So we bid adieu to a very eventful 2015. Between the ridiculous thread of ‘Hotline Bling’ videos, and even more ridiculous statements from Donald Trump, it may be hard to remember the highlights of the past year. Be assured that there were some diamonds in the rough, like the fantastic, Bruntwood prize-winning play, Yen, the opening of HOME and the illustrious Manchester International Festival – in particular Neck of the Woods, which was memorable for all the wrong reasons, but memorable nonetheless. New years are for new perspectives, new beginnings and new experiences, so leave the past behind and look ahead for the theatre gems in 2016.

The Classics
It may be a new year, but some things don’t date. In October last year, The Royal Exchange announced that King Lear would appear in their Spring/Summer season, the latest in a string of successful Shakespeare productions already under their belt. Following his arresting performance in Arthur Miller’s All My Sons, actor Don Warrington returns to perform one of Shakespeare’s most iconic roles. The co-production with Talawa Theatre Company acknowledges 400 years since Shakespeare’s death and ties in with the company’s 30th anniversary. This epic tale of human cruelty runs from 1 April to 7 May.

If the corrupting power of unchecked ambition is more your thing, then another Shakespearian classic features in HOME’s new season of Drama, Theatre Studies and English. Working with Young Vic and Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Macbeth is tipped to be a buzzing, dark and visually incredible new staging of what could easily be the most performed of Shakespeare’s work. It pairs the original text with powerful and unsettling choreography, and culminates in an unforgettable final act. Carrie Cracknell and Lucy Guerin direct the murderous journey of the titular character, running 2-6 February.

JB Priestley’s An Inspector Calls is on at The Lowry from 17-21 May. A favourite among theatregoers and a mainstay of the GCSE curriculum, this is another production that will forever be onstage somewhere, prompting hefty eye rolls when you see it in yet another season brochure. But this West End production has been hailed as the theatrical event of our generation, winning 19 major awards and directed by an Oscar-nominee Stephen Daldry. 19 awards can’t be wrong, can they?

The Newbies
There is comfort in the familiar, but another type of satisfaction can be felt with the fresh and new. The same feeling exists with theatre. Pulitzer Prize winner Wit is a one-act play documenting the final hours of Dr Vivian Bearing, a celebrated but exacting professor dying of ovarian cancer. Although the play won the prize back in 1999, it is new to the UK and The Royal Exchange run from 21 January to 13 February is its premier on these shores. Julie Hesmondhalgh plays Vivian, a protagonist caught between her intellect and her mettle.

Origins, a new play focusing on the world’s first murder, takes a darker turn. Playing at The Lowry, Origins follows the biblical figure Cain after the murder of his brother, Abel. The play takes you into the mythology of the Book of Genesis while exploring the fundamental and primeval questions of life itself. Created by the Manchester-based physical theatre company Animikii Theatre, Origins fuses movement, song, sound, word and rhythm to create a sensorial experience. This is a company to watch, whose play is one not to miss from 28-29 April before it heads to Liverpool’s Physical Fest in May.

The Musicals
2016 is bursting at the seams with musicals – Rocky Horror, Chicago, Mary Poppins and Shrek to name a few. One of the most anticipated is Green Day’s American Idiot. This explosive Broadway musical is now touring around the UK after a hugely successful London run and calls at the Palace Theatre from 5-9 April. The US rock band released their album of the same name back in 2004, which was inspired by epic rock operas such as The Who’s Tommy and Jesus Christ Superstar. Songs from the album feature in the musical, which follows three boyhood friends, each searching for meaning in a post 9/11 world. It’s not one to file alongside other musicals that merely throw a contemporary artist’s songbook around a loose narrative.

An old pet amongst musical lovers finally returns to Manchester. Andrew Lloyd Webber’s Cats pounces on the Opera House stage between 30 January and 13 February. Adapted from TS Eliot’s Old Possum’s Book of Practical Cats, this is one of the longest running shows in the West End and one that enchants audiences every time. It’s no surprise when you consider its breathtaking choreography, amazing score, including the timeless ‘Memory’, and spectacular set design.

The Festivals
Who said festivals need to be in summer? Before the annual 24:7 and Greater Manchester Fringe festivals, HOME will provide a platform to the Manchester fringe scene with PUSH Festival. The organisers will select the best fringe pieces from the previous year to create a programme from 14-24 January of the most groundbreaking new drama Manchester has to offer. PUSH is an evolution of Re:play and offers seven productions, including When I Feel Like Crap I Google Kim Kardashian Fat, What’s The Matter With You? and Essays in Love, along with opportunities for audiences to participate in workshops and discussions with members of the participating production groups.

So find a pen and rewrite those New Year’s resolutions to spend more time at the theatre – the resolutions you enjoy doing are always the easiest to stick to.

Background image: Uninvited Guests by Mr Werewolf.

Kate Morris