Worst shows of 2016

Doctor Faustus

At times this year it felt like I was being subjected to a torrent of terrible shows, but looking back on it has proved that has not been the case at all. It’s actually been quite difficult to come up with a ‘worst shows’ list, with a dearth of truly awful shows & a few more ‘meh’ ones. However, I did manage to put a top six really shit shows together.

Not quite making the cut, but sitting in the ‘meh’ category, are another six. Two of which are different productions of Marlowe’s Doctor Faustus – the Jamie Lloyd version & the RSC transfer to the Barbican. I just want to see Faustus done properly! There was hardly anything worth seeing in the Jermyn Street Theatre’s programme this year, the most dull being Off The Kings Road & (deep breath) I’m Getting My Act Together And Taking It On The Road. I found The Maids to be all style & absolutely no substance – and Racky Plews’ production of Vanities was only redeemed slightly because Lizzy Connelly is hilarious.

Emma Packer, credit David Packer 2.
Emma Packer in CTRL+ALT+DELETE
Photo credit: David Packer
  1. CTRL + ALT + DELETE, Camden People’s Theatre

I aim to judge everything equally, from fringe to West End, and that’s why I feel justified in including something from the Camden Fringe. It didn’t work as a one-woman show, the story was unclear at times and, quite frankly, I found myself cringing most of the time. I came into town specifically to see this show and it felt like a complete waste of my time…

Christina Cole, Lloyd Owen, Matthew Perry and Jennifer Mudge in The End of Longing
Photo credit: Helen Maybanks
  1. The End of Longing, Playhouse Theatre

Proof that just because you’re successful at screenwriting, it doesn’t mean you’re automatically going to be brilliant as a playwright – and that giving a West End writing debut on the basis of a famous name is foolish indeed. It felt like a sitcom put on the stage, and the inane incidental music at the laborious  scene changes was enough to drive you insane… I’m glad I didn’t pay a fortune to see it – in a year of limited funds, this was a waste indeed.

The cast of The War of the Worlds
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton
  1. The War of the Worlds, Dominion Theatre

Only redeemed (& this far down the list) by the fact that the musical performances were sensational to hear live – and that I was blessed with Daniel Bedingfield not being present, his understudy was an experienced musical theatre actor who was by far the best thing about the show. There was no direction whatsoever, and the props were absolutely laughable. Add to this the rapturous applause for David Essex, despite him only having a few solo lines, and I was distinctly unimpressed.

L-R Michael Greco (Miles Mason) & Kurt Kansley (Envy) - Exposure The Musical - St. James Theatre - Pamela Raith Photography - (018)
Michael Greco and Kurt Kansley in Exposure the Musical
Photo credit: Pamela Raith
  1. Exposure, St James Theatre

A real disappointment – and proof that you can’t judge a new musical with its songs out of context. Everything I saw previewing the show made it an exciting prospect, but it failed on pretty much every level! The press beforehand suggested it was all about the pursuit of photographing the Seven Deadly Sins, when in actual fact that part was squeezed into a single song in the second act. And I still get involuntary cringes remembering the lyric “I get a stiffie from that name”.

L - R Alice Stokoe (Extraordinary Girl), Amelia Lily (Whatsername), Newton Faulkner (Johnny) - American Idiot UK Tour - Photo by Darren Bell (2031)
Alice Stokoe, Amelia Lily and Newton Faulkner in American Idiot
Photo credit: Darren Bell
  1. American Idiot, Arts Theatre (West End)

Cheating a bit, as I saw it in 2015, but with a different lead I felt it just had to be chewed over & spat out one more time. The casting of Newton Faulkner was ludicrous, Amelia Lily was as wooden as she was the year before – and some of the others were hamming it up as if their lives depended on it. It simply doesn’t work as a sung-through musical: the songs weren’t written specifically for the theatre, so more dialogue is a must. Given that it started out as a concept album, and the show itself draws in some other songs, it’s not exactly watertight. And the fact that they thought it was fine to cover the front row in stage blood & other disgusting items proved how badly thought out it was.

Cast 1 Phil Weedon
The cast of All or Nothing
Photo credit: Phil Weedon
  1. All Or Nothing, The Vaults

This one was extremely disappointing. Heading over to press night I’d heard encouraging reports, and obviously Sunny Afternoon works so well, so it seemed like a done deal. How wrong could I have been! Where the show really fails is in its creative team; it is a vanity project of Carol Harrison’s, presumably funded by the Marriott family (I found it astonishingly arrogant that there was a plethora of expensive merchandise available when it hadn’t even opened). As such, they’ve not thought to bring a dramaturg on board to assist (Harrison, like Matthew Perry, is more known for screenwriting) and as a result the book is shoddy. Including a whole song from Oliver! as well as other 60s recording artists? The attempt to tug at the heartstrings with the confusing ending nearly made me laugh out loud, it was that terrible – in acting as well as writing. The show was derivative at best – and some ideas seemed very familiar indeed… No wonder Mark Newnham (a.k.a. the only good thing about the show) left halfway through to star in the Sunny Afternoon tour! I have a morbid curiosity about what the show is like now (I’ve not heard very flattering things – and from reliable sources), but there’s no way I’d ever pay for it. A single penny towards Carol Harrison is a penny too much.


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