Robert Jackman

The top theatre shows to see in London

The top theatre shows to see in London
Saoirse Ronan will star in Macbeth (Getty)
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After the usual slow summer, the West End will return to action this autumn - as several more theatres reopen their doors. Here’s our pick of shows to book ahead for:

The Shark is Broken

Ambassadors Theatre, 9 October - 15 January
Ian Shaw (Image: Nick Driftwood)

A smash hit at the Edinburgh Festival back in 2019, The Shark is Broken goes behind the scenes during the filming of Stephen Spielberg’s Jaws, revealing how the timeless blockbuster nearly never got made in the first place. Based on first-hand accounts from those who were there at the time, the play is also written by Ian Shaw - whose late father, Robert, starred in the film as shark-hunter Quint. Given the reviews from its Edinburgh run, there’s a serious buzz around this one already.

Hamlet

Young Vic, 25 September - 13 November
Lucca Quinn (Image: Dean Chalkley, Young Vic)

It’s now more than two years since Cush Jumbo - Lucca Quinn in The Good Wife and The Good Fight - announced she would be returning to the stage to take on the role of the Danish prince at Southwark’s Young Vic theatre. Before heading stateside, Jumbo was a regular in theatreland, winning a handful of prestigious awards in the early 2010s. Making his own comeback alongside her will be Line of Duty’s Adrian Dunbar - last seen in the West End sometime in the late 2000s.

The Memory of Water

Hampstead Theatre, 3 September - 16 October
Image: Shaun Webb, Hampstead Theatre

Ever since the end of lockdown 3.0, one particular theatre has led the pack when it comes to bringing back live drama (in a perfectly Covid-secure way as well). While certain better known venues are still dusting the cobwebs off their seats, the rather underrated Hampstead Theatre is already on its third big production. Like the previous two, the Memory of Water is a revival of one of the playhouse’s previous hits: this time, a tragicomedy about three sisters reuniting at their mother’s funeral that won an Olivier (for best new comedy) in 2000.

Love and Other Acts of Violence

Donmar Warehouse, 7 October 2021 - 27 November

Emerging playwright Cordelia Lynn has been making waves in the theatre world with her savvy adaptations of Chekhov and Ibsen, as well as her Pinter Commission-winning One for Sorrow. Her latest work - her first full-length original since 2018 - will mark the official reopening of the Donmar Warehouse in Covent Garden. According to the preview blurb, Love and Other Acts of Violence tells the story of a liaison between a scientist and an activist poet who are forced to defend themselves as the world around them erupts into violence.

What If If Only

Royal Court Theatre, 29 September - 23 October
Image: Royal Court Theatre

Would the return British theatre really be complete without Caryl Churchill? That the 83 year old iconoclast is still writing (this being her fifth play in three years) is quite the feat: even if this latest one does run for just under quarter of an hour in total. Not wanting to leave punters feeling shortchanged, the Royal Court is offering a dual ticket deal for its upstairs play too, which runs just afterwards. That said, your average Churchill play usually warrants a good hour of head-scratching afterwards, so maybe best to see them separately.

Manor

National Theatre, 16 November - 1 January
Image: Nancy Caroll and Shaun Evans, National Theatre

The National Theatre’s autumn season kicks off with a new play from Moira Buffini - the whip-smart writer of Handbagged, the award-winning West End comedy about Mrs Thatcher’s relationship with the Queen. This time around, Buffini eschews the political intrigue in favour of a dark tale from her own imagination. Manor tells the story of a village hit by a dangerous flash-flood, and what happens when an enigmatic far right figure shows up at a stately-home seeking refuge. Buffini’s best play - Dinner - employed a similarly claustrophobic set up. If this is even half as good, it will be well worth a watch.

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Almeida Theatre, 27 Sep - 16 Oct
Saoirse Ronan (Getty)

If there’s one thing that always goes down well in theatreland it’s A-listers in Shakespeare. So perhaps we can forgive the usually bolder Almeida for opting for a tried and tested formula with its big autumn show, as Lady Bird’s Saoirse Ronan takes on the timeless role of Lady Macbeth. Of course this being the Almeida - and with experimental director Yael Farber at the helm - things might not be so simple. As for the would-be king himself, Ronan is set to be joined by Scottish native James McArdle - last seen in the acclaimed Mare of Easttown.

The Mirror and the Light

Gielgud Theatre, 23 September - 28 November
Hilary Mantel and Ben Miles (Image: Jeff Overs)

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy reaches its stage crescendo with the RSC’s big ticket production of The Mirror and the Light. West End darling Ben Miles (the younger Peter Townsend in The Crown) returns to the role of Thomas Cromwell - having previously bagged five star reviews down in Stratford-upon-Avon - playing the iconic statesman as he seeks to defend himself against the plotting of his enemies. Not content with just starring in the production, Miles has also co-written the script alongside Mantel herself. All being well, it should round off a hugely successful venture for the RSC.