What to see in London this autumn 2021: The Great Big Culture Booking Guide

·10-min read
Life’s a Cabaret  (handout)
Life’s a Cabaret (handout)

Exhibitions

Mixing it Up: Painting Today

Lubaina Himid, The Captain and The Mate, 2017-2018 (Lubaina Himid)
Lubaina Himid, The Captain and The Mate, 2017-2018 (Lubaina Himid)

What’s going on in the most enduringly popular of all visual art forms? What does it mean today? Through 31 contemporary practitioners of the art, this show aims to, erm, paint a picture.

Hayward Gallery, Sept 9 to Dec 12

Summer Exhibition

The world’s oldest open submission art exhibition goes ahead again at the Royal Academy, this time with the more than 1,000 works coordinated by a group of artists led by Yinka Shonibare, under the theme Reclaiming Magic.

Royal Academy, Sept 22 to Jan 2

Noguchi

We’re super excited about this exhibition about the thrillingly experimental Japanese-American artist Isamu Noguchi, whose stunning work spans sculpture, architecture, dance, design and landscape, driven by humanist values and using materials from ceramics to paper to light.

Barbican Art Gallery, Sept 30 to Jan 9

Poussin and the Dance

Nicolas Poussin, The Triumph of Pan, 1636 (National Gallery)
Nicolas Poussin, The Triumph of Pan, 1636 (National Gallery)

Chaos on canvas is underpinned by rigorous planning and meticulous execution in Nicolas Poussin’s astonishing and unique dance paintings (this is the first show to focus on them), in which gods and mortals mingle in the ecstatic throwing of shapes.

National Gallery, Oct 9 to Jan 2

Late Constable

I’m not going to lie, I always think Constable is a bit… twee. All those white highlights on pastoral scenes. This exhibition, though, sets out to show just how radical this famous Royal Academician actually was, with the expressive, free paintings of his later career.

Royal Academy, Oct 30 to Feb 13

Hogarth and Europe

William Hogarth captured and commented on the British contemporary experience in an age of change and enlightenment - but his colleagues across Europe were doing the same thing in their own countries. This exhibition puts the artist in his European context for the first time.

Tate Britain, Nov 3 to Mar 20

Peru: a journey in time

Coinciding with the 200th anniversary of Peru’s independence, this landmark show will highlight the history, beliefs and cultural achievements of the peoples who lived in the remarkable landscapes of the central Andes from 2000 BC to the arrival of Europeans in the 1500s.

British Museum, Nov 11 to Feb 20

The Credit Suisse Exhibition: Durer’s Journeys: Travels of a Renaissance Artist

Albrecht Dürer, Madonna and Child, about 1496–9 (National Gallery of Art, Washington)
Albrecht Dürer, Madonna and Child, about 1496–9 (National Gallery of Art, Washington)

Through paintings, drawings, prints and letters, this show follows in the footsteps of the great German Renaissance artist as he travelled across Europe taking in the Alps Italy, Venice (then independent) and the Netherlands.

National Gallery, Nov 20 to Feb 27

Lubaina Himid

A major exhibition for the Turner Prize-winning artist which will take in recent work and a selection from across her career that will unfold (appropriately for someone initially trained in theatre design) via a sequence of scenes.

Tate Modern, Nov 25 to May 22

Life Between Islands: Caribbean-British Art, 50s-now

Spanning an ocean and half a century, this celebratory landmark exhibition will focus on the work of artists from the Caribbean who have made their home in Britain, and other British artists who have been influenced by the region’s culture.

Tate Britain, Dec 1 to April 3

Theatre

Cabaret

Cabaret (handout)
Cabaret (handout)

What good is sitting alone in your room? Come and see this uber-glitzy Cabaret revival instead. Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley will star in Rebecca Frecknall’s production, bound to be the hottest show of the autumn.

Playhouse Theatre, from Nov 15

The Tragedy of Macbeth

Is that a very long queue for tickets I see before me? This September, four-time Oscar nominee Saoirse Ronan will make her UK stage debut opposite James McArdle (aka the creepy priest in Mare of East Town) in Macbeth. Even Shakespeare wants a ticket.

Almeida, Sept 27 to Nov 20

The Mirror and the Light

Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall trilogy may be over, but this won’t be the last that we see of Thomas Cromwell. The final instalment, published last year, has been adapted for the West End by Mantel and Ben Miles, who will reprise his role as Cromwell. Ruffs at the ready.

Gielgud, Sept 23 to Nov 28

Get Up Stand Up!

Arinzé Kene and the cast of Get Up, Stand Up! in rehearsals (handout)
Arinzé Kene and the cast of Get Up, Stand Up! in rehearsals (handout)

The life, times and music of Bob Marley will come to the stage for this major new musical, with Arinzé Kene playing the reggae superstar himself. Directed by Clint Dyer and written by Lee Hall, the man who penned Billy Elliot the Musical, it’s bound to breathe life into the West End.

Lyric, from Oct 1

Frozen

We’ve been waiting to let it go for such a long time that we’ve turned into an icicle, but finally Frozen the Musical is opening in the West End. After many pandemic-related delays, the Disney behemoth opens at the refurbished Theatre Royal Drury Lane this September.

Theatre Royal Drury Lane, from Aug 27

The Normal Heart

At the height of the Aids crisis, Larry Kramer wrote a play about an activist trying to unite his community and fight for recognition from the medical establishment. Over 30 years on, it’s getting a major revival at the National Theatre, passing the story on to a new generation.

National Theatre, Sept 23 to Nov 6

Hamlet

Cush Jumbo plays Hamlet at the Young Vic (handout)
Cush Jumbo plays Hamlet at the Young Vic (handout)

Everyone wants to see Cush Jumbo play Hamlet. The production, delayed by the pandemic but finally opening this September, is super sold out, but keep an eye on the Young Vic’s website for future availability.

Young Vic, Sept 25 to Nov 13

Curious

Jasmine Lee-Jones’s debut play, seven methods of killing kylie jenner, was undoubtedly one of the most groundbreaking debuts of the last decade. She’s following it up with a one-woman show that she’ll perform, about a tired drama student who stumbles upon a piece of history,

Soho Theatre, Sept 16 to Oct 16

Life of Pi

Had a tough year? At least you’re not marooned on a raft with a giant scary tiger who you’re not even sure is real. Life of Pi, one of the most popular Booker-winning novels ever, has been turned into a thrilling play by Lolita Chakrabarti, and it finally reaches the West End this year.

Wyndham’s, from Nov 15

Dance

Message in a Bottle

Message in a Bottle (Helen Maybanks)
Message in a Bottle (Helen Maybanks)

A jukebox dance work to the music of Sting that premiered last year, this brilliant, blistering piece by the three-time Olivier-nominated choreographer, Kate Prince, perhaps unexpectedly, deals with the refugee crisis. It fairly crackles with energy and power.

Sadler’s Wells, Sept 29 to Oct 17

The Midnight Bell

Matthew Bourne’s much-anticipated new ballet is inspired by the work of the great English novelist Patrick Hamilton, who, in contrast to his contemporary Noel Coward, wrote about the lives of ordinary men and women, by turn inspired by interactions at his local pub.

Sadler’s Wells, Oct 4-9

Romeo & Juliet

Kenneth MacMillan’s stunning production, first staged in 1965, is one of the modern classics, bringing to life the bustle of busy Verona and its undercurrent of conflict. The casts will include a pairing of real life couple (and gorgeous dancers) Francesca Hayward and Cesar Corrales.

Royal Opera House, Oct 5-24; Jan 10 to Feb 25

The Dante Project

The Dante Project (handout)
The Dante Project (handout)

This hugely anticipated collaboration between choreographer Wayne McGregor, artist Tacita Dean and composer Thomas Adès presents Dante’s epic hell-to-heaven journey, The Divine Comedy, as part of the 700th anniversary commemorations of the poet’s death.

Royal Opera House, Oct 14-30

Giselle

Get ready to swoon. Peter Wright’s classic production of the pre-eminent romantic ballet is an absolute treat. Its highly coveted title role (which requires not just an exceptional dancer but also some serious acting) will be danced by most of the Royal Ballet’s principals.

Royal Opera House, Nov 4 to Dec 3

Opera

Rigoletto

Oliver Mears kicks off his tenure as Director of Opera at the Royal Opera House with this new production of Verdi’s masterpiece, led by Carlos Álvarez in the title role alongside Lisette Oropesa and Liparit Avetisyan.

Royal Opera House, Sept 13-29

The Magic Flute

The Magic Flute (Tristram Kenton)
The Magic Flute (Tristram Kenton)

This is the tenth revival of David McVicar’s spectacular production of Mozart’s magical comic opera, which premiered just two months before the composer’s death at the age of 35. A fantastical parable of man’s search for wisdom and virtue, it also has dancing animals.

Royal Opera House, Sept 15 to Oct 7

Jenufa

The first production of Janáček’s emotionally complex (and grim) opera at the ROH for 20 years follows two women trying to find their place in a claustrophobic rural society. Asmik Grigorian makes her Royal Opera debut in the title role, alongside Karita Mattila as the Kostelnička.

Royal Opera House, Sept 28 to Oct 12

Satyagraha

This revival of Phelim McDermott’s lush staging of Philip Glass’s meditation on Mahatma Gandhi’s early years in South Africa will be a hot ticket. The cast is led by Sean Panikkar as Gandhi, a role in which he made his Los Angeles Opera debut. It’s an ENO debut for conductor Carolyn Kuan.

London Coliseum, Oct 14-28

La Traviata

Angel Blue as Violetta in La Traviata (ROH)
Angel Blue as Violetta in La Traviata (ROH)

Five different sopranos take the coveted role of Violetta in this production of the world’s most performed opera - Lisette Oropesa and Anush Hovhannisyan in the Autumn and Pretty Yende, Angel Blue and Hrachuhí Bassénz in the Spring. Unmissable.

Royal Opera House, Oct 27 to Nov 17; April 2-18

HMS Pinafore

Cal McCrystal returns to ENO to direct this new production of Gilbert & Sullivan’s satire on the British class system, starring none other than telly stalwart Les Dennis in what, you’ll no doubt be surprised to hear, is his ENO debut, as Sir Joseph Porter, First Lord of the Admiralty.

London Coliseum, Oct 29 to Dec 11

The Valkyrie

Brace yourself, it’s the start of another Ring cycle, this time directed by Richard Jones, set to unfold over the course of the next five years at ENO. As the scheming gods turn the world upside down in their search for power, it’s hard not to see parallels, over and over again...

London Coliseum, Nov 19 to Dec 10

Pop

Sam Fender

Sam Fender (Getty Images)
Sam Fender (Getty Images)

The North Shields Springsteen disciple had a great start, winning the Brits Critics’ Choice Award and sending his debut album to number one in 2019. Here he’ll preview the follow-up, which is released a fortnight after this gig.

O2 Academy Brixton, Sept 25

Ellie Goulding

Unlike Dua Lipa or Lady Gaga, Ellie Goulding was one pop star who reined in the dance anthems during lockdown, releasing an album, Brightest Blue, that was mostly quieter. Her departure from the arenas for this slightly smaller show should suit the sound.

Eventim Apollo, Oct 17

Elton John

Like a weary cop drawn into one more case before retirement, Elton John has had to wait even longer to put his feet up for good after his Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour was delayed by a year. He’ll finally get do nine shows in the O2 in November.

O2 Arena, Nov 2-17

London Grammar

After headlining Hackney’s All Points East festival at the end of this month, the electronic soul trio will be back for two big London shows of their own. The slightly livelier style of their recent third album should prevent mass attention from drifting.

Alexandra Palace, Nov 12-13

Ghetts

Ghetts (PR handout)
Ghetts (PR handout)

One of grime’s founding fathers is currently riding high on more acclaim than ever, scoring his first Mercury Prize nomination for his Conflict of Interest album. It’s packed with guest stars including Stormzy, Ed Sheeran, Skepta and Dave, so look out for surprise visitors here.

Roundhouse, Nov 20

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