The Crucible, Old Vic, London
Arthur Miller’s haunting masterpiece about the Salem witch hunts is sadly never out of date: it serves as a timeless warning about the power of paranoia. In her stunning new staging, Yaël Farber wisely leaves it in its context: a hard-working, God-fearing, rural 17th-century community.
Staged simply in the round, the play fuses the particular with the parable to produce a terrifying world in which hysteria takes hold. Led by a gruff, tormented Richard Armitage as John Proctor, the farmer who tries to break the spell, Farber’s terrific ensemble releases the harrowing power of this brilliant play.
oldvictheatre.com, 0844 871 7628, to September 13
The Importance of Being Earnest, Harold Pinter Theatre, London
Nigel Havers and Martin Jarvis, who played bachelors-about-town Algernon Moncrieff and John Worthing in Peter Hall’s 1982 production, reprise their roles for this new staging of Oscar Wilde’s classic comedy.
They join “The Bunbury Company of Players” to deliver the comedy in a new framework, created by Simon Brett and directed by Lucy Bailey. Cherie Lunghi and Christine Kavanagh play the two, er, eligible young ladies that are the object of pursuit, and Siân Phillips takes on the challenge of tackling Lady Bracknell and delivering those immortal words, “A handbag?”
atgtickets.com, 0844 871 7637, July 17-September 20
Invincible, St James Theatre, London
The north-south divide and class tensions are alive and kicking in Torben Betts’ farce, which played at Richmond’s Orange Tree Theatre last March and now moves into central London. As the recession bites, a middle-class couple abandon London and move to a cheaper dwelling in a small northern town. But when they try to bond with their working-class neighbours, trouble ensues, providing plenty of comedy – and comparisons, for the playwright, with Alan Ayckbourn.
stjamestheatre.co.uk, 0844 264 2140, to August 9
This Was a Man, Finborough Theatre, London
We expect premieres at this enterprising little theatre but not of plays by Noël Coward. But here is the professional UK premiere of a work replete with familiar Coward themes about morals, jealousy and social mores that was banned in 1925 by the Lord Chamberlain because of its facetious treatment of adultery. Jamie de Courcey plays successful painter Edward and Dorothea Myer-Bennett his not-so-faithful wife; Belinda Lang directs.
finboroughtheatre.co.uk, 0844 847 1652, July 15-August 2
Julius Caesar, Shakespeare’s Globe, London
Dominic Dromgoole’s dynamic, gripping production causes the action to spill out of the auditorium and into the foyer, with spectators making their way in through exotic Lupercalia festivities. This emphasises the themes in the play and the irony of the power struggle on view. In the hurly-burly, some subtleties and depths of this great play are lost but Dromgoole’s expert embrace of the crowd feels all too timely in a world blasted by wars.
shakespearesglobe.com, 020 7401 9919, to October 11
Skylight, Wyndham’s Theatre, London
Though it’s nearly 20 years since David Hare’s play had its premiere, the questions about social inequality and values remain as topical as ever. Stephen Daldry’s fine revival is superbly acted by Bill Nighy as Tom, the successful middle-aged restaurateur, and Carey Mulligan as Kyra, his former lover, who works in a tough school in east London. The play’s ideological and political argument mixes sharp debate with messy feelings: the result is both intellectually and emotionally satisfying.
SkylightWestEnd.com, 0844 482 5120, to August 23
Intimate Apparel, Park Theatre, London
Transfer from Theatre Royal, Bath, of the British premiere of this play by Pulitzer-winning playwright Lynn Nottage drawn from experiences in her own family. The drama focuses on Esther Mills, an African-American woman living in New York in the early 20th century and supporting herself by working as a seamstress. She hopes to save enough to open a beauty parlour for black women but when she starts to receive letters from a lonely Caribbean man, it looks as though her future may change. Tanya Moodie plays Esther in Laurence Boswell’s production.
parktheatre.co.uk, 020 7870 6876, to July 27
The Kindness of Strangers, Southwark Playhouse, London
Curious Directive’s new show, written by Russell Woodhead and Jack Lowe, has us climb aboard a moving ambulance as we accompany Lisa, newly qualified paramedic, on her first outing. A delicate, thoughtful show.
southwarkplayhouse.co.uk, 020 7407 0234 until Wednesday