Preview: a year on the stage

A mixture of new plays, adaptations and collaborations are coming to the north this year

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There’s a wealth of live shows to keep theatre-goers in the north busy this year. From political plays to Shakespeare, theatres across the region boast busy programmes for 2018, and we have compiled a list of dates to add to your cultural calendar.

The new year gets off to an atmospheric start with a dramatic retelling of Charlotte Brontë’s Jane Eyre (18 Jan-10 Feb, Bolton Octagon). Performed in the round, this new adaptation by Janys Chambers and Lorna French follows the protagonist as she emerges from her bleak childhood to make her way in life as a governess. Jane’s indomitable spirit, sharp wit and great courage drive her to fight for her independence and to follow her heart whatever the obstacles.

Another gothic tale getting a revamp this year is Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. It is 200 years since the young Shelley offered her gruesome creation to the world. To celebrate the book’s anniversary Victor Frankenstein’s tragic decline from scientist to tortured wreck is retold by playwright April de Angelis (9 March-7 April, Royal Exchange, Manchester).

Artist Bryony Kimmings offers an alternative take on life with cancer with her show A Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer (26 Jan-3 Feb, Liverpool Everyman Playhouse). The play is a musical examination of life with a cancer diagnosis and confronts the highs and lows of living with the disease.

The National Theatre is heading north following sell-out runs in the West End with its political drama This House (23 Feb-3 March, West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds). In 1974, the corridors of Westminster ring with the sound of infighting and backbiting as Britain’s political parties battle to change the future of the nation. The play offers a timely insight into the workings of British politics, and if you miss it in Leeds you can catch it in Salford (24-28 April, Lowry Theatre) or Sheffield (29 May-2 June, Lyceum Theatre).

This year marks 25 years since Sir Kenneth MacMillan died. With a choreographic career spanning nearly four decades he created almost 100 works and the Northern Ballet will honour one of its most celebrated choreographers with a triple bill. A Celebration of Sir Kenneth MacMillan, Master Choreographer (16-17 March, Leeds Grand Theatre) features Las Hermana, a tense psychological drama about five sisters and the consequences that follow a life of harsh repression; Gloria, inspired by Vera Brittain’s wartime memoir Testament of Youth; and Concerto, a classical piece set to music by Shostakovich.

In Liverpool Anthony Burgess’s notorious novel A Clockwork Orange is adapted for the stage (14 April-12 June, Everyman Playhouse). Shot through with music and studded with Burgess’s own songs, the tale is one of transgression, free will and the power of old Ludwig Van.

Also in Liverpool, Shakespeare’s Othello is played by a female actor for the first time in British theatre (28 April-10 July, Everyman Playhouse). The production places the classic text in a not-so-distant future, and follows distinguished military leader Othello as she commands respect, but not everyone is ready for a leader quite like her.

Maxine Peake and the Royal Exchange Theatre’s artistic director Sarah Frankcom are back together this year to continue their artistic partnership. It started back in 2013 when the pair worked together on a production of the Masque of Anarchy. Since then they have collaborated on Hamlet, The Skriker and A Streetcar Named Desire. They present two projects this year. First, Samuel Beckett’s Happy Days (25 May-23 June, Royal Exchange) in which Peake take on the role of Winnie in the one-woman play. Buried in a wilderness of scorched earth, Winnie survives the everyday with fragments of babbling optimism. From his cave, her husband Willie hides in the shadows, as they both await the inevitable bell to ring in another happy day.

Later in the season Peake’s own play Queens of the Coal Age (28 June-21 July, Royal Exchange) will make its premiere under the direction of Frankcom. The play tells the true story of four women who went underground to occupy a Lancashire colliery during a wave of mine closures in 1993.

Finally, fans of Roald Dahl will be delighted to hear multi award-winning musical Matilda is heading north this autumn (18 Sept-24 Nov, Palace Theatre, Manchester). The play has already been performed to 6.5 million people worldwide and brings to life Dahl’s tale of the extraordinary little girl who, armed with a vivid imagination and a sharp mind, dares to take a stand and change her own destiny.

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