Theatre to see in 2017!

Happy New Year!

I’ve looked back on my year of theatre in 2016, which means it’s now time to focus on what lies in store over the next twelve months. The good news is that there is already quite a lot to be excited about and below are 17 shows I’d put on your list for the new year!

1. Hamlet (Almeida Theatre, 17th February – 8th April)

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There is so much I’m excited about regarding the  forthcoming Almeida production of Hamlet. It’s my favourite Shakespeare play, directed by probably my favourite director at the moment, Robert Icke, whose Oresteia and current Mary Stuart productions are some of the finest plays I’ve seen and it will see Andrew Scott take the title role. He may be best known for playing Moriarty in Sherlock, but he is also a superbly versatile stage actor and I cannot wait to see what he and Icke come up with for this production.  All it needs is a strong ensemble cast, which it is well on the way to having wth Juliet Stevenson and Jessica Brown Findlay and this has the potential to challenge the RSC’s 2008 production as my favourite. Can you tell I’m excited?!

2. Angels In America (National Theatre, from 11th April)

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Ever since the National’s 50th anniversary celebration featured a scene from this play, I’ve been hoping it would return to the London stage and 2017 sees that happen. It’s such an iconic award-winning play, which made such an impact originally in the 90s and this revival promises to be very special with actors including Denise Gough, Andrew Garfield, James McArdle, Nathan Lane and Russell Tovey announced and directed by Marianne Elliot. Tickets will go quickly for this. You have been warned!

3. Don Juan In Soho (Wyndham’s Theatre, 17th March – 10th June)

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2017 also sees David Tennant return to the stage and this time it’s not Shakespeare. For me, he is one of the finest stage actors we have in the UK and I’m very excited to finally see him live on stage performing a non-Shakespeare role. Patrick Marber’s play is described as a savagely funny and filthy play, which has me intrigued to say the least! Directed by Marber and also starring the brilliant Adrian Scarborough, the only question for me is just how many times I’ll see this show over its run!

4. Hamilton (Victoria Palace Theatre, from November)

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The juggernaut that is Hamilton finally arrives in London late this year at the Victoria Palace (which is undergoing refurbishment in advance of becoming the hottest theatre spot in town). I have heard so much about this show, but have resisted the urge to listen to any music from it before I see it. With crazily expensive tickets for the New York run, hopefully the London production will be a little easier to get in to!

5. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Harold Pinter Theatre, 22nd February – 27th May)

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After her performances in Sweeney Todd in 2012 and Gypsy in 2015, I’d go and see the incredible Imelda Staunton in anything! Next on her list before Gypsy heads to Broadway is this production of Edward Albee’s play. Also starring Conleth Hill (now better known as Varys in Game of Thrones), this promises to be another gem in the 2017 calendar.

6. the ferryman (Royal Court Theatre, 24th April – 20th May)

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The Ferryman makes the list even though it is technically already sold out. This does not mean it should be ruled out however (I for one will be queuing as long as it takes for returns after failing to book this fast enough)! Jez Butterworth’s reputation for brilliant and exciting theatre was established with Jerusalem, but I also loved The River and I’m intrigued to see what is next. The production will also mark the Royal Court directorial debut of Sam Mendes.

7. Obsession (Barbican Theatre, 19th April – 20th May)

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This year also sees Ivo Van Hove, whose recent productions of A View From A Bridge and The Crucible both made quite an impression on anyone who saw them (including me) directing one of three Toneelgroep Amsterdam productions at the Barbican. Jude Law leads a cast of Dutch and British actors in Visconti’s drama where two people’s attraction to each other leads them to plot murder. This season as a whole is on my must-see list, but I’m rather intrigued by this one in particular.

8. The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (Theatre Royal Haymarket, 24th March – 24th June)

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Spring also sees two of Britain’s finest actors, Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo together on stage in Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? Described as a dark comedy, I am rather excited about seeing these two together and directed by Ian Rickson too!

9. Woyzeck (Old Vic, 6th May – 24th June)

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Woyzeck isn’t a play I’ve seen before and therefore I’m thrilled to be able to have a chance to tick this highly regarded piece of literature off my list. Set in 1980s Berlin, John Boyega (now of Star Wars fame) tackles the story of a young soldier on the border of East and West trying to build a better life for his family. This new version of Georg Buchner’s classic has been written by Jack Thorne, whose recent hits include This Is England for the screen and the Harry Potter play.

10. Speech & Debate (Trafalgar Studios, 22nd February – 1st April)

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Stephen Karam’s play The Humans was one I’d hoped to see next time I was in NYC (sadly I’ll miss it), but I will at least be able to see Speech & Debate when it arrives in London in February. Billed as the story of three misfits, brought together at school by a sex scandal, with hilarious consequences, I’m looking forward to seeing Douglas Booth and Tony Revolori (Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel) tackle this play.

11. 42nd Street (Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 20th March – 22nd July)

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I can tick another classic musical off my list this year with the arrival of 42nd Street, the story of a young woman who, after joining the chorus line of a musical, may get her chance of stardom when the leading lady lady suffers an injury. Starring Sheena Easton as Dorothy Brock, this production will also be directed by Mark Bramble, the co-author of the original book of the production. I’ll be curious to see where this ranks in my list of musicals.

12. The Glass Menagerie (Duke of York’s Theatre, 26th January – 29th April)

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I’ve still yet to see The Glass Menagerie on stage and so I’m pleased this version of Tennessee Williams’s play is transferring from Broadway at the end of this month. Director John Tiffany’s (also director of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child) production was highly regarded in New York and will again star Cherry Jones as the matriarch Belle Amanda Wingfield.

13. Paul Auster’s City of Glass (Lyric Hammersmith, 20th April – 13th May)

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Regarded as a seminal American novel, I’m looking forward to a trip to the Lyric to see this new adaptation, which is billed as using ground-breaking stagecraft, projection, magic and illusion to tell the story of a reclusive crime writer who becomes drawn in to a thriller after receiving a call in the middle of the night from someone in need of a private detective.

14. Touch (Soho Theatre, 6th July – 26th August)

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I didn’t get to see Fleabag last year, but after the acclaim it received, as well as for the BBC series based on the play, I’m certainly adding Touch to my 2017 list, as it is by the same creative team. Starring Amy Morgan, it’s the story of a 33 year old woman trying to find her way in London.

15. Tribes (Crucible Studio, Sheffield, 30th June – 22nd July)

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I thoroughly enjoyed the original run of Nina Raines’s play at the Royal Court in 2010 and so I am looking forward to seeing this new regional premiere in Sheffield over the summer. The story of family life, where the son is deaf is very funny, but also incredibly moving and explores perfectly the desire we all have to be heard and understood.

 

 

16. Antony & Cleopatra (RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 11th March – 7th September)

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I’ve always struggled a bit with this play, but I’ll certainly be heading to Stratford-Upon-Avon for this production, which will see one of my favourite RSC actors, Antony Byrne take on Marc Antony. Byrne was wonderful in the original Richard II in 2013 (and very much missed by me in its revival this year) and also in Henry IV and V and it’ll be fantastic to see him again performing Shakespeare.

17. Sex With Strangers (Hampstead Theatre, 27th January – 4th March)

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The Hampstead Theatre has certainly come a long way since Edward Hall took the helm in 2010 and I’m very much looking forward to seeing its first production of the new year. Laura Eason’s comedy sees two people, very much opposites of each other, stuck together in a B&B in the snow, who find themselves undeniably drawn to each other. I enjoyed Emilia Fox’s performance in Rapture, Blister, Burn at this theatre in 2015 and so it’ll be lovely to see her back, in a production that also stars Theo James.

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So, those are some of my suggestions for this year on stage. I could have picked so much more, with theatres including the Bush Theatre and the Young Vic already setting out exciting seasons. Then of course there are all the shows yet to be announced! Finally, there are some shows that opened last year, but which are well worth a trip if you can see them before they close. A few examples are:

  • Love’s Labour’s Lost & Much Ado About Nothing (Theatre Royal Haymarket) until 18th March – the London transfer of the RSC’s gorgeous double-bill is not to be missed. With a lot of the cast returning, including Edward Bennett and Sam Alexander, they are perfect at this time of year. Go, go, go!
  • This House (Garrick Theatre) until 25th February – This superb National Theatre production sees a new run in the West End. Set in the 70s as Labour cling on to power before Thatcher, it’s a brilliantly sharp and funny glimpse in to Westminster. Having seen the current cast in Chichester over the autumn, I can say it’s just as strong as it was originally. Review here.
  • Hedda Gabler (National Theatre) until 21st March – My review will be up laster this month for this exciting modernisation of Ibsen’s play. Ruth Wilson is yet again superb and there are also wonderful performances from Rafe Spall and Kyle Soller. This was so close to being in my top 10 of 2016, so I urge you to go. Yes, it’s sold out, but there is the option of Rush tickets on sale on Fridays for the following week’s shows and returns will pop up, so keep checking.
  • Mary Stuart (Almeida Theatre) until 21st January – One of my highlights of last year was this play which sees Lia Williams and Juliet Stevenson swap roles as Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I. It’s an exciting production from director Robert Icke and is another must-see. Again, it’s sold out, but there are day seats of every performance and I’ve usually been successful in the returns queue at this theatre in the past.

Hopefully there is something on the list that you are interested in. As always, I’ll be adding reviews of shows as I see them and so please do pop back any time!

 

 

My Top Television Choices for 2016!

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After looking back at my television highlights of 2015, it’s time to look at what television treats we can expect in 2016. There are exciting dramas returning to the screen, as well as some new offerings which I’m curious to try. So, here are my top choices of programmes to tune in to this year. As I’m in the UK, this list refers to dates and channels on which the shows will be aired here (if known).

The X-Files (Channel 5 – early February)

Anyone who knows me will have expected nothing else to be top of my teleevision choices list for 2016! The X-Files was my first addiction and would probably still be my category if I were ever to go on Mastermind. Therefore, it’s fantastic that it is returning to our screens, albeit for only six episodes. With David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back in such iconic roles, Chris Carter back at the helm and stories also from Glen Morgan, James Wong and Darin Morgan, this is already very promising. I sincrely hope this delivers for all the fans, but also pulls some new viewers in too. Remember, The Truth is Still Out There!

The Hollow Crown: The Wars of the Roses (BBC Two)

untitledIn the hope this would air in 2015, this was also on last year’s list, but we can expect the second series of the BBC’s Hollow Crown some time in the next few months. Entitled The Wars of the Roses, this captures Henry VI and Richard III, with some of Britain’s brightest acting talent involved. Alongside Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard, there’s Dame Judi Dench, Sophie Okenedo, Andrew Scott, Tom Sturridge and Michael Gambon to name but a few. If the quality is as high as the first series (recommended if you missed it), then we are in for a treat.

Happy Valley (BBC One)

timthumbI came late to Happy Valley in 2014, but it impressed me almost immediately, with Sarah Lancashire playing such a strong and complicated character as Catherine Cawood. After the traumatic events of the first series, it will be interesting to see what writer Sally Wainwright has in mind for her next. I’m sure it will prove to be just as exciting and engaging as before and especially when the teaser trailer just released includes James Norton as the awful Tommy Lee Royce!

Line of Duty (BBC One)

Broadchurch__Ripper_Street_and_The_Missing_stars_to_play__pivotal_roles__in_Line_of_Duty_series_3Line of Duty quickly became a success (with help from social media fuelling interest) and with two strong series, both with separate stories, the possibilities are endless of Jed Mercurio’s drama. After focussing on Lennie James’s Tony Gates in series one and Keeley Hawes’s superb multi-faceted performance as Lindsay Denton in series two, the bar has been set very high for the next instalment. With Vicky McClure and Martin Compton being joined by Daniel Mays and Will Mellor, I’m already very excited to see this and will be going to a BAFTA preview screening of episode one on 8th February, so we can expect this some time in the near future.

Game of Thrones (Sky Atlantic, 25th April)

Game_of_Thrones_Season_6Although the last series was a bit of a mixed bag (but made up for with Hardhome!), I’ll always look forward to my return to Westeros. Now that we are in uncharted territory, with the majority of characters past book positions, anything could happen in series six and in a show where no one is safe, that is very exciting indeed. Filming photos suggest there will be some wonderful sequences in the new series and I’m looking forward to finally moving forward with the story (seeing as who knows when we’ll get book six from Mr Martin)!

Grantchester (ITV)

Grantchester-1920X1080James Norton will be back on our screens again for the second series of Grantchester, in which he plays the lovely vicar, turned detective Sydney Chambers, in stories based on the novels by James Runcie (the opposite end of the spectrum to his character in Happy Valley thank goodness). This was a lovely drama when it aired in 2014, with some interesting charcater relationships and a great partnership in James Norton and Robson Green. Anyone mourning the end of Lewis can take comfort in this series as a worthy replacement.

The Unbreakable Kimmy Schmidt (Netflix, 15th April)

12137941I admit to being a person who prefers dramas to comedies, on both film and television, but after two friends raved about this Netflix series last year, curiosity got the better of me and I’m so pleased that it did. You cannot fail to warm to the ever optimistic, innocently naive Kimmy Schmidt, as she adjust to life in the real world after 15 years spent in an underground bunker. The scripts are witty and sharp, the characters are fun (who doesn’t love Tituss Burgess’s loveable Titus Andromedon!) and the acting is very good indeed. If you haven’t been tempted yet, give it a go – I guarantee you’ll be humming the theme tune all day.

The Crown (Netflix)

“Two houses, two courts, one Crown.” The first trailer for this upcoming, ambitious new Netflix series has just been released (see above) and it looks very promising. The Crown will chart the two key istitutions of Britain – the monarchy and the government, from the 1950s onwards. Written by Stephen Daldry (writer of the acclaimed play The Audience), with a huge £100 million budget and starring some excellent actors, particularly Claire Foy as the young Elizabeth II (last seen playing Anne Boleyn in Wolf Hall), Matt Smith as Prince Philip, Alex Jennings as Prince Edward, Vanessa Kirby as Princess Margaret and John Lithgow as Churchill, this could be a historical drama to rival the BBC if the quality is there.

Queen Victoria (ITV)

victoria_itvStaying on the historical theme, ITV will later this year be casting a light on the young Queen Victoria in their new eight part drama series. Fresh from her time on Doctor Who, Jenna Coleman is the young Victoria, as the series charts her life from accession at 18, through to her marriage to Prince Albert. It has a fantastic cast including Tom Hughes (as Prince Albert), Rufus Sewell, Peter Firth, Eve Myles and Nigel Lindsay. I still really only know about Queen Victoria’s later life and reign and therefore I’m looking forward to seeing a new aspect of her story.

House of Cards (Netflix, 4th March)

House-Of-Cards-Season-4Everyone loves Frank Underwood right? Or is too scared not to?! In the series which undoubtedly helped Netflix become the success it is now, Kevin Spacey has become so iconic in this role and his partnership with Robyn Wright is always glorious to watch. Now occupying the Oval Office, it will be interesting exactly what lies in store for them in the next series.

Death in Paradise (BBC One –  started Thursday 7th January)

Death_in_Paradise_s_sun_soaked_crime_solving_is_the_perfect_cure_for_a_case_of_the_January_bluesAnother heart-warming and fun series that blows away the winter blues is Death In Paradise, which returned this week. I didn’t see the first two series, but as a fan of the lovely Kris Marshall, I’ve thoroughly enjoyed watching Humphrey settle in to island life. How can anyone not love him?! It’s fun, entertaining and is Sherlock Holmes on a tropical island, as Humphrey seemingly solves murders using clues that no one else can see. Yes, your parents may watch it, but so what? This is a brilliant winter tonic!

The Night Manager (BBC One)

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Coming soon in 2016 is this six-part adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel, in which a former British soldier (Tom Hiddleston) is recruited by intelligence agent Burr (Olivia Colman) to infiltrate the arms trade being run by Richard Onslow Roper (Hugh Laurie).  I haven’t read the book, but I love a good spy thriller and with such a strong British cast I have high hopes for this series.

Undercover (BBC One)

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As a fan of the BBC’s legal drama Silk, it’s wonderful that its creator Peter Moffat has a new series coming this year. Sophie Okenedo leads the show as the first black Director of Public Prosecutions, who discovers her husband (Adrian Lester) has been lying to her for years. I’m intrigued enough to tune in!

In the Pipeline / Awaiting a UK network…..

Prison Break

3d5de4f061d24b32cb8feecb460374a5I always enjoyed Prison Break, although admittedly the first series was certainly the best. News that it is the next show to be revived is a bit of a surprise, but I’ll tune in to see what direction the story takes next. I believe it will be set as though the finale (in which we said farewell to one character for good) didn’t occur. After watching them act together in The Flash it’ll be great to see Wentworth Miller and Dominic Purcell back in the roles they are most famous for.

Of Kings & Prophets (starts in the US on 8th March on ABC)

I imagine the makers of this new biblical series are hoping it’ll attract the same audience as Game of Thrones. Its success will depend on whether it’s decent and can attract an audience fast enough. The pilot has already been partly recast and reshot, but the trailer looks promising. With established actors including Ray Winstone (as Saul, King of Israel) and Nathaniel Parker, hopefully the acting quality will be strong. For me though the biggest attraction is its young, male lead, playing David (as in David vs. Goliath, future King of Israel) Oliver Rix. He was Aumerle to David Tennant’s Richard II in 2013 for the RSC and proved what a fantatstic actor he is. I hope this does well (but doesn’t keep Oli away from the stage for too long)!

Billions 

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Damian Lewis is back on television is this new US series, playing hedge fund king Bobby “Axe” Axelrod, who is trying to be brought down by US Attorney Chuck Rhoades (played by Paul Giamatti). Having just started in the US on Showtime, I’ll be keeping an eye how this series is received. Given the pull of the two stars, if it is successful hopefully it’ll soon appear here in the UK.

His Dark Materials (BBC One)

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I’m quite excited by the prospect of the BBC adapting Philip Pullman’s popular trilogy of books in to a series, especially after the success of last year’s Jonathan Strange & Mr Norrell. Admittedly, this may not make it on to our screens until next year, but just in case, I wanted to include it here, as I’m sure it will prove to be a wonderful series for all the family, whether a fan of the books or not.

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So those are the shows I’m most excited about watching in 2016 from the ones we know about this early on in the year. Who knows what else could be coming to our screens over the next 12 months! Feel free to let me know what you will be watching. I’m always looking for recommendations!

 

The Name’s Bond…..My Top Choices for the next 007

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With the release of Daniel Craig’s fourth Bond film Spectre inching ever nearer, along with the hype and expectation, speculation is also growing as to the future of this very British screen icon. It’s currently not certain whether Daniel Craig will remain with the franchise and reported interviews with him this week suggest that perhaps he’s ready to move on from James Bond.

With that in mind, I’ve been considering who I would most like replace Daniel in the role. It’s certainly not going to be an easy task for whoever it is, with Daniel revamping the world of Bond over the last decade for a new generation, which was certainly needed. As much as I enjoyed the Pierce Brosnan films, they had become rather silly and in a world of Jason Bourne and more serious spy thrillers, Daniel’s rougher, harder, more damaged Bond was very welcome. I’m hoping he’ll stay for one last film, but perhaps, if as successful as Skyfall, he’ll see this as a good time to pass the baton on to someone new.

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Spectre is coming soon, but who will be next?

So, below are the candidates from within which I hope the next man to step in to that dinner jacket comes from. Yes, I did say man. I’ll start by saying, personally, I think James Bond must be two things – Male and British. The character created by Ian Fleming was a man and it’s a very masculine role. I don’t believe I’m doing a disservice to my gender to say I think the character should remain a man. I also firmly believe the role should be played by a British actor. Yes, we Brits are taking more and more American roles in Hollywood, but Bond is very much linked to the culture of the country (he took part in the Olympic opening ceremony alongside the Queen for goodness sake!) and with such a strong pool of homegrown talent available, I’d be frustrated if the role was played by anyone else.

With those disclaimers out of the way, here are my top choices. Time will tell if any of them go on to put on a tux and enjoy their martini, shaken not stirred.

Idris Elba

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Not very original I know, but Idris Elba has been on my list for years. He has all the attributes for Bond. He’s a brilliant actor, who has a big enough profile thanks to The Wire, Luther and his film work (following his role of Mandela, he is receiving strong praise for the forthcoming Netflix feature Beasts of No Nation). He is full of charisma, and has the physicality to convincingly portray the action man side of the character. We’ve also already seen he can play a slightly troubled, tormented soul in Luther and he’d certainly charm the ladies. After all the hoo-ha around him, perhaps this ship has now sailed, but he’s certainly still high up on my list.

Damian Lewis

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The latest rumour mill suggests Damian Lewis is now the frontrunner to take over from Daniel Craig and that wouldn’t be a bad choice at all. He clearly has the British suave looks and he’s proven himself capable of leading a franchise (let’s face it Homeland isn’t the same without him is it?). His recent television roles also highlighted his versatility as an actor, not just capable of British period dramas. Homeland means seeing him with a licence to kill would not seem farfetched and the wonderful series Life (still my favourite of his) demonstrated his ability for humour, which every Bond also needs to have.

Tom Hardy

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A little younger than Damian Lewis and so possibly a stronger contender when considering longevity in the role is Mr Hardy, whose star is certainly well on the rise. After recent successes in the Dark Knight Rises, Mad Max and Legend, he has shown he has the talent needed to inhabit the role of 007 and is quite an exciting choice, which would be a bit less predictable than Damian Lewis.

Tom Hiddleston

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I admit I had been sceptical about the idea of Tom Hiddleston stepping in to 007’s shoes. He’s a great actor, but could I really see him as Bond? While sitting in the UK premiere of High-Rise tonight (review here), I suddenly could – seeing him in a sharp suit, sipping champagne from a martini glass, it was a perfect Bond image! He’d need to work on the physicality of the role, but he’s young (an advantage over Damian Lewis), he’s popular internationally thanks to his role as Loki and he’d bring something different to follow after Daniel Craig. The more I think about it, the more I like the idea!

Rupert Penry-Jones

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I admit this pick may be fuelled a little by the fact Rupert Penry-Jones was my favourite of the Spooks team, but that’s certainly no bad reason. Across four years of the BBC’s spy drama, he displayed all the personality traits for a great Bond – charm, intelligence, vulnerability and a damaged past (and yes he’s rather attractive too). I can however see that he may be getting a bit too old now, especially if Daniel sticks around for a fifth film and looks-wise may be too similar to Daniel Craig to follow in his footsteps, but it would be an interesting choice to consider.

Tom Hughes

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If the producers were willing to look at taking the character of Bond slightly younger, then I’d hope Tom Hughes would be on the list of possibilities. Admittedly still rather unknown, he’d bring a fresh new Bond for a new generation. Plus not everyone (especially those who hadn’t seen films such as Layer Cake) knew Daniel Craig when he took over. Still best known for his roles in the BBC’s Silk and the recent Cold War espionage drama The Game, he would be a refreshing Bond.

Aidan Turner

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From Poldark to Bond? Why not? Aidan Turner is growing in popularity since leaving Being Human. He’s been in The Hobbit and of course is now generating excitement across the country in the BBC’s revival of Poldark (series 2 is currently filming). I have yet to watch Poldark and catch Aidan Turner fever, but I can already imagine him in MI-6. He’s young, charming, would clearly have no problem with the pace and fitness levels needed for the role and would look great in a dinner jacket.

Oliver Rix

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As this is my wish list to choose from I can’t leave off one of my favourite actors at the moment. Oliver Rix is still better known for his theatre work, most notably playing Aumerle alongside David Tennant in the RSC’s Richard II. Currently involved in the new American television series Of Kings and Prophets, perhaps his profile is about to grow if it’s successful. He’s certainly got the looks for Bond as well as the charisma, but as with Tom Hughes, he may be a little too young, but you never know!

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So those are my top choices. If one of these goes on to be the next 007, I’ll be more than happy. Time will tell!

Spectre opens in the UK on 26th October 2015 (6th Novmeber in the USA).

Theatre review – American Buffalo starring Damian Lewis & John Goodman

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I have been very strict with myself this year, capping my ticket prices at a lower limit. However that rule was broken this week in order to see this production at the Wyndam’s Theatre, which currently has some of the highest prices in the West End (£127.50 at the top end). I’m a huge fan of both Damian Lewis (especially the relatively unknown series Life) and John Goodman, making his London theatre debut.

The play, written by David Mamet in 1977 is certainly not an easy one to watch and requires a great deal of concentration from its audience, due to the amount of dialogue pinging between the three characters, a lot of which is pretty strong language too. Set in a Chicago junk shop run by Don (John Goodman), we learn that he is planning a robbery at the flat of a local man, who recently visited his shop and bought an American buffalo coin for $90. Feeling short changed, now believing it must have been worth much more than that, Don now wants it back (together with any other valuables on offer) and has enlisted the young, impressionable, drug addicted Bobby (Tom Sturridge) to help. Bobby clearly sees Don as a father figure and will do anything for his approval. In to this situation, enters Teach (Damian Lewis), who soon wants to be in on the job instead of Bobby. Over the course of two hours, we see their relationships shift as the day goes on and the time of the job draws nearer and the play takes on a more dark, disturbing tone.

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John Goodman, Damian Lewis & Tom Sturridge

Although quite a tough play to sit through due to the density of the dialogue (how Goodman and Lewis remember it all I do not know!), you can’t fail to be impressed by the acting of all three actors. Teach is a manic character, whose temper seems constantly on a knife edge. You get the feeling he could erupt over the slightest matter and Damian Lewis is wonderful in the role, talking at a million miles an hour, with anger, sarcasm, humour and frustration all coming to the fore at some point during the play.

In contrast John Goodman’s Don is a calmer man, who seems to grow more and more weary by the events unfolding around him. He also has a strange, paternal bond with Bobby, which tends to put him at odds with Teach, who has absolutely no time for the strange boy. Tom Sturridge is very impressive as the damaged and impressionable young Bobby. He is capable of bouts of aggression, but is also at times quite childlike in his behaviour and you sense that he is taken advantage of by a lot of people due to his personality. I’ll certainly look out for Sturridge on stage in future (he’ll be seen on television next year as Henry VI in the new Hollow Crown series).

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Paul Wills’s set is a work of art

Daniel Evans (current Artistic Director of the incredibly successful Sheffield Theatres) directs all three actors very well indeed, ensuring that each of them gives a nuanced and multi-layered performance. The choice of set is also wonderful, with so much effort having gone in to the props used to dress Don’s shop by Paul Wills and his team, so that you genuinely feel that it is brimming with items that have been building up for decades.

Overall, I enjoyed the production, but I can’t say that I think the inflated ticket prices are justified and I would strongly recommend trying for day seats if you are prepared to get up early. Day seats are £20 and I understand from the box office that they are the front row and some boxes. As the stage didn’t appear too high, this seems to be a pretty good deal for atnyone keen to see it for a more reasonable price. I would say though, don’t choose the central front row seats, as a piece of prop may possibly impede your view, so choose the seats slightly off centre.

American Buffalo continues its run at the Wyndams Theatre until 27th June 2015. For more information and ticket availability, visit its website.

Television Preview – Wolf Hall (BBC) with Q&A including Hilary Mantel

2550588734 Last week saw my first trip out of the house on my own since August. Freedom at last! What better way to get back in to the London culture scene than with a preview of the upcoming BBC adaptation of Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies at the BFI (thanks to @Ruther2 for my ticket). The BBC’s six-part drama begins later this month and after watching the first two episodes, I was certainly impressed. The cast is first-class, led by the truly brilliant Mark Rylance as Thomas Cromwell, the blacksmith’s son who rises to become one of the most powerful men in the country. Rylance never fails to impress, most recently through his stage work (Jerusalem, La Bete, Richard III and Twelfth Night were all superb) and that he is so able to play such an eclectic range of characters is a testament to how great an actor he is. His Cromwell may not have come across as as witty as Ben Miles’ performance on stage at the RSC, but he has an intensity about him that is bound to grow through the episodes – Cromwell is always observing, thinking, planning and this is always clear from Rylance’s portrayal. He also has a touching relationship with Jonathan Pryce’s Cardinal Wolsey, the master he stands by until his fall in 1529.

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Jonathan Pryce as Cardinal Wolsey

Other notable performances from the first two episodes were Claire Foy’s Anne Boleyn, Mark Gatiss as Stephen Gardiner, Charity Wakefield as a playful and strong Mary Boleyn and Thomas Brodie Sangster as Rafe, Cromwell’s loyal ward. We didn’t get to see too much of Damian Lewis’s interpretation of King Henry VIII in these early episodes, but he seemed very promising, not only a younger, more athletic figure, but also one who still carries a gravitas and power that makes you know he should not be crossed. I have owned the novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies for years and always intended to read them, especially so after seeing the stage productions last year in Stratford-Upon-Avon, which I thoroughly enjoyed. However it was only after going to this preview that I finally picked up Wolf Hall, which I have just finished. The BBC drama is very faithful to the novel, with lines of dialogue and scenes instantly recognisable to me as being identical. It’s impressive to see how such a detailed novel has been adapted so perfectly for the screen by Peter Straughan. They are books that contain so much detail and description that as a reader you need to commit to them in order to be swept up in the sumptuous, yet murky world of Henry’s court and it’s fantastic that Straughan’s scripts have not strayed from the example set by Mantel in her work. There are some scenes and moments that are moved around slightly, so that they occur earlier or later than in the book, but you can understand why each of these choices was made, in order to keep the pace of the screen version and I don’t think any such choices are at the detriment of the original books.

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Claire Foy as Anne Boleyn

I also thoroughly enjoyed Mike Poulton’s stage adaptations for the RSC (soon to transfer to Broadway), which I found to be fast paced, modern and funnier than I’d expected. Comparing this to the television version, I’d say that the stage one seems to be faster paced, which makes sense when you have create the world for a live performance in three hours, through which Cromwell can speak directly to the audience. This direct rapport also opened the door more for humour to come across, particularly from Cromwell. As with the novels, the series cannot do this directly and so more is dependent of Rylance’s skill at conveying his thoughts through a look and his eyes, something he is more than capable of achieving. As for the production itself, it is of a level of quality we expect from a BBC period drama – beautiful locations and costumes, wonderful music by Debbie Wiseman, which feels authentic, yet contemporary and superbly shot – the scenes you think seem to be lit just by candlelight really are exactly that, which lends the production an added layer of realism. There is one scene in which Cromwell talks with his sister-in-law as she puts out the candles around the room – as each is distinguished the room grows darker until only one remains. Touches like this truly impressed me and you can understand that a great deal of preparation and skill has been invested by the crew and director Peter Kosminsky in order to film the series this way. I also loved the hand held camera style for certain scenes, which allows the audience to be always seeing the events from Cromwell’s perspective. This again makes the characters feel very much alive.

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Damian Lewis as King Henry VIII

I am incredibly excited to see the remaining four episodes of this wonderful series and cannot recommend it highly enough. The opening episode may feel a little slow to some people, but I would urge you to stick with it, as you are soon drawn in to the drama and intrigue of a world that really did exist 500 years ago and in to events that had a lasting impact on our country. This is due to a superb combination of top quality acting performances from some of the country’s best talents, a faithful and perfectly paced screenplay, sumptuous costumes, locations and music and the brilliant choice of filming style so that, as an audience you really are following in Cromwell’s footsteps as he navigates this dangerous world of Tudor England. Panel and Q&A following the screening After the screening we were treated to a Q&A with director Peter Kosminsky, composer Debbie Wiseman, actress Claire Foy (Anne Bolyen) and Hilary Mantel herself.

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Waiting for the screening at the BFI to begin

What did Hilary Mantel think of the adaptation? Mantel was full of praise for the series, calling it sumptuous and saying that she had fallen into her own story while watching it. She does not refer to it as an adaptation however, as she feels such a word sounds like a compromise. This is not an adaptation, but the material in a different medium and she was very proud. What was the director’s approach to the series? Peter Kosminsky talked about how the characters think they are us. They don’t know that they are in fact in history, so it was important to create a world that felt real and contemporary, so that the characters are living in the moment. He also spoke of how closely Peter Straughan worked with Mantel on the screenplay and how important it was to cast the right people in order make the production feel real. The importance of the director of photography’s role and that of the camera operator was also mentioned, in order to give the series its documentary style, which makes the audience experience the events with Cromwell as they happen. What was it like playing Anne Boleyn? Claire Foy spoke of how much she’d enjoyed the books when she’d read them, but that she’d felt dread when it was suggested she should audition, as she was sure she was nothing like the Anne she had read about in the books. She was amazed that Peter wanted her to play the role and also agreed that there is more of a responsibility playing someone who lived. Peter Kosminsky explained that he’d thought Claire would be perfect for Anne, as he knew from working with her before that she could portray the nastier side of Anne, but still break your heart at the end. He knew she wouldn’t need to “soft sell” Anne.

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Claire Foy, Hilary Mantel, Debbie Wiseman and Peter Kosminsky during the Q&A

Music process and cliches and music? This is Debbie Wiseman’s sixth collaboration with Peter Kosminsky and she talked about how early she was involved in the process. The music in fact had a life before the filming began, with themes such as Cromwell’s theme and Anne’s them existing in an initial form from the beginning, which meant that demos could be taken on set and used, which does not normally happen. Later in the evening she was also asked about whether there were any period cliches that had arisen when creating the score. Debbie talked about the influence of Tudor instruments, some of which were used, including the lute and viol, but also that there had been a desire for the music to have a contemporary feel, so the music aims to look forwards as well as backwards. Did Mark Rylance’s performance provide new insight in to the world for Mantel? Through working on this drama series and the stage production, Hilary Mantel said there are themes that linger and that each process feeds in to the other and also in to the third and final book, which is still a live process for her. To be called “The Mirror and the Light” Mantel explained that the final novel will cast light on what has gone before and see events from a different angle, while also filling in some of the gaps. She was incredibly enthusiastic about how wonderful it is to have people to co-imagine with you and that through the stage and screen processes she has had more such co-imaginers to help her create the world. Filming process? The director referred to the use of filming by candlelight and Claire Foy stressed how dark it was when filming certain scenes, during which they were amazed the cameras were actually able to see more than the cast and crew could due to the darkness! They were also terrified of someone catching fire (a risk that Mantel said was a very real one for those living at that time). Five cameras and five lenses in different configurations were tested before filming began in order to ensure the very best equipment was chosen. The candlelight was an important element for the production, especially as they were filming in real period locations, which were built and designed to be lit that way. Mantel also agreed with its importance, saying that it does something to your imagination when just in candlelight. Claire and Peter also reminisced about the comedic scene of having to film at Penshurst Place in Kent, due to the requirement on the crew to pause filming every 20 minutes in order for tourists to walk through on tours! Wolf-Hall-Bring-Up-The-Bodies2 The language of Wolf Hall? On being asked about writing the novels and the language used, Mantel referred to George Cavendish’s biography of Cardinal Wolsey, as it was from this source material that she found the idiom for her novels. At the time, when the people communicated it would have been clear to them and so it was important for her to have a living, speakable idiom. Therefore the novels are written in modern English, but slightly sideways, for example, with syntax different from everyday English used today. She also agreed that Peter Straughan’s adaptation is very faithful to the novels. The third book and the challenging nature of the material for its audience? On being asked if they would film the third book, both Peter and Hilary said that would be wonderful but Mantel needs to finish writing it first! Mantel was also asked how much of a hit she thought the series would be on television, due to the fact that, like the novels, the audience has to work for it. Mantel agreed that the dialogue takes no prisoners and that there would have been no point dumbing it down for the series as you could never pitch it right for everyone. She felt it was important to do it with honesty and integrity and then hope to carry the audience with you, as she wants them to be co-imaginers too, as writing is not a two dimensional process. Is this the golden age of television? On being asked by the audience whether this was a new era of a higher art for television, Peter Kosminsky said that there are new challenges and opportunities now, for example a greater number of channels, but less viewers watching a programme than when there were only four channels. He also spoke of how big development budgets were no longer there, so he didn’t see it as a golden age, as you have to fight for budget and to keep something relevant and real. Wolf Hall begins on Wednesday 21st January on BBC Two at 9 p.m. and you can watch the trailer here. Hilary Mantel’s novels Wolf Hall and Bring Up The Bodies can be purchased at all the usual book stockists.

Looking Ahead to Theatre in 2015

With a new year almost here, it’s that time of year for theatregoers to start looking forward to all the exciting and intriguing prospects announced, as well as planning strategies to nab tickets for those sold out or hot tickets! After four months out of the theatre loop, I’ve needed to do my research this year more than ever to make sure I know what’s coming in 2015. This year has been very strong and it looks like 2015 is shaping up to be just as thrilling, in London and the regions.

So, here are the productions I’m most looking forward to in 2015.

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1. Hamlet (Barbican, 5th August – 31st October)

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There couldn’t really be anything else at number one for me than the upcoming Hamlet at the Barbican starring Benedict Cumberbatch. As one of my favourite stage actors, ever since I saw After The Dance in 2010, it seemed only a matter of time before such a brilliant actor would want to take on Shakespeare’s most challenging role and I admit my expectations are already rather high! He’s now had a good amount of time to contemplate his Hamlet and I’m intrigued to see the choices he and Lyndsey Turner make as to setting and staging. With the run of 89 performances selling out as soon as public booking opened, this is certain to be the theatre event of the summer. I just hope that, as David Tennnat did with me in 2008, Benedict brings a whole new audience to Shakesepeare, who then become addicted to it! If you didn’t succeed in acquiring tickets earlier this year, then 100 £10 seats will be released for each performance nearer the time. Now to find out who else will be in this production. I’ve chosen my fantasy cast here and I really hope at least one of them could happen. Time will tell.

2. Oppenheimer (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 15th January – 7th March)

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Another actor who I would watch in absolutely anything and who I also first saw on stage in After The Dance is the brilliant John Heffernan, whose stage work just seems to get more and more exciting (with recent success in The Hot House and Edward II to name just two). This play centres around the development of atomic fission in 1939, as J Robert Oppenheimer (Heffernan) races to win the battle to create the first nuclear bomb as World War II continues across Europe. It may sound a bit heavy for some people, but with such a talented lead actor, I’m certain this will be a highlight of 2015.

3. Closer (Donmar Warehouse, 12th February – 4th April)

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Although I’ve still never watched the 2004 film version of Patrick Marber’s play Closer, whose star-studded cast of Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Julia Roberts and Jude Law had lots of people talking before its release, it was still the film I was aware of raher than the 1997 play and so I’m thrilled it is being revived by the Donmar. For theatre fans the cast for the upcoming production is even more thrilling: Nancy Carroll (yet another After The Dance cast member!), Oliver Chris (fresh from his success in King Charles III) and Rufus Sewell (most recently seen in Old Times) are joined by recent RADA graduate Rachel Redford. Due to the Donmar’s size, the only ticket availability is now through the Barclays Front Row Scheme or returns, but this is certainly promising enough to make it worth the effort if you have yet to nab a ticket.

4. Bull (Young Vic, 8th January – 7th February)

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This year has been a great one for Mike Bartlett and 2015 could be just as successful, with two productions included in this list. I first saw Bull during its premiere run in Sheffield in 2013 and I’m thrilled it’s finally getting a London run at the Young Vic, with three of the four original cast (Neil Stuke replaced Adrian Lukis for the Broadway run and continues in the role in London). It’s short and sharp at only 50 minutes long, but its powerful office dynamics certainly pack a punch and Adam James, Sam Troughton and Eleanor Matsuura are bound to bring the same quality as I saw at the Crucible. One not to miss.

5. Tree (Old Vic, 5th – 31st January)

2850My first experience of a Kitson production was this year’s unique and moving Analog.ue, which has left me very excited to see his next idea brought to life at the Old Vic for its London premiere (following a staging at the Manchester Royal Exchange). The overview simply says this is about dissent, commitment, two people and a tree. I’m sufficiently intrigued and after finding the simple beauty of Analog.ue, both in terms of story and how it was told, incredibly moving, there is no way I can miss this.

6. Game (Almeida, 23rd February – 4th April)

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It’s another entry for Mike Bartlett, as he brings his latest play to the Almeida. The simple summary on the Almeida’s website gives very little away. We know this is a play about the current housing crisis and what price people are willing to pay to have a home of their own. Even more intriguing is the staging, with four different zones offering “equal, yet subtly different” perspectives on the action. The Almeida is certainly incredibly versatile for such a small theatre and this is shaping up to be yet another exciting viewing experience. Now to wait and see who will be in it – yes I admit I’m hoping for Adam James (who seems to be a staple part of Bartlett’s shows)!

7. The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios, 16th January – 11th April)

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Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Transformed season at the Trafalgar Studios has, in such a short time, established itself as must-see theatre after so many brilliant productions since it began with McAvoy’s Macbeth last year. Coming next is a play I’m not very familiar with – The Ruling Class, a satire which looks at the foibles of English nobility after a possible paranoid schizophrenic with a Messiah complex, inherits the title of the 14th Earl of Gurney when his father passes away in a bizarre accident. Directed by Lloyd and starring James McAvoy, tickets are selling fast for this production, which sounds perfect for such a skilled actor. If you want a bargain, hold off for the £15 Mondays (the tickets for the Mondays of each month are released on the second day of each month at just £15 each).

8. The Hard Problem (Dorfman, National Theatre, 21st January – 16th April)

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Its been nine years since Tom Stoppard wrote a new play and this one arrives at the National Theatre’s newly refurbished Dorfman (it’ll still be the Cottesloe to me) in time to be the last production to be directed by Nicholas Hytner before he steps down as Artistic Director. All we know is that it centres on Hilary, a young psychology researcher at a brain-science institute, who is asking herself the “hard problem” – if there is nothing but matter, what is consciousness? With a cast that includes Olivia Vinnell (whose work in the NT’s Othello and King Lear have proven she is someone to watch) and Anthony Calf, I’m very much looking forward to this one.

9. The Vote (Donmar Warehouse, 24th April – 7th May and live on More 4 on 7th May)

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I’ve included this production here despite the fact I hold out little hope of seeing it in the theatre itself! James Graham has earned a great deal of praise with the political drama This House and this year’s Privacy, which shone a spotlight on technology and online security. The Vote could possibly combine the two, set in a fictional polling station during the last 90 minutes of polling day for 2015’s General Election. Will it be the same each show? Who knows, but what makes this even more thrilling and unique is that it will also be shown live on television (on More 4) on election night, so we can see it play out in real time on 7th May! You can’t get much more current than that! Tickets for the rest of the run will be available via a ballot, but at least we’ll all get to see it from the comfort of our sofas on 7th May!

10. Carmen Disruption (Almeida, 10th April – 23rd May)

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Another playwright whose work always impresses and excites me is Simon Stephens (whose Birdland made this year’s top ten for me and whose other recent work includes Seawall and the adaptation of The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night Time). This could be a thrilling run for the Almeida, as this UK premiere follows Mike Bartlett’s latest offering and is said to be a reimagining of Bizet’s opera Carmen. From rock and roll in Birdland to opera? If anyone can do it, Simon Stephens can – I don’t suppose Andrew Scott can be in it can he?!

11. American Buffalo (Wyndam’s, 16th April – 27th June)

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I first heard that this production would be arriving in the spring of 2015 from the lead actor himself, when Damian Lewis excitedly announced it at the Times Talks interview earlier this year. Now more famous for his television success in Homeland (and soon to be seen in the BBC’s Wolf Hall as King Henry VIII), Lewis has not been on stage since 2009 and as I was unable to get to The Misanthrope, I won’t want to miss American Buffalo, a play about a pair of junk-shop workers plotting to steal a valuable coin collection. Directed by Daniel Evans, who has done such wonderful work in recent years as Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, I’m very excited to see this production.

12. Bugsy Malone (Lyric Hammersmith, 11th April – 1st August)

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Just when I thought a musical wouldn’t make the list, I hear about the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Bugsy Malone! What a fantastic way to reopen the theatre after its redevelopment! The Jodie Foster film from 1976 is certainly very well known and it will be thrilling to see this gangster musical set in the Prohibition era of the 1920s brought to life with, as the theatre says, “a cast of exciting young talent.” 2014 has been a tough year for musicals, so I hope this one proves to be a success.

13. Death of a Salesman (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 26th March – 2nd May)

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2014 has seen me tick off two more Arthur Miller classics from my list of plays to see and thanks to the RSC next year, I’ll also be able to add Death of a Salesman to that list. To be directed by the brilliant Greg Doran (whose plays seem to be brought to life in such an accessible and clear way) and with a cast that includes well established stars Antony Sher and Harriet Walter alongside younger RSC talent such as Alex Hassell (currently Prince Hal in Henry IV) and Sam Marks, I’m looking forward to planning a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon for this.

14. A View From A Bridge (Wyndam’s transfer, 10th February – 11th April)

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It would have been criminal not to include the transfer of the Young Vic’s utterly incredible production of another Arthur Miller classic. Mark Strong was one of the best performances of 2014 as Eddie, whose complex relationship with his family, particularly his niece drives the play. You cannot take your eyes off him and I have no doubt it will be the same when this production begins at the Wyndam’s in February. The main cast are all back for its West End transfer, including Nicola Walker and Phoebe Fox as his wife and niece. Get your tickets fast!

15. My Night With Reg (Apollo transfer, 17th January – 11th April)

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Another West End transfer coming soon is the transfer of the recent Donmar production of Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg. Set in a flat in 1985, everyone I know who saw this funny, yet bittersweet play loved it and so I’m so pleased I have another chance to catch it.

Sold out shows to keep an eye on

There are also a couple of exciting prospects which are already sold out, but I’ll be trying to get a return or day seat for if I can (the things you miss booking when in hospital!). So if you’re willing to not let the words “sold out” get in your way, keep these productions on your radar!

Man and Superman (Lyttelton, National Theatre, 17th February – 17th May)

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I’m not familiar with this Bernard Shaw play, but the description sounds very unusual and interesting and it marks the return to the stage of Ralph Fiennes as Jack Tanner, together with Faye Castelow (yet another After The Dance alumni!) and Nick Hendrix (last at the NT in The Light Princess).

Farinelli & the King (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 11th February – 8th March)

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Another production I’m wishing I’d booked, especially due to its short run, is Farinelli and the King at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. A true story about the world’s most famous castrato Farinelli, who is sent for to sing to the King of Spain to help his insomnia and depression, this production sees the return to the stage of Mark Rylance. I’m really going to need a strategy to get to see this now. Wish me luck!

Catch them before they close!

Of course there are also some productions that are already running and continue in to next year and which deserve a mention here too.

King Charles III (Wyndam’s, until 31st January) – My top production of 2014 by Mike Bartlett is worth catching if you can.

The Scottsboro Boys (Garrick, until 21st February) – I saw this at the Young Vic before its transfer and loved it. It is full of wonderful songs and dancing, while managing to movingly convey this true story of injustice in 1930s America.

Cats (until 28th February) – I still need to grab a ticket to this revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline musical. I saw it years ago and loved it and it’s certainly getting praise this time too. Former Pussy Cat Doll, Nicole Scherzinger, appears until 7th February.

Once (Phoenix, until 21st March) – Another one of this year’s top ten for me. If you have yet to see this utterly beautiful musical, you have until 21st March before it leaves London. I’m no Boyzone fan, but even I plan on going while Ronan Keating is in it in order to see it once again while I can.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Gielgud) – As long as this play runs in London, it will always make my theatre recommendations list. It’s just that good. I’ve seen it in every theatre so far in London, so I’ll have to add the Gielgud to my list in 2015.

So, hopefully this list will include something for everyone, whether Shakespeare, or a short 50 minute show. There is already so much to look forward to and who knows what other productions will be announced as we start the year. Happy theatre-filled New Year everyone!!!

Television You Should Have Seen – Life starring Damian Lewis

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Last month I attended the Times Talks interview with one of my favourite British actors Damian Lewis at The Royal Institution of Great Britain (see highlights of this talk through the link at the end of this post), in which the hour included his thoughts on his first US television series. For those thinking that’s Homeland you’d be wrong – it’s Life. Quite a few of my friends aren’t even aware of the show and it therefore seemed to be a great opportunity to highlight another television gem that you should have seen.

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Damian Lewis at the Times Talks event in London, May 2014

Before Homeland made him an international, award-winning star, Damian Lewis was the lead in another US drama series, this one on NBC. Created by Rand Ravich in 2007, Life centres around Detective Charlie Crews, a former LAPD cop who was wrongly jailed for the murder of his friend and his friend’s wife and son. After serving 12 years in prison he is exonerated and on release from Pelican Bay State Prison, successfully sues the city of Los Angeles and the LAPD, receiving a huge settlement (rumoured to be $50 million). Now minted, Charlie could do anything he wanted. Instead he chooses to wrap in to his compensation package a promotion to Detective in the homicide division and go back to work! Through the series we follow Charlie as he returns to work and is partnered with Detective Dani Reese, who is not very happy about this arrangement, but cannot deny his uncanny ability to see clues that others miss and the two develop a great partnership and bond.

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The main cast of Life

I thought Life was a fantastic show – it’s sharply written, with scripts that are witty, clever and that blend drama and comedy brilliantly. Charlie Crews is also an incredibly interesting character and for me, one I enjoy seeing Damian play more than the now well known Brody. Crews is complex – he has been through a terrible ordeal, which has cost him his job, wife and friends, but Crews has chosen to follow the philosophy of Zen in terms of keeping calm about Life now that he has his back. He also has a great sense of humour and some wonderful quirks – I loved his obsession with fresh fruit of any kind and eating it at any time or place (apparently when in prison he didn’t eat any fresh fruit, so takes every opportunity to indulge now). There is also the determination he has to uncover who really killed his friend and framed him, which is the key reason for wanting to keep a job in the police department and it’s a great subplot in the background of the series as we watch him piece the puzzle together at his conspiracy wall in a concealed room of his home.

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An unlikely partnership – Charlie Crews (Damian Lewis) and Dani Reese (Sarah Shahi)

The supporting cast are great too, in particular Sarah Shahi as his partner Detective Dani Reese. She too has her problems (as a former narcotics undercover cop she is now a recovering drug addict and alcoholic) and although she hates being partnered with Crews initially, you see very quickly what a great team they are. Adam Arkin is also wonderful as Crews’ friend from prison Ted Earley, who on release Charlie employs as his financial adviser (despite Ted’s prison sentence being due to insider trading). This friendship is quite comical but a lovely aspect of the series. Donal Logue is also very good when he joins the show as their boss at the LAPD.

Sadly despite recognition at the AFI Awards in 2008 where it won best TV series, the writers strike did not prove helpful to Life and it only lasted two seasons. However it was at least able to wrap the overarching plot lines up before it ended. For me, it’s certainly a series that has been sadly overlooked, but hopefully due to its lead actor’s growing fame more people are discovering the charm of Life. If you haven’t yet seen it, I’d recommend you give Life a try. A spoiler-free video, giving you a flavour of this quirky series can be found here: http://youtu.be/rFeW8u3FYbQ

Life seasons 1 and 2 are available to buy on DVD from all the usual stockists and via Amazon Instant Video.

Here’s a link to highlights of the Times Talks conversation with Damian Lewis (warning: contains spoilers if you have not seen season three of Homeland!): http://timestalks.com/detail-event.php?event=damianlewis