Favourite shows of 2016

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It has been pretty hard to narrow down my customary top 12, particularly given the sheer number of shows I had to choose from – and how late I was still seeing new shows…

There are a few that I’ve had to exclude from the list as it would be cheeky to have shows from last year – but I should give special mentions to Kinky Boots, The Lorax and, of course, Sunny Afternoon. Obviously there is future life in various ways for all of them, and I hope to see them a few times at various points throughout next year.

Honorary mentions go to ‘Art’ & Lazarus. I saw these two quite late on this year (only in the last two weeks), but they were real contenders for the final list – in the end, however, I just couldn’t let any of the others go.

Dean John-Wilson (Joey Lubowitz) & Simon Lipkin (Lou Lubowitz) in Miss Atomic Bomb, St James Theatre, photo Tristram Kenton
Dean John-Wilson, Simon Lipkin and the cast of Miss Atomic Bomb
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
  1. Miss Atomic Bomb, St James Theatre

New British musicals have been largely quite disappointing recently, but this one really hit the spot. From the minds of Gabriel Vick, Adam Long & Alex Jackson-Long, it was a crazy pastiche of the classic musical style; a tap number, jazz hands, the lot! What made it work so well, for me, was the fact that it wasn’t ashamed to have fun – and certainly didn’t take itself too seriously. Add into that some knockout performances from Florence Andrews, Dean John-Wilson & Simon Lipkin, and it was a good night guaranteed.

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Jack Farthing and Caoilfhionn Dunne in Wild
Photo credit: Stephen Cummiskey
  1. Wild, Hampstead Theatre

For the most part it all looked fairly innocuous; don’t get me wrong, it was extremely clever & relevant stuff, but nothing that seemed to justify the rave reviews & cryptic headlines. Then you reached that final scene… And the whole thing got turned on its head – quite literally! Not only was Wild a brilliant piece of art, but also a feat of engineering. The Hampstead is up there as one of my favourite venues, and this kind of production easily shows why.

keith higinbotham and andrew venning in antic disposition-s the comedy of errors
Keith Higinbotham and Andrew Venning in The Comedy of Errors
Photo credit: Scott Rylander
  1. The Comedy of Errors (Antic Disposition), Gray’s Inn Hall

Two of my favourite things: Shakespeare & the Jazz Age. It couldn’t possibly fail! It’s a complicated play to try & write a brief synopsis of, but it is quite simple really. Lots of mistaken identities (there are two sets of twins in the play – and the casting was spot on here), some slapstick & fantastic music as the icing on the cake. It’s a bit of a mystery to me that this play isn’t put on more; it is an absolute classic!

The Alchemist at The Rose Playhouse June 2016 (L-R) Peter Wicks as Face _ Beth Eyre as Doll Common _ Benjamin Garrison as Subtle ( copyright Mercurius)
Peter Wicks, Monty D’Inverno, Beth Eyre and Benjamin Garrison in The Alchemist
Photo credit: Mercurius Theatre
  1. The Alchemist, Rose Playhouse & Barbican

I’d somehow never seen this brilliant Ben Jonson play before, and then two hilarious productions come along at once! At the Rose was a 90-minute version, punctuated with electronic music – whereas the RSC’s at the Barbican was a full-length production which was more traditional, until the very end. This play secures Jonson as one of my favourite writers.

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Matt Smith and Jonjo O’Neill in Unreachable
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
  1. Unreachable, Royal Court Theatre

Where possible there should always be room for something a bit off the wall in theatre – and Unreachable certainly ticked that box! The play focused around a director trying to capture the perfect light, and was put together by the company in rehearsals. Matt Smith & Jonjo O’Neill were side-splittingly hilarious as a double act, in particular during the scene just before the interval where they were clearly trying to make each other corpse. And this is another show where the ending came out of nowhere; the scenery was absolutely stunning.

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The cast of Imogen
Photo credit: Tristam Kenton
  1. Imogen, Shakespeare’s Globe

A reworked version of Cymbeline, I was initially unsure about going. For one thing, it opened late in the year meaning the chances of cold weather & rain increased – plus the genre of music used really wasn’t my sort of thing. But I wanted to complete the Wonder Season, and I had a reliable recommendation, so I went for it. I’m so glad I did! It focused the play better, was immediately accessible & felt completely fresh.

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The cast of Remedial Remedies
Photo credit: Falling Pennies
  1. Remedial Remedies, Upstairs at the Gatehouse

A coming of age story set in a school revision group, where the four classmates are all on the verge of resitting their exams, and facing up to what will happen when they leave school. It was both hilarious & touching – another great piece of new writing from James Hartnell (originally produced in short play form at the first ‘On The Night’ event) for Falling Pennies.

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Emma Hall, Edward Fisher, Jack Christie, Pip Brignall and Tom Winsor in Twelfth Night
Photo credit: Scena Mundi
  1. Twelfth Night (Scena Mundi), French Protestant Church

The first production of a Shakespeare comedy that had me crying in almost uncontrollable fits of laughter. It was another brilliant Scena Mundi show, with various familiar faces & some new ones too. The church setting was stunning, making it visually striking as well as full of substance. This also led onto the first show by The Mechanicals – a condensed version featuring only four actors, which was equally hilarious!

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The cast of Half A Sixpence
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan
  1. Half A Sixpence, Noël Coward Theatre

I do love a good old-fashioned musical. There isn’t a feeling like it, coming out of the theatre with a grin on your face & a spring in your step – and those tunes in your head… I can’t believe it took me a month & a half to get to see it! Andrew Wright has treated theatregoers to some wonderful choreography this year, and I think this may be his finest yet. And you all know about Charlie Stemp, right?

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Adam El Hagar, Daniel Foxsmith and Simon Maeder in Licensed To Ill
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks
  1. Licensed to Ill, Southwark Playhouse

I just couldn’t help it. I went to review this show a bit reluctantly, but came out with the biggest smile plastered across my face – and I even went back for more the week after! I actually considered dropping anther review to see it a third time, which is a true sign of something embedding itself in me. The show was a laugh a minute (at the very least) and chock full of some great renditions (& reworkings) of Beastie Boys classics. I’m keeping  my fingers crossed for another run sometime.

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Nandi Bhebhe, Edith Tankus, Ewan Wardrop, Lucy Thackaray, Tibu Fortes and Margaret Ann Bain in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Photo credit: Steve Tanner
  1. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Shakespeare’s Globe

My very first show at the Globe, and my introduction to Emma Rice’s genius. It was joyful madness from start to finish! As well as bumping Dream up in my list of favourite Shakespeare plays, it also showed me Stu Barker’s fantastic compositions & some Kneehigh regulars for the first time – and, as a bonus, it was Ned’s first show since Sunny, so it was great to see him again. The midnight matinée definitely ranks as one of my favourite audience experiences ever, and will be hard to top.

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The cast of 946
Photo credit: Steve Tanner
  1. 946: The Amazing Story of Adolphus Tips, Shakespeare’s Globe & UK tour

I consider myself very lucky to have come across two shows in the past few years that have held significant meaning for me. A bonus with this one was that it just so happened to be Adam’s first post-Sunny role! Obviously I’d have seen it a few times anyway, but I doubt I’d have travelled across the country so much if it hadn’t been so good. The music, the puppets, the choreography, the laughs, the tears… To me, it is perfect. And I now have another theatre company & group of actors to start supporting once they’re done with the American leg of the tour! I couldn’t have asked for anything more.

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