From As You Like It to Mary Poppins, there is exceptional theatre on to see this year all over the country

Michael Billington writes: Before staging a play in order to confirm his uncle’s guilt, Hamlet announces: ‘I eat the air, promise-cramm’d.’ I always feel that way about the British theatre as another year beckons: there is so much diversity, so much promise. If London is the most vibrant theatrical capital in the world, it is because no other city offers such a healthy mix of private and public ventures.

In the West End, you can gorge on long-running musicals. Stroll over to the South Bank, and you’re confronted by infinite theatrical variety: within a short walk of the National Theatre, you come across the Old and Young Vic, Shakespeare’s Globe (about to stage an indoor season of the Bard’s late plays), the Menier Chocolate Factory, Southwark Playhouse and the tiny Union Theatre. However, British theatre is anything but a metropolitan affair.

Scotland and Wales both boast peripatetic National Theatres. The Royal Shakespeare Company, celebrating in 2016 the 400th anniversary of the deaths of Shakespeare and Cervantes, bestrides Stratford’s Avon like a colossus.

And theatres in Manchester, Liverpool, Sheffield and Leeds constitute a genuine northern powerhouse. There’s hardly a corner of the kingdom that doesn’t possess a thriving theatre, whether professional or amateur. Theatre is simply something we do, to quote Hamlet again, as if ‘to the manner born’.

Theatre shows to see this year
The Trials of Galileo
January 7–9, BT Studio, Oxford Playhouse, Beaumont Street, Oxford. One-man show starring Tim Hardy (RSC) and written and directed by Nic Young, tickets from £10
(01865 305305; www.oxfordplayhouse.com)

‘The James Plays’
February 3–13, Festival Theatre, Edinburgh, tickets from £31.50. Presented by National Theatre of Scotland, Edinburgh International Festival and National Theatre of Great Britain. Three plays about James I, II and III of Scotland by Rona Munro, directed by Laurie Sansom
(www.nationaltheatrescotland.com;0141–221 0970)

Single Spies
February 4–13, Chichester Festival Theatre, West Sussex. Collaboration between Chichester Festival Theatre and Birmingham Repertory Theatre, Rachel Kavanaugh directs this Alan Bennett play, tickets from £14
(01243 781312; www.cft.org.uk)

As You Like It
Until March 5 at the National Theatre, South Bank, London SE1. Tickets from £15. National Theatre Live, February 25, 7pm (www.nationaltheatre.org.uk; 020–7452 3000)

The Fifth Column
March 24–April 16 at the Southwark Playhouse, Newington Causeway, London SE1. Hemingway’s only full-length play, tickets from £12 (www.southwarkplayhouse.co.uk; 020–7407 0234)

The Caretaker
March 26–May 14 The Old Vic, The Cut, London SE1. Pinter’s biting classic directed by Matthew Warchus, tickets from £12(0844 871 7628; www.oldvictheatre.com)

Hamlet
April 23 and 24 at Shakespeare’s Globe, London SE1. The ‘Hamlet’ tour returns home for a weekend of celebratory final performances, marking exactly 400 years since Shakespeare’s death. Tickets from £15
(020–74019919; www.shakespearesglobe.com)

Cymbeline
April 29–August 12, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-upon-Avon. Syllabus
staple from Shakespeare, directed by Melly Still, tickets from £5 (0844 800 1110; www.rsc.org.uk)

Blue/Orange
May 12–June 18, Young Vic, The Cut, London SE1. Matthew Xia directs this
Olivier Award-winning play by Joe Penhall, tickets from £10 (020–7922 2922; www.youngvic.org)

West Side Story
June 1–July 17, Kilworth House, hotel and theatre, North Kilworth, Leicestershire, East Midlands, tickets from £31 (01858 881939; www.kilworthhouse.co.uk)

The Clockmaker’s Daughter
August 15 –19, tickets from £9, The Minack Theatre, Porthcurno, Penzance, Cornwall.
New musical fairytale by Michael Webborn and Daniel
Finn, starring the Mitre Players (01736 810181; www.minack.com)

Mary Poppins
December 14–January 15, 2017, at the Millennium Centre, Cardiff. Everyone’s
favourite nanny will tour the country in 2016, taking in Dublin, Manchester, Birmingham, Edinburgh, Southampton, Newcastleupon- Tyne and Bradford, finishing the year in Wales.
Tickets from £22.50 (www.nationaltheatrewales.org; 02920 371689)