August is probably the most eccentric month in the London theatre calendar, with a handful of spectacular large-scale productions balanced against the fact that half of the industry buggers off to the Edinburgh Fringe or on summer hols.
However, what’s left is still pretty cool, from the jaw-dropping spectacle of the Greenwich Docklands International Festival to a couple of big-name, celeb-driven plays at the National Theatre and Almeida, to some quirky musical fun: finally, London gets ‘The SpongeBob Musical’.
Here are the biggest and best theatre openings in August.
London’s biggest free outdoor theatre festival has been a highlight of the summer calendar for decades, but post-pandemic its canny shift from street theatre to enormous, artist-driven setpieces has really invigorated it. This year goggle in awe at glowing animatronic swans in the Thames (‘Cygnus’, Aug 31-Sep 3), gawp in wonder at dancers on the face of St Paul’s (‘Resurgam’, Aug 31-Sep 2) or for a more intimate, serious experience check out the nightbus-set Stephen Lawrence tribute ‘The Architect’ (Sep 6-10).
Various locations, Aug 25-Sep 10.
2. The Effect, National Theatre
Although her heavy involvement in TV masterpiece ‘Succession’ may have somewhat overshadowed Lucy Prebble’s theatre work of late, the plays she has written are pretty much all classics. Eleven years after its original, Billie Piper-starring production, Jamie Lloyd directs Paapa Essiedu and Taylor Russell in the first major London revival of Prebble’s devilishly clever romcom about two young people who fall for each other during a lab trial – but can’t tell if it’s love or just the drugs talking.
National Theatre, Aug 1-Sep 23.
3. A Mirror, Almeida Theatre
A decade or so ago, playwright Sam Holcroft was making a real name for herself with a series of intriguingly sharp, provocative dramas, notably her National Theatre hit ‘Rules for Living’. She’s been absent from stage work for the best part of a decade, but returns with this dark comedy set in an ultra-bureaucratic authoritarian society that marks the stage return of ’90s icon Jonny Lee Miller.
Almeida Theatre, Aug 15-Sep 23.
4. Next To Normal, Donmar Warehouse
A long-anticipated UK premiere for this cult US musical about a bipolar woman’s struggles to come to terms with the death of her son. Outgoing Donmar boss Michael Longhurst directs a cast headed up by North American musical theatre heavyweights Caissie Levy and Trevor Dion Nicholas.
Donmar Warehouse, Aug 12-Oct 7.
5. La Cage aux Folles, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Harvey Fierstein’s groundbreaking queer musical receives its third ever major London production in a big season closer from outgoing Open Air Theatre boss Timothy Sheader. Carl Mullaney and Billy Carter star as drag performer Albin and his partner Georges – an older gay couple – become farcically entangled with the family of virulently anti-drag politician Edouard.
Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, Jul 29-Sep 16.
6. Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet, Sadler’s Wells
Super choreographer Bourne’s radically revamped dance take on Shakespeare’s immortal romantic tragedy returns to Sadler’s. Returning for the first time since it premiered in 2019, Bourne’s ‘Romeo and Juliet’ transposes the starcross’d lovers to a mental institution in which their families have had them locked away.
Sadler’s Wells, Aug 1-Sep 2.
7. Macbeth/As You Like It, Shakespeare’s Globe
The second half of the Globe’s 2023 outdoor season kicks into gear this month, with big revivals for gory supernatural tragedy ‘Macbeth’ and delightful forest-set romantic romp ‘As You Like It’. We don’t know a lot about either production conceptually, but they’re in the safe hands of heavyweights Abigail Graham and Ellen McDougall.
‘Macbeth’ is at Shakespeare’s Globe, Jul 21-Oct 28.
‘As You Like It’ is at Shakespeare’s Globe, Aug 18-Oct 29.
8. The SpongeBob Musical, Queen Elizabeth Hall
It’s perhaps a tiny bit disappointing that we never got the full bells-and-whistles Broadway production of this musical adaptation of the wildly eccentric Nickelodeon cartoon. But this touring UK production will do just fine for the summer. Gareth Gates will star as the self-centred Squidward, because why not.
Queen Elizabeth Hall, Jul 26-Aug 26.
9. Children’s Puppet Festival, Little Angel Theatre
The only major London kids’ theatre to programme throughout the summer, the Little Angel takes a slightly different tack this August: rather than just staging a single show for the months, it’s instead opting for a multi-show festival features 13 different short-run puppet-based plays over the course of August, plus various workshops for both adults and children.
Little Angel Theatre, Aug 2-28.
10. The Arc: A Trilogy of New Jewish Plays, Soho Theatre
This looks fun: three big-name Jewish playwrights – Amy Rosenthal, Alexis Zegerman and Ryan Craig – and a very respectable cast – Nigel Planer, Adrian Schiller and Caroline Gruber – join forces for a 70-mine, three-play bill offering very Jewish takes on birth, marriage and death.
Soho Theatre, Aug 15-26.