As London's Summer (and its bipolar weather conditions) sadly comes to a close, I thought it might be a good time to look ahead to the shows I'm most looking forward to this Autumn, as the leaves fall in London's glitzy West End. That should put a smile back on our faces!
In terms of plays, one of the most hotly anticipated shows marks the return of the Michael Grandage Company and with it, the stage return of Oscar and BAFTA Award-winning actress Nicole Kidman in 'Photograph 51.' The Australian megastar will tread the London boards for the first time since her Donmar Warehouse stint in 'The Blue Room' in 1998... and the first preview is next Saturday, 5th September. Tickets are still available for this rare opportunity to see one of Hollywood's icons up close and personal at the Noel Coward Theatre, so don't delay! Playwright Anna Ziegler's new drama, directed by Michael Grandage himself, revolves around scientist Rosalind Franklin (Kidman) - "the woman who cracked DNA" - and asks the question: "What is sacrificed in the pursuit of science, love and a place in history?"
It's also your last chance to catch some top class outdoor theatre action - Regent's Park's Open Air Theatre closes its magnificent 2015 season with a return engagement of William Golding's 'The Lord of the Flies,' adapted for the stage by Nigel Williams. I attended this production in 2011 and am thrilled it is getting the chance to be brought back to life for a short engagement from 3rd to 12th September. Some plays lend themselves perfectly to the green, wild, outdoor setting of the Open Air Theatre and 'The Lord of the Flies,' based around the struggle for survival of a group of school boys marooned on an island, is certainly an exquisite fit.
The National Theatre offers a plethora of intriguing productions during Artistic Director Rufus Norris' debut season. The play I am perhaps most looking forward to is 'Jane Eyre.' The National's co-production with the Bristol Old Vic, directed by Sally Cookson, begins performances in the Lyttelton Theatre on 8th September and continues through to 10th January 2016. It will be interesting to see how the two theatrical power houses adapt Charlotte Bronte's classic novel for this eagerly anticipated stage revival.
Finally, this should come as no surprise, but yes, I can't write an Autumn preview piece without getting terribly excited about the debut season of the Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company in the West End. The Garrack Theatre will host several productions over the next year, directed by and/or starring Branagh himself, and it all begins on 17th October with a revival of Shakespeare's 'The Winter's Tale.' Stage legend Dame Judi Dench will grace the boards as Paulina beside Branagh as Leontes. This will surely bring Shakespeare newcomers and aficionados alike flocking to the Garick Theatre, so make sure you book your tickets well in advance to avoid disappointment! 'The Winter's Tale' plays in repertory with a double bill of 'Harlequinade' and 'All On Her Own', as stage and TV favourite Zoe Wanamaker joins Branagh's season.
Looking ahead to the new musical openings in Autumn 2015, the Tony Award-winning musical 'Kinky Boots' is already into previews, but will officially open at the Adelphi Theatre on 15th September. This heart-warming story, starring West End star Killian Donnelly alongside The Voice's Matt Henry, will surely bring back a healthy dose of camp razzle dazzle to London. Set in a failing shoe factory in Northampton, and based on a true story, we find out what happens when factory owner Charlie Price meets fabulous Drag Queen Lola and decides to try and save his factory by creating a special kind of Kinky Boot for a special kind of lady. With music and lyrics by Grammy and Tony Award-winning artist Cyndi Lauper, the tunes are sure to get your toes tapping, whether you're in high heels or not!
'The Rocky Horror Show' is also making a short, but very welcome return to the West End at the Playhouse Theatre from 11th to 26th September ahead of a UK tour. This time around tickets are likely to be snapped up quickly as the show's creator and original Riff Raff Richard O'Brien returns to the stage (and to his beloved baby) as The Narrator. Olivier Award winner David Bedella also struts his stuff again as the iconicly outrageous Frank N Furter. Get out your fishnet suspenders, feather bowers and red lipstick and get ready to put your hands on your hips, that's what I say!
The Queen of British Soul Beverley Knight, who is fast-becoming a musical theatre tour de force, is like a duracell bunny that just keeps going. Her final performance in 'Memphis' at the Shaftesbury Theatre is scheduled for 17th October and only six days later, she will be donning that infamous Grizabella costume and belting out the anthem "Memory" into the rafters of the London Palladium, as Andrew Lloyd Webber brings back his feline friends for a limited engagement. 'CATS' plays through to 2 January 2016.
Not to be outdone, the National Theatre also has a musical offering in its programme. After its world premiere at the Manchester International Festival this Summer, Moira Buffini and Blur's Damon Albarn's new musical 'wonder.land' begins performances at the Olivier Theatre on 23rd November and is booking through to 28 February 2015. Lewis Carroll's timeless classic 'Alice in Wonderland' gets a cyberspace makeover as the musical follows Aly, a 12 year old who is a victim of bullying at school and an unhappy home. She finds solice in the virtual world where she is known as Alice. But is the online 'wonder.land' just as dangerous as life in the real world?
Finally, Christmas will be here before we know it, and before we all start complaining about how early the shops start selling those sparkling decorations, let's just embrace a festive spirit and get ourselves down to the Dominion Theatre for the West End premiere of 'Elf the Musical.' Starring ITV 'Superstar' winner Ben Forster as Buddy and former Girls Aloud member Kimberley Walsh as Jovie, the musical adaptation of the 2003 movie is sure to enchant the young (and the young at heart) with some Christmas cheer that will warm the cockles of your icy heart! 'Elf the Musical' will delight us all until 2nd January 2016.
So, there's just a taster of some of the shows that have me eager to see in the Autumn, despite the inevitable gloomy and grey weather this often brings with it! What a fantastic variety of top class shows on offer - something for everyone. Let those leaves start falling, I say!