Best London plays to see this autumn

From topical shows to a one-man play to an otherworldly experience, there is something for everyone on London stages in the West End and beyond this autumn.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

The autumn season is always an exciting time for London theatre, and that’s especially true this year, with some big shows opening in the West End and beyond. From new plays to highly anticipated revivals, and from cutting-edge work to starry spectacles, there’s something to get every theatregoer’s heart racing.

Many of these productions are going to be hot tickets, so start planning your trip now – and get booking! Here’s our guide to the must-see London plays in autumn 2023.

Lyonesse, Harold Pinter Theatre

One of the most intriguing productions that premieres this autumn is Penelope Skinner’s new play Lyonesse, led by two Hollywood stars. Kristin Scott Thomas plays the reclusive actress Elaine, who disappeared in mysterious circumstances. Now, 30 years on, decides she’s ready to share her story with the world.

Lily James plays a young film executive who is summoned to Elaine’s remote home in Cornwall to hear her tale – and perhaps assist with her comeback. This timely piece, directed by Ian Rickson, is all about who gets to control their own story, whether in the film industry or in day-to-day life.

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Hamnet, Garrick Theatre

Maggie O’Farrell’s best-selling novel has been triumphantly adapted for the stage by Lolita Chakrabarti (who also brought us the Olivier-winning theatrical version of Life of Pi) and the Royal Shakespeare Company. It premiered in Stratford earlier this year and now transfers to the West End.

Hamnet dramatises a terrible loss: the death of William Shakespeare’s 11-year-old son. The story follows the playwright’s grief and how it affects his marriage to Agnes – and also feeds into his increasingly profound and moving plays. That makes theatre the perfect place for O’Farrell’s book to find a further life.

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The Ocean at the End of the Lane, Noel Coward Theatre

Back by popular demand, it’s the spellbinding stage adaptation of Neil Gaiman’s extraordinary novel. First seen at the National Theatre, and then a big West End hit, the Olivier-nominated production is returning to London for a brief encore run.

The story centres on a man recalling his strange childhood experiences, involving otherworldly neighbours and a terrifying alien invader. Mixing supernatural and very human elements, plus an inventive staging with puppetry and immersive effects, it’s a show like no other.

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Pygmalion, Old Vic

Seriously exciting casting for Richard Jones’s revival of George Bernard Shaw’s enduring tale. Patsy Ferran – who wowed audiences when, at the last minute, she stepped into the lead role of A Streetcar Named Desire opposite Paul Mescal – will play Eliza Doolittle, and Bertie Carvel (Donald Trump in The 47th, detective Adam Dalgliesh, Tony Blair in The Crown) is Professor Henry Higgins.

How will Shaw’s fiery study of class, language, gender roles and Englishness (which is the source material for the musical My Fair Lady) play out in 2023? Don’t be a squashed cabbage leaf – get booking now and find out!

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God of Carnage, Lyric Hammersmith

Yasmina Reza’s razor-sharp, Olivier and Tony Award-winning comedy is back – and the parents are at each other’s throats. After one child hits another, the grown-ups try to talk it out in a civilised manner, only to descend into furious arguments.

God of Carnage was turned into a film in 2011, starring Jodie Foster, Kate Winslet, Christoph Waltz, and John C. Reilly, but it’s even more gripping on stage, as you’re trapped with this warring quartet. The Lyric’s cast includes Doctor Who actress Freema Agyeman.

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Private Lives, Ambassadors Theatre

Toxic exes Amanda and Elyot are both on honeymoon with their new spouses in the South of France – but, unluckily, they’re staying at the same hotel. Passion brings them back together, but are they doomed to repeat the same mistakes?

On the 50th anniversary of Noel Coward’s gloriously witty comedy, Nigel Havers and Patricia Hodge star in this West End revival, which began as a hugely popular U.K. tour last year. Don’t miss this delicious satire of love, sex, marriage, and everything in between.

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Beautiful Thing, Theatre Royal Stratford East

It’s 30 years since the premiere of Jonathan Harvey’s trailblazing gay drama. It focuses on Ste and Jamie, teenagers who live on a south London council estate, and it deals honestly with queer love and coming out as well as bullying, addiction, and more.

The original Bush Theatre cast included Jonny Lee Miller, and Philip Glenister, and subsequent revivals featured Hugh Bonneville, Andrew Garfield, and Jonathan Bailey. Now, Theatre Royal Stratford East stages Harvey’s heartfelt, pioneering play for a new generation.

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Mlima’s Tale, Kiln Theatre

It’s a real coup for this northwest London theatre to be premiering a new play by Lynn Nottage. The American writer has won the Pulitzer twice (for Ruined and Sweat), plus she wrote the books for musicals The Secret Life of Bees (recently seen at the Donmar Theatre) and MJ the Musical, which is coming to the West End next year.

But first up is Mlima’s Tale, about an elephant who is killed for his ivory tusks – and how that barbaric act corrupts everyone involved, from the hunter to the traders. This promises to be another gripping piece from Nottage on an urgent contemporary issue.

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Vanya, Duke of York's Theatre

Andrew Scott takes on his biggest challenge yet: playing all the parts in Chekhov’s play Uncle Vanya, in this new adaptation by Simon Stephens (who previously adapted The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-time, plus classic plays like Chekhov’s The Cherry Orchard).

Scott, known for his varied stage and screen work (from Sherlock and Fleabag to Present Laughter and Hamlet), will inhabit all of the characters – male and female, young and old – in the famous Russian comedy-drama, who are tangled up in various conflicts and romances. This should be a real tour-de-force from the always amazing Scott.

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A View from the Bridge, Rose Theatre Kingston

Arthur Miller’s explosive play tells the story of Eddie Carbone, whose happy life in Brooklyn is disrupted when he and his wife take in two Sicilian immigrants – and one of them forms a bond with Eddie’s niece. Jealousy, betrayal, and violence follow.

Holly Race Roughan, artistic director of Headlong, directs this joint production between the Rose Theatre, Headlong, Chichester Festival Theatre and Octagon Theatre. Miller’s unsettling work, about identity, family, and belonging, will definitely have plenty of resonance with today’s world.

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Red Pitch, Bush Theatre

Football and theatre are the new dream team, following James Graham’s five-star Dear England at the National. But Tyrell Williams’s award-winning play actually came first. Now, following a sold-out run, it’s back for extra time – just three weeks, though, so book quickly.

Red Pitch follows three football-loving London teenagers who have found a home on their local pitch. But gentrification is changing everything around them, from houses to shops, and that’s about to extend to their beautiful game too. Can their community survive?

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untitled fck mss s**gon play, Young Vic

As musical Miss Saigon is revived at the Sheffield Crucible, despite growing criticism in some quarters of its outdated and narrow depiction of Asian people, here comes a sizzling counterargument from Kimber Lee.

Her play takes aim at Miss Saigon and other such musicals featuring Asian stereotypes, as well as subtler microaggressions and the act of storytelling. Already a buzzy show following its premiere in Manchester, this promises to be one of the biggest talking points this autumn – so make sure you join the conversation.

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Blue Mist, Royal Court

Jihad, Rashid and Asif cherish their local community space, Chunkyz Shisha Lounge – but, thanks to politicians, it might have to close. Wannabe journalist Jihad decides to fight back by making a documentary about the lounge and giving his community a voice.

Mohamed-Zain Dada's debut play will lend an important voice to South-Asian Muslim men, specifically highlighting their experiences in a country that often disregards their perspectives. Royal Court associate director Milli Bhatia directs the production.

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Elephant, Bush Theatre

Anoushka Lucas, who was Olivier-nominated for her incredible portrayal of Laurey in Oklahoma!, has proven to be just as impressive as a playwright. Her autobiographical solo show, Elephant, began in the Bush’s studio space and now comes to the main house, in an expanded form.

Elephant tells Lucas’s fascinating story – or a loose version of it, about a similarly mixed-race woman called Lila who struggles to fit in. The show also features live music, as the talented Lucas sings and plays the piano live.

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anthropology, Hampstead Theatre

Another great get, this is the world premiere of American Lauren Gunderson's new work. The Hampstead previously produced her acclaimed play I and You in 2018, starring Game of Thrones actress Maisie Williams in her professional stage debut.

Anthropology tells the story of hotshot Silicon Valley software engineer Merril, whose life is turned upside down when her younger sister Angie vanishes. Merril builds a digital simulation of her, initially to provide some comfort – but then the AI version begins revealing details of Angie’s disappearance. Don’t miss this cutting-edge thriller.

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Myra’s Story, Trafalgar Theatre

Set on the streets of Dublin, this stirring drama follows homeless woman Myra as she tells stories of her wild past, and how she came to be living – and begging – near Ha’Penny Bridge. Fionna Hewitt-Twamley plays not just not Myra but all the people in her tales.

Brian Foster’s play was already a big hit at the Edinburgh Fringe, putting a human face on one of the most troubling issues blighting society today and telling a much-needed story with heart and humour.

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King Lear, Wyndham's Theatre

Kenneth Branagh directs and stars in this new West End production of Shakespeare’s mighty tragedy – a play that mixes fraught family dynamics with big topics like power, leadership, and national identity.

The cast also features Deborah Alli as Goneril, Corey Mylchreest as Edmund, Jessica Revell as Cordelia, Joseph Kloska as Gloucester, Doug Colling as Edgar, and Melanie-Joyce Bermudez as Regan; among them are several RADA graduates making their debuts.

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Death of England: Closing Time, National Theatre

This is the final chapter in Clint Dyer and Roy Williams’s phenomenal state-of-the-nation series. It began with Death of England in 2020, with Rafe Spall playing the angry, grief-stricken Michael, and continued with Death of England: Delroy, letting Michael’s Black friend Delroy tell his story (Michael Balogun).

Now, in Closing Time, we hear from Carly (Michael’s sister and Delroy’s girlfriend) and her mother-in-law Denise as they deal with the terrible loss of their shop, in another hard-hitting piece exploring family, race and cancel culture.

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