There was a moment in Sir Ian McKellen’s performance in the title role of Hamlet at the Edinburgh Fringe during the summer that summed up for me the whole of 2022 in theatre. The great man stumbled and fell as he was running towards the stage. He got up immediately, told a concerned fellow actor not to fret, and, with a wince of pain only visible to the punters sat immediately around him, bounded on to the stage with a broad smile on his face. The show went on.
Among theatre-makers and theatre-goers, that kind of grace under pressure is going to be needed, too, in 2023. It looks as if it’s going to be another challenging year, with venues having to absorb higher energy bills as the punters cut back on spending because of the cost-of-living crisis. Covid, meanwhile, still casts a long shadow across the industry, with actors being indisposed and productions having to be cancelled.
The government’s mismanagement of the nation’s finances has resulted in some great old venues such as the Hampstead theatre, the Donmar Warehouse and the Gate being informed that their Arts Council grants have been cut in full. A great many theatres are having to rethink their business models – and fast – or go dark permanently. Anyone investing in commercial theatre in the year ahead is going to need nerves of steel.
Our government of philistines – I have never seen one of its members in the stalls – almost certainly takes the view theatre doesn’t matter. The case can be made that there are now more urgent spending priorities, but I would counter that theatre is important to national morale. More people traditionally attend theatre productions each year in this country than they do football matches. The humanising influence of these great secular temples has never been needed more. It is more important than ever that we all support theatre and book tickets.
There is certainly a lot coming up in the year ahead to look forward to. This
month, an eagerly-awaited stage version of The Shawshank Redemption begins a nationwide tour at the Theatre Royal, Windsor, with Joe Absolom and Ben Onwukwe heading the cast. It will be directed by David Esbjornson and Tim Welton.
Phaedra at the National in February looks as if it will be a special treat. Writer-director Simon Stone – his credits include Yerma at the Young Vic – reimagines Seneca’s famous tragedy. Janet McTeer is to take on the title role,
with Call My Agent!’s Assaad Bouab making his London stage debut.
March sees the opening of the Tony Award-winning jukebox musical Ain’t
Too Proud at the Prince Edward theatre in London. In May, Michael Ball
appears in a reimagining of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Aspects of Love at the
Lyric theatre playing Uncle George, 30 years after he played the part of the
young lover Alex.
In May, too, Tim Minchin’s musical adaptation of the film Groundhog Day returns to London’s Old Vic. It did very well at the venue the first time around and, as Punxsutawney Phil can attest, it is likely to be just the same this time. Andy Karl reprises his role as the cynical weatherman played by Bill Murray in the film.
The Crown creator Peter Morgan’s play Patriots – about the Russian oligarch Boris Berezovsky’s rise and fall in post-Soviet Russia – is also scheduled to transfer to the Noel Coward theatre in the West End from the Almeida in May, with Tom Hollander – lately bloodily dispatched in The White Lotus – reprising his role as Berezovsky.
The stage adaptation of Mrs Doubtfire – based on the classic film starring Robin Williams – arrives at the Shaftesbury theatre in May, after runs on Broadway and in Manchester. The cast includes Gabriel Vick as Daniel Hillard, Carla Dixon-Hernandez as Lydia Hillard, Cameron Blakely as Frank Hillard, Marcus Collins as Andre, and Ian Talbot as Mr Jolly.
In the autumn my own play Bloody Difficult Women will transfer to the
main stage of the Riverside Studios in west London ahead of a nationwide
tour. The latest twists and turns in the ongoing political tragedy we are all
living through will be incorporated into the final scene.
What productions Sir Ian McKellen decides to grace with his presence in
the year ahead remains to be seen, but, after playing everything from Hamlet to Mother Goose in 2022, it’s unlikely he won’t want to demonstrate
his range once more.