Happy New Year – it’s still appropriate to say that, right?
Because January is THE longest month, and we still haven’t handed in our tax returns. Yep, we’ve been too distracted making plans for 2020, INCLUDING a massive great list of shows to see in the upcoming months.
It goes without saying that we’re hyped to see the return of many successful shows from artists we already love, but we also love to see so many new names and faces cropping up with amazing looking work, and we’re looking forward to discovering more about all of them. Please join us in seeing as many of these shows as we physically/financially can – and come over for a chat if you spot us across a theatre bar!
Don’t forget you also follow us on instagram and twitter for an ongoing stream of recommendations, and sign up to our newsletter for updates on our upcoming events (including our audience discussions and performance nights), and the occasional theatre ticket discount code. If you subscribe to all our content and discover shows you love through our platforms, please consider supporting us through Patreon, where you can support us by helping to cover our running costs for less than £1 a month.
If you enjoy this list, please also feel free to subscribe to our podcast using whatever app you like, for more regular feminist theatre content (if you are already a fan of the podcast, please do leave us a review to balance out the 2 star comment we got last year, from someone complaining about too much “queer theory”).
Alright, get your calendar out, it’s time for the recommendations…
In last year’s January blog we said 2019 would belong to Lynette Linton, and we weren’t disappointed. Her first season as Artistic Director at The Bush well and truly lived up to our excitement, and her electric staging of Jackie Kay’s 1986 play Chiaroscuro felt like it could have been written yesterday (house-phone-line conversations aside) – it was a massive highlight of the year. In 2020 at The Bush we’re hyped to see actor and drag performer Temi Wilkey’s playwrighting debut The High Table (Feb 8 – Mar 21) – an epic family drama centred around a queer Nigerian wedding. We also recommend Margaret Perry’s multi-award-winning Collapsible (Feb 5 – Mar 14), which features a magnetic performance from Breffni Holahan as a character teetering in the brink of a breakdown.
It was summer 2018 when we first saw Emma Dennis-Edwards extraordinary Funeral Flowers, but it’s still as fresh in our minds as the overwhelming floral scents that filled the grotty flat it was first staged in – the character of Angelique is so realistically written and performed that we think about her as often as if she was someone we once met. It’s returning for a 4 performances in 2020 at The Roundhouse (Feb 5 – 8) so make sure you don’t miss out.
The Roundhouse is also host to some of the most fantastic physical, poetic, and political performances you could hope to see all year – Emma Frankland’s tender punk battlecry Hearty (Feb 27 – 29), and Rachael Young’s double bill of shows full of sensuous sensory-overload and supersonic self-expression: Out (May 1 – 2) which reclaims Dancehall and Voguing from homophobia and transphobia, and Nightclubbing (May 7- 9) an explosive ode to Grace Jones and Afrofuturism.
The Barbican is bringing Schaubühne Berlin’s Katie Mitchell/Alice Birch adaptation of Orlando to its main stage in April, while downstairs in The Pit you can see devised work from feminist companies throughout the year with Diverse City’s show about menopause Mid Life (Feb 19 – 22), Breach Theatre’s It’s True, It’s True, It’s True (Mar 31 – Apr 9), Split Britches’ Last Gasp (Jun 9 – 13), and Rhiannon Faith’s DROWNTOWN (Jun 30 – Jul 4).
The Cockpit Theatre is having a bit of an Ancient Greek inspired feminist moment in two of their upcoming shows: HOT (Helen Of Troy) (Feb 5 – 8) which uses the story of “the face that launched a thousand ships” to interrogate modern beauty standards; and Fusion Theatre’s feminist ensemble retelling of the Medusa myth (Mar 2 – 6) – every performance of which is captioned, audio-described and includes a touch tour, in line with the company’s declared commitment to accessible theatre.
Omnibus Theatre have emerged as one of South London’s finest gems since they first popped up on the edge of Clapham Common in 2013. In 2019 we were delighted to hear that they had a refurbishment to make their foyer spaces more open and accessible for the public during daytimes as well as evenings – their shiny new bar and cafe is now open, so go check it out and catch some of their 2020 programme while you’re there. We recommend: the amazing Vera Chok in Aunty Vera’s Anti-Valentines Evening, The Family Jewels’ MANdemic: A Drag King Cabaret(following last year’s sell-out at VAULT Festival), and The Apologists, which looks at the art, expectations, and limitations of the public apology. We’re also looking forward to Omnibus’ annual 96 Festival, which has become an unmissable date for the diaries of anyone interested in queer performance of all genres and for all ages.
New Diorama is continuing an increasingly strong tradition of supporting excellent ensemble companies (in recent years they’ve been involved with some of the best – Queens of Sheba, Tokyo Rose, and War of the Worlds), upcoming shows that look interesting from a Bechdel-testing perspective are The Incident Room by Olivia Hirst & David Byrne (Feb 11 – Mar 14), Shorts and Socks Included by Lost Watch (Mar 31 – May 2), and The PappyShow’s Wait Til The End (May 19 – 30).
One of the most dazzlingly brilliant writer-performer pieces we’ve seen in recent years, Racheal Ofori’s So Many Reasons, is coming to Soho Theatre (Mar 2 – 7). It’s the most charismatic performance of a piece filled with the level of detailed humour and pathos that completely envelops you. Don’t miss your chance to enjoy Racheal’s work on such an intimate stage, she’s fresh from a stellar performance in Inua Ellams’ critically acclaimed adaptation of Three Sisters at the National Theatre (playing until Feb 19), and is quite obviously destined for megastardom.
Another rising superstar coming to Soho Theatre with a show we love is Andrea Spisto, whose cabaret clown show/concept album Butch Princesa easily charms even the most interaction-averse-audience-members with its warm heart, tender vulnerability and throbbing beats. Catch it on March 19 -20, and keep your eye out for her next move.
Speaking of The National Theatre, it’s not often they have a lot on for us to recommend – and tbh we’re feeling less than represented by their ADs recent article in The Stage which verged on fawning over the most toxic of Prime Ministers (because he likes Shakespeare?!). That being said, we’re finding it hard to resist The Welkin (until May 21) – a huge-scale look at justice and authority with an ace ensemble cast of women and stunning design from Bunny Christie. We’re also excited to hear that comedian and activist Francesca Martinez is making her debut as a playwright and leading the ensemble cast in All Of Us at The Dorfman (Mar 18 – May 16).
The Bunker Theatre‘s final season (rip) of takeovers is entirely focussed around handing the keys to people who are less often represented on UK stages, so it’s hard to pick and choose which ones to recommend, and if you’re London-based we’d advise visiting as often as possible before it closes to show support for the ethos of the team who’ve run this building for the past year: The Space Is Yours (Feb 3 – 7), Queers Up Front (Feb 10 – 15), Everywoman & other confessions (Feb 17 – 22), The Upsetters (Feb 24 – 29), Natasha Brown: Power x Resistance (Mar 2 – 7), Sabrina Mahfouz: Lilith & Karaokay (Mar 10 – 14), Morgan & Abi’s Power Share (Mar 16 – 21), and Where Do We Go Next (Mar 24 – 28).
Battersea Arts Centre is this year’s host of Devoted & Disgruntled, Improbable Theatre’s annual open-space gathering which brings together people from every aspect of theatre and performing arts (yes everyone, from front of house to artistic directors) to talk and work together on an equal platform. Tickets are Pay What You Can, and their open-space method of organising has a “come when you like” policy – though the space will be officially open from 11am on Feb 8 – 10. Bechdel Theatre was born in a D&D open space, so we’re always excited to get stuck into some more invigorating conversations with potential future collaborators and industry allies.
Another thing getting us excited at BAC is their Going Global spring season, which includes Autoreverse (Feb 3 – 22) from the Director of Misty Omar Elerian – it takes as its starting point the cassette tapes Florencia Cordeu’s family used to stay in touch with loved ones after fleeing Argentina’s dictatorship for Chile. Other shows we’re looking forward to in this season include Sonia Hughes and Jo Fong’s series of intimate conversations Neither Here Nor There (May 4 – 9); Sleepwalk Collective’s psychadelic dance theatre piece Swimming Pools (May 5 – 7); and Lucy McCormick’s subversive, immersive, pop concert spectacular Life: LIVE! (May 19 – 30)
Hannah Khalil’s latest play, A Museum In Baghdad, premiered last year at The RSC in Stratford, and is coming to London’s Kiln Theatre this year (April 22 – May 23). It tells the stories of two women in Iraq separated by 80 years, but united in their goal to create a museum. We can never forget Scenes From 68* Years – Hannah Khalil’s 2016 play about the occupation of Palestine, and can’t wait to see how she and RSC Deputy AD Erica Whyman work together to represent these real women grappling with the questions of what role museums can really play in creating unity.
Our Name Is Not John at The Arcola (Sept 9 – Oct 10) is the latest play from Sarah Kosar, she’s of the most distinctive playwriting voices we’ve heard in recent years (in Mumburger and Armadillo), and her new play is a satirical take on control through capitalism – via THAT famous statistic about CEOs called John.
At The Royal Court, you have only a few weeks left to see Scenes With Girls – until Feb 22, after which we recommend Sarah Hanley’s Purple Snowflakes And Titty Wanks Jun 29 – Jul 11 (put safesearch on before you google that); Nanjing Jul 21 – Aug 1 Jude Christian’s personal response to the 1973 massacre (this show is also touring the 7 countries which make up its story); and Aleshea Harris’ Is God Is Jul 20 – Aug 15, about twins avenging their mother’s past in the Calafornia desert.
Plus there’s another welcome chance to see Debris Stephenson’s Dizzee Rascal inspired coming-of-age story Poet in da Corner, which is back at the Royal Court in Feb after its triumphant first outing in 2018, and is then off on tour to Belfast, Leicester, Birmingham, Nottingham, Manchester, and Hackney.
One of our new year’s resolutions EVERY YEAR is to get out of London more often (maybe we should try and make a travel budget instead of resolutions? Pls fund us thx), so with that in mind, here are some recommendations for shows going North, South, East and West beyond the M25.
Physical Theatre masterminds Frantic Assembly have recently teamed up in creative collaboration with the legendary Kathy Burke to co-direct their latest production, I Think We Are Alone by Sally Abbott – it’s touring from Feb 3 to Plymouth, Edinburgh, Stratford East, Leicester, Southampton, Guildford, Newcastle, Bristol, Oxford, and Salford.
Paines Plough have an unshakeable reputation for touring brilliant new writing (that we often also rate highly when looking at representation on stage), and they have an exciting looking year coming up, with shows including Run Sister Run by Chloë Moss which is at Sheffield Theatres Feb 27 – Mar 21, and Soho Theatre Mar 25 – May 2, and Moon Licks by Charlotte Josephine which opens in Cardiff on March 17, and will be followed by a London run in April. PP’s Roundabout touring stage will continue to bring the best playwrights to all corners of the country in 2020, with this year’s programme including Hungry by Chris Bush, Black Love by Chinonyerem Odimba, The Inconvenience Store by Charlotte Keatley.
Manchester Royal Exchange has a great year coming up, filled with award-winning shows, including Winsome Pinnock’s new play Rockets and Blue Lights (Mar 12 – Apr 4) which retells British history through the prism of the slave trade, and Electric Rosary (Jun 15 – Jul 4) which brings together nuns and robots.
Augmented is Sophie Wolley’s personal story about the joy and conflict of becoming ‘hearing’ again after being activated as a real-life ‘cyborg’, via a cochlear implant, following 22 years of progressive deafness. See it this March, when it’ll be in Manchester, Birmingham, Salisbury, Plymouth, and Cambridge.
Rhum & Clay’s take on The War of The Worlds is written with Isley Lynn, and centres around a woman journalist unearthing the stories behind Orson Welles radio broadcast and HG Wells novel. Listen to Isley talk about the show on our podcast, and see it on tour this spring/summer, if you’re anywhere near Southampton, Ipswich, Newbury, Portsmouth, Exeter, Newcastle, Derby and Leeds.
Trojan Horse takes its name from the 2013 media storm around the supposed “plot” to radicalise Muslim schoolchildren. Lung Theatre’s docu-theatre production foregrounds the perspectives of teachers and children who were affected by the media coverage and targeted by the government’s Prevent strategy. Listen to our podcast with Madiha Ansari for more about the show, and then see it this year in Luton, Leicester, Sheffield, Oldham, Edinburgh, Glasgow, Exeter, Bedford, Derby, Oxford, and Warwick.
Fatty Fat Fat Katie Greenall’s hilarious and provocative solo show is the anti-diet riot that needs to be seen and heard as loudly as possible, as we creep from ‘New Year New Me’ time to ‘beach body’-fascism season. Go join her for a cha-cha-slide, a packet of crisps, and a frank insight into what it’s like living in a body that the world tells you to hate. Touring to Cardiff, Leicester, Slough, Nottingham, Exeter, Oxford, Harlow, Bath, Guildford, and Derby
Testmatch is on our radar as a play about a world we’ve not seen represented on stage before – that of international women’s cricket. Testmatch is set in England in 2020 and in India in 1800, but interestingly the play has originated in the US. We’re intrigued to see an American’s take on the politics of such a famously un-American sport. It’s at Theatre Royal Bath from April 2, then touring.
Finally, it woudn’t be a new year blog (and it wouldn’t have taken us this long to write) if we weren’t looking towards VAULT Festival and its overwhelming selection of fringe shows, with a mix of brand new work having its first outing and tried-and-tested shows popping in as part of a wider tour.
The festival has been criticised in the past for its lack of representation (despite having made headlines for having over 50% womxn artists, the majority of last year’s festival awards went to white artists – an indication not only of bias in the panel, but also of the whiteness of the programme overall). This year, they have a new programming team and look to be making solid steps towards improving representation. Importantly, they’re also helping audiences to make active choices, by introducing filters on their website which allow ticket-buyers to consider who’s represented on the creative teams of shows they see (alongside the more commonly used filters based on genres, styles, age suitability, access requirements etc). Petition to bring this method to more theatre and festival websites soon, please – it’s really helpful to be able to access this information without having to crowdsource a google spreadsheet.
We definitely encourage the use of those filters to find the representation you’re craving most at VAULT 2020, but we couldn’t resist a quick skim for ourselves, so here’s a few that we personally recommend:
Feminist theatre faves (creators of Coconut and Ladykiller) The Thelmas have two shows in the tunnels this year: Santi & Naz (Jan 28 – Feb 2) is a portrayal of female friendship in pre-partition India, and Notch (Feb 19 – 23) is a solo show about a Croatian woman sleeping rough in Dublin.
Popelei’s Push (Jan 28 – Feb 2) is a dance show about the existential crisis of motherhood starring a very pregnant performer.
Sold (Jan 28 – Feb 2) is the true story of Mary Prince, who was born into enslavement on British owned Bermuda, and went on to become a beacon for the anti-slavery movement in Britain, told through theatre, song, drumming, and dance.
This Bitch Can Heal (Jan 28 – 30) an intimate solo show by Pink Splat Productions – who came together as part of the Arcola’s Queer Collective. This Bitch Can Heal tells the story of Jack’s obsession with Extinction Rebellion and its impact on their relationship with their girlfriend.
Lucy Hopkins Ceremony of Golden Truth (Jan 31, Feb 7 & 14) a spiritual transformation -or an exposing social experiment? Either way, Lucy Hopkins Ceremony is an experience you won’t forget. We adored this outrageously truthful, gloriously comic moment in the presence of a glowing clown priestess.
drop dead gorgeous (Feb 1 & 15) by Same Same (an international interdisciplinary collective of women from India, Taiwan and the UK) is a brand new darkly comic exploration of femininity and appetite.
Be Longing (Feb 4 – 8) Follows two queer womxn as they navigate the edges of morality in a dystopian tale of genetic engineering, baby showers and losing love.
Since U Been Gone (Feb 4 – 9) is an autobiographical show about grief and discovery, featuring plenty of mid-noughties pop music (listen to our podcast with writer/performer Teddy Lamb recorded just before their Edinburgh Fringe run).
Patricia Gets Ready (for a date with the man that used to hit her) (Feb 5 – 9) by Martha Watson Allpress is back by popular demand after its first run at The White Bear theatre. It looks at surviving trauma, and aims to shatter the stereotype of the ‘broken woman’.
Gobby (Feb 4- 9), in which writer/performer Jodie Irvine’s biting comedy about what it means to be loud doubles as a lesson in how to throw a really good party.
On Arriving (Feb 4 – 9) is an emotionally-charged depiction of one woman’s refugee experience, performed by an actor with a deep personal connection to the subject, and staged in support of Refugee Action.
When The Sea Swallows Us Whole (Feb 5, 7, 9) is a queer love story set in an eroding town on the East coast where some people have just weeks before losing their homes to the ocean. The cast includes Jacoba Williams who most recently won the hearts of audiences and critics alike with her tour-de-force solo performance in Before I Was A Bear at The Bunker.
Gorgon: A Horror Story (Feb 5 – 9) Elf Lyons new show is described as “The Texas Chain Saw Massacre meets Medusa” with family fighting, female rage, and taxidermy. Not for the faint hearted.
TALK PROPA (Feb 11 – 13) is a celebration of all things northern, and a two-woman f*ck you to accent-prejudice, stereotypes, and the southern elite.
The 4th Country (Feb 11 – 16) examines the ways in which global political decisions impact the lives of ordinary people in Northern Ireland, by theatre company Plain Heroines who depict women whose lives may be messy and seemingly un-extraordinary, or those whose stories have been hidden and forgotten.
Tinted (Feb 11 – 16) is a revolutionary disabled response to the #metoo hashtag. Staged as accessibly as possible and written by disabled playwright Amy Bethan Evans, Tinted is the debut full-length monologue from Scripped Up, championing D/deaf, disabled and neurodivergent writers.
Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands (Feb 11 – 16) is Melissa Dunnes inky black comedy that explores mental health in a world that prefers easy answers to uncomfortable truths. Everybody Cares, Everybody Understands originated as a short play written for our Bechdel Testing Life project in 2017, and is produced by Papercut Theatre whose previous VAULT shows, Lola and Dangerous Lenses, were amongst the most thrillingly unnerving and expertly executed shows of 2019.
Splintered (Feb 12 – 16) is a queer Caribbean carnival of rebellion against growing up in a homophobic culture, based on interviews with queer women in Trinidad & Tobago. Listen to our podcast with Lagahoo Theatre director Emily Aboud and performer Charlotte Dowding.
Bible John (Feb 12 – 16) investigates women’s fascination with ‘true crime’ through the eyes of a group of friends who become obsessed with a podcast about one of the UKs most notorious serial killers.
Jollof Wars (Feb 14 – 16) is a culture clash, told through the lens of a Nigerian chef and her Ghanaian fiancé. Historically, Africans have debated who makes the tasty dish best. The question is… what’s really at stake? From award-winning playwright and actress Gail Egbeson.
Bloody Caliph (Feb 18 – 19) After last year’s successful sold-out run of Inside Voices, Lazy Native return with Bloody Caliph by Nabilah Said. Two women strike an unlikely friendship in a Garden Centre. In a prosaic setting, ugliness creeps in. Lazy Native are an international theatre collective championing Southeast Asian narratives, Bloody Caliph explores issues surrounding Islamophobia, race relations, female kinship and legacy.
Glamrou: From Quran to Queen (Feb 19 – 20) In this blisteringly funny and political debut, Iraqi Muslim drag sensation Glamrou serenades their lover, Allah, with love songs, break-up songs and minaret-sized wigs.
Apple (Feb 21 – 22) by Cheryl Ndione is a darkly comic and introspective look at a less-than-rosy mother-daughter relationship, and the inherited trauma passed through generous from navigating misogynoir. Produced by The Upsetters who make theatre by writers, directors and performers of colour (see also their brilliant-looking Bunker takeover, listed above).
Madame Ovary (Feb 18 – 24), Rosa Hesmondhalgh’s beautiful show about surviving ovarian cancer in her early 20s is at VAULT as part of a country-wide tour, with tickets also still available (and selling quickly at the time of writing) for performances in Guildford, Hull, Cardiff, Birmingham, and Manchester.
DUAL دوگانه (Feb 19 – 23) by magnificently multi-talented actor/puppeteer/theatremaker Peyvand Sadeghian – you may recognise her from I Have A Mouth And I Will Scream (one of our favourites at VAULT 2018), and widely-acclaimed performances in Turkey at The Hope Theatre, Rich Kids of Tehran at Edinburgh Fringe 2019. DUAL دوگانه is her autobiographical debut: a theatrical mosaic of drag, poetry, puppetry, and interviews telling the story of 10-year-old Peyvand’s first visit to Iran to visit her father’s family, for which she took on a new passport, and a new name.
Belly Up (Feb 23) a new comedy set in London in the reign of mad King George. After killing her master’s son, Liberty tries to escape her inevitable death sentence by ‘pleading the belly’ – all Libby has to do is convince a jury she’s up the duff. The problem is, she isn’t, and nor – being a lesbian stuck in the women’s ward – is she likely to become so…
Blow: A Deaf Girl’s Fight (Feb 25 – Mar 1) challenges the treatment of d/Deaf people on stage, screen and in real life, through a part-immersive part-musical show about a d/Deaf girl joining a boxing club.
Second Home (Feb 26 – 28) is Charlotte Chimuanya’s poetic play tackling grief and racism from London to Galway on the West Coast of Ireland.
Too Pretty To Punch (Mar 3 – 8) is Edalia Day’s visual spectacular that rejects categorisation – both of gender and genre, as it celebrates trans existence using poetry, banjo music, explosive movement, and stunningly designed, timed and choreographed projections. Too Pretty To Punch is touring throughout the spring, and can also be seen in Norwich, Oxford, Stockton, Salford, Liverpool, Leicester, Leeds, Exeter, Luton, and Cambridge.
V&V (Mar 3 – 8) charts the narratives of two queer couples: the iconic love story of literary treasure Virginia Woolf and esteemed socialite Vita Sackville-West; and a far newer story of Lottie from Tunbridge Wells and love cynic Mia.
Closed Lands (Mar 3 – 8) is a multimedia production based on research and testimonies, in which an all-migrant, all-female cast chronicles the “free world’s obsession with walls from Berlin to Mexico.
Heroine (Mar 4 – 8) is Lizzie Milton’s third play at VAULT (following 2018’s The Breaks In You And I and 2019’s 10), and latest collaboration with Snatchback – a theatre company devoted to improving the representation of women. Heroine uses stories from across the world – from Nigeria, Mexico, and The Arctic to create an evening celebrating fairytale heroines.
The Kola Nut Does Not Speak English (Mar 10 – 22) by Tania Nwachukwu explores the cultural history of a first generation Nigerian-British woman of Igbo descent as we follow the people of Eze as they fight to preserve their beloved kola tree. This show is produced by Noveau Riche, the multi-award-winning company behind fringe hit show Queens Of Sheba.
Blood Rites (Mar 10 – 12) by Eileen Bellot explores rites of passage and intergenerational connections, and looks for the wisdom of the elder in an age where youth is revered and women feel compelled to polyfill every crack on their face.
Northern Stage‘s takeover featuring artists based in the North East of England, including prosecco-fuelled gig-theatre And She by Bonnie and The Bonnettes (Feb 8 – 9), and Melody Sproates *gender not included (Feb 4 – 6) a 100% lipsynced cabaret about self-discovery and acceptance (you can also catch *gender not inlcuded in Newcastle, Stockton, and at Camden People’s Theatre)
Plant Fetish (Mar 21 – 22) by performance artist and poet Chanje Kunda who, after suffering with stress and anxiety, was inspired by stories of women in Mexico who, fed up with men, were getting married to trees.
Invisibles (Mar 17 – 22) by Argentinian writer Lola Lagos platforms the voices of two Latin women who despite being robbed from their dignity and freedom, never succumb to losing their spirit.
Last but not least, if you’re going to see an evening show (or two) at VAULT Festival don’t forget to check out their fantastic programme of late night revelries which are always worth sticking around for. Make a night of it and party with our faves: Pecs (Feb 1), Frisky (Feb 14), Pussy Liquor (Feb 15), The Bitten Peach (Feb 28), Brazilian Wax (Feb 29), LADS (Mar 7), and The Cocoa Butter Club (Mar 20).
If you spot a mistake in this blog (not one goes by without a dyslexic error or 2), tell us about a show we haven’t seen yet, or just say hello, feel free email us on firstname.lastname@example.org
Beth & Pippa x