This Fall’s line-up in London’s West End lacks the star power of previous years. Gemma Arterton (Tamara Drewe) and Derek Jacobi are the biggest name draw this autumn. Last year, Rachel Weisz, James McAvoy, Jude Law and Helen Mirren all trod the boards. “Looking at autumn’s West End line-up, it’s certainly slim pickings in terms of star power,” theatre consultant Richard Andrews tells me. Ironically, it’s the battered British film industry which is to blame. A number of ambitious British films are shooting or are about to go into production, including Tinker Tailor Soldier Spy, My Week With Marilyn and Thatcher, all tying up top-flight actors. And then there’s the usual Hollywood talent drain. “It’s cyclical,” agent Michael Foster of talent agency Peters Fraser and Dunlop tells me. “Winter will see bigger names announced for the stage.” As on Broadway, it’s becoming increasingly hard to put any kind of show on. That is why theatre producers have to be conservative in their choices, which must appeal to coach parties.
This Fall sees revivals of Noel Coward, Oscar Wilde, and even an old warhorse from 30s author JB Priestley. This year’s box office is on target to match or even beat last year’s record £504.8 million ($777.3 million). More people staying at home for holidays (“stay-cations”) plus the number of tourists coming to London remaining buoyant because of the weak pound were the main factors behind 2009’s 8% box office increase.
Anyway, here are the Fall season highlights for any of you planning to pack your Burberrys and come over to London and catch a show:
— Stephen Sondheim, the genius of American musical theatre, will have his 80th birthday celebrated with a production of Passion. (Donmar Warehouse, previews Sep 10/opening Sep 21)
— Michael Gambon, who plays Professor Dumbledore in Harry Potter, stars as an old man reviewing his life in Samuel Beckett’s Krapp’s Last Tape. (Duchess Theatre, previews Sep 15/opens Sep 22)
— BBC sitcom Yes, Prime Minister has been adapted for the stage by its TV creators. David Haig (Four Weddings and a Funeral) plays a hapless prime minister advised by Henry Goodman’s silky-voiced civil servant Sir Humphrey. The show was a huge hit for the Beeb during the 80s. (Gielgud Theatre, previews Sep 17/opens Sep 27)
— Jerry Bruckheimer’s 80s movie musical Flashdance is the latest feature to be adapted for the stage. The show features all the hits — Maniac, Gloria and, who could forget, Flashdance — What A Feeling. Choreography is by Arlene Phillips, ex-judge on BBC talent show Strictly Come Dancing. Matt Willis, former boy band star with Busted, co-stars. It all sounds as camp as a row of tents. (Shaftesbury Theatre, previews Sep 24/opens Oct 14)
— Rory Kinnear (who had a small role in Quantum of Solace) faces the difficult task of trying to top David Tennant who starred in the West End as Hamlet last year. Jude Law also played the dithering Dane in the West End in 2009. Nicholas Hytner (The History Boys, The Madness of King George) directs. (National Theatre, previews Sep 30/opens Oct 7)
— Robert Lindsay, again a TV sitcom star here, plays Greek shipping magnate Aristotle Onassis, the man who married Jackie Kennedy 4 years after the President’s assassination Playwright Martin Sherman has extensively rewritten Onassis, which first opened last year out of town to thumbs down from the critics. (Novello Theatre, previews Sep 30/opens Oct 12)
— Martin Shaw, a TV regular here, stars opposite Jenny Seagrove in The Country Girl, written by Hollywood screenwriter Clifford Odets. (Apollo Theatre, previews Oct 6/opens Oct 11)
— Roger Michell, director of Notting Hill, directs Tribes at the Royal Court. This is the follow-up to young playwright Nina Raine’s debut Rabbit, which won the Evening Standard Award for Most Promising Playwright. (Royal Court, previews Oct 14/opens Oct 20)
— Maureen Lipman, again another British TV institution, stars in a revival of the JB Priestley warhorse When We Are Married. Blimey, I remember doing this one as a school play. It must be a sign of the times that impresarios are so risk-averse they’re reviving 72-year-old comedies. (Garrick Theatre, previews Oct 19/opening Oct 27)
— Gemma Arterton stars opposite Stephen Dillane in The Master Builder. Travis Preston directs from Kenneth McLeish’s translation from the original Norwegian. (London’s Almeida Theatre, previews Nov 12, opening Nov 18)
— Howard Goodall, composer of the music for the Bean movies, has written the score for a musical version of another hit feature, Love Story. Erich Segal’s novel was a huge hit for Paramount starring Ryan O’Neal and Ali McGraw. (Duchess Theatre, previews Nov 27, opening Dec 6)
— Derek Jacobi gives us his King Lear – a rite of passage for any veteran actor — playing opposite Gina McKee (In the Loop). (Donmar Warehouse, previews Dec 3/opens Dec 7)