At Radio Times, we enjoy a good show whether it’s on the small screen or the stage. Every week, we review the productions that are causing a stir in London’s Theatreland and beyond.
Below, you’ll find our recommendations for October. There are six shows that we’ve seen and really enjoyed, including a radical take on Shakespeare and ex-Strictly dancers’ Vincent and Flavia’s final show, as well as a few openings that we can’t wait to see.
1. Ian McKellen gives an acting masterclass in No Man’s Land ★★★★
Take two giants of British acting and a Nobel Prize-winning playwright – and you get a lot of expectation in one auditorium. No Man’s Land stars Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart and comes to London from New York where it received rave reviews – and it doesn’t disappoint on any level. That’s not to say that Harold Pinter’s 1975 absurdist play is an easy ride for the audience. It’s often dense, cryptic and enigmatic. It’s also very funny, but tinged with his trademark underlying menace.
Read the full review
No Man’s Land is at Wyndham’s Theatre London until 17 December
2. Ex-EastEnder Maddy Hill is a kick-ass Shakespearean heroine ★★★★★
This is Shakespeare, but not as you know it. For a start, director Matthew Dunster has renamed Cymbeline. His production is called Imogen instead, which makes sense: the play is all about Cymbeline’s daughter, who has twice as many lines. This King Cymbeline isn’t of the royal variety; he’s a drug baron and his courtiers are a tracksuit-clad gang. Imogen is played by Maddy Hill, best known as Nancy Carter in EastEnders. Walford must seem like a playground compared to the sinister antics of Shakespeare’s characters, but Hill is more than equal to the role. Her Imogen is a force of nature but also sweet and very funny.
Imogen is at the Globe Theatre until 16 October
3. Flavia and Vincent’s final show The Last Tango ★★★★
Following Olivier-nominated productions Midnight Tango and Dance ‘Til Dawn, Vincent and Flavia bring all the skill and artistry mastered during a 20-year partnership to a bittersweet story told through dance. The ex-Strictly dancers’ routines run the gamut from high-energy fun to steamy, passionate and dramatic.
The Last Tango is at Phoenix Theatre until 3 December
4. Imogen Stubbs stars in powerful family drama Things I Know to be True ★★★★
It is a rare thing for a suburban family drama to resonate quite as acutely and uncomfortably as Things I Know to be True – an understated gem of a play now on tour. A co-production between Frantic Assembly and the State Theatre Company of South Australia, the play first premiered in Adelaide earlier this year, and is now recast with British actors including Imogen Stubbs, Ewan Stewart and Natalie Casey playing the six members of the Price family. The two parents and four grown-up children appear conventional and convivial, until their long-harboured resentments and shortcomings are slowly, gently teased out.
Things I Know to be True is at the Oxford Playhouse until 8 October, followed by Warwick Arts Centre, the Liverpool Everyman, Salford’s The Lowry and Chichester Festival Theatre.
5. Dominic Cooper cuts a dash as a debauched earl in The Libertine ★★★
Stephen Jeffrey’s 1994 play is about the Restoration rogue John Wilmot, the 2nd Earl of Rochester. Shaped around his passion for a young actress (Ophelia Lovibond’s Lizzie Barry), it’s a wild romp through the excesses of 1670s London. The part has been played many times before including by John Malkovich, who was a much more cerebral, complicated Rochester. Dominic Cooper is more physical – more dashing, flamboyant, better-looking (sorry, John) and someone you could imagine charming the whores in the brothels of London with a lot more ease.
The Libertine is at Theatre Royal Haymarket until 3 December
6. Tragic bestseller Pigeon English is brilliantly adapted ★★★★
Shortlisted for the Man Booker Prize in 2011, Pigeon English is about a 10-year-old Ghanian boy called Harri who has recently emigrated to a South London council estate. It also works brilliantly on stage, thanks to a witty script from award-winning playwright Gbolahan Obisesan’s, slick choreography and an exuberant performance from the National Youth Theatre’s rep company, who play all the parts.
Pigeon English is at The Ambassdors Theatre until 22 November
Three shows we’re looking forward to…
7. Ken Stott and Reece Shearsmith take on The Dresser
The Dresser is probably Ronald Harwood’s greatest play and this revival is already one of the hottest tickets in town. Ken Stott takes the role of “Sir”, an ageing classical actor and all the action takes places in his dressing room at a provincial theatre while the Second World War rages on elsewhere. Shearsmith plays his faithful dresser Norman, who must keep both the show and its star from falling apart.
The Dresser is at the Duke of York’s Theatre until 14 January
8. Mark Strong stars in David Hare’s new psychological thriller Red Barn
David Hare’s new play is based on the novel La Main by the detective writer Georges Simenon (aka the man who invented Maigret). It’s a psychological thriller set in a remote New England farmhouse in 1969 during a snowstorm. Mark Strong’s co-stars are Hope Davis and Elizabeth Debicki, who viewers will recognise from The Night Manager.
The Red Barn is at the Lyttlelton Theatre until 17 January
9. Peter Pan Goes Wrong (again)
After reducing critics and audiences alike to giddy hysterics last year, the most disastrous Peter Pan production in history is back in town (it’ll also be shown on BBC1 at Christmas). From the company behind the equally hilarious and Olivier-winning show The Play That Goes Wrong, it’s about a theatre group who put on a play – you’ve guessed it – everything goes wrong. The joke never gets tired thanks to impeccable comic timing and a catastrophic set.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong is at the Apollo Theatre until 29 January
Last but not least…
10. Last chance to see the award-winning Kinks musical Sunny Afternoon
After more than two years in the West End, there’s just one month left to see Sunny Afternoon, before it embarks on a UK tour. It tells the story of the early life of Ray Davies and the rise to stardom of The Kinks, and bagged Best New Musical at the 2015 Olivier Awards. It’s a very funny, snappily dressed, feel-good trip back to 60s London, soundtracked by their best-loved songs.
Sunny Afternoon is at the Harold Pinter Theatre until 29 October
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