If theatre mirrors life then you would expect 2009 to be a bad year for the performing arts in London: economic downturns and credit crunches sound like gloomy news for our discretionary entertainment spending. But West End theatre box office figures have kept on going up in recent years, and the huge number of new productions sailing into town during 2009 could mean that Theatreland manages to buck the trend.
THE GREAT REVIVAL
The RSC, National Theatre, Donmar and Old Vic dominated straight drama in the West End in 2008, and they haven't finished yet. Big hitters coming to town include Judi Dench and Rosamund Pike in the Donmar in the West End's Madame de Sade at the Wyndhams; Jude Law offering us his, hopefully fighting fit, Hamlet; Gillian Anderson in Ibsen's A Doll's House and Rachel Weisz in A Streetcar Named Desire at the Donmar Warehouse; Helen Mirren making her return to the London stage in Phaedra at the National Theatre; and a number of crowd-pleasing revivals at the Old Vic, no more so than Dancing at Lughnasa, Brian Friel's hugely successful play starring Andrea Corr, and Sam Mendes directing Chekhov's The Cherry Orchard and Shakespeare's A Winter's Tale, both featuring Ethan Hawke, Simon Russell Beale and Sinead Cusack.
Other stars shimmying into town include Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart in Samuel Beckett's Waiting for Godot at the Haymarket, Ken Stott and Hayley Atwell in Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge at the Duke of York's, heavy-hitter Pete Postlethwaite as King Lear at the Young Vic, and Antony Sher giving us his Prospero in the RSC's The Tempest. The Gavin and Stacey phenomenon continues to roll on, as we see Joe Orton's delicious romp Entertaining Mr Sloane at the Trafalgar Studios starring Gavin himself, Matthew Horne, alongside Imelda Staunton; whilst Gavin's onscreen Mum Alison Steadman plays a barking Leeds housewife in Alan Bennett's Enjoy at the Gielgud Theatre.
The sharp eyed amongst you will notice that all of these plays are revivals rather than new work, keeping audiences firmly in their comfort zones. That said, new plays may be thin on the ground but not absent all together, with the National offering up Richard Bean's England People Very Nice, following two lovers across four centuries, and Samuel Adamson's Mrs Affleck set in the 1950s. Jez Butterworth has two new plays in pre-production, with comedy Parlour Song at the Almeida and Jerusalem at the Royal Court. Also at the Royal Court, Mark Ravenhill will bring his new play Over There. Plus Hollywood man of the moment James McAvoy is to star in Richard Greenberg's acclaimed play Three Days of Rain at the Apollo, and at The Old Vic Richard Dreyfuss headlines the world premiere of American playwright Joe Sutton's new play Complicit, directed by Kevin Spacey.
"BASED ON A FILM"
In musical theatre, 2009 promises to be a year of great big fabulous and familiar shows, surely enough to see us through the dark times? And it's no coincidence that many of them are based on hugely successful films.
Oliver! will be well and truly steaming ahead through 2009 at the Drury Lane Theatre Royal with Rowan Atkinson and Jodie Prenger; La Cage Aux Folles will continue camping it up at the Playhouse but with Graham Norton taking over from Douglas Hodge; and at the Adelphi Theatre Lee Mead will bow out of Joseph to be replaced by Gareth Gates.
Jason Donovan will be donning the wigs and lip gloss to take us on an Australian power-mince in Priscilla Queen of the Desert at the Palace Theatre. And Sister Act at the London Palladium will be doing its best to recreate the fun of the film, helped along by Whoopi Goldberg as co-producer. And not quite a musical but as good as, Calendar Girls the stage play will up the naked flesh quotient in the West End, starring Patricia Hodge and Lynda Bellingham at the Noel Coward Theatre.
Also in musicals-land the power of reality TV continues to wield its power, with Gareth Gates going into Joseph at the Adelphi Theatre, the X-factor's Niki Evans continuing in Blood Brothers at the Phoenix, Jodie Prenger in Oliver at the Drury Lane, and Ray Quinn and Danny Bayne in Grease - joined for a limited time by the legendary Jimmy Osmond.
Kids should also see a good year in 2009 with an enormous live theatrical production of Walking with Dinosaurs coming to a stadium near you, and War Horse transfers from its successful run at the National Theatre to the New London Theatre.