Any number of shows could have been included in this post; frankly it’s ludicrous that I decided to stick with my whole top 12 idea… As I’ve seen about 90 more individual shows than last year, it’s almost a question of picking some of the shows out of a hat to be able to split them. Not at all helped by a latecomer muscling its way in (spoiler)!
I wouldn’t usually have quite so many honourable mentions, but that was the only thing I could do to make sure nearly every show that really meant something to me (or was just such top quality) got a mention:
- 42nd Street, Theatre Royal Drury Lane
- Breaking Up is Hard to Do, Upstairs at the Gatehouse
- Doomed Resistance, Etcetera Theatre
- Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Apollo Theatre
- Hamlet, Harold Pinter Theatre
- In Other Words, Hope Theatre
- Killer, Shoreditch Town Hall
- Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar & Grill, Wyndham’s Theatre
- Oslo, National Theatre (Lyttleton)
- Posh, Pleasance Theatre
- The Dysfunctional Guide to Being a Third Wheel, Live at Zédel
- Venus in Fur, Theatre Royal Haymarket
But, without further ado, here are the “cream of the cream”…
12. The Grinning Man, Trafalgar Studios
Yes! That latecomer – I saw it yesterday, in fact, to make sure that it was included in #Puppets2017. It’s pretty difficult to describe, though I mean that in the best way possible. A story I was unfamiliar with (I admit my knowledge of Victor Hugo stretches to the two most famous), and it’s really transformed the Trafalgar Studios; even as you walk through from the bar there are posters advertising the Trafalgar Fair everywhere. The music & lyrics (Carl Grose, Tim Phillips, Marc Teitler & Tom Morris) are breathtaking, and the puppetry is absolutely masterful. On top of this there are some incredible performances (most notably from Louis Maskell as Grinpayne), and Tom Morris’ direction is creative and exciting. One to return to, that’s for sure.
11. Girl From The North Country, Old Vic
This will be tantamount to heresy to quite a few people I know, but it’s this show that has really given me an understanding of Bob Dylan’s brilliance. The songs transformed almost beyond recognition, and sung by very good singers, really allows you to feel the poetry in his work. Conor McPherson’s story of outsiders all brought together for a fleeting moment is compelling, entertaining & moving all in one go – and the performances across the board were out of this world. I’d especially like to mention Karl Queensborough covering the role of Joe on my second time seeing the show, and Sheila Atim’s Tight Connection To My Heart. Beautiful theatre.
10. The Ferryman, Royal Court Theatre
To this day I remain smug that I managed to see this incredible play in its original home (in its very last week, after battling for an online day seat) and with its brilliant original cast. I had hoped to see them when it transferred to the Gielgud, but time got away from me and now a new cast has taken over – though I don’t doubt the play’s weight, but that show back in May had such an earth-shattering effect on me I’m not sure I’m ready to experience it afresh. It’s the perfect example of a great ensemble piece; they were a wonderful unit and, as well as that, each character gets their moment in the spotlight.
9. Lions and Tigers, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Originally I only put this in my diary as it fell in my #GlobeChallenge week – but it was so profoundly moving (and so human) that I ended up seeing it another couple of times during its short run. I got very interested in Partition at the time; it’s not something I was at all familiar with, sadly. I knew that India fought to be independent of the British Empire, and that conflict is rife in that part of the world, but I had no idea what was at the root of it all. This play, written by freedom fighter Dinesh Gupta’s great-niece Tanika Gupta, was as informative and funny as it was emotional – and the casting was second-to-none. Esh Alladi was the spitting image of Mahatma Gandhi, and Shubham Saraf (as I’ve previously mentioned) has a bright future ahead.
8. The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk, Bristol Old Vic
It sounds superficial but I was half in love with this show before I even saw it, as the production shots were some of the most effective I’ve ever seen; artful and full of colour, they really did their subjects (Marc & Bella Chagall) complete justice. And then I eventually saw the show, and I fell completely head over heels. It is the perfect marriage of music & movement, brought vibrantly to life by Marc Antolin & Audrey Brisson. I immediately regretted not seeing it at the SWP last year – though with its upcoming UK/US tour I have been saved!
7. King Lear, Minerva Theatre (Chichester)
One of my luckiest moments of the year. Don’t think I’m not grateful for managing to get a ticket – as it’s hardly a contender to transfer into town, given McKellen’s wish to keep it intimate. Though I really hope it was filmed for release, as previously suggested, because I’d really love to see it again. It showed the perfect combination of respect for the text and trust in the company to deliver the vision; basically comprising a dream team for me, and it may be the ultimate Lear in my eyes. I’ve spoken of my excitable joy at the perfect Edmund (Damien Molony), but Kirsty Bushell’s Regan was delightfully insane – and, of course, McKellen’s Lear was a masterpiece. I never thought this play could work in a small space, but in October I was thrilled to be proven wrong!
6. An American in Paris, Dominion Theatre
I’d been looking forward to this for what seemed like an eternity, so I was super chuffed to be asked to attend a preview for BroadwayWorld UK (in fact that was the only time I saw the full original cast), and then in April I also got the chance to chat with the wonderful Robbie Fairchild & Ashley Day on the Oliviers red carpet. It’s so sad that its run has been cut short, and that (as a dance-based musical) it seems to have been misunderstood by some; I adore the idea of storytelling via the medium of dance, and applaud director Christopher Wheeldon for bringing a heavily ballet- & contemporary-filled musical to the West End. Each time I’ve seen it my heart has been filled to the brim with joy at the beautiful spectacle, and I can’t believe I have just one chance left to see it – and hear those marvellous Gershwin tunes.
5. Ink, Almeida/Duke of York’s Theatre
Anyone with any sense has got James Graham on their list of favourite playwrights by now, and Ink this year has definitely been my favourite of the array he’s provided (though Quiz is snapping at its heels). Central performances from Bertie Carvel & Richard Coyle are at the core of a sold – and, at times, surprising – piece of writing, painting a slightly different picture of Rupert Murdoch to the one most of us are familiar with. Its transfer to the West End was absolutely seamless, and I’d argue that it could easily have run there for years – if Graham himself could stop relentlessly churning out new material! Catch it while you can.
4. Hamilton, Victoria Palace Theatre
Here’s another one that I never expected to be on this list… Obviously I’ve done something to please the theatre gods, as I was fortunate enough to see it in its very first week! I’ll admit that I’m not one to usually run to something that’s been hyped up anywhere near this much (in fact I’d normally be running in the opposite direction), but months of avoiding the songs & story meant I was curious – and I’ll keep repeating how good the delayed gratification felt. Since I saw the show I’ve barely listened to anything other than the Broadway cast recording, have successfully managed to book a ticket for July (*groans at the wait*) and am plugging away at the £10 lottery. I never expected to relate so much to an out-and-out American story, or to happily listen to so much hip hop! There is no doubt in my mind that Lin-Manuel Miranda is some sort of genius, and this West End cast is a properly talented group of people.
3. Much Ado About Nothing, Shakespeare’s Globe
This is where it starts to really get tricky. As this was the last show standing at the end of the Summer of Love, it could be easy to forget how any of the other productions affected me, but my (unlucky) 13 trips speak volumes about my affection for this show. Matthew Dunster created a glorious thing in this Mexican Much Ado, bringing another diverse cast to the stage and filling it with incredible fire & spirit. I’ll always remember continually bawling my eyes out at Hero’s pain and crying with laughter at Benedick’s cartwheels – it brought great warmth as the cold weather started to set in, and was absolutely the best way to end Emma Rice’s final outdoor season.
2. Romantics Anonymous, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Super tough at the top. Had this been given a slightly longer run it might’ve leapfrogged into the number one spot, but instead it sits a proud second – or maybe we could call it one & a half? It first came at exactly the right time, even if it did initially feel too soon to start with, kicking off the winter season five days after the Summer of Love ended; I was unbearably sad all week about this, then Romantics Anonymous was there on the Friday to give me a great big hug! For whatever reason I was super nervous about it just before it started, but from the first bar I knew I’d been worrying for nothing. It’s magnificent. The songs are cute & quirky, and such a lovely & talented cast has been put together (almost like an Emma Rice greatest hits collection). It speaks to me on a very personal level and never fails to leave me beaming from ear to ear when I leave the theatre. My hunch is that it’ll get a tour at some point in the future, so I might start saving up for that now…
1. Twelfth Night, Shakespeare’s Globe
At one point it seemed like nothing else could really contend with this, and it’s pulled through by virtue of my extreme experiences with it this summer. Nearly every time I saw it there was some kind of rain, not least in the very first preview where I left the theatre with all my clothes stuck to my skin, shivering & soaked- but still bursting with joy. It was camp, big & bold, and simply made me happy every time I saw it. Excitingly, the Globe included one of my BroadwayWorld UK quotes on its posters, which is all I could ask for! Every single member of the cast became very dear to me, and through all the sequins & haze there were some clear breakthroughs in terms of the play itself; Anita-Joy Uwajeh & John Pfumojena are the best Viola & Sebastian I’ve seen, and that final show where Sebastian ignored the instruction “Do not embrace me” to hug Viola tightly is seared into my memory. Of course Katy Owen’s Welsh Malvolio and Marc Antolin’s ridiculous Sir Andrew always had me in stitches – and will forever be close to my heart. Thank you, Emma Rice, for delivering my favourite Shakespeare in such an unforgettable fashion!