London stage shows this week include dance, from “Song of the Earth” ballet to Cirque du Soleil’s aerobatic-crazy “Ovo.” There are serious plays – like “The Birthday Party” or “Mary Stuart,” which now opens with a life-changing coin toss. For something to cut through the January blues, there are humorous plays too – like Wilde’s “Lady Windermere’s Fan.” (As Wilde put it, “Life is far too important a thing ever to talk seriously about.”) From Can’s Damo Suzuki to Steve Berkoff’s “East,” all of life is here, or on the British capital’s theaters anyway.
Our format of these short capsule previews is to list newly opening and one-time shows; those near the end of their run, and others highly recommended. We continue to review the best and most noteworthy in depth and separately.
Lady Windermere’s Fan
At Vaudeville, January 12 through April 7
This is part of a series of Oscar Wilde works by artistic director Dominic Dromgoole. Wilde’s clever-clever script comes packed with quips and plot twists. Plus the most quotable of quotes: “We are all in the gutter, but some of us are looking at the stars.” “I can resist anything except temptation.”
At Duke of York’s, January 13 through March 31.
The Almeida’s production finds its way into the West End, with the most mind-boggling start. Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams are the two stars, playing Mary and Elizabeth. They open the evening by tossing a coin to decide who plays which part: will it end in victory or execution? Both are familiar with the roles, so whichever version you see of Robert Icke’s show, this will be pretty impressive.
At Jazz Café, January 11
File under “challenging but oddly fascinating.” Damo Suzuki came to fame with German experimental-rock band Can. The Japanese star’s unusual singing veered between languages and captivated audiences on songs such as “Pinch” and “Don’t Turn the Light On, Leave Me Alone.”
LAST CHANCE TO SEE
“Song of the Earth” and “La Sylphide”
At London Coliseum, opens January 9, through to January 13 only.
The English National Ballet will be following “The Nutcracker” with a double show of Frank Andersen’s version of “La Sylphide” and Kenneth MacMillan’s “Song of the Earth.”
ALSO WORTH SEEING
“The Birthday Party”
At the Harold Pinter, from January 9 through April 14.
One cannot imagine a more apt venue to stage Pinter’s masterpiece. Zoë Wanamaker, Toby Jones, Stephen Mangan and Pearl Mackie star. The menace, silences and general unease are the Nobel-winning playwright at his trademark best. Ian Rickson directs this production.
At Southwark Playhouse. It previewed from December 15 and opened on January 4; runs through January 20.
Fans of Superman and Batman may wonder what is up with this satirical musical. The cartoon figure has been turned into a stage figure of fun. You get the idea when you know that writer Leon Parris calls his hero Eric Whimp. The mild lad only needs to eat a banana to become Bananaman, a muscle-bound hunk who can save the universe, or everything south of the River Thames anyway, such as the Southwark Playhouse naturally.
“OVO - Cirque du Soleil”
At Royal Albert Hall, opens January 7 and runs through February 11.
It is a circus, Jim, but not as we know it. To call this a circus is too mild. This is part dance spectacular, part cabaret, and party surrealistic musical with carnival thrown in. The show is a mad rush of strange insects, flying from trampolines and juggling. They suddenly have to face the arrival of a strange egg, Ovo.
“My Mum’s a Twat”
At Royal Court, Jerwood Theatre Upstairs, January 8 through January 20.
It’s hard to resist a play with a title like this. What we get is a tell-all monologue delivered by Patsy Feeran with the script by Anoushka Warden and directed by Vicky Featherstone. The mum of the title has only gone and joined a cult. The speaker is not so convinced: “Have you ever tried to sustain a relationship with a twat? It’s hard work and you need to be completely not a twat yourself if you want any success in this. Which is really hard when you’ve just started being a teenager.”
At King’s Head Theatre Islington, opens January 9 through February 3.
Steve Berkoff’s verse-play “East” made its London debut not on the Commercial Road, say, but at this pub-theater on Upper Street. It keeps coming back, winning Edinburgh awards and more.
At Victoria Palace Theatre through July 28, 2018.
The first thing to say is “Hamilton” is a huge Broadway hit, with plenty of political relevance even now, and even with unofficial Off-Broadway spin-offs such as “Spamilton” for those who can’t get to see the real thing. The second thing to say is that this rap musical is a superb show. Third, it’s not easy to get tickets and, if you do, expect tight ID checks, with original card and government photo ID needed. But it is worth it. The British production works well.
“The Rat Pack - Live from Las Vegas”
At Theatre Royal Haymarket, opens January 9 and runs through February 3.
The show is back again, having had an incarnation as “Christmas With the Rat Pack” with added seasonal songs. Expect re-creations of Frank Sinatra crooning “Fly Me to the Moon,” Dean Martin’s casual charm and the enthusiastic Sammy Davis Jnr. Like many 1950s, shows it was really uncool for years but now is back as retro style gains a new lease of life. Perhaps not as hot as in 2003 when it premiered in the West End, but still good for an entertaining night out.
“Girl From the North Country”
At Noël Coward Theatre. Previews from December 29, opens January 11 through March 31.
This Conor McPherson script, laced with songs from Bob Dylan such as the title number, premiered last year at The Old Vic. Its West End transfer maintains the dark and grimy feel of a serious work which ends up neither play nor a “Bob Dylan musical” as some fans called it when it first started.
At the Gielgud, now extended booking to May 19, 2018.
This critic gave it five stars, but so did nearly everybody else too it seems. The best play in London at present. Jez Butterworth nails another dance of life and death in a “Jerusalem” transported to Ireland. This three-hour epic has just won the best play, best director (Sam Mendes) and best emerging-talent gongs (Tom Glynn-Carney) in the Evening Standard Awards – so, expect booking out to sell out even faster.
“Everybody’s Talking About Jamie”
At Apollo Shaftsbury, through April 21, 2018.
If there is a law about London stage shows, one seems to be that even great plays often have musicals can run for a long time. This one has a true-life plot which reads like “Billy Eliot” crossed with “Kinky Boots.” A 16-year-old Sheffield boy wants to become a drag queen. The music is by Dan Gillespie Sells, of The Feeling.
At Theatre Royal Drury Lane, booking extended through May 31.
Another Broadway blockbuster. “Shuffle Off To Buffalo,” dream along with “Lullaby of Broadway,” hope along with “We’re In The Money,” and hum along with “I Only Have Eyes For You.”