The 10 best new London theatre openings in May

If you’re looking for the definition of an embarrassment of riches, May 2024 in the London theatre calendar really does go above and beyond what could reasonably be expected of a single city to stage in a single month.

Tom Holland makes his stage comeback in Jamie Lloyd’s ‘Romeo & Juliet’, the blockbuster Tokyo adaptation of Studio Ghibli’s ‘Spirited Away’ rolls into the West End for the summer, immersive theatre gods Punchdrunk return and Denise Gough reprises her titanic stage performance in ‘People, Places and Things’. And there’s plenty more besides, with a handful of exciting international productions and a new James Graham play. 

Romeo & Juliet, 2024
Photo: Jamie Lloyd Company

1. Romeo & Juliet

Jamie Lloyd is a director at the absolute peak of his game after last year’s visionary ‘Sunset Boulevard’; Tom Holland is an actor at the absolute peak of his fame after his blockbuster MCU Spider-Man films. This team up for a revival of Shakespeare’s timeless romantic tragedy has a hell of a lot of expectations to live up to, and Holland has an awful lot to prove, having not acted on stage since he was a child. But get this right and it could be the show of the year. That his co-star Francesca Amewudah-Rivers has been subject to racist internet trolling is deeply upsetting but should have no bearing on the production itself.

Duke of York’s Theatre, May 11-Aug 3.

Viola's Room, Punchdrunk, 2024
Image: Muse

2. Viola’s Room

Returning scarcely six months after their last show ‘The Burnt City’ closed, there’s something just intrinsically heartening about the idea that immersive theatre legends Punchdrunk don’t need to disappear for a decade between works. ‘Viola’s Room’ is a stripped down, audio-driven, linear piece with narration from Helena Bonham-Carter, a dark fairytale that promises to offer an alternative to the company’s enormo-shows of yore, while remaining true to their unsettling spirit.

The Carriageworks, May 14-Aug 18.

Spirited Away, Tokyo, 2022
Photo: Mone Kamishiraishi

3. Spirited Away

After two blockbuster seasons of the RSC’s ‘My Neighbour Totoro’, it feels almost like we’re being spoiled to get the UK transfer of this by-all-accounts spectacular stage adaptation of another, even more fantastical Studio Ghibli film, 2000’s ‘Spirited Away’. Powered by puppets from Toby Olie that we can tell are spectacular from the pix alone, it got great notices in Tokyo and looks set to be the large-scale hit of the summer.

London Coliseum, Until Aug 24.

People, Places and Things, National Theatre, 2015
Photo Johann Persson

4. People, Places and Things

There were two stage performances in ’10s British theatre that stood head and shoulders above the others: Mark Rylance in Jez Butterworth’s ‘Jerusalem’, and Denise Gough in Duncan Macmillan’s ‘People, Places and Things’. Rylance finally reprised his epic turn a couple of summers ago. And now Gough will go back to the role of Emma, a drugs and booze addled actress with an extremely complicated relationship with her mother who attempts – with extreme cynicism – to sort her life out. Probably your last chance to catch one of the great performances of our time, as Gough has said she doesn’t feel it makes sense to significantly age the character up.

Trafalgar Theatre, May 3-Aug 10. Buy tickets here.

Bluets, Royal Court, 2024
Photo: Royal Court

5. Bluets

New Royal Court artistic director David Byrne really announces his arrival this month, with his first three shows opening at the venerable West London new-writing powerhouse. The two upstairs – ‘Dugsi Dayz’ and ‘Lie Low’ – look intriguing, but all attention is clearly in the first show to run in the Byrne-era main house. ‘Bluet’ sees the visionary director Katie Mitchell adapt Maggie Nelson’s poetic meditation on the colour blue, with a top-notch cast that includes Ben Whishaw. 

Royal Court Theatre, May 17-Jun 29. Buy tickets here.

Boys from the Blackstuff, National Theatre, 2024
Photo: Barry Slone

6. Boys from the Blackstuff

Unstoppable hit machine (and the country’s numero uno political playwright) James Graham has been on a hot streak for the best part of a decade now, and it’s set to continue with the London transfer of this already acclaimed adaptation of Alan Bleasdale’s landmark ’80s TV show about men on the dole in the Thatcher era. A hit at the Liverpool Royal Court last year, it plays a short stint at the National before heading straight to the West End.

National Theatre, May 22-Jun 8.
Garrick Theatre, Jun 13-Aug 3. Buy tickets here.

Passing Strange, Young Vic, 2024
Photo: Young Vic

7. Passing Strange

This unusual rock autobiographical rock musical from American musician Stew was a walloping hit on Broadway almost two decades ago now – Spike Lee even made a film of it – but is only just now making its debut in the UK. The brilliant Giles Terara stars in this free-flowing odyssey that details Stew’s formative experiences as a young Black man in America and Europe during the punk years.

Young Vic, May 14-Jul 6. Buy tickets here.

Mary Said What She Said, Barbican, 2024
Photo: Lucie Jansch

8. Mary Said What She Said

Legendary American avant-garde director Robert Wilson rolls into town for one week only with this monologue adapted from the letters of the jailed Mary Queen of Scots. It’s by Isabelle Huppert – arguably France’s greatest actress, it’s the first chance she’s done a show in London in an age (she was last due to perform here in 2020, in a production of ‘The Glass Menagerie’ that was scrapped by the pandemic).

Barbican Centre, May 10-12.

Pieces of a Woman, TR Warszawa, 2024
Photo: Natalia Kabanow

9. Pieces of a Woman

More great European theatre this month as the wonderful Polish company TR Warszawa arrive at Battersea Arts Centre for two midweek performances only with their original production of Kata Wéber’s powerful domestic drama ‘Pieces of a Woman’. It subsequently became famous as an Oscar-nominated film starring Vanessa Kirby, but this is UK audiences’ first chance to see the landmark original play.

Battersea Arts Centre, May 22 and 23.

Richard III, Shakespeare’s Globe, 2024
Photo; Shakespeare’s Globe

10. Richard III

Michelle Terry stars as Shakespeare’s most malevolent monarch in a production of ‘Richard III’ that has been overshadowed by a backlash from elements of the disabled community who feel an able-bodied actor should not be allowed to play a role typically viewed as disabled. It’s an extremely complicated issue: Adjoa Andoh played the same role to zero controversy last year, and Terry has explicitly stated she won’t be playing Richard as disabled. Perhaps the times are simply changing – hopefully the production itself will offer a sense of clarity that has been missing from some of the discourse around it. Certainly there’s no denying that Globe boss Terry is a tremendous actor. 

Shakespeare’s Globe, May 9-Aug 3. Buy tickets here.

The best new London theatre plays to book for in 2024.

David Tennant’s binaural ‘Macbeth’ is transferring to the West End.

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