flagship production since the Broadway version shut down in 2020. Families have just a few more months to check out director Michael Grandage’s lavish reappraisal of the hit film — that icescape! — with Laura Dawkes and Samantha Barks as the two sisters who let their voices go. (Through Sept. 8 at Theater Royal, Drury Lane.)

‘Tweedy’s Massive Circus’

Circuses don’t usually think small, but that’s the case with this ironically named show from Tweedy the Clown, in which the big top has shrunken in size. Tweedy, a baggy-trousered Scot, has long been a mainstay of the touring Giffords Circus in England; this time, he’s in the company of three colleagues, one of whom (Sam Goodburn) joins Tweedy in a tightrope walk without a wire. (Runs July 18 to 27 at the Underbelly Festival, Cavendish Square.)



The Argentine company Fuerza Bruta’s high-octane mixture of physical theater, music and movement has been seen around the world, and now the company is returning to London with “AVEN,” a show that promises more of their trademark, take-no-prisoners energy. The production, which premiered in Buenos Aires, promises to have the vibrancy of a rave. (Runs July 9 to Sept. 1 at the Roundhouse.)

‘Interview with the Vamp’

Richard Thomas was a backstage figure for the scabrous musical “Jerry Springer: the Opera,” which he created over 20 years ago with Stewart Lee. This time, Thomas will be onstage, alongside cabaret mainstay Dr. Adam Perchard, in a short but scintillating-sounding run of a shows billed as an “epic queer song cycle”— and why not? (Runs July 10 to 13 at the Soho Theater.)

‘Viola’s Room’

There are no masks required in this 45-minute offering from Punchdrunk, the British company behind such vaunted immersive experiences as “The Burnt City” and “Sleep No More.” And rather than splitting the audience up into small groups, as is the Punchdrunk norm, spectators will come together and walk barefoot through a labyrinth while listening on headsets as the whispery voice of Helena Bonham Carter tells a spooky tale drawn from a gothic 1901 short story, “The Moon-Slave.” (Through Aug. 18 at One Cartridge Place.)

This article originally appeared in The New York Times.

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