Culture’s calling! What to see in London in 2022
Thrilling theatre, exhilarating art, fantastic festivals - these are the tickets you need to book now. Settle in for a capital city culture hitlist, and a jam-packed 2022.
TREADING THE BOARDS
The play’s the thing! To be exact: the thing we’ve been more-or-less missing over the last couple of Covid-struck years. Luckily, 2022 is set to be a bumper year on stage. Up first is the acclaimed production of Cyrano de Bergerac at the Harold Pinter Theatre in the West End, starring the multi-talented (and, er, rather dashing for a Bergerac…) James McAvoy, 3 Feb – 12 March.
From 12 Feb – 9 April, you won’t want to miss Shakespeare’s Henry V delivered with aplomb by Game of Thrones’ Kit Harington in Covent Garden at the Donmar Warehouse. It’s classic theatre done brilliantly.
Then the much-lauded, five-star production of Small Island, originally a novel by Andrea Levy about Jamaican immigrants in post-war Britain, returns to the National Theatre, South Bank, 24 Feb – 30 April.
Rafe Spall (Trying, Hot Fuzz) is all set to be a game-changing Atticus Finch in a new production of To Kill a Mockingbird, running 10 March – 13 Aug at the Gielgud Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.
Then, just a few days after that, Ralph (that is, Fiennes) stars in Straight Line Crazy at the Bridge Theatre, near Tower Bridge. Running 16 Mar – 18 June, this tells the story of civil engineer Robert Moses, in many ways the most powerful man in mid-century New York, who incorporated racism into his city designs.
From 16 April – 7 Aug, it’s BIG theatre news as Mark Rylance and Mackenzie Crook in the highly acclaimed Jerusalem return to the stage, having not for nothing been dubbed “the greatest British play of the century”, and previously running for 420 record-breaking performances in 2009. A comic romp poking fun at contemporary politics, it will be playing at the Apollo Theatre, Shaftesbury Avenue.
Next up, and fresh from winning a Tony Award for Best Revival of a Musical, Daniel Fish’s reimagining of Oklahoma! will be coming to the Young Vic, near the South Bank, from 26 April – 25 June. It’s funny, sexy, and entirely novel — without changing a word of the text.
From 7 May – 27 Aug, My Fair Lady returns to the West End after a 21-year break for a stint at the London Coliseum. A multi-award-winning production of a classic? Yeah, that’ll do us.
Also one to look out for is Chekhov’s The Seagull, starring Emilia Clarke (in her West End debut), opening at the Playhouse Theatre some time in June. A tragic tale of love, obsession, jealousy, and regret — we’re already hooked.
MOVE THAT BODY
The Royal Ballet’s production of Swan Lake will be enjoying an extended run from 1 March – 28 May at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden. There’s a new character and a prologue has been added but by and large it sticks to a classic telling of the whole love/betrayal/redemption thang.
From 10-23 March, the festival Dance Reflections, a collaboration between Sadler’s Wells, Tate Modern and the Royal Opera House, will celebrate boundary-pushing, contemporary dance from the 1970s until today. Check the full schedule for performances across London.
Then, from 31 March – 10 April, the English National Ballet will pay homage to the choreographer William Forsythe with The Forsythe Evening at Sadler’s Wells Theatre, Angel. An exhilarating take on classic, precise ballet performed to contemporary neo-soul and house music, this isn’t to be missed.
HITTING THE HIGH NOTES
Itching for some classical and operatic listening? The English National Opera has a packed and varied season planned from 18 Feb – 14 April, and we especially can’t wait for their powerful new production of The Handmaid’s Tale running 4-14 April at the London Coliseum in the West End.
The sounds of Eastern Europe come to London this spring: firstly the Budapest Festival Orchestra celebrating the changing season at the Royal Festival Hall, South Bank on 18 Feb, and then the Czech Philharmonic at The Barbican on 15 – 16 March.
Then, from 14 April – 6 June, there’s a whole series on the Zurich International Orchestra at Cadogan Hall, Chelsea. Check out the schedule for some sweeping, sumptuous music.
More opera, Madame? The Opera Holland Park 2022 season lasts 31 May – 13 Aug and includes some exciting titles: particularly Carmen (2-24 June) and Little Women (22, 28, 30 July; 3 & 5 Aug).
And while we’re on the classics, expect an astonishingly powerful production of Madama Butterfly at the Royal Opera House in Covent Garden, running 14 June – 6 July.
Creating a buzz is the Aurora Orchestra on 24 June, who perform great works of classical music entirely from memory. Makes us nervous just thinking about it! Taking place at the Royal Festival Hall on the South Bank, this performance will be all about Tchaikovsky’s Violin Concerto in D major.
Then, the good old BBC Proms 2022 will be held 30 July – 11 Sept at the Royal Albert Hall, with stunning live music and a special celebration of the centenary of the birth of British symphonist, Ralph Vaughan Williams.
LOOK BUT DON’T TOUCH
New year, fresh culture… and we’re hungry for it. Up first on our Big Smoke hitlist is Amy: Beyond the Stage at The Design Museum, Kensington, running from now until 10 April. A heartfelt celebration of the indefinable Amy Winehouse, this exhibition draws together a vast collection of personal objects and photographs to commemorate her life.
Over at the Royal Academy on Piccadilly, there’s Francis Bacon: Man and Beast, running 29 Jan – 17 April. This explores the way the 20th century painter (not the 17th century intellectual) constantly blurred the line between human and animal.
At the Saatchi Gallery in West London, meanwhile, there’s a somewhat cool and immersive Bob Marley Experience running 2 Feb – 18 April. Using photographs, memorabilia, artworks and interactive rooms, this remembers the artist’s life like nothing before.
This one’s exciting: for the first time, the full span of Van Gogh’s many self-portraits will be explored in an exhibition at The Courtauld Gallery, Somerset House, from 3 Feb – 8 May. Nab your tickets early!
Then, a hop and a skip across the bridge at the Hayward Gallery, South Bank, there’s an exhibition on the contemporary artist Louise Bourgeois: The Woven Child, on display 9 Feb – 15 May. Expect fascinating, abstract displays using fabrics and textiles.
From 12 Feb, it’s all charming childhood nostalgia with Beatrix Potter: Drawn to Nature showing at the V&A, Kensington, celebrating the life and work of the most beloved of children’s authors and illustrators.
Love an ancient mystery? Looking back 6,000 years is The World of Stonehenge, showing at the British Museum in the first half of this year, revealing the secrets of this most famous British monument, 17 Feb – 17 July.
If you like your art a little more 20th century (though still esoteric, natch), you’ll want to check out Surrealism Beyond Borders at the Tate Modern, which rewrites the history of the revolutionary art movement, 24 Feb – 29 Aug.
Now some fashion, please, darlings! Answering your sartorial prayers is Fashioning Masculinities, running 19 March – 6 Nov at the V&A, Kensington, which acknowledges the renaissance of the male wardrobe we’re currently enjoying (looking at you, Harry Styles!). Strutting through centuries of fashion, the exhibition will explore how designers, tailors and artists have constructed and performed masculinity throughout the eras.
Over at the National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, there’s a big exhibition on Raphael running 9 April – 31 July. In the course of a measly two decades, Raphael shaped the course of Western culture — this exhibit examines how.
Here’s a good one for tricking the kids into education: Inspiring Walt Disney: The Animation of French Decorative Arts will be showing at the Wallace Collection in Marylebone, 6 April – 16 Oct. Fresh from the Met in New York, this exhibition charts the way Disney’s most iconic images were drawn from colourful salons in Rococo Paris.
Then, 4 May – 4 Sept, there’s a very cool exhibition entitled Reframed: The Woman at the Window on at the Dulwich Picture Gallery in, well, Dulwich. Ever noticed that artworks throughout history have positioned women gazing out of windows? This display has, and it brings together works from Rembrandt, Rossetti, David Hockney and more to explore the theme.
Once summer hits, it’s time for the Royal Academy on Piccadilly to whack out its Summer Exhibition 2022, 21 June – 21 Aug. Run without interruption since 1769 (okay, fine, they moved it to winter for the past two plague-heavy years), this annual celebration of art and creativity is a must for arty culture creds. The theme this year is Climate.
Looking ahead to autumn, from 1 Oct – 22 Jan The National Gallery, Trafalgar Square, will be celebrating the centenary of the birth of Lucian Freud (1922–2011), bringing together his most influential 20th century artworks.
Meanwhile, the Tate Modern turns its eye to the small-brushed post-impressionism of the great Paul Cézanne, seeking to place him in his own context as the ambitious painter that left Aix-en-Provence for Paris. This exhibition will run from 6 Oct – 12 March.
PUMP IT (LOUDER)
Hands in the air! Music festivals are back! Starting with Country to Country, 11-13 March, it’s the biggest celebration of country music (no eye-rolling please, sceptics!) in the British Isles. This border-crossing fest will take place in the O2 Arena, London, but also simultaneously Dublin and Glasgow. Kick up yer heels!
Then, from 22-28 April it’s La Linea, The London Latin Music Festival, in venues across Central London, proving once and for all that Latin and Reggaeton music aren’t just for Zumba classes. Mamacita, loosen those hips and enjoy the groove!
Summer of course marks major music festival season, starting with the Hampton Court Palace Festival, 8-16 June. This year’s line-up includes Lionel Richie, George Benson, Elbow, Jack Savoretti, and Crowded House. Let’s show Henry VIII how to party!
Also happening in June is Heritage Live 2022, a scheme that places live music at English Heritage sites across the country (worth checking for any in your county!). For London, note the goodies on at Kenwood House in Hampstead: Rag’n’Bone Man (11 June), Nile Rodgers & CHIC (18 June), and Noel Gallagher (19 June).
Then, 5-10 July Kew the Music 2022 will be shaking up Kew Gardens with a line-up that includes Van Morrison, James Blunt, Bananarama, and Will Young. For a certain generation then…
Hot on its heels is the Summer Series at Somerset House, 7-17 July, featuring John Legend, Carly Rae Jepsen, and Ghetts.
From 24 June – 10 July it’s time for BST Hyde Park and its characteristically killer line-up: Elton John (24 June), Eagles (26 June), Adele (1-2 July), and Duran Duran (10 July) are just some of the greats booked in.
But it’s not all about festivals: some artists are just worth the big-city commute. Here are a few picks, starting at the O2 Arena with Bastille on 7 April; Blondie, 26 April; Dua Lipa, 2-3 May; Billie Eilish, 10-12 June / 16 June / 25-26 June; and Aerosmith, 22 June.
A REAL PAGE-TURNER
Fancy something quieter while the ringing in the ears subsides? Take your pick from London’s many literary festivals. Up first, 26 Feb – 6 March, is London’s oldest book fair Jewish Book Week, taking place in King’s Cross. There’s a huge schedule of events including the seminal and influential food writer Claudia Roden in conversation with Jay Rayner (food broadcaster, critic, and MasterChef judge).
A bit later on is Wimbledon BookFest, which has two iterations: Sunrise (9-15 June) and Sunset (22-25 Sept). No confirmation of line-up yet, but last year saw Miriam Margolyes, Anita Rani, and Sebastian Faulks taking the stage.
From 7-14 Sept, Chiswick Book Festival will take place in locations around Chiswick, west London. The line-up is still to be announced, but last year included Clare Balding, Ed Balls, and Gyles Brandreth.
Then London Literature Festival, South Bank, will be taking place in late October. Line-up and dates TBC, but in previous years this culture-fest has featured Hilary Clinton, Philip Pullman, and Tom Hanks. None too shabby!
There are some big parties to look forward to in London this year. On 2 June, The Queen’s Birthday Parade will feature over 1,400 parading soldiers, 200 horses and 400 musicians going down The Mall, as well as RAF fly-bys. Tickets are available to the public, with applications for the ballot open until the end of Feb. There will also be over 1,500 beacons lit throughout the UK, and — of course — a FOUR DAY BANK HOLIDAY. Um, dream come true?
Then, 7-14 Sept it’s finally time again to don the face paint, feathers, and brilliantly bright colour for Notting Hill Carnival, back for the first time in two (long, long) years.
And of course London Pride 2022 is set to return! More fierce and fabulous than ever, London Pride celebrates its 50th birthday this year, so keep an eye out for updates. Though no dates have been confirmed beyond it happening sometime in the summer, it’s set to be a big one.