Ravens: Spassky vs Fischer, Hampstead Theatre, 29th November to 18th January
The 1972 chess contest between Russian Boris Spassky and American Bobby Fischer was a sporting metaphor for the Cold War. (Fischer won). Previous cultural takes on the match include the 1986 musical Chess by the Abba composers and Tim Rice, with anthems and added love interest. Now Tom Morton-Smith, who wrote an engaging and powerful play about the father of the atom bomb Robert Oppenheimer for the RSC, drills down to the superpowers’ battle of ideologies, with sport as the weapon of choice.
The Duchess of Malfi, Almeida Theatre, 2nd December to 25th January
One of the greatest tragic characters in Jacobean drama, John Webster’s widowed but still fecund duchess marries her steward and incurs the sadistic wrath of her brothers—one a lubricious cardinal, the other a madman with lycanthropic tendencies. “Webster was much possessed by death/ And saw the skull beneath the skin,” wrote TS Eliot. This glittering casket of a horror play never disappoints. Lydia Wilson plays the lead.
Gypsy, Royal Exchange, Manchester, 30th November to 25th January
Everything’s coming up roses (and daffodils) in a knockout musical in which the mother of fabled stripper Gypsy Rose Lee keeps the show on the road in the last days of touring vaudeville. Ria Jones plays Momma Rose—past property of Ethel Merman, Angela Lansbury and Bette Midler. Though dating from 1959, the show’s power is undiminished in the music of Jule Styne and lyrics of Stephen Sondheim.