The first month of the year is horribly underrated. Yes, trying to return to business-as-usual often feels like wrestling an octopus into a three piece suit but there’s (hopefully) a mountain of Christmas chocolate to work through and no pressure to leave the house. And in theatre-land, it means that the usual spree of mega-budget openings is replaced by an eclectic line-up of new shows making their quiet entrance into the world. Here are some UK-wide picks of shows to brighten the start of 2019.
Look, if you want to see something truly and extremity-warmingly wonderful, you could just go and see Rosalie Craig, Patti LuPone & co doing Company (read Alice Saville’s review for Exeunt here). Somehow, despite the substantial hype, there are loads of tickets with respectable sightlines for under £30. But I recognise that January is a time to challenge your mulled wine-softened body and mind, and there are many theatrey ways to do that.
London International Mime Festival (9th January – 3rd February) is back for 2019, and its line-up of wordless visual theatre is much, much broader than the name suggests. Full line-up is here, but Anywhere looks especially magical – it tells the story of Oedipus’s wanderings, as performed by a puppet made from slowly-melting ice.
Isley Lynn, who wrote Skin A Cat (Exeunt review here), is collaborating with physical theatre company Rhum & Clay on The War of the Worlds at New Diorama Theatre, in what sounds like an intriguing mix of sci-fi and present-day politics.
Vault Festival is steaming into Waterloo, with a line-up that’s as packed as a 7am commuter train but hopefully much more fun. This year it’s got a headliner: Counting Sheep, an immersive protest inspired by the 2014 uprising in Ukraine, and made by the directors of Belarus Free Theatre. Tickets start from £18 (for £40 you can be a ‘Premium’ protester, make of that what you will). Its first week also includes another chance to see Katie & Pip, a story about (and performed with) a diabetic teenage girl and her dog (Exeunt’s review from the Edinburgh Fringe here). And I’m excited to see Opal Fruits, Holly Beasley-Garrigan’s four-generation spoken word story set on a South London council estate, and Juniper and Jules, a queer love story about falling in love and nonmonogamy.
Not to be outdone, The Yard is unleashing the latest instalment of NOW #19, a mini-festival of double bills. It kicks off with 24 Italian Songs and Arias, a new show about failure and opera by Brian Lobel, and Fk Alexander’s Diana is Dead, which is apparently a revenge fantasy where Diana gets justice in a barrage of industrial techno and… oh wow, I can’t think of a better way to first wallow in, then triumphantly shake off any lingering January doldrums.
The drum I will beat until my withered hands are no more than a collection of dry bones, held together by the fading magic of theatre history, is that panto isn’t actually, technically a Christmas thing. Pantos traditionally opened on Boxing Day and kept on playing through January and February – even to Easter, if tickets were selling. So all of this is a long preamble by way of saying that The Wardrobe Theatre’s Oedipuss in Boots is still running until 20th January, and I respect this decision, the company, and indeed their ingeniously punning chosen name for the show. Alternatively, make for Ferment Fortnight at Bristol Old Vic, which is a chance to sample new work from some of the city’s best-loved makers, including Vanessa Kisuule, The Wardrobe Ensemble, and Documental.
Home Manchester is hosting Push Festival (11th-26th January) which is a showcase for artists from the North West, and its line-up includes Fram & Dunt, a circus-tinged father-daughter show that’s intense, poignant, and weirdly surreal (more in Exeunt’s interview with Ellie Dubois). Plus Fat Girl Singing by Emma Geraghty, a fat positive show with songs that feels pretty essential in a month of constant culturally-enforced dieting-related blah.
Glasgow and Edinburgh
New Scottish opera Anthropocene is set in a frozen wasteland, and is hence a very solid bit of programming for January. Composer Stuart MacRae and librettist Louise Welsh tell the story of a strange force that emerges from the ice, baffling a trapped team of Arctic scientists. It plays Glasgow’s Theatre Royal (24th-26th January) and Edinburgh’s King’s Theatre (31st January- 2nd February) before stopping in at London’s Hackney Empire next month.
Exeunt Recommends is a regular series highlighting the shows and festivals our writers are excited about: we try to make it UK-wide, but the range of areas featured is subject to what’s on. For more tips, browse through our recent reviews.