Favourite performances of 2017

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The cast of Twelfth Night
Photo credit: Hugo Glendinning

This year variety has been the thing (though I’ve still managed to stack up certain repeat attendances), so that means I’ve seen a serious amount of performers – some even two or three times… So I’ve had incredible difficulty here. That was part of my reasoning as far as Mind the Advent 2017 was concerned; I could at least get a few extra names out there before having to come up with my final 12.

I will get onto the list soon, but I just want to mention a few who nearly made it, but couldn’t quite squeeze themselves onto the final list – my subs bench, if you will. Laura Carmichael (Trudi – Apologia), Jon Tozzi (Adam – Flood), Ewan Wardrop (Dog Berry – Much Ado About Nothing, George & Beryl Formby – Formby), Gabriel Vick (Chuck Baxter – Promises, Promises), Faye Marsay (Louise/Clare – Road), Dawn Sievewright (Fionnula – Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Lampy – Pinocchio), Carly Bawden (Maria – Twelfth Night, Angélique – Romantics Anonymous), Ben Turner (Amir – The Kite Runner), Esh Alladi (Kynaston – Nell Gwynn, Mahatma Gandhi – Lions & Tigers, Sebastian – Twelfth Night), Anita-Joy Uwajeh (Viola – Twelfth Night), Anya Chalotra (Hero – Much Ado About Nothing).

But here we go – in no particular order…

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John McCrea in Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Photo credit: Johan Persson

John McCrea – Jamie (Everybody’s Talking About Jamie)

I first saw him in The Buskers Opera last year, and there was a definite spark of talent (I even made sure he had a bit of a mention in my review) – so it is really fantastic to see him back in London as a West End leading man. He seems to have boundless energy and absolutely flawless delivery, as well as a superb voice. Keep an eye on this one.

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Shirley Henderson in Girl From The North Country
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Shirley Henderson – Elizabeth (Girl From The North Country)

An incredible actress – I was rather excited about getting to see her onstage when the casting announcement was made, but nothing could quite prepare me for her performance. As soon as she set foot on the Old Vic stage, you could see that she completely inhabited her character; bursting into Like A Rolling Stone is one of my theatre highlights of 2017 (I was the definition of ‘agog’ at that point).

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Andrew Scott in Hamlet
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Andrew Scott – Hamlet (Hamlet)

Despite the production being a bit meh, I have to admit that Benedict Cumberbatch did a great job as the Prince of Denmark. However this year Andrew Scott took it to a whole new level. His mesmerising, ultimately very natural, performance was so refreshing – and it really made the Bard’s immortal words take flight. Absolutely unforgettable.

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Damien Molony in King Lear
Photo credit: Manuel Harlan

Damien Molony – Edmund (King Lear)

It’s been a few years since I last saw him in a play (and I still credit him with kickstarting my theatre habit), and I had an instinct he’d be the perfect Edmund. Needless to say, I was not disappointed! Great humour where required, as well as a devious and vicious streak; Edmund is a really complex character, with great potential as far as an actor is concerned, and this portrayal is up there with the greats.

Audra McDonald as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar &
Audra McDonald in Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Audra McDonald – Billie Holiday (Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill)

I had a couple of doses of good fortune here – firstly, getting to interview Audra on the Oliviers red carpet (incredibly charming despite admitting she was very jetlagged!) and secondly, winning in the TodayTix lottery to claim my table seat on the stage. That was such an extraordinary experience – particularly as I inadvertently chose a seat where you’re basically involved in the show! It really was like Lady Day herself was in the room.

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Shubham Saraf in Lions & Tigers
Photo credit: Marc Brenner

Shubham Saraf – Dinesh (Lions & Tigers)

The Festival of Independence was an inspired inclusion in the Globe’s summer calendar, and thanks to this another new young talent got a chance to shine. Such a confident performance, telling the story of an incredible young man (and India itself). The final show was especially moving – even as they took their bows, as the emotion of the occasion overwhelmed everyone in the room.

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Matthew Needham in Much Ado About Nothing
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Matthew Needham – Benedick (Much Ado About Nothing)

Every single time I saw Much Ado there was something new in his performance – however small or trifling, it was continually fresh. It’s this kind of innovative and flexible approach that I most admire in actors, and it makes repeat visits all the more rewarding. His ability to ad lib and interact with the audience was particularly noteworthy – and I’ll always remember Benedick calling me wise in the midnight matinée!

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Kirsty Bushell in Romeo & Juliet
Photo credit: Robert Workman

Kirsty Bushell – Juliet (Romeo & Juliet)

I’ve seen several versions of this play now (after breaking my duck last November, I couldn’t move for it in 2017), but only one has really brought across the emotion – rendering me insensible – and that’s Daniel Kramer’s at the Globe. A big part of this is down to a fantastically committed performance from Kirsty Bushell as the eponymous lover. She captured the giddiness of a teenage girl and coupled it with an emotional depth that I’ve not seen before, or since, in this play.

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Pip Brignall in The Duchess of Malfi
Photo credit: Jim Creighton

Pip Brignall – Ferdinand (The Duchess of Malfi)

This production was a great event for me; I’ve wanted to see this play for ages, plus it meant a long-anticipated comeback from Scena Mundi. Pip gave a brilliantly inspiring performance as the complex & troubled Ferdinand, especially compelling as the wolf took control…

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Natalie Dormer and David Oakes in Venus in Fur
Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Natalie Dormer – Vanda (Venus in Fur)

I’ll be honest, I mostly wanted to see Venus in Fur because it was a great chance to see David Oakes onstage again – and also the subject matter is an interesting one to explore. So it was a massive bonus to also get to see Natalie Dormer and discover just how incredible an actress she is. Having only ever seen her in fairly serious roles in dramas, I had no idea how hilarious she is! Absolutely one of the standout performances of the year, in a brilliant play (and I’m not at all biased, despite my BroadwayWorld quote making it onto a couple of posters).

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Marc Antolin in The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk
Photo credit: Steve Tanner

Marc Antolin – Sir Andrew Aguecheek (Twelfth Night), Marc Chagall (The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk), Ludo (Romantics Anonymous)

I first saw Marc in Peter Pan towards the end of 2016 – as a result, I cast him (in my head) as Sir Andrew Aguecheek. So imagine my reaction when Emma Rice did just that! I had the best few months laughing until I cried at Sir Andrew’s increasingly ridiculous antics, and then a few days after I bid him (and his pink pants) farewell, I was introduced to another wonderful character: Marc Chagall. To round off the year, he’s brought his charm & comedy to Ludo (and various others) in the gorgeous Romantics Anonymous. What a year!

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Katy Owen in Twelfth Night
Photo credit: Hugo Glendinning

Katy Owen – Malvolio (Twelfth Night)

By far the most anticipated performance of the year for me. As if I wasn’t excited enough to see her as Lily again on my New York trip, I knew I’d be in for a treat when she made her debut as the grouchy steward. The yellow stockings introduction, in particular, was side-splittingly funny – though I obviously also loved being ‘cleaned’ by Katy in her sailor’s garb! She really can do no wrong.

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