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Blue Monday: London theatre to beat the blues

Blue Monday: London theatre to beat the blues

Blue Monday: London theatre to beat the blues cover photo on Stagedoor
Lyn Gardner looks forward to some plays and musicals sure to brighten London stages and lift the spirits in these dark winter months.

It’s Blue Monday, unofficially the most depressing day of the year. Why? Because the credit card bills are rolling in and it is a very long wait until payday. Oh, and then there is the on-going cost of living crisis with rising energy and mortgage costs which makes everyone (except perhaps Rishi Sunak, Jacob Rees-Mogg, King Charles III and hedge fund managers) feel as if a boa constrictor is coiled around their wallets. What we all need is a little cheering up and theatre is stepping up to the plate over the next few weeks and months with a slew of welcome openings offering some joy in the bleak period before spring.

There will be plenty of offers and discounts available on Stagedoor over the coming weeks, and a great night out can give you the lift we all need. There’s plenty to choose from with old favourites such as Six (Vaudeville), Mamma Mia (Novello) and & Juliet (Shaftesbury) all lifting the spirits. Did you know that when audiences come together in the theatre, their hearts begin to beat in unison. I’m not making it up, it’s scientifically proven.

If you want something newer, then the great news is that after many try-outs in different venues the insanely smart and glorious Operation Mincemeat deservedly hits the West End at the Fortune Theatre from March 29. It’s got a genuine cult following, so do get booking early. For another British musical, look to Chris Bush and Richard Hawley’s Standing at the Sky’s Edge which arrives at the NT in early February trailing lots of love and superb reviews from its original run in Sheffield.

From Standing at the Sky’s Edge, a National Theatre and Sheffield Theatres production.

Guys and Dolls at the Bridge (from February 27th) should rock the boat for anyone looking for a boost because it is one of the most glorious musicals ever written. Or check out Sylvia (from February 3) at the Old Vic which stars Beverley Knight and cleverly combines hip-hop and feminism to tell the story of suffragette Sylvia Pankhurst.

Can’t afford to go away at Half Term in February? It will cost far less to treat the family to two irresistible family shows: Frozen at the Theatre Royal Drury Lane or Matilda at the Cambridge. In the case of the latter, compare and contrast with the recently released movie version. Want a completely free show suitable for three to seven-year-olds? Then check out Battersea Arts Centre with its pay what you can policy for all shows where the glorious Little Bulb are transporting audiences to a magical forest full of marvellous creates with Hibernation. Little Bulb is a company which is the equivalent of theatrical sunshine. Also take a look at the Vault Festival programme which has lots for family audiences in the 2023 edition which runs from the end of January for eight weeks. Tickets are very keenly priced for both adult and family shows.

Sheridan Smith never fails to spread a little happiness and she should do just that in the revival of Shirley Valentine which opens at the Duke of York’s in mid-February. Matthew Dunster, who in contrast also helms Martin McDonagh’s grimmest of fairy tales, The Pillowman, at the same venue in June, directs and should make Willy Russell’s confection float.

Felicity Kendal,Tracy-Ann Oberman & Matthew Kelly in Noises Off. Photo by Nobby Clark.

If you really want a laugh then Michael Frayn’s ingenious, intelligent but very funny farce, Noises Off, is being revived with Felicity Kendal at the Phoenix, and it’s not just Aidan Turner and Jenna Coleman who are the draw in Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons at the Harold Pinter. Sam Steiner’s two-hander is smart and sharp and expertly mixes the sweet and the sour. In March the Harold Pinter hosts Ivo van Hove’s extraordinary stage version of Hanya Yanagihara’s A Little Life with a superb cast led by Happy Valley’s James Norton. I saw the Dutch language version in Edinburgh last summer and can confirm that while it is hardly uplifting, it is a unforgettable and disturbing experience. It’s epic too—running more than four hours—and there is something about that kind of experience which really takes you out of yourself. That’s true too of the mighty Lehman Trilogy which arrives back in the West End at the Gillian Lynne at the end of January to tell the story of the three immigrant men, their sons and grandsons who founded the bank. Michael Balogun, Hadley Fraser and Nigel Lindsay star. There have been few better plays about the mirage of money.

Greek tragedy might also seem like a strange choice if you are looking to be cheered but the Greeks knew all about the power of catharsis. Two eagerly awaited shows are Sophie Okonedo and Ben Daniels in Dominic Cooke’s staging of Medea at @sohoplace, a space with decent prices which is very much proving its value as the West End’s latest addition, and Janet McTeer in Phaedra at the NT. The latter is directed by Simon Stone, whose Yerma at the Young Vic was killer stuff. Not hardly a laugh a minute but likely to make you realise that compared with some you are really doing OK. There is both trauma but also love, fantasy and something as endearing as a litter of kittens in Tabby Lamb’s Happy Meal which arrives at Brixton House in February.

Cover image from Tabby Lamb’s Happy Meal at Brixton House.

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Lyn Gardner

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