The cast of Rhinoceros
The cast of Rhinoceros
Though it's not due at the National until September, David Edgar's Playing With Fire ought to cheer the March air like an early spring zephyr. It's been 15 years, the playwright told TheaterMania, since he's set a piece in contemporary England but he's out to make up for lost time. Born in Birmingham, Edgar sets the new work in the North, which is frequently considered the "last bastion of old Labor." It's a place and a subject with which the playwright has some first-hand knowledge and long-standing sympathy -- if "sympathy" is the right word. The narrative involves party fixer Alex Kaplan dispatched to the area, who runs into trouble with her tactics when the killing of a white man by a Pakistan-origin gang takes place. Since Edgar never likes to keep it small and contained under the proscenium -- maybe doesn't even know how to -- it's a fairly safe bet the new work will be as panoramic and all-encompassing as, say, his Evening Standard award-winning 1994 play Pentecost, which is currently having its New York City premiere.

Speaking of Manhattan, the first opening of the month (March 2) is Richard Maxwell's Joe, being done in the Barbican Pit by The New York City Players. Maxwell's the scribe whom New York Times critic Ben Brantley admires for stripping away all theatrical flim-flam in his hard-bitten dramas. Others think he substitutes a new kind of flim-flam by way of non-acting actors who rarely play any emotion other than affectlessness. Audiences can judge for themselves. For this exercise five actors play Joe, who's meant to be an average Joe and all the more recognizable for being universal.

And speaking of the National, one of the two prestige openings this month takes place in that enclave, where Nicholas Hytner continues to unveil many more clicks than clinkers, even though Clink Street is only a hop, skip and a jump away. It's David Hare's translation of Federico Garcia Lorca's House of Bernarda Alba (previews from March 5), which is directed by Howard Davies and features Penelope Wilton as the title figure. The other hot-sounding bow is Eve Best in the title role of Hedda Gabler at the Almeida (previews from March 10). Richard Eyre, who's directed Best several times in her gathering career, is reunited with her for the go at Henrik Ibsen's pistol-packing mama.

Those craving the supernatural will want to know about The Witches, adapted from Roald Dahl's story by David Wood. (The film of Dahl's Charlie and the Chocolate Factory has been remade and is due soon.) The production was first seen in London in 1992 and then again in 1996, and now it's back with Ruby Wax starring and maybe taking a certain amount of Ruby-Wax liberties with the goings-on. Incidentally, Paul Kieve, responsible for special effects in Harry Potter and the Prisoner of Azkaban, is credited with the stage illusions.

Fans of Sharman Macdonald's prize-winning When I Was a Girl I Used to Scream and Shout will be cheered to hear she has a new play, The Girl With Red Hair, opening at the Hampstead March 23. Apparently, it's a heart-lifting enterprise about a small town in Scotland trying to recover from the death of a 17-year-old lass. The play, which has already bowed in Edinburgh, is produced in conjunction with London's Bush Theatre, and the Bush's Mike Bradwell is directing. Another bar play is on its way -- will they ever stop? -- to the Tricycle this time. It's The Fortune Club (opening March 14) by Dolly Dhingra, and it takes place in an East London dive and in a time-frame also popular with playwrights: New Year's Eve. The Soho -- where the important import, frequently the important one-person play and just as frequently the brief piece are favorite bookings -- will unveil Zinnie Harris's Midwinter from March 5 and Johanna Laurens's Poor Beck from March 11. Both plays -- Laurens's is taken from Ovid -- have full casts, and never-miss Greg Hick is in the latter ensemble.

Eugene Ionesco's Rhinoceros, as imagined by the Kabosh Theatre, charges across the Lyric Hammersmith stage from March 5 to 23. To some, the absurdist work may seem more absurd than ever in this mounting -- featuring a (mounted?) stuffed boar's head. According to the theater, the proceedings are suitable for ages 12 and up.

Finally, for those who follow these things: Jerry Springer: The Opera is now closed in London, having lost money, but supposedly will open on Broadway in the spring of 2006, according to those who speak on its behalf.