20 for 2020: unmissable culture and rising stars

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Normal People gets a TV adaptation, Lana Del Rey performs her acclaimed new album, Top Gun 2 is given permission to land, and theres new talent galore

1. Theatre and TV
Thalissa Teixeira

Thalissa Teixeira was hoping not to die in 2020. But shes playing Bianca in Thomas Middletons Women Beware Women at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, so sadly she will cop it at the end (no great spoiler it is a Jacobean tragedy after all). She laughs. At the audition I said: Do we have to see another woman die? So many plays Ive done, women die: in Yerma, Billie died; in Julie, Vanessa died; in Blood Wedding, Aoife died

Teixira has a point, but this bloody litany also serves as a handy summary of the 27-year-olds impressive CV. Since graduating from the Royal Welsh College in 2014, shes played opposite Vanessa Kirby in Polly Stenhams Miss Julie at the National Theatre, and with Billie Piper and Aoife Duffin in the Lorca plays Yerma and Blood Wedding at the Young Vic.

Thalissa
Thalissa Teixeira photographed by Suki Dhanda for the Observer.

Teixeira is a memorable performer, even in supporting roles but this looks to be a break-out year. She stars opposite Maisie Williams in Skys crime caper Two Weeks to Live, playing a stone-cold cop, and in Trigonometry a BBC Two comedy written by Duncan Macmillan and Effie Woods about a flatshare that turns into a polyamorous relationship.

Its nothing to do with maths thank God, because I would not be able to act that! says Teixeira. She was so desperate to get the part, she wrote a pleading letter to the director Athina Tsangari after her audition. Its funny: so many people are wanting to use the term controversial because its about three people falling in love together, but its never been a word we used, says Teixeira.

Live performance is still her main love, however: Teixeira is part of storytelling group the Embers Collective. Its one of the most terrifying performances: youre retelling an ancient story thats been told millions of times before, in your own words, no ones directed you, you have nowhere to hide. Its so revealing which is probably why I love it. Im a bit addicted to it.

She links this urge to perform to her heritage: born in Bradford to a black Brazilian father and white British mother, she was raised in El Salvador, returning to the UK when she was eight. Its probably why I became an actor, because in Brazil everyone is performing all the time.

Teixeira considers herself lucky that shes rarely been cast because of her race but adds that she hates the term colourblind casting. That change needs to be seen in the writing, she says. Why are we putting on plays written by long-dead, white, fascist, racist men, and then putting some black people in it? Why dont we put more money into plays about people Ian McKellen would never be able to perform?
Holly Williams

2. Books
Big names return

Hilary
Hilary Mantel, who will publish the final book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy this year. Photograph: Sarah Lee/The Guardian

It promises to be a tremendous year for fiction, with an embarrassment of big-name novelists returning to the fray. There will be new novels from Anne Tyler, Isabel Allende, Lionel Shriver, Roddy Doyle, Sebastian Barry and JM Coetzee, but it will be hardest to miss Hilary Mantel, who will publish the third and final book in her Thomas Cromwell trilogy in March an event looked forward to with as much feverish longing as the follow-up to The Handmaids Tale last year. The first two books in the series, Wolf Hall and Bring Up the Bodies, both won the Man Booker prize (a unique achievement for successive novels), so its a good bet that The Mirror and the Light will make for a triumphant finale. Maggie OFarrells Hamnet (March) marks a departure for a much-loved and acclaimed author as she too takes on historical fiction. Dazzling. Devastating, says Kamila Shamsie of the novel, which was inspired by the family tragedy of Shakespeares son, who died aged 11. Also eagerly awaited is the debut novel by US nonfiction author Ta-Nehisi Coates. The Water Dancer merges historical and fantasy fiction in a slavery story that Oprah Winfrey says is one of the best books she has read in her life. Phew!
Ursula Kenny

3. Film
New musicals

In
Anthony Ramos and Melissa Barrera star in In The Heights, adapted from Lin-Manuel Mirandas stage musical. Photograph: Warner Bros

Cats arrived to widespread derision last month, but hopes remain high for several splashy, stage-derived musicals in 2020. While the world waits for a Hamilton movie, Lin-Manuel Miranda fans will be tided over with the film of his earlier Broadway smash In the Heights, a vibrant ensemble piece set within New Yorks Latin American community, with a score encompassing salsa and hip-hop. Itll make for an interesting contrast to Steven Spielbergs Ansel Elgort-starring remake of the beloved West Side Story, adapted by Pulitzer-winning playwright Tony Kushner. Here in Britain, meanwhile, surprise West End hit Everybodys Talking About Jamie is coming to the screen with a cast of bright young things and stalwarts including Richard E Grant; this feelgood story of a teenage drag queen could be the next Billy Elliot.
Guy Lodge

4. TV
Normal People

Daisy
Daisy Edgar Jones and Paul Mescal in the BBC adaptation of Sally Rooneys novel Normal People. Photograph: BBC/Element

The plot of Sally Rooneys phenomenally successful second novel presents no obvious barriers to adaptation: this story of two young people negotiating the pitfalls of love and tertiary education in post-crash Ireland is ripe for onscreen drama. Whether the new 12-part TV version of Normal People for the BBC and Hulu (airing this spring) can match Rooneys razor-sharp psychological observations and weightless narrative flow is another question. But the talent behind it bodes well, with Lenny Abrahamson, the Irish director of Room, Frank and Garage, overseeing the series alongside Hettie Macdonald (Doctor Who, Fortitude). Cold Feet actor Daisy Edgar-Jones and newcomer Paul Mescal play Marianne and Connell.
Killian Fox

5. Theatre
Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise

Roy
Rory Alexander Weise and Bryony Shanahan photographed at the Manchester Royal Exchange by Gary Calton for the Observer.

Its often said that change in British theatre will only come about when you change whos in charge. And a new trend in 2019 has proved quietly progressive: job shares. The artistic directorship of Manchester Royal Exchange is now split between two rising directing talents: Bryony Shanahan and Roy Alexander Weise. They join other recent appointments Charlotte Bennett and Katie Posner at Paines Plough; Debbie Hannan and Gareth Nicholls at the Traverse in opening up possibilities for more collaborative arts leadership.

Who we are and what we look like and the point at which we are in our careers is maybe a bit different, Shanahan says. She met Weise in 2013, when they both had a BBC theatre fellowship; in 2016, each won emerging director awards, resulting in shows at the Young Vic Trade by Debbie Tucker Green for Shanahan and Katori Halls The Mountaintop for Weise. Shanahan has since directed Queens of the Coal Age at the Royal Exchange, while Weise has directed Nine Night and Master Harold and the Boys at the National Theatre.

I dont think theatres should be run by just one person, says Weise. Especially theatres of this size and ambition, adds Shanahan. Its a huge job. Theyve yet to announce their first season, but Shanahan directs Wuthering Heights and Let the Right One In in 2020, as programmed by former artistic director Sarah Frankcom. Theyre keen to broaden the stories that get staged. The world I live in doesnt look like what I see on stage sometimes, says Weise. We have to try 150% to make that happen.

That they have an easygoing friendship is evident when we meet, but their differing styles complement each other too: Shanahan is softly spoken, a little more cautious, while Weise tends to jump into answers, all beaming grins and belly laughs. When he says shell be looking after all the spreadsheets, hes joking but she might just be the more practical one. On the day Weise moved house from his native London to Didsbury, just outside Manchester, she turned up at his doorstep with bags of groceries.

The job share came about because they are mates a friendship that really developed when Weise stayed with Shanahan in Manchester, where shes lived and worked for four years (she grew up in Staffordshire). Bryony was coming home every day with this great passion for the theatre and what it could be, Weise recalls.

And Shanahan does believe the theatres in-the-round space is rather special. Its a democratic arena it doesnt let you be dishonest, audiences can sniff it out. So theres a really healthy lack of pretension here.

A lot like Manchester, laughs Weise. People tell you how it is!
HW

6. Music
Hot tours

Madonna
Madonna performing at the Eurovision song contest, May 2019. Photograph: Orit Pnini/AFP/Getty Images

If nothing else, 2020 looks as if its going to be a vintage year for live music, with a number of major tours on the horizon. Kicking off proceedings injuries permitting Madonna plays a run of London dates from 27 January to 15 February, touring her latest album Madame X.

Next, purveyor of swooning melodies Lana Del Rey brings Sad Girl winter to our shores (25 Feb, London to 29 Feb, Birmingham); a new album, White Hot Forever, is in the works.

Nick Cave & the Bad Seeds (2 May, Birmingham to 15 May, London) tour their latest double album, Ghosteen, which is largely about the death of Caves teenage son. Its tender, intimate songs may not feel like obvious arena fillers, but the tour is set to be an emotional experience for everyone involved.

Dressed like a Soundcloud rapper and murmuring vaguely threatening lines about teenage hormones and death, Billie Eilish returns with her genre-shredding ASMR bangers (21 July, Manchester to 30 July, London).

He set trends, dem man copy: Michael Omari, AKA Stormzy, AKA Big Michael, returns to live music after his victorious Glastonbury headline set with a powerful second album, Heavy Is the Head (2 Sept, London to 22 Sept, Bournemouth).

Finally, the Rocketman himself. After a mammoth run of dates around the world, the UK leg of Elton Johns widely anticipated Farewell Yellow Brick Road tour starts and ends in London (2 Nov to 17 Dec), via various other cities, before he retires from live performance. So long, tiny dancer.
Kathryn Bromwich

7. Film
Rocks

A
Thrillingly alive: the cast of Rocks.

A jubilant ensemble drama about a group of Hackney teenagers, Rocks was a hit on the festival circuit last year. The films title may allude to something rough and grey but the movie is anything but each performance is its own shimmering, incandescent diamond. Newcomer Bukky Bakray is Shola, aka Rocks, an enterprising sixth former who makes quick cash perfecting her classmates makeup on her lunch break. When her depressed mother disappears, Rocks must temporarily assume the role of caretaker for younger brother Emmanuel (DAngelou Osei Kissiedu), simultaneously juggling lessons, friendship dramas, and the looming threat of social services. Its unclear when or if her mum will return.

Authored by award-winning Nigerian-British playwright Theresa Ikoko, who co-wrote the screenplay with Claire Wilson, the film is directed by Sarah Gavron (Brick Lane, Suffragette). Gavron is adamant that the film must not be referred to as Sarah Gavrons Rocks. I was a kind of facilitator, she insists, explaining that it was Ikoko who developed the story, drawing on her own experiences of growing up on an estate in Hackney. The team workshopped the film with the actors for a year before Ikoko and Wilson started writing the script. Made with a crew that skewed 75% female, the intention was to uplift and include young women from similar backgrounds as the central characters wherever possible. We live around these girls but we dont often see them on our screens we dont hear their stories, says Gavron. We thought, how about building a film with them? We wanted the girls to look behind the camera and think: I could be a director, a writer, a cameraperson, a sound engineer, a production designer.

Among the films more experienced female crew members are casting director Lucy Pardee, who has worked with Andrea Arnold, and cinematographer Hlne Louvart (who shot Happy as Lazzaro and Beach Rats). Even more moving than its background though is the film itself, which despite its courageous, downbeat ending is thrillingly alive in its depictions of adolescent joy.
Simran Hans

8. Theatre
Hollywood stars on the stage

Jessica
Jessica Chastain will star in A Dolls House. Photograph: Hyperstar/Alamy

London theatre holds a perennial appeal for the A-lister who wants to prove their acting credentials but by any standards, 2020 is a bonanza year for big names. The Old Vic kicks off with Daniel Radcliffe in Becketts Endgame in January, with Timothe Chalamet arriving for Amy Herzogs 4000 Miles in April. In the West End, Jessica Chastain stars in a production of Ibsens A Dolls House at the Playhouse in June, while in March, Game of Thrones star Emilia Clarke will make her West End debut there in Chekhovs The Seagull, adapted by Anya Reiss and directed by Jamie Lloyd. Jake Gyllenhaal brings his acclaimed performance in Sondheims Sunday in the Park With George to the Savoy come June. At the Young Vic, Cush Jumbo takes on the big one: see her Hamlet from July. In the same month, the actual Whoopi Goldberg really does get back in the habit as Sister Act hits the Hammersmith Apollo. And its not just Hollywood actors: West Wing screenwriter Aaron Sorkin brings his Broadway-conquering adaptation of To Kill a Mockingbird to the Gielgud theatre from May.
HW

9. Comedy
Lazy Susan

Freya
Freya Parker (right) and Celeste Dring, AKA Lazy Susan. Photograph: Suki Dhanda/The Observer

Comedy sketch duo Freya Parker and Celeste Dring, AKA Lazy Susan, are describing their feelings about being named rising stars in 2020 by this paper. Were glowing, deadpans Dring. Buoyant. Its tricky to get things done because we keep floating up off the floor.

Trying to interview the pair involves separating fact from their flights of fancy. Were both from showbiz dynasties, claims Dring. Our parents are clowns.

Parker picks up the baton: And we met at Eton. Its a heartwarming riches-to-riches story.

Theyve actually been writing and performing together for five years, after being introduced by a mutual friend when theyd left university and were doing bits and bobs in fringe theatre. We started off trying to write a play together but it was so bleak and awful, I shudder when I think of it, cringes Parker. We kept dicking around doing characters instead, so we accidentally began writing comedy.

Last year, the duo released a well-received sketch show pilot on BBC iPlayer, which then got a terrestrial airing on BBC2. It was based on their sellout Edinburgh run, which sent up post-#MeToo sexual anxiety and saw them greet the audience with: Good afternoon, ladies and predators! This year, more TV projects beckon, but theyre currently top secret. Youll definitely be seeing more of us in 2020, says Parker.

Parker grew up in Teesside, worshipping Vic and Bob (They were like gods in the north east). Dring comes from Wolverhampton, where her early comedic influences were Nickelodeon cartoon Rockos Modern Life and 1999 beauty pageant comedy Drop Dead Gorgeous: Its got a dynamite cast and was the first time I saw lots of women being funny together, so it was an important film for me.

The Lazy Susan name can be a bit of a liability when it comes to the opposite sex. Its a joke that lame men make, explains Parker. Which ones lazy and which ones Susan? Hur-hur-hur.

And Im like, Are you single? trills Dring sweetly. But I like it because its both an object and sounds like a description of a woman. Parker chips in: I like the fact that its got a Z in it.

Youre not playing Scrabble, mate, says Dring.

As well as having projects together in the pipeline, theyll both be popping up elsewhere in TV comedy this year. Parker is among the ensemble cast of BBC Twos The Mash Report. Its coming back in spring and Im chuffed to be part of it, she grins. These are dark times, so we need satire more than ever at the moment.

Dring plays Princess Eugenie in royal sitcom The Windsors. We just shot the new series, which airs next month, she says. Youll have to watch it to see if there are any scenes set in Pizza Express in Woking. No sweat.
Michael Hogan

10. Dance
The Dante Project

Inferno
Inferno from the Dante Project by Wayne McGregor, performed in LA summer 2019. Photograph: Cheryl Mann/The Music Center

With Woolf Works (2015), Wayne McGregor pioneered a new form of full-length narrative ballet that yoked together three contrasting acts under one banner. His latest epic piece for the Royal Ballet, where he is resident choreographer, sounds even more ambitious: a journey inspired by Dantes The Divine Comedy, moving from Inferno, through Purgatorio to Paradiso, with a newly commissioned score by Thomas Ads that is symphonic in scale, and designs by the artist Tacita Dean. McGregors muse Edward Watson stars, alongside Francesca Hayward and Matthew Ball at the Royal Opera House (6 May – 1 June). Inferno premiered in Los Angeles in 2019, where it was warmly received; much anticipation surrounds the completed piece.
Sarah Crompton

11. Audio
Life kits podcasts

Read more: https://www.theguardian.com/culture/2020/jan/05/20-for-2020-rising-stars-unmissable-things

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