Priscilla Queen of the Desert starring Jason Donovan opening at the Palace Theratre, London 2009
From The Sunday Times, January 4, 2009
A chill wind is blowing down Shaftesbury Avenue. This year is unlikely to be remembered for its big West End musical openings. We need only be detained here by Rupert Goold’s revival of Oliver! (Theatre Royal Drury Lane, in preview now) – with Rowan Atkinson’s Fagin, and its three Olivers, and Nancy voted for by the BBC’s I’d Do Anything – and the new musical of Priscilla, Queen of the Desert (Palace Theatre, previews from Mar 10) starring a dragged-up Jason Donovan. Off-West End, at the Lyric Hammersmith, is the British premiere of New York’s hit highbrow, sexually charged musical based on Wedekind’s Spring Awakening(in preview from Jan 23).
THE NATIONAL THEATRE
Following Every Good Boy Deserves Favour, there is the welcome return of The Pitmen Painters (Lyttelton, in preview from Jan 27). Other talking points in an enticing season should be Richard Bean’s England People Very Nice (Olivier, in preview from Feb 4), billed as “a riotous journey through four waves of immigration from the 17th century to today”, and commissioned and directed by Nicholas Hytner; Peter Flannery’s adaptation of the film Burnt by the Sun (Lyttelton, in preview from Feb 24); Rupert Goold directing JB Priestley’s Time and the Conways (Lyttelton, in preview from Apr 28); and, in June, Helen Mirren in Racine’s Phaedra.
It is at the more high-minded end of commercial theatreland that producers are burning star power to keep theatres from going dark. This tiny powerhouse’s acclaimed branching-out to Wyndham’s theatre, in the West End, continues with Judi Dench in Yukio Mishima’s Madame De Sade (in preview from Mar 13) and Jude Law as Hamlet (in preview from May 29), both now directed by Michael Grandage. No slacking on the home front, either, with Gillian Anderson in A Doll’s House (in preview from May 14). In July, Rachel Weisz returns to the theatre that made her name as Blanche Dubois in A Streetcar Named Desire.
THE OLD VIC
Kevin Spacey now seems to be fulfilling his ambition of staging the serious in a nonsubsidised house. He directs a world premiere, Complicit (in preview from Wednesday), starring Richard Dreyfuss, David Suchet and Elizabeth McGovern. Then there isDancing at Lughnasa, with Niamh Cusack and Susan Lynch (in preview from Feb 26). And in May comes Sam Mendes’s ambitious Bridge Project, stagings of The Cherry Orchard and A Winter’s Tale with Simon Russell Beale, Ethan Hawke, Sinead Cusack and Rebecca Hall.
THE ROYAL COURT
Refusing to relinquish its crown as a new writing powerhouse, the Court has new plays by Mark Ravenhill (Over There, from Feb 25), Polly Stenham (Tusk Tusk, from Mar 28) and Jez Butterworth (Jerusalem, from July 10).
ELSEWHERE IN LONDON
Jez Butterworth is also on at the Almeida, where Toby Jones, Amanda Drew and Andrew Lincoln appear in Parlour Song (from Mar 19). At the Trafalgar Studios, Imelda Staunton stars in Entertaining Mr Sloane (in preview from Jan 22). At the Duke of York’s, Ken Stott and Hayley Attwell appear in A View from the Bridge (in preview from Jan 22), and at the Apollo theatre, James McAvoy, Nigel Harman and Lyndsey Marshall are in the British premiere of the acclaimed American play Three Days of Rain (in preview from Jan 30).
TOURING AND OUTSIDE LONDON
The insatiable Donmar has teamed up with the National Theatre of Scotland to tourBe Near Me, an adaptation of an Andrew O’Hagan novel, with Ian McDiarmid, which starts in Kilmarnock (Jan 14), before visiting venues nationwide, including, naturally, the Donmar. Impressively wide-travelling, too, is the Theatre Royal Haymarket’s Waiting for Godot, starring supertramps Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart (starts Malvern, Mar 5; arrives in London Apr 30). Lenny Henry’s Othello, at the West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds (from Feb 14), for Northern Broadsides, will spark interest.At the Royal Shakespeare Company, Stratford, Greg Hicks as Leontes inThe Winter’s Tale, directed by David Farr (Courtyard, from Mar 31), is more expected casting. The spring season includes Antony Sher’s Prospero inThe Tempest (from Feb 18). At the Curve, Leicester, Tim Supple, who had a hit with his Indian-influenced Midsummer Night’s Dream, does As You Like It (from Feb 26). Patricia Nicol
ENGLISH NATIONAL BALLET
The centenary of Diaghilev’s trailblazing Ballets Russes is celebrated in a season including Scheherazade and Le Spectre de la Rose (both with designs after Bakst’s exotic originals), Les Sylphides, Apollo, The Rite of Spring and a premiere of Faune, by David Dawson (Sadler’s Wells, June 16-20).
THE ROYAL BALLET
Les Sylphides features alongside another Diaghilev, The Firebird, on a bill with a new piece by Alastair Marriott (ROH, May 4-30). A talking point should be Isadora, Deborah MacMillan’s reduced revision of her late husband Kenneth’s problematical 1981 ballet about Isadora Duncan (Mar 11-21). Will this succeed?
BIRMINGHAM ROYAL BALLET
David Bintley revives his witty 1993 production of Delibes’s Sylvia (Birmingham Hippodrome, Feb 25-28), as well as the colourful “Still Life” at the Penguin Café (Mar 4-7), with tours following.
40TH ANNIVERSARY CELEBRATIONS
In its 40th year, Northern Ballet Theatre revives Gillian Lynne’s A Simple Man, about LS Lowry (Grand Theatre, Leeds, Feb 26-28). Scottish Ballet premieres a new version of Bizet’s Carmen, a departure for the choreographer Richard Alston (Theatre Royal, Glasgow, Apr 15-18). Both tour.
SPRING DANCE AT THE COLISEUM
American Ballet Theatre with Swan Lake and Le Corsaire (Mar 25-Apr 4); a Russell Maliphant bill (Apr 7-11); and ballroom in Cheek to Cheek (Apr 22-26).
Eonnagata is a new collaboration between Sylvie Guillem, Russell Maliphant and Robert Lepage (Feb 26-Mar 8). The Focus on Forsythe season (Apr 20-May 10) celebrates the iconoclastic William Forsythe. The summer show is Shall We Dance, by, and starring, Adam Cooper, to Richard Rodgers’s hits (July 23-Aug 30). David Dougill
YEAR OF ANNIVERSARIES
Purcell, Handel, Haydn and Mendelssohn all have significant anniversaries in 2009 (Purcell’s 350th and Mendelssohn’s 200th birthdays; and 250 and 200 years since Handel’s and Haydn’s deaths), and the musical world is celebrating. Radio 3 plans to broadcast all 42 of Handel’s operas, and all 104 of Haydn’s numbered symphonies – and more – will be played, two a week, in 2009.
TERFEL SINGS THE FLYING DUTCHMAN
The Welsh baritone sings Wagner’s tormented antihero in a new production by Tim Albery at Covent Garden.
VIENNA CITY OF DREAMS
Esa-Pekka Salonen’s first big project as the Philharmonia’s new principal conductor is a mini-series of concerts highlighting Viennese music at the turn of the 20th century: lots of Mahler, of course, but also his disciples Berg, Webern and Schoenberg, whose magnificent orchestral cantata Gurrelieder launches the festivities at the Royal Festival Hall, in London, and the Symphony Hall, in Birmingham, in February.
DANIELLE DE NIESE
Glyndebourne’s celebrated all-singing-and-dancing Cleopatra returns to the McVicar production of Giulio Cesare this summer (May 22-July 3), but she also celebrates the Handel year, making her Royal Opera debut in a new production of Acis and Galatea.
The Corridor is Harrison Birtwistle’s latest music-theatre piece for chamber forces, in collaboration with one of his favourite authors, David Harsent. Peter Gill directs Mark Padmore and Elizabeth Atherton in the world premiere at the Aldeburgh Festival in June. It’s later to be seen at Queen Elizabeth Hall, in London, and the Bregenz Festival.
The world-class Wagnerians Ben Heppner, as Siegfried, and Katarina Dalayman, as Brünnhilde, star in concert performances of the Ring’s concluding tragedy, spread over two evenings (May 9 and 10).
MODERN OPERA AT ENO
A trio of 20thand 21st-century operas headlines the list of new productions at the London Coliseum during 2009. John Adams’s Doctor Atomic – a docu-opera about the creator of the atom bomb, Robert Oppenheimer – opens in February in the recent Met production. May sees a new David Alden staging of Britten’s Peter Grimes, with starry leads (Stuart Skelton, Amanda Roocroft, Gerald Finley), and the UK premiere of Kaija Saariaho’s neo-medieval romance L’Amour de loin follows in July.
JONES DIRECTS FALSTAFF
British opera’s most genial and controversial director, Richard Jones, tackles Verdi’s valedictory masterpiece for the first time in his career at Glyndebourne. Vladimir Jurowski conducts and the British baritone Christopher Purves, recently Master Ford to Bryn Terfel’s Fat Knight in Cardiff, sings the title role for the first time (May-July)
Starting on Wednesday, the City of Birmingham Symphony Orchestra joins forces with Mark Elder’s Hallé for a complete cycle of Carl Nielsen’s too rarely heard six symphonies in Birmingham and Manchester. Hugh Canning
THE BIG ALBUMS
This year’s important releases include the new album from U2, No Line on the Horizon (due on Mar 2). The Irish megastars have surrounded themselves with familiar faces for this one, with production duties shared by Steve Lillywhite and the team of Brian Eno and Daniel Lanois. A beleaguered record industry will be hoping they can surpass the 9m sales of How to Dismantle an Atomic Bomb. Springsteen fans, meanwhile, will be hoping the Boss continues his recent fine run of form with Working on a Dream (out at the end of this month). The Prodigy will be hoping this comeback (Invaders Must Die, Mar 2) fares better than their last one; while Morrissey will be hoping people can stop fussing about the strange cover art for his Years of Refusal album (Feb 16) and concentrate on the music.
THE BIG REUNIONS
Music fans of a certain age, and music fans of an even more certain age, will be salivating at the prospect of this year’s two heralded reunions: Blur and the Specials. Admittedly, Blur haven’t been gone all that long, but Damon Albarn seems to have lived through several musical lifetimes in the interim, and Graham Coxon has been turning out scintillating solo albums, so it will be fascinating to find out just what the 2009 version of Blur will be like (July 2 and 3, Hyde Park). The Specials have been away a lot longer, yet, as we gaze around a “broken Britain” of job losses, failing businesses and urban tension, it feels eerily like the same land that spawned their seminal hit, Ghost Town, nearly 30 years ago. Relevant, then, and returning Apr 22 at the Academy, Newcastle.
THE BIG CROWDS
There are only a few bands around who should ever attempt to connect with a stadium full of people. Two who demonstrably know how to do it are Oasis and AC/DC, both of whom will be playing stadium gigs this summer. AC/DC play Wembley Stadium on June 26 and Hampden Park, in Glasgow, on June 30. Oasis will be playing a variety of sports stadiums in the same month.
THE RETURN OF LILY ALLEN
Is it just me, or have the “new Lily Allens” all been a bit disappointing? In fact, it’s getting quite hard to remember who they were, isn’t it? Thank heavens, then, for the return of the real thing. Pop music needs her, and the tabloids, frankly, could do with her too. Lead single The Fear will be followed by an album, It’s Not Me, It’s You, on Feb 9.
OH, GO ON, THEN . . . ANOTHER NEW LILY ALLEN
Cosmo Jarvis has written 200 songs, and he’s only 19. Some of them are rather good, suggesting someone who has been listening not only to Lily Allen, but to Alex Turner and Billy Bragg. Sample lyric, concerning a fantasy date with Britney Spears: “She’d say hit me baby one more time / And I’d say no way Britney, domestic violence is a crime”. A series of digital EPs will lead up to a debut album this summer.
THE INDUSTRY FAVOURITE
A quirky outsider has rapidly become this year’s industry insider, as everyone from the Brit Awards people to the NME has been won over by Florence Welch’s music – somewhere between PJ Harvey and Kate Bush.
THE ONES WHO HAVE BEEN LISTENING TO JOY DIVISION
White Lies put in the legwork last year, with plenty of festival appearances and a headline tour, and should reap the benefits in 2009. You won’t have to wait long to immerse yourselves in their doomy yet surely arena-bound songs, which evoke the spirit of Ian Curtis’s lyrics and Peter Hook’s bass. Their debut album, To Lose My Life, is due Jan 19.
THE ONE YOU ALREADY KNOW
Lisa Hannigan’s debut album, Sea Sew, will be released on Feb 3, but if you’re one of the many who fell in love with Damien Rice’s album O, and particularly if you fell in love with that backing singer with the amazing voice, you already know Hannigan’s work. Now she’s stepping out of Rice’s shadow, and her homemade, handcrafted sound should win her plenty of fans among those who appreciate old-fashioned singer-songwriters. Mark Edwards