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The Best Theatre in London this May

It's a busy month for theatre lovers.

May is a time for long weekends (two, no less!) and longer evenings. Named after the Greek goddess of fertility, Maia, this year it’s also a fittingly fecund month for plays in London. There are new takes on old classics, revivals of award-winners and fresh-out-the-box premieres to tuck in to.

Anna Maxwell Martin, Ben Chaplin, Adam James and Priyanga Burford in 'Consent' © Alastair Muir

We’ll start at the National Theatre, who have a typically busy month ahead. Translations, Brian Friel’s 1980 play about an attempt by two English officers and a returning Irish native to create a map of Ireland using English names instead of Gaelic, sees one of Ireland’s finest writers at his lyrical best. It opens on 22 May, with Ian Rickson directing a cast that includes Ciarán Hinds and Colin Morgan. Polly Stenham meanwhile presents Julie, her reworking of August Strindberg’s 1888 masterpiece, from 31 May. Stenham and director Carrie Cracknell are two of the most forward-thinking British theatre-makers around, and seeing their take on the politics and power-play at the heart of Strindberg’s story is a fascinating prospect. There’s also the West End transfer of Consent, Nina Raine’s scorching 2017 play about modern relationships and the justice system, which opens at the Harold Pinter Theatre from 18 May.

 Alfred Molina in RED. Photo: Johan Persson

Michael Grandage makes a welcome West End return this month with Red, opening 4 May at the Wyndham’s Theatre. The majestic Alfred Molina stars as abstract expressionist Mark Rothko, who is challenged to create his most daring work to date. The Bridge Theatre welcomes Barney Norris through the doors to debut his latest offering Nightfall, opening 1 May. Already an accomplished novelist and playwright at just 31 years of age, Norris’ play details a family trying to overcome grief in the depths of the English countryside. Madani Younis’ Bush Theatre is revisiting Winsome Pinnock’s groundbreaking 1991 play Leave Taking from 24 May. In a bid to place Pinnock’s play at the forefront of a new canon of modern classics, Younis himself directs the multi-generational story of three women living in Deptford, which looks at what we must leave behind in order to move forward.

RashDash in rehearsal at The Royal Exchange. Image from twitter @rxtheatre

To finish off a mammoth month for plays, some theatre royalty. The Maly Drama Theatre of St Petersburg are one of the most respected and groundbreaking theatre companies in modern Europe. Life and Fate / Uncle Vanya marks their first London appearance for over a decade, with the double bill opening on 8 May at the Theatre Royal Haymarket. Life and Fate looks at Soviet society in the years leading up to WW2, whilst Uncle Vanya is a Chekhov classic about lost love and forgotten dreams. Sticking with Chekhov, the brilliant RashDash will present their own version of Three Sisters from 22 May at Hackney’s Yard Theatre. The play follows the travails of the three Prozorov sisters, searching for a way to return to the hallowed city of Moscow and their once-privileged existence, but expect RashDash to turn the 1900 classic on its head and challenge its gendered concepts in their own inimitably inventive way.

Rachael Young in Nightclubbing. Photo: Marcus Hessenberg

For those seeking the left-field, Dutch company Ontroerend Goed’s World Without Us is a contemplative look at a future for Earth that doesn’t involve humankind. A blend of science-fiction, storytelling and critical thinking, this thought-provoking show opens at Battersea Arts Centre on 3 May. Over at the Camden People’s Theatre from 8 May, Rachael Young embraces Afrofuturism and the spirit of Grace Jones in Nightclubbing, a blend of dance, live music and cosmic imagery that imagines an inclusive future by reclaiming the present.
Over at the Lyric Hammersmith, modern dance pioneer Hofesh Shechter presents a double bill from 8 May. SHOW / Clowns sees the choreographer’s trademark combination of emotive movement, powerful musical accompaniment and glorious visuals engulf the Lyric’s main stage. Fatherland then opens on 25 May as part of the biannual London International Festival of Theatre. The piece is based on interviews with fathers and sons from the respective hometowns of choreographer Scott Graham, playwright Simon Stephens and Underworld’s Karl Hyde. It’s a moving portrait of the issues affecting 21st century England outside of the capital, and took Manchester by storm last year.

Peter Pan, Regents Park Open Air Theatre. Image: Tristram Kenton

To truly mark the start of the summer season, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre opens its doors from 17 May with their own take on Peter Pan. The production sees wounded WW1 soldiers transported to Never Land in a bid to escape reality. The Open Air Theatre is a magical environment on a balmy summer’s evening, and the mix of swashbuckling, puppetry and thematically challenging content should entertain kids and adults alike.