2016, you may have been crap for a lot of things but theatre was certainly not one of them. There has been so much astounding talent and British theatre has offered a wondrous year of much needed escapism. I honestly feel that this year, theatre has excelled its stagey self, and I don’t even feel I scratched the surface of the some of the exceptional shows that were out there.
So without further ado, here is my list (in no particular order) of the shows that have wowed, stunned, charmed and made me thankful for a pretty kickass industry:
Although I’ve said there’s no particular order, PP&T is pretty up there at the top for me, as it was spectacularly good. Headlong’s staggering production transferred to the Wyndhams after an incredible run at the National, along with its star Denise Gough. WHO WAS EXCEPTIONAL. It has certainly been a blinding year for Gough, who snapped up Best Actress at the Olivier’s for her heart-breaking portrayal. Her performance as recovering addict Emma, left you in no doubt that you had witnessed a true piece of remarkable theatre.
- Wild, Hampstead Theatre
Mike Bartlett did it again with another hugely topical, challenging piece inspired by American whistle-blower Edward Snowdon. Lead by superb trio – Caoilfhionn Dunne, Jack Farthing and John Mackay, it was clever, thrilling, darkly comic and utterly mind-messing. As Andrew is visited in a Russian hotel room by two possible members of WikiLeaks, seeing is believing as the saying goes – but what if you don’t know if you can believe what you see, who do you trust? Designer Miriam Buether certainly turned our world upside down in a finale that had me on the edge of my seat and mouth open so wide, my chin hit the floor. Super theatrical and brilliant.
- Les Liaisons Dangereuses, Donmar Warehouse
Well this was one sexy production with the glorious Janet McTeer stealing the show as the manipulative Marquise de Merteuil. She was simply divine with her deep, velvety voice and smooth elegance. The production simply oozed opulence with stunning set and costume by the talented Tom Scutt. His set was bathed in a warm golden hue and was lit almost with just candlelight. It’s doing exceedingly well on Broadway, and I think Dominic West was wise not to follow.
I have had the joy of seeing this string-strumming, toe-tapping, chandelier-swinging musical twice this year and I still can’t get enough. Stiles and Drewe’s music and lyrics are hum-ably irresistible and Andrew Wright’s choreography raises you to your feet. It’s truly a musical for the time and a comforting hug of sheer escapism. The show really belongs to leading lad, Charlie Stemp, with an endearing grin, relentless energy and fire cracking moves. He’s an absolute star and I am sure I’ll be back in the New Year.
I left the Young Vic in pieces. Billie Piper’s performance as a woman utterly consumed by her want for children was shattering and unbearably devastating to watch. She is such a natural and electric performer, intoxicating and captivating to gigantic proportions. I still feel affected by Simon Stone’s powerful production and I am sure we will see Piper nab a few other gongs as we soar through awards season. A bit bloomin brilliant.
The story. That score. Those performances. Ragtime was yet another triumphant masterpiece pulled out of the musical bag by dream team Tom Southerland and Danielle Tarento. There wasn’t a single weak link in the magnificent production, and the cast dazzled with every note in this tale exploring the plight of three interwoven characters during the turn of the 20th Century. There was so much soul and heart at the core of this musical, it was simply unmissable.
- Oil, Almeida
Ella Hickson’s Oil was SO smart and an interesting look at the development of the Western world across the decades. Beginning in the throes of a Cornish winter in 1889, we journeyed through to 1908, 1970 and finished with an uncomfortable glimpse into 2051. There was real sense of girl power with Carrie Cracknell directing and Anna-Marie Duff taking the lead in a male dominated oil industry. It was a real thought-provoking piece and lingered long after the performance. My mind was blown.
Ok, so I am also taking a leaf out of TimeOut’s book here and listing the National as one of my entries. They have had such a cracking year and I have thoroughly adored Helen McCrory’s haunting performance in The Deep Blue Sea, the debauchery and eccentricity of The Threepenny Opera, and Ivo van Hove’s thrilling Hedda. Their next season is already shaping up to be a bit of a good’un and I can’t wait to see Angles in America. Bravo Nash, you’re stealing the show!
- Boy, Almeida
Leo Butler’s new play presented a day in the life of Liam (Frankie Fox’s stage debut), a typical teenager who would normally be lost in a crowd. Butler offered quite a bleak outlook that this young lad keen to make his start in life ends up lost and lonely in the face of a cold and unfriendly city. It was beautifully observed, and he successfully created the drama from something very undramatic. Designer Miriam Buether gets a second look in with her inspired conveyor belt set, that served as a brilliant metaphor for life’s monotony. A hugely significant piece of theatre and painfully poignant.
Again, I have been a bit naughty here but I’m sticking in the last two shows at the Royal Court that have both been brilliant. Playing simultaneously, one up one down, Lucy Kirkwood presents a frightening dystopia, affected by a nuclear disaster with The Children. Three retired physicists come together and clash in a costal cottage, with the prospect of returning to the plant to tidy up their mess. It’s a slow creeper but packs a punch. Equally E. V Crowe offers an intriguing and puzzling new play, The Sewing Group. I won’t say too much but Crowe has certainly presented a ball of threads for the audience to untangle, tease out and restring. You’ll be guessing right until the end… A very clever piece of writing.