Our pick of the new shows opening in theatreland this week
Michael Jackson: Immortal
October 12–21, The O2, £40-£100
What do you get if you cross one of the modern world’s most celebrated artists and entertainers with its most revered contemporary circus company? Madonna on a trapeze? Mick Jagger taming lions? Maybe one day, but not this time.
In this instance you get Cirque du Soleil dropping jaws with their typically superlative acrobatics, set to the music of the late King of Pop.
The Canadian titans of ‘cirque nouveau’ have given the same treatment to the likes of Smooth Criminal, Thriller, Billie Jean and so on that they did to The Beatles’ back catalogue in Love. Early reviews from the world tour have been very positive, and the YouTube footage looks as impressive as we’ve come to expect from Cirque.
It sounds like it’s built around a fairly schmaltzy narrative. But the spectacle seems sufficiently eye-popping that you’re unlikely to care hugely.
Damned By Despair
October 10 – December 17, The Olivier, National Theatre, £12-£32
Irish playwright Frank McGuinness is probably more famous for his adaptations of classics by the likes of Ibsen and Chekhov than for his own original creations.
He has now turned his hand to Tirso de Molina’s 1635 adventure story Damned By Despair, which centres on a hermit whose obsession with his own salvation leads him to commit to 10 years of prayer and penance. In a moment of weakness, he is tricked by the Devil into believing that he is destined for the same damnation as an evil gangster. So he swears vengeance against God, and assembles a band of outlaws that embark on a criminal rampage.
This is one of the key productions in the National’s autumn season, so expect first-rate acting and high production values in the revamping of this fast-paced tale of faith, fate, love and redemption.
All That Fall
October 9 – November 3, Jermyn Street Theatre, sold out
The vast expanse of Samuel Becket’s output stretches far beyond Waiting For Godot to numerous works that the casual theatre-goer is unlikely to know.
Among these is this 1957 BBC radio play, which was widely acclaimed when it was first broadcast but remains a relatively under-known classic in the Beckett canon.
So, who better to bring it to widespread attention than three giants of the British stage? Trevor Nunn will direct this production at the tiny Jermyn Street Theatre, with acting heavyweights Michael Gambon and Eileen Atkins as the married couple at its centre.
What to expect? Well, black comedy and a depressing conclusion seem fairly inevitable. Or, as Nunn describes it, a piece that “moves through comedic situations to a conclusion as disturbingly bleak as anything in his [Beckett’s] writing”.
You Can Still Make A Killing
October 10 – November 3, Southwark Playhouse, £10-£18
There are only a couple of months left until Southwark Playhouse has to leave its deliciously atmospheric home in the London Bridge railway arches.
It’ll be coming back to the area post-redevelopment in 2018, and operating from a yet-to-be-announced temporary home until then. But if you want to catch a production in the winningly dark and dank venue where the theatre made its name, you’d best not delay.
Part of their final season in the arches is this promising new financial crisis-themed offering from playwright Nicholas Pierpan and director Matthew Dunstar.
Pierpan is a two-time winner of the Cameron Mackintosh Award for New Writing, and Dunstar is one of the most exciting young directors in British theatre, whose credits include productions at the National, the Barbican, the Globe and the Young Vic.
This production will reunite the pair after their success on The Maddening Rain at the Old Red Lion and Soho Theatre in 2010.
Desire Under The Elms
October 8 – November 10, Lyric, £12.50-£35
Inspired by the Ancient Greek story of Phaedra, Eugene O’Neill’s classic 1924 drama sees the writer transplanting key elements of the lustful Greek tragedy into his contemporary New England.
A tumultuous tale of pride, conscience, entitlement and emotion, it focuses on the conflicting claims of farm ownership between a father and son, and the devastating love affair between the son and his father’s beautiful new wife.
The production is directed by Lyric Artistic Director Sean Holmes, and features rising star Morgan Watkins.
The Good Neighbour
October 13 – November 4, Battersea Arts Centre, £5-£8
Battersea Arts Centre (BAC) further establishes its strong community credentials with this all-ages adventure steeped in the area’s rich history.
Children and adults go on different ‘journeys’ as part of the production – the kids (6-12 years) try to uncover the mystery of George Neighbour’s lost memory as they hurtle through magical worlds spread around the BAC building, while adults (13+) join a tour of Battersea’s radical past, led round the surrounding streets by, of all things, a brass band.
All in all, it sounds a little bit bonkers, quite possibly brilliant and so very BAC.
October 11-13, Shoreditch Town Hall, £5-£10
Among the alumni of the Oxford Samuel Beckett Theatre Trust Award is the phenomenal You Me Bum Bum Train (the company which thrusts individual audience members into the leading roles of a series of real-world scenarios).
So it would be fair to expect a few impressive ideas from the finalists in this year’s award.
Selected for their “boldness and innovation”, the budding young theatre-makers will be presenting their pieces for judges and audiences over three days.
The offerings range from participatory theatre to live art, and are co-produced by The Barbican, Create and Shoreditch Town Hall.
October 9 – November 3, Theatre503, £9-£14
Perhaps because violence and suffering have been so commonplace in post-liberation Iraq, the outside world has paid little attention to a dramatic surge in homophobic murders that has been happening there since the fall of Saddam.
This hit of the 2011 Edinburgh Fringe acts as “a poetic love letter” to the more than 700 victims of this violence. Inspired by interviews with gay Iraqi refugees, and using images by photojournalist Bradley Seckler, the play tells the real-life story of a man who fled to Syria to escape the persecution.