While there’s always been a strong connection between the Brits and Hollywood, it’s currently as good a time as any for English entertainers: from Emilia Clarke and plenty others in the Game of Thrones ensemble to Daisy Ridley, John Boyega , and Felicity Jones rebooting the Star Wars universe. Even Superman is a Brit these days.
And now there is a new crop of English stars in training, who can be found treading the boards of London’s theaters—the Royal Court, the Donmar Warehouse, the Young Vic. British theater is having a moment of late, with world-class productions that range from the classic to the cutting edge—in fact, two of Broadway’s buzziest productions this season, American Psycho and A Streetcar Named Desire, both arrive after initial runs in London. Here are the ones to watch: the actors, writers, directors, and designers who are poised to hit the big time.
This has been a busy year for Kirby. Fresh from finishing Uncle Vanya alongside friend and Downtown Abbey–star Jessica Brown-Findlay, she is now in New York for her Broadway debut, reprising her role as Stella opposite Gillian Anderson’s Blanche in their fêted production of A Streetcar Named Desire. But it took her time and training to get where she is. She turned down a role at drama school for a contract with Bolton’s renowned Octagon Theatre, hoping to learn on the job. Performing in a whole season of classic plays—Ibsen, Miller, Shakespeare—she certainly had to.
Photo: By Karwai Tang/Getty Images.
David Moorst, Actor
Before Moorst went to drama school, he had never seen a play. But he took to the theater so naturally that he was plucked out early by director Edward Hall, and in 2015 took on the part of Liam, the troubled 17-year-old in Violence and Son, the Royal Court’s lauded drama about sexual consent. Not only did he win the Evening Standard Emerging Talent Award for the role, he was also personally congratulated by Ian McKellen and Vanessa Redgrave.
Photo: By Jeff Spicer/Getty Images.
Noma Dumezweni, Actress
The Internet erupted when it was announced Dumezweni will be playing Hermione Granger in the upcoming West End play Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, with J.K. Rowling tweeting: “Rowling loves black Hermione.” And last year the Olivier Award–winning actress and director attracted more attention when, just 10 days before opening night, she replaced Kim Cattrall in the Royal Court’s Linda, and performed parts of the three-hour monologue with script in hand
Photo: By Luca Teuchmann/Getty Images.
Zoe Lafferty, Director
Lafferty is interested in big themes: conflict, political corruption, the violation of human rights. She began her career with the Palestinian Freedom Theatre, where she was based in a refugee camp, and since then her work has taken her from Afghanistan to Yemen, Lebanon to Haiti. In 2011, circumnavigating the ban on journalists, she crossed into Syria, and her resulting play, The Fear of Breathing, is based entirely on her interviews with protesters, soldiers, activists, and citizens. “I believe it is the responsibility of artists to be at the center of driving change, debate, and innovation,” she says. “Theater has the ability to challenge governments, propaganda and censorship.”
Photo: Courtesy of Teemu Silván.
Gemma Chan, Actress
Oxford graduate Chan funded her way through drama school by modelling part-time. There’s not much she can’t do. Best known for her versatility on-screen—she played a robot in Humans and a dominatrix in Secret Diary of a Call Girl—this year sees a spate of film releases, including a role in Martin Amis’s London Fields alongside Cara Delevingne. But Chan is equally comfortable onstage, recently appearing in Pinter’s The Homecoming and Yellow Face, a sharp satire about racial identity.
Photo: By Ian Gavan/Getty Images.
Johnny Flynn, Actor
When Flynn was 11, he bought a Bob Dylan record and vowed to become a musician. Now fronting the folk band Johnny Flynn & the Sussex Wit, he has released three albums, and has still found the time to establish himself as a successful stage actor. Starring in Jez Butterworth’s smash-hit Jerusalem, the sweet-voiced singer was recently unrecognizable in Martin McDonagh’s savagely funny Hangmen, in which he played a murderously charming psychopath.
Photo: By Sam Deitch/BFAnyc.com/REX/Shutterstock.
Denise Gough, Actress
“I get frustrated when untrained people who haven’t earned their stripes take on a phenomenal role and wonder why it doesn’t work,” says Gough, whose rise to fame as the addict Emma in People, Places and Things might have been meteoric but is the result of a decade's work in the theater playing complex, challenging females. A vocal supporter of the E.R.A. (Equal Representation for Actresses) campaign, Gough, who is Irish, is also frustrated by the conversation that is being had about equality onstage. A great female role, she stresses, is not necessarily a strong female role: “Women aren’t always strong, we are human,” she says. “I want to play a human being who happens to be a woman.”
Photo: By David M. Benett/Getty Images.
James Graham, Playwright
Politics is the dominant theme of Graham’s theater. In 2012, he attracted attention with This House, a look at the power struggles in Parliament during the 70s, and his play The Vote was aired live on TV during the final 90 minutes of the 2015 election. His latest project, Privacy,is set to open this July at New York’s Public Theater. Starring Daniel Radcliffe as a writer—based loosely on Graham himself—it was inspired by Edward Snowden’s revelations about government surveillance.
Photo: Courtesy of Steve Tanner/stevetanner.co.uk.
Charlene James, Playwright
When James was at drama school, she could not find enough roles for young black actresses. So she had to write her own. Today, she still works out of necessity, tackling issues she believes to be misunderstood, misrepresented or just ignored. Her latest play, the award-winning Cuttin’ It, confronts FGM. “It’s all about education, and bringing it out there,” she says. “Once people engage, it becomes more political.”
Photo: Courtesy of Julia Underwood.
Harry Blake, Composer
“I love using music to tell stories,” says Blake, composer and recently appointed associate of the Royal Academy of Music, who tends to bring his own take on sound to the theater. Known for his techno remixes of classic operas and his ambient string and synth soundscapes, his influences—from Kendrick Lamar to Maurice Ravel—are diverse. Currently, he is working on a hip-hop score for I Can’t Breathe, an exploration of racism and police brutality, which will be performed at Sadler’s Wells.
Photo: Courtesy of Cameron Slater.
Phoebe Fox, Actress
It took Fox three attempts to get into RADA, and in the interim she took a job washing hair in a beauty salon. Her patience paid off. This month alone she can be seen in Eye in the Skyalongside Helen Mirren and the late Alan Rickman, and The Hollow Crown with Benedict Cumberbatch, Judi Dench, and Hugh Bonneville. But it was for her performance as the 17-year-old Catherine in Ivo Van Hove’s production of A View from the Bridge that she shot to fame, startling audiences in Broadway and the West End alike with her uncomfortably visceral merging of innocence and sexuality.
Photo: By James Shaw/REX/Shutterstock.
Joe Robertson and Joe Murphy, Playwrights
The Good Chance Theatre has been in the headlines a lot recently. From its position at the heart of the “Jungle”—one of Europe’s most notorious refugee camps—the temporary theater, established by young playwrights Robertson and Murphy, hosted a steady stream of prominent theater companies and actors, from Jude Law to Benedict Cumberbatch. When the French authorities recently cleared the camp, Good Chance was forced to dismantle its dome. But it has vowed to continue its work. “We are determined to prove that theatre has an active role in this world,” say its founders.
Photo: Courtesy of Sarah Lee.
Sarah Beaton, Designer
Graduating with top marks from the Central School of Speech & Drama, in 2011, Beaton was awarded the Linbury Prize for stage design in the same year. Already, aged just 27, her work has been exhibited at the National Theatre, World Stage Design, and the Victoria & Albert Museum. “I have an inquisitive mind,” she says. “I am interested in my designs creating sensation above realism and for that to challenge an audience.”