London theatre steals the show

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Old stories and new plays make this spring’s West End worth shouting about

It’s often easy to forget, among the pizzazz and jazz hands of musicals, that London regularly hosts incredible theatre without, pardon the pun, making a song and dance about it. Taking inspiration from weather, men’s walking groups, love, hate, and revenge, this season’s productions show London’s theatreland at its finest.

Pressure, London theatre

Pressure at Park Theatre

Rarely are weather forecasts as important as the one recounted in Pressure, which tells the remarkable true story of the forecast made before the D-Day Landings in June 1944. The Allied Forces are poised to launch and 350,000 lives are at risk. Group Captain James Stagg, a Scottish meteorologist, must predict the weather forecast that decides it all. Written by and starring Olivier-winner David Haig, and directed by John Dove, this edge-of-your-seat drama is already a critical smash hit from its run at the Chichester Festival Theatre and Royal Lyceum Theatre, Edinburgh.

From 28 March

The Globe, interior

Hamlet at The Globe

The Globe’s summer season kicks off this year with Shakespeare’s most riveting of revenge plays. You know the one: after his father’s death, Prince Hamlet returns home to find his uncle married to his mother and installed on the Danish throne. At night, the ghost of the old king demands that Hamlet avenge his ‘foul and most unnatural murder’. Written around 1599, the year the original Globe Theatre was built, this is a chance to see the play performed in surroundings as close as possible to the original.

From 25 April

Absolute Hell, London theatre

Absolute Hell at the National Theatre

Plunge into dingy, dark and decadent post-war Soho in this play at the National. Set in a bomb-blasted London still hungover from the Second World War, Absolute Hell introduces a sleazy world of drinking, lying, fighting and seduction. When it was first performed in 1952, Rodney Ackland’s play was condemned as ‘a libel on the British people’, due to its blatant political swipes, open homosexuality and gleeful inhibition. Today, we’re a bit more ready for it.

From 18 April

The Country Wife, London theatre

The Country Wife at Southwark Playhouse

William Wycherley’s original 1675 Restoration comedy, The Country Wife, was considered too outrageous to be performed at all between 1753 and 1924. This year, it’s been thrust back into the spotlight by award-winning theatre company Morphic Graffiti. Founders Luke Fredericks and Stewart Charlesworth have uprooted the play and dropped it into the glamour and excesses of 1920s London. Funny, scandalous and with just the right amount of debauchery, it should make for a raucous evening.

From 28 March

Brief Encounter, London theatre

Brief Encounter at Empire Cinema

Emma Rice’s adaptation of Noel Coward’s Brief Encounter revisits this most haunting of love stories. Rice’s lighting and expert use of special effects (which caused her rift with the Globe) give the production a half-staged, half-cinematic feel, but it remains the classic tale of thwarted love between two strangers in a railway station. The widely acclaimed play is back after a 10-year hiatus, and, to quote Rice, combines ‘the romance of cinema with all that live theatre can offer.’

Until 2 September