See these London shows that compassionately explore physical and mental health

These acclaimed plays and musicals empathetically feature characters' struggles and journeys to healing.

Marianka Swain
Marianka Swain

Who would have thought that Ibsen’s 1882 play An Enemy of the People, about the politicisation of a public health crisis, would feel so eerily contemporary? Thomas Ostermeier’s new production, starring Matt Smith, proves just how resonant it still is – and that’s just one in a wave of London shows exploring physical and mental health.

The award-winning musical Next to Normal transfers to the West End following its acclaimed UK debut at the Donmar Warehouse, plus there are exciting premieres like Nye, The Human Body, and the much-anticipated Opening Night, starring Sheridan Smith.

Of course, theatre itself plays a big part in mental health, as we came to appreciate when it was temporarily lost to us during the pandemic. Experiencing a live show is cathartic, and seeing stories of characters’ health journeys on stage may remind audiences that they’re not alone.

Here’s our guide to some of the amazing productions dealing with health and mental health. Read on, and then book your tickets to these London shows now.

Matt Smith Enemy

An Enemy of the People, Duke of York’s Theatre

When Dr Thomas Stockmann realises that the popular spa on which his coastal town has built its economy is contaminated with bacteria, he faces a terrible dilemma. Should he broadcast this unpopular bombshell and risk losing everything? And how far will his community go to cover up the truth?

Thomas Ostermeier’s new production of Ibsen’s play explores what feels like a very contemporary issue: how money, power, politics and fake news can all shape health crises and medical care. Doctor Who and House of the Dragon star Matt Smith leads this gripping must-see drama.

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The Little Big Things, Soho Place

Keen athlete Henry Fraser was just 17 years old when his life changed forever. A tragic diving accident crushed his spinal cord, leaving him paralysed from the shoulders down. But, as he recounts in his bestselling memoir, his journey through adversity turned out to be an extraordinary one.

Now that memoir has become a hit British musical written by Nick Butcher, Tom Ling, and Joe White. It stars Ed Larkin, Jonny Amies, Linzi Hateley and Amy Trigg, directed by Luke Sheppard, in an inclusive production that shows how physical challenges and mental resilience can be reborn as inspirational musical theatre.

Book The Little Big Things tickets on London Theatre.

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Next to Normal, Wyndham’s Theatre

Tom Kitt and Brian Yorkey’s highly acclaimed rock musical about a suburban mother who has bipolar disorder has finally arrived in London. The show won praise (plus three Tonys and a Pulitzer) for its powerful study of mental illness, depression, grief, suicide, addiction, and psychiatry.

Following a sold-out UK premiere at the Donmar Warehouse, the production is now heading to the West End, once again led by Caissie Levy (who originated the roles of Molly in Ghost: The Musical and Elsa in Frozen) and Trevor Dion Nicholas (the Genie in Aladdin, George Washington in Hamilton).

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Opening Night, Gielgud Theatre

In this new musical adaptation of John Cassavetes’s 1977 movie, Sheridan Smith plays an actress who is haunted by the death of a deceased fan, and whose mental health unravels. As a backstage drama, it should be ideally suited to theatre, adding another dimension to this rich, multi-layered tale.

Smith has been open about her own mental health struggles, even as she’s become a beloved household name with performances in Legally Blonde, Shirley Valentine and more. She’s collaborating with director Ivo van Hove and musician Rufus Wainwright on what promises to be a deeply personal work.

Book Opening Night tickets on London Theatre.

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For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy, Garrick Theatre

One of the most inspiring theatrical journeys of recent years belongs to Ryan Calais Cameron’s Olivier-nominated play, which has journeyed from the New Diorama to the Royal Court and into the West End, building a fiercely loyal audience along the way.

Now it’s back in the West End due to popular demand, once again sharing the tale of six young Black men who meet in a group therapy session and reveal their unique experiences of everything from family to fashion, sex to food. It’s a powerful demonstration of how important it is to support one another, and how everyone’s story deserves to be heard.

Book For Black Boys Who Have Considered Suicide When the Hue Gets Too Heavy tickets on London Theatre.

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Long Day’s Journey Into Night, Wyndham’s Theatre

Eugene O’Neill’s Tony and Pulitzer-winning masterpiece follows a single day in the lives of the Tyrone family. This heart-rending portrait – inspired by O’Neill’s own troubled clan – features everything from physical health problems like tuberculosis to mental health issues such as addiction and depression.

Jeremy Herrin directs a major West End revival of this powerful work, starring Succession’s Brian Cox, plus Patricia Clarkson (Sharp Objects), Laurie Kynaston (Fool Me Once), Daryl McCormack (Good Luck to You, Leo Grande) and Louisa Harland (Derry Girls).

Book Long Day’s Journey Into Night tickets on London Theatre.

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The Human Body, Donmar Warehouse

The latest play from the always brilliant Lucy Kirkwood (Chimerica, The Witches) in 1940s Shropshire. There a local GP and Labour councillor is trying to implement the new National Health Service Act, which promises free health care to everyone, but she also has to contend with her husband, also a GP and a former navy officer traumatised by war.

This meaty drama about medicine, politics and private passions has attracted two big names back to the London stage after a long absence: Keeley Hawes (The Durrells, It’s A Sin) and Jack Davenport (Pirates of the Caribbean, Coupling). Michael Longhurst and Ann Yee direct.

Nye, National Theatre

You can make it an NHS drama double by also heading to the National for the premiere of Tim Price’s play about Aneurin “Nye” Bevan: the man who created the NHS. Follow his extraordinary life story, from his coal-mining upbringing in Wales through to his incredible, and lasting, contribution to our welfare state.

Michael Sheen stars as this mighty Welsh hero in an epic journey with surreal elements and astonishing real moments from history, like Nye’s battles with Winston Churchill. The National’s artistic director Rufus Norris is at the helm.

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