5 Sparkling Shows on London's Stage in May

Varied acts come to London's stages in May, from hip-hop to a powerful dramatisation

The summer season sees a new raft of performances on the London stage, including hip-hop, rock, circus and powerful drama. Check out some of the highlights and plan ahead for your trip.

Powerful Drama
Although Bradley Cooper was passed over for an Oscar again, for his role in Clint Eastwood’s movie American Sniper,the heart-throb actor is doing just fine. With a film career encompassing runaway blockbusters, Cooper has recently turned his attentions to theatre. The actor took Broadway by storm in the title role of The Elephant Man last winter, and brings the play to London for a 12-week run (from 19 May at Theatre Royal Haymarket). The play is based on the true story ofJoseph Merrick, a 19th-century man who developed severe physical deformities as a result of rare genetic disorder. Alongside Cooper, Alessandro Nivola and Patricia Clarkson star as the doctor who takes Merrick into his care and the actress who becomes his firm friend. 

Bradley Cooper stars in The Elephant Man at the National Theatre, London, UK
Bradley Cooper stars as John Merrick in The Elephant Man (©Joan Marcus)

Rocking Albert Hall
It’s hard to imagine what the first patrons of the Royal Albert Hall would have made of this extraordinary building ringing with the modern sounds of rock ‘n’ roll. The hall, built in 1871, still hosts classical orchestral and choral concerts, but it’s also known as one of the most atmospheric rock and pop venues in the capital. This month the hall hosts musical acts as varied as Nick Cave (3 May), the Beach Boys (30-31 May) and Eric Clapton, who returns to London with a show celebrating his 70th birthday (14-23 May).

Beach boys perform at Royal Albert Hall, London, UK
The Beach Boys are one of many music acts on stage at Royal Albert Hall (©Jeff Bottari/Getty Images Entertainment/Thinkstock)

Hip-hop Hyped
Hip-hop fans are heading to Sadler’s Wells, when Breakin’ Convention returns for its 12th year (1-4 May). The UK’s festival of ‘locking’, ‘popping’, hip-hop, house and ‘b-boying’ sees artists and crews from around the world perform a varied programme. At the helm is founding artistic director Jonzi D, a pioneer of British hip-hop theatre. He sees his role as to “inspire, inform and educate” audiences about the joys of hip-hop culture, aware of the bad press it can get. 

Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?
Free form, light on plot and concerned entirely with the interior lives of their characters, the novels of Virginia Woolf are notoriously difficult to adapt. That hasn’t stopped artists over the decades trying to wrestle the challenging modernist fiction into different shapes, as seen with successful adaptations such as the 2002 film The Hours. A new full-length dance work Woolf Works at the Royal Opera House is based on the life and writings of the troubled novelist (11-26 May). The Royal Ballet’s resident choreographer blend themes from novels including Mrs Dalloway, Orlando and The Waves, with elements of Woolf’s letters and diaries.

Woolf Works at Royal Opera House, London, UK
Virginia Woolf's works are transformed on stage at Royal Opera House (©Ravi Deepres)

It’s Show Time!
You know that summer is on its way to the South Bank when London Wonderground begins another season of circus, cabaret and sideshow performance (from 7 May). It’s the fourth year that the 1920s ‘Speigeltent’ has come to London’s riverside, and its programme is quirkier, sexier and funnier than ever. Don’t miss Scotch & Soda, a new circus extravaganza from performers of Limbo in 2014. Featuring appearances from La Clique and the amazing Tom Tom Crew, it’s a combination of live music, daredevil feats and crazy humour.

Last year's act Limbo perform at London Wonderground, London, UK
Last year's troupe Limbo are performing at London Wonderground (©David Jensen)