There's a lot of interesting-sounding shows coming up for 2011 and my bank balance is already quivering with fear at the sight of them. So this week and next, I'm going to be picking out the ones that have the most interesting casting to me and talking them up a bit.
5. Betty Blue Eyes, Novello
Based on the Alan Bennett-penned film A Private Function, Betty Blue Eyes is the story of a post-World War II community who plot to illegally raise a pig so they can properly celebrate the impending marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip. Also, it is a musical, with music and lyrics by George Stiles and Anthony Drewe. Sometimes it feels like we don't get enough new musicals in the West End, the majority being imports from Broadway or built around existing songs, so a new musical with an original score is a cause for celebration. I have high hopes for Betty Blue Eyes and have my fingers firmly crossed that it will be everything it promises to be!
Man to watch: Adrian Scarborough. But that's a given, really. He's a fantastic actor who elevates any material he gets his paws on, even if the material is bloody good to begin with.
4. Emperor and Galilean, National (Olivier)
People with short attention spans, beware! Henrik Ibsen's longest play is coming to the National Theatre, in a new version courtesy of Ben Power. Even the various summaries to be found on the internet are a daunting read, but if you're an Ibsen completist, this is an opportunity you can't miss: the first time Ibsen's self-proclaimed magnum opus is receiving a professional English language production. The plot concerns Emperor Julian the Apostate and covers the last twelve years of his life, including his nine year reign.
Man to watch: John Heffernan. Returning to London after what I'm sure will be an excellent Richard II at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, I'm very much hoping that the various fears people have for this production will be laid to rest by his presence and performance. (Also Andrew Scott. If you like that sort of thing. Which I know a lot of people do.)
3. Macbeth, Royal Shakespeare Theatre
Oh, no one needs me to recount what this one is about, do they? Surely we all studied it at school! But for those of you who fell asleep during English lessons, The Scottish Play (as superstitious people and/or performers are compelled to call it) is Shakespeare's classic Tragedy of ambition. After running into a trio of witches, Macbeth gets the idea it might be quite nice to be king, and so armed with his sword, his badassness, and a lot of pressure from his wife, he sets about achieving this goal. While I'm not entirely convinced Macbeth really does anything that Richard III didn't do first and better, it's still one of Shakespeare's most popular plays, and this production - one of the first new productions in the newly improved theatre - should be a great project for Michael Boyd to dig his directing teeth into.
Man to watch: Jonathan Slinger. He's phenomenal. He can physically and vocally transform himself into different characters with almost unsettling ease, and if you've so far only seem him in Yes, Prime Minister and the occasional TV guest spot, you're in for a real treat. I would watch him grout a bathroom. And he would be phenomenal at it.
2. Anne Boleyn, Shakespeare's Globe
Contrary to my early opinions, Howard Brenton's look at Henry VIII's most notorious wife turned out to be one of my favourite new plays of 2010, so I am very much looking forward to its return this summer. One of the things that made it particularly interesting to watch was Brenton's decision to relate not just the story of Anne's mission to further Protestantism, but also a framing device of James I investigating Anne from the safe vantage point of 70 years in the future. These scenes both upped the interest level of the play, and added a lot of humour and drama of their own.
Man to watch: Ben Deery. I wish I could say this has nothing to do with the fact he's very pretty. But in addition to turning in a humorous and charming performance as George Villiers, James's probable lover, he is also very pretty.
1. Richard II, Donmar Warehouse
Michael Grandage has had a very successful run as Artistic Director of the Donmar Warehouse, but now he's moving on. He could have left the Donmar with King Lear as his final Shakespeare production. Or he could've whipped out a production of The Tempest as his farewell. But Michael Grandage abhors a cliché. And so he has turned to the Histories and decided that a production of this most elegant and tragic play would be a great idea. And you know what? It really is! A GREAT idea! I'm so excited for this production that I can't even be articulate about it!
Man to watch: Eddie Redmayne (or, as I have been unable to stop referring to him since Pillars of the Earth, Eddie Red-Mane). Richard needs an intelligent, sensitive actor to effectively portray his downfall, and they don't come much more intelligent and sensitive than Eddie Redmayne (or, indeed, John Heffernan; we are being spoiled for Richard IIs this year!).