Richard II, Almeida Theatre, London, 10th December to 2nd February
Is there no Shakespearean role beyond Simon Russell Beale? For all his brilliance, he remains an unlikely heroic actor, yet he has triumphed as Hamlet and Benedick, Prospero and Iago, Timon of Athens and Macbeth, with powers of steely intelligence, critical acumen and glorious verse-speaking. While King Lear was just beyond him (too young), the villainous, sardonic Richard III—his performance was described by one critic as an unholy alliance of Père Ubu and Gertrude Stein—was easily within his range. The more reflective Richard II might prove a tougher challenge. But I’ll wager it won’t.
A Christmas Carol, Old Vic, London, 29th November to 13th January
Writer Jack Thorne and director Matthew Warchus’s “immersive” take on the second greatest Christmas story was a huge hit last year and returns full of cheer, carols and mince pies, with Stephen Tompkinson succeeding Rhys Ifan as Scrooge. Other returning favourites are those of Simon Callow in solo mode at the Arts Theatre in London and David Edgar’s version for the RSC in Stratford-upon-Avon.
Kiss Me, Kate, Sheffield Crucible, 7th December to 12th January
After West Side Story’s re-write of Romeo and Juliet, this is the next best musical version of Shakespeare—and the funniest. Set on and off-stage during a performance of The Taming of the Shrew, the show follows the romantic high jinks of the actors as they let rip with Cole Porter’s wonderful songs. How can it fail with “Too Darn Hot,” “So in Love,” and “Brush Up Your Shakespeare” (with a kick in the Coriolanus)?