The best theatre shows, plays and musicals to see in London this autumn

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Want to know some of the best things to do in London this autumn? Head to the West End and beyond for theatre shows galore. Here’s our round-up of the best plays to book now for a cultural night out.

Autumn has arrived, and with it, a flurry of excellent things: big comfy knits, soul-warming food, and the appeal of cosying up in a dark theatre of an evening, watching a really good play. If ever there was a time to swap a night at the old pub on the corner for an evening at The Old Vic, it’s now.

Over the next few months, so much good stuff is coming to the stages of London. There’s Zoë Wanamaker leading a tantalising tale about the (fictional) French and American first ladies. There’s an incredible telling of one of China’s biggest pharmaceutical scandals. Even Alexander Litvinenko is getting the theatre treatment, in a hard-hitting drama about his death and its tumultuous aftermath. And at the National Theatre, you’ll find everyone’s favorite holiday read – Elena Ferrante’s My Brilliant Friend – transformed into a must-see play.

Oh, and if you’re more into musicals? A song-and-dance adaptation of Pretty Woman is on its way to the West End too.

Here’s our pick of the best plays in London to see before Christmas.  

  • Two ladies play

    Two Ladies

    When the partners of rival political leaders are left alone together at a time of international crisis, do they stick to polite chit-chat – or does something more complicated occur? That’s the premise of Two Ladies, directed by Nicholas Hytner and starring Zoë Wanamaker and Zrinka Cvitešić as the French and American first ladies. A glamorous political drama, shining a spotlight on the tense relationship between two powerful women. From £15; 14 September-26 October; Bridge Theatre, SE1

  • Bush theatre chiaro scuro


    In the last year alone, 29-year-old Lynette Linton has directed the Pulitzer Prize-winning Sweat at the Donmar Warehouse and the Globe’s all-women-of-colour production of Richard II. Now, she’s helming a revival of Chiaroscuro, a 1986 play by Scottish National Poet Jackie Kay. The “explosive gig-theatre event” explores the relationships between queer British women of colour, and is likely to seal Linton’s reputation as one of UK theatre’s brightest stars. From £15; 31 August-5 October; Bush Theatre, W12

  • Old Vic Play

    A Very Expensive Poison

    In November 2006, the MI6 employee and ex-Russian secret service operative Alexander Litvinenko was poisoned at a Mayfair bar. The radioactive substance polonium is thought to have been slipped into his tea by two Russian agents – and his death sparked an international outcry. With a script by Lucy Prebble (Secret Diary of a Call Girl), A Very Expensive Poison tackles the jaw-dropping twists and turns that preceded and followed Litvinenko’s shocking murder. From £10; 20 August-5 October; The Old Vic, SE1

  • The king pf hell's place play

    The King of Hell’s Palace

    Another riveting political thriller inspired by (relatively) recent world events: this time, China’s Plasma Economy scandal. In Henan Province, 1992, impoverished farmers are encouraged to sell their blood to the Ministry of Health, which then sells it on to pharmaceutical companies. But when young government official Yin-Yin discovers the horrifying truth about the blood extraction initiative, she’s forced to become a whistleblower. A gripping depiction of a forgotten disgrace. From £15; 5 September-12 October; Hampstead Theatre, NW3

  • My Brilliant Friend

    Set in Naples in the second half of the 20th century and grappling with themes including female friendship, class, misogyny and violence, Elena Ferrante’s “Neapolitan Novels” were one of the biggest literary sensations of the 21st century. April de Angelis’s critically-acclaimed stage adaptation of My Brilliant Friend, the first book in the series, comes to the National in November – and some performances have already sold out. Don’t miss it. From £21; 12 November-18 January 2020; National Theatre, SE1

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Words by Moya Crockett, Bre Graham and Kat Poole. Images: Bronwen Sharp; Manuel Harlan

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