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The hottest London theatre tickets to book right now from Slave Play to Opening Night

 (ES)
(ES)

Forget the long runners and the Hollywood stars, for the buzziest shows in London theatre – whether already opened or heading into town – it’s worth looking further afield. Worried that you haven’t heard of the play, the actors or even the theatre? Don’t worry, this is a list of must-see shows with the seal of approval from the Evening Standard’s theatre experts. Now is the time to book before everyone else cottons on.

Till the Stars Come Down

 (Manuel Harlan)
(Manuel Harlan)

This glorious show at the National Theatre took everyone by surprise – and yesterday it was nominated for an Olivier award in the best new play category. Written by Beth Steel, it unfolds over the course of a wedding day, with the bride and her two sisters at its heart. As the day wears on, and the bucks fizzes move onto pints and vodka shots, the filthy humour gets funnier and the dark family secrets come out. The whole cast – most of whom you’ll recognise as “Oh it’s him/her off the telly” – features a scene stealing turn from Lorraine Ashbourne as Aunty Carol (also deservedly nominated for an Olivier), especially when she gets down and dirty to Britney. Hurry, this is only on for a few more days.

National Theatre, to March 16; nationaltheatre.org

Shifters

Tosin Cole and Heather Agyepong (Craig Fuller)
Tosin Cole and Heather Agyepong (Craig Fuller)

This time-hopping two-hander by the supremely talented Benedict Lombe has blown audiences away from its opening night at the Bush Theatre. Dre and Des (Tosin Cole and Heather Agyepong) dance around each other, literally and emotionally, from the moment they meet at school as awkward teens, through a complex friendship and more, to a pivotal coming together years later at a funeral. It will have you on the edge of your seat, willing them to get together. The two actors nail Lombe's sharp, funny, cliché-free script, directly deftly by Lynette Linton. An absolute heartbreaker. This one is selling fast, but there may be returns for those willing to queue and hopefully it means another run may be in the offing.

Bush Theatre, to March 30; buy tickets here

A Mirror

This is the sort of show that is hard to imagine playing in the West End unless it was already there – all credit to everyone involved in bringing it into Theatreland. A Mirror is a chewy, tricksy, meta play and if that makes it sound terrible, don’t worry, it isn’t at all, it’s also funny and has a lightness of touch. With brilliant performances all round, including from Jonny Lee Miller and newly Olivier nominated Tanya Reynolds, this is set up as a production staged under a repressive regime, under cover and under threat, about staging a production in a repressive regime. It asks what rebellious art looks like in a dictatorship and what it means for artists. Thought provoking, superbly staged and, crucially, not the hard work it may sound.

Trafalgar Theatre, to April 20; buy tickets here

For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy

 (Getty Images)
(Getty Images)

Writer Ryan Calais Cameron has been one of the playwrighting revelations of recent years, rightly hailed after this show hit the West End last year. Now it is returning for another run, with a new cast, giving those who didn’t see it the chance to see an extraordinary bit of theatre. Thoughtful, fascinating, moving and emotional, this explores young black masculinity in Britain today, the boxes society puts Black men into and the ones they put themselves into. Staggeringly good.

Garrick Theatre, to May 4; buy tickets here

Standing at the Sky’s Edge

Lauryn Redding, Laura Pitt-Pulford and the cast of Standing at the Sky's Edge in the West End (Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)
Lauryn Redding, Laura Pitt-Pulford and the cast of Standing at the Sky's Edge in the West End (Brinkhoff-Moegenburg)

Showing the great range of musicals in London, this is about three different generations over six decades in the landmark Park Hill housing estate in Sheffield, with music by the brilliant Richard Hawley. Written by Chris Bush, it looks at the power of community as well as individual stories of love, loss and survival, all set to a banging rock soundtrack. It blew the doors off the National last year after coming to London from Sheffield, and it is currently blowing them off again in the West End.

Gillian Lynne Theatre, to August 3; buy tickets here

Opening Night

Sheridan Smith in Opening Night (Jan Versweyveld)
Sheridan Smith in Opening Night (Jan Versweyveld)

Sheridan Smith is 24-carat box-office gold. Last year, she starred in the West End as Shirley Valentine, a production which, according to the producer, sold every single ticket across the run. So it’s no surprise that audiences and theatremakers have been clamouring to get her back on stage. And she is returning in an unusual but lip-smacking prospect: the adaptation of a John Cassavetes film with music by Rufus Wainwright and overseen by star director Ivo van Hove. The story is about actors putting on a new Broadway show just as the leading lady’s life is falling apart. Smith, who has some experience in battling personal issues while in a major show, will no doubt be electric. Good luck getting a ticket.

Gielgud Theatre, to July 27; buy tickets here

Red Pitch

Emeka Sesay, Kedar Williams-Stirling and Francis Lovehall in Red Pitch (Helen Murray)
Emeka Sesay, Kedar Williams-Stirling and Francis Lovehall in Red Pitch (Helen Murray)

This play won writer Tyrell Williams an Evening Standard Theatre Award for Most Promising Playwright, and it’s great news that the show, which packed out audiences over two runs at the Bush Theatre, has now landed a run at @sohoplace in the West End. Sex Education’s Kedar Williams-Stirling, Emeka Sesay from Prime Video show The Power and Francis Lovehall, who was in Small Axe, are the three stars of a show about friendship, community, gentrification and the dreams of making it as a footballer. A real winner.

@sohoplace, from March 15 to May 4; buy tickets here

Player Kings

Sir Ian McKellen playing one of Shakespeare’s great comic characters, Falstaff, incidentally a role he’s never played before? Yes please. And if that wasn’t enough to get punters sprinting to the box office, this take on Henry IV Parts I and II is being put together by Robert Icke, a theatre director responsible for some of the most exciting adaptations of the classics in recent years, from directing Andrew Scott in Hamlet to his Oresteia at the Almeida which is regularly cited as one of the great productions of the 21st century.

Noel Coward Theatre, from April 1 to June 22; buy tickets here

Two Strangers (Carry a Cake Across New York)

Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift (Handout via Kiln Theatre)
Sam Tutty and Dujonna Gift (Handout via Kiln Theatre)

A surprise sweet treat for visitors to the Kiln theatre in Kilburn over Christmas, and now being served up in the West End, this glorious ode to rom-coms of the Eighties and Nineties has funny, catchy songs sung by two brilliant performers. Sam Tutty – who previously starred in Dear Evan Hansen – is the wide-eyed Brit making his first trip to the Big Apple, and Dujonna Gift is the cynical New Yorker who can’t help but warm to her new dessert-carrying companion. An uplifting delight that never sinks into the saccharine or sentimental.

Criterion Theatre, April 4 to July 14; buy tickets here

The Comeuppance

 (Almeida Theatre)
(Almeida Theatre)

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins is one of the hottest playwrights around, and the American is back in London this spring with the UK premiere of The Comeuppance at the Almeida. Following An Octoroon and Appropriate, which won legions of fans this side of the Atlantic, this show looks at a group of friends gathering ahead of their 20-year school reunion. As tensions return after the decades the show asks if we can ever break free from the people we used to be in the “age of bad choices seeking their consequences” aka the comeuppance.

Almeida Theatre, April 6 to May 18; almeida.co.uk

London Tide

Ami Tredrea and Bella Maclean in London Tide (Spencer Murphy)
Ami Tredrea and Bella Maclean in London Tide (Spencer Murphy)

The prospect of yet another Charles Dickens adaptation may not immediately set the pulses racing, but hang on… not only is this take on Our Mutual Friend being staged at the National, which is currently churning out hit after hit, but the music is being composed by none other than PJ Harvey. It also stars Bella Maclean (Sex Education) who will later star in in the much anticipated TV adaptation of Jilly Cooper’s Rivals. In the play, a storm rages and a body is pulled out of the Thames, while across the city two young women separately confront an uncertain future. Will they sink or swim? “This romantic and propulsive thriller is a hymn to the city and the river that runs through it”, the blurb runs. Consider our pulses suitably quickened.

National Theatre, from April 10 to June 22; nationaltheatre.org.uk

Dugsi Dayz

 (Royal Court Theatre)
(Royal Court Theatre)

The Royal Court’s new artistic director David Byrne has just announced his inaugural season, and it had the industry buzzing about the Sloane Square venue for the first time in ages. So much to choose from, including Ben Whishaw back on stage and John Lithgow as Roald Dahl, but there’s also a lot of buzz for the slightly more under-the-radar show Dugsi Dayz. Following an award-winning run at the Edinburgh Fringe, it’s hard not to get excitied about this riotous comedy by Sabrina Ali about four Somali girls in detention at the mosque in a play inspired by The Breakfast Club.

Royal Court Theatre, May 1-18; royalcourttheatre.com

Romeo & Juliet

 (Isaac Anthony)
(Isaac Anthony)

Okay this one has a bona fide Hollywood star in Tom Holland – yes Spider-Man himself – as one half of Shakespeare’s star-crossed lovers. No news as yet on Juliet, but what it does have is one of the buzziest directors in the business in Jamie Lloyd, who has just been nominated for an Olivier for his radical stating of Sunset Boulevard. Currently sold out, we’re expecting more ticket news soon. Stay alert!

Duke of York’s Theatre, May 11 to August 3; romeoandjulietldn.com

Kathy and Stella Solve a Murder!

 (Mihaela Bodlovic)
(Mihaela Bodlovic)

Another hit musical makes its way to London following a sell out run at the Edinburgh Festival, and it’s going straight into the West End. This comedy is about two failed true crime podcasters thrust into a murder investigation. It has been described as irreverant, funny but with a heart and is promising to be an absolute delight

Ambassadors Theatre, May 25 to September 14; book tickets here

Slave Play

Now there’s a whole lot of buzz around this one. When it premiered in New York in 2019, it was described as the most controversial show on Broadway, and its use of Black Out nights – performances aimed at black-identifying audiences – have made culture war waves over here. And it hasn’t even opened – though uber-hip playwright Jeremy O Harris can thank his stars that this hoo-hah (even Rishi Sunak waded in) will generate sales. Starring Fisayo Akinade and Kit Harington, it is a play about race, identity and sexuality in 21st century America. Is London ready for Slave Play?, the show asks. Let’s find out.

Noel Coward Theatre, from June 29 to September 21; noelcowardtheatre.co.uk