Fantastic Five: The Hottest Plays to Catch in the West End

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If you’ve a visit to the UK capital lined up in the next few weeks, then a trip to the theatre to catch a world-class play may be just the ticket one evening. To wit, here are the five must-sees playing right now…

West End

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time

(Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 6AR/ runs until 3 June 2017)

The universally acclaimed (seven-time Olivier Award-winning) adaptation of Mark Haddon’s likewise adored novel about a teenage ‘mathematician with some behavioural difficulties’ has rightly been one of the hottest tickets in town for the last two or three years. Tracing the odyssey to London of a boy suffering from an unnamed condition (most likely Asperger’s), it’s tragically heart-breaking, undoubtedly funny and full of whimsical charm, while its production values – especially its magnificent maths grid-themed set design that helps evoke the young hero’s unique mind – exhilaratingly impresses. Not to be missed.

The Glass Menagerie

(Duke of York’s Theatre, 104 St. Martin’s Lane WC2N 4BG/ runs until 29 April 2017)

The US playwright extraordinaire Tennessee Williams’ break-out stage hit, the semi-autobiographical The Glass Menagerie has returned to the West End in a production that owes its roots to a 2013 revival on Broadway, which earned seven Tony Award nominations, not least for its director John Tiffany; the white-hot theatre property thanks to his Harry Potter connotations (see below).

Revered as the first ‘memory play’, its plot sees the protagonist regale the audience with the story of his long gone family in America’s Deep South, including his matriarchal mother and his shy, limping sister. Brimming with the usual Williams traits of wistful nostalgia for an America lost in the winds of time, as well as hope, humour, tragedy and despair, it’s a production that eschews the cynical sourness in so many previous attempts at the play for a tale of lost love; the dreamy quality of the narrative perfectly mirrored by the visuality of Tiffany’s production, which is perfectly accompanied by a haunting score from Nico Muhly. All in all then, a must for lovers of classic mid-20th Century theatre.

Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

(Palace Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 5AY/ runs until 29 April 2018)

When you think of Harry Potter, it’s natural what first springs to mind is J. K. Rowling’s family-friendly fantasy novels and their fun and frivolous, special effects-laden Hollywood adaptations. But now it’s time to add to that collection of kids’ novels and movie blockbusters a highly acclaimed West End two-part play. Fear not, though, the world of Potter hasn’t suddenly gone all high-brow in an attempt to attain a culturally exclusive crowd and distance itself from the millions of Potterheads around the world; far from it – for this five-hour-plus stage show simply transposes the magic, mayhem, humour and emotional wallop of Harry and pals to the theatre. And then some.

A real witches’ brew of a production, John Tiffany’s staging of this Rowling-co-penned play features some terrific thesping from the cast filling out the roles of Harry, Ron, Hermione and more in middle-age, but feels properly rooted in Rowling’s universe, while smartly and stylishly expanding it. A magical treat for all the family, for sure – and if you’re bringing yours to the capital this spring or summer and plan to make a visit to this show one of its centrepieces, be sure to pick a hotel near West End theatre for your stay; indeed, you’ll be hard pressed to do better than the Piccadilly London West End hotel.

Travesties

(Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue W1D 7EZ/ runs until 29 May 2017)

For some who like their historical drama respectfully delivered and narratively orthodox and neat, this revival of the great Sir Tom Stoppard’s 1974 farce will probably be, yes, a travesty. But for those up for something a little different – a smart-alec comedy concoction of heavy ideas, varied theatrical styles, absurd episodes and bravura stage-craft – then this could very well be their cup of tea. Always busy and never standing still for a second (let alone standing on ceremony), the piece reimagines the semi-true meeting of Russian revolutionary Vladimir Lenin, Irish powerhouse poet James Joyce and Dadaist performance artist Tristan Tzara, along with a British civil servant, way back in 1917 – in wonderfully highly-strung fashion. Overall, its intellectualism may make for rather heady stuff and its playful theatricality a bombardment of meta-jokes, but it’s also unbridled fun for those prepared to take the plunge.

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?

(Harold Pinter Theatre, 6 Panton Street SW1Y 4DN/ runs until 27 May 2017)

Familiar to many as the Oscar-winning movie vehicle for the then husband-and wife Hollywood powerhouse team that was Richard Burton and Elizabeth Taylor, this caustic drama with the curious name was actually a big Broadway event several years before Dick and Liz and co. got their paws on it in the mid-’60s. Originally penned by playwright Edward Albee in 1962 and an instant hit, it details a night of drunken, sour, raging argument and upheaval between an ageing pair of middle-aged married academics and the young couple whom are visiting as dinner party guests and, along with booze consumed, merely add fuel to their hosts’ ireful fire.

The headliner in this, James Macdonald’s production, is Imelda Staunton (an actress whom over the years has matured to become something of a grand dame of the London stage) and the reviews would suggest that she, along with the rest of the four-hander cast, are outstanding; lending the play less of its usual expectancy, more an urgent, right-now feeling of free-fall and eventual catastrophe – like you’re witnessing a car crash happening before your very eyes; you’d maybe like to look away, but the drama’s so visceral, real, compelling and captivating you simply can’t. Not for the faint of heart this one then, but certainly for lovers of great theatre drama.

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