Celebrity casting can be controversial: shouldn't London’s plays and musicals be able to find audiences without dazzling them with mega-watt stars? However, since the pandemic, the debate feels a little less heated. As commercial producers work hard to get West End audiences back to their former levels, a starry boost is highly welcome: offering a way to help theatres bring new punters through their doors. Here are some of the biggest names treading the boards this year:
Famous for his roles in Full Metal Jacket, The Dark Knight Rises, and most recently as the nefarious Dr. Brenner in Netflix’s Stranger Things, Hollywood star Matthew Modine joins the cast of To Kill a Mockingbird at the Gielgud Theatre from November 21st (taking over from fellow movie star, Richard Coyle). Modine plays the iconic role of Atticus Finch in this five-star reviewed adaptation of Harper Lee’s world-famous novel, created by Oscar-winning screenwriter Aaron Sorkin (The Social Network, The West Wing, Moneyball).
Doctor Who and Good Omens star David Tennant makes a spectacular return to the West End in Good at the Harold Pinter Theatre. Set in1930s Frankfurt, C.P. Taylor’s acclaimed play documents a German professor’s downward trajectory from a hard-working husband to an active member of the Nazi party. Tennant’s performance has been described as “magnificent” by The Guardian and is directed by Olivier Award-winner Dominic Cooke (Follies, On Chesil Beach).
In between playing Princess Diana in The Crown and hitting the silver screen in My Policeman, Emma Corrin takes on the eponymous role in Virginia Woolf’s Orlando at the Garrick. A century-spanning, gender-spurning, epic love story, the play follows young noble Orlando as they embark on the ultimate journey of self-knowledge. Tony and Olivier Award-winner Michael Grandage directs.
Oscar, Golden Globe, and Primetime Emmy Award-winning actress Helen Hunt is best known for her roles in Mad About You, As Good As It Gets, Castaway, Twister, and Soul Surfer. Now, the Hollywood star turns her talents to the European premiere of Jonathan Spector’s satire Eureka Day at the Old Vic. Set in a prestigious California school, the play follows a group of school board members as their progressive community is torn apart by its views on vaccination.
A treat for fans of the BBC sitcom, David Mitchell reprises his famous role of Will Shakespeare in the Olivier Award-nominated West End version of Upstart Crow at the Apollo Theatre. Written by BAFTA and Olivier Award-winning comedian Ben Elton (Blackadder, The Young Ones, We Will Rock You), this hilarious comedy follows Will’s woeful journey to becoming the greatest playwright of all time — and also features Game of Thrones star Gemma Whelan.
Stepping away from his famously impervious characters in TV shows Heroes and the new Star Trek trilogy (in which he played the legendary Spock), Zachary Quinto takes on the famous wit of Gore Vidal in Best of Enemies at the Noel Coward Theatre. Homeland and The Man in the High Castle star David Harewood plays Vidal’s political rival William F. Buckley Jr. in this real-life story of the 1968 televised debates that changed the face of current affairs broadcasting forever.
With a career spanning six decades, multi-award-winning singer Petula Clark is a legend of the music world, best known for her sixties hits “Downtown” and “Colour My World”. Now she turns her famous voice to the role of the Bird Woman in Cameron Mackintosh’s Mary Poppins at the Prince Edward Theatre. This classic tale of a magical nanny was adapted by Oscar-winning screenwriter and creator of Downton Abbey, Julian Fellowes. It also stars Zizi Strallen in the lead role, known to film audiences for her appearance in the screen adaptations of Cinderella and Cats.
Not settling for just one big star in their production, this year’s pantomime at the London Palladium features a literal five-star cast as Dawn French, Julian Clary, Alexandra Burke, Nigel Havers, and Gary Wilmot unite for a raucous retelling of Jack and the Beanstalk. Expect sumptuous sets, lavish costumes, and lots of laughs in this giant of a show.