Tentative return of British theatre

image of three theatre flyers

The Watermill Theatre’s Autumn 2020 season.

Autumn has arrived. The leaves are falling. The nights are drawing in. An evening at the theatre beckons, and it looks as though, at long last, this might actually be achievable in many parts of the country.
Fiona Horan takes a look at what’s planned for the next few months.

The West End and London

The National Theatre is re-opening from the 21st October with new play Death of England: Delroy, “which explores a Black working class man searching for truth and confronting his relationship with Great Britain.” The theatre plans to follow this with an in-the-round version of the pantomime Dick Whittington.

Nimax, which owns the Apollo, Duchess, Garrick, Lyric, Palace and Vaudeville theatres, is planning to welcome back audiences with a combination of previously running shows and new productions. These include doctor-turned-comedian Adam Kay with his show This Is Going To Hurt, and musical Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, both at the Apollo Theatre; Tudor-inspired musical Six at the Lyric Theatre; comedian Jimmy Carr at the Palace Theatre; and comedy The Play That Goes Wrong at the Duchess Theatre. The majority of these shows open from mid-November, except for Adam Kay (from 22nd October).

Meanwhile the Bridge Theatre has been open for some time already, with Ralph Fiennes in Beat the Devil, a monologue by David Hare about Covid-19, and the playwright’s experience of the disease. This is running on various dates until 31st October. The Bridge is making the most of this opportunity to highlight the power of monologues by also offering eight of Alan Bennett’s famous Talking Heads series. The theatre worked with the BBC to produce these for the recent television revival, and now the same performers return to deliver the plays to a live audience. The actors are Imelda Staunton, Tamsin Greig, Rochenda Sandall, Lesley Manville, Kristin Scott Thomas, Lucian Msamati, Maxine Peake and Monica Dolan. Other one-person plays in the season are An Evening With An Immigrant by Inua Ellams, Quarter Life Crisis by Yolanda Mercy and Nine Lives by Zodwa Nyoni.

The Alexandra Palace Theatre will reopen in October with a revised Autumn schedule of well-known comedians and two concert performances of Sunset Boulevard.

Beyond London

The Bridge Theatre (see above) has collaborated with Leeds Playhouse and the Sheffield Crucible to bring two of Alan Bennett’s Talking Heads monologues to those venues in November. Leeds Playhouse has a season of productions running from early October, including several other one-man plays as well as performances by Northern Ballet, who are resident from 21st to 31st October.

The Watermill Theatre, near Newbury, has reported a very successful Outdoor Season during July and August, and now plans a limited season of performances inside the auditorium this autumn. The season will feature smaller cast sizes, reduced capacity inside the auditorium and socially distanced seating. The venue continues to offer the pre-show dining for which they are well-known. The season has already begun with Bloodshot; a one-man murder mystery performed by award-winning composer and actor Simon Slater – running until 17th October. It will be followed by Lone Flyer written by Ade Morris. Performed by two actors, the play explores the life of Amy Johnson, one of the world’s most influential female aviators and the first woman to fly solo from Britain to Australia. Lone Flyer will run from 21st October to 21st November. The season will conclude with a festive retelling of Charles Dickens’ A Christmas Carol from 26th November to 3rd January. Two actor musicians bring Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, Tiny Tim and a host of extraordinary characters to life in this new adaptation.

The Lowry, Salford, is re-opening at the beginning of December with highly-regarded West End show Six the Musical, very loosely based on the wives of Henry VIII.

Scarborough’s Stephen Joseph Theatre is also reopening, with a season that includes one-man thriller Bloodshot; Sunny Side Up! by John Godber, starring the writer and two other members of his family in a comedy about a struggling Yorkshire B&B; semi-staged dark comedy Dogwalker; Alan Ayckbourn ghost story Haunting Julia; and Christmas show, The Snow Queen.

Opera House Blackpool lost most of its touring productions as they were unable to be restructured for social distancing. However, some shows have adapted. The autumn schedule includes a variety of concerts and an evening with dance stars Kevin and Joanne Clifton.

The Assembly Hall Theatre, Tunbridge Wells, is back in action with an impressive line-up which includes residencies by the Comedy Store and English Touring Opera, and even a panto.

Please note – all schedules and openings subject to change, cancellations and new Government restrictions. Groups currently limited to six from two households.

Post publication edit: The Mousetrap, originally featured in this round-up mere hours ago, has now just announced (29th September) the postponement of its planned re-opening in October. Sad news, and indicative of the enormous difficulties theatre and music venues and productions face at the moment in making their future plans.

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