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Let’s Get Political: 8 Must-See Shows in London and New York

17 April 2019 by Marianka Swain
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Politics dominate the news cycle on both side of the Atlantic right now – from the ongoing Brexit saga to 2020 election buzz. But for those who prefer the political drama onstage, there are plenty of great options on both sides of the pond.

Of course, we have to start with Lin-Manuel Miranda’s ground-breaking hip-hop history musical. It doesn’t matter what you know going in – the show’s dazzling brilliance will soon have you feeling passionate about tax plans and state debts, election campaigns and international alliances, plus the ambition and foibles of our leaders. If only all cabinet discussions were conducted as rap battles. Bonus: You can see it in London and New York.

Fiddler on the Roof
Trevor Nunn’s acclaimed West End revival of this classic musical is beautifully attuned to the family dynamics at the heart of the show, but it also speaks strongly to a wider political context. In particular, the production shows the ethnic prejudice meted out to the Jewish community by Russian authorities, and their eventual forced departure – adding a very human dimension to current debates about immigration and belonging.

The Ferryman
Irish politics are back on the front page with the Brexit negotiations, and Jez Butterworth’s 1980s-set play offers crucial historical context — as well as stirring drama in this spectacular Sam Mendes production. The rural Carney family initially seems far removed from The Troubles, but the discovery of a body (one of the “disappeared”) and arrival of an IRA heavyweight show the inescapability of the past. The production started in the West End, but now you can see it on Broadway.

Hillary and Clinton
Lucas Hnath’s play is set in an alternate universe version of the 2008 Presidential primaries, with Hillary Clinton battling a charismatic upstart opponent. With Laurie Metcalf and John Lithgow starring as, respectively, Hillary and Bill, it’s a scintillating behind-the-scenes look at the intersection of political and personal lives — plus how gender still plays a key role in electioneering, and in society. See the production, directed by Joe Mantello, on Broadway now.

Transferring from London’s National Theatre to Broadway, this hit stage adaptation demonstrates the chilling prescience of Paddy Chayefsky’s ’70s film – in which a TV personality rides a wave of populist anger to stardom and ratings overtake reason. Ivo van Hove’s tech-heavy production, led by an astonishing Bryan Cranston, emphasizes the key role of news and social media in shaping our political views.

King Lear
Another London-to-Broadway import, with the mighty Glenda Jackson — the two-time Oscar winner who gave up acting to spend 23 years as a Member of Parliament — starring as Shakespeare’s difficult monarch. Her time in the House of Commons has, if anything, strengthened her powers, and this searing production interrogates leadership and loyalty, plus the dangerous corruption of absolute rule, and subsequent terror of obsolescence.

What the Constitution Means to Me
Heidi Shreck examines America’s founding document via several generations of women in her family, from her mail-order bride great-great-grandmother to herself as a teenager, when she gave speeches about the Constitution to put herself through college. A firmly personal (and female) take on politics, this witty and heartfelt piece examines how a 200-year-old document has shaped and continues to shape women’s lives. Get tickets to see why the show has captivated Broadway audiences.

Another excitingly female reclamation of history is Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s play about Emilia Bassano, purportedly the “Dark Lady” of Shakespeare’s sonnets. Mixing period poetry and modern slang, this funny, fiery production demonstrates that many of Emilia’s challenges are still prevalent — such as the artistic and political marginalization of women’s voices. The incredible final speech inspires you to join forces and change the world.