There have been so many brilliant performances this year that I simply couldn’t narrow them down enough – and it also didn’t seem fair to restrict things even further, so I’ve split what would usually be one post into two (favourite male performances came earlier). Mind the Advent also promoted a few more performances, just to cover as many bases as possible!
Not quite making it onto the main list, and populating my female performances subs bench are: Sophie Okonedo (Cleopatra – Antony & Cleopatra), Sharon D. Clarke (Caroline Thibodeaux – Caroline, or Change), Maria Omakinwa (Sylvia Pankhurst – Sylvia), Tamsin Greig (various – Pinter 3) and Maddie Rice (‘Miss’ – Pickle Jar).
In no particular order, my top ten are…
Anya Chalotra – Jyoti, The Village (Theatre Royal Stratford East)
I’d not been to Theatre Royal Stratford East for quite some time, so when a couple of familiar faces were cast in the first production of Nadia Fall’s tenure (plus I’d seen Miss Littlewood) it seemed as good a time as any to return! The Village was based on Lope de Vega’s Fuenteovejuna, with the action transposed to an Indian village; given its status as an emerging economy, India has become a major player – its politics are fascinating and horrifying at the same time. Anya Chalotra did a fantastic job of leading the cast of an important story of female empowerment. She definitely picked up from where she left off in Much Ado, leaving me in tears once again!
Siobhan Athwal – Emily Brontë, Wasted (Southwark Playhouse)
This show definitely was the Brontës as you’ve never seen them before, set up in the style of a rock music documentary – Howarth: Access All Areas. All four Brontës were very different characters, but it was Siobhan Athwal’s portrayal of Emily that really caught my eye. Introverted and even more of an outsider than her brother & sisters, she’d much rather spend time out on the moors than interact with people; Athwal brought a quirkiness to a character about whom not much is known, and that gap in our knowledge definitely allowed her a degree of freedom in her performance. Her vocals were mindblowingly good.
Kate O’Flynn – various, Pinter 1 (Harold Pinter Theatre)
I first saw Kate O’Flynn last year, in The Glass Menagerie, and I was thrilled to learn that she was due to be part of the impressive company of Jamie Lloyd’s Pinter at the Pinter season. I saw Pinters 1 & 2 on their final day, though (for whatever reason) they didn’t do them in numerical order on Saturdays, so I saw the more comedy-orientated Pinter 2 in the afternoon and then the darker Pinter 1 in the evening – not ideal in some ways, as I definitely prefer to leave on a lighter note if at all possible, but sitting in the middle of the front row as Paapa Essiedu and Kate O’Flynn went toe to toe in Ashes to Ashes (directed by Lia Williams) was definitely a powerful one to go out on. Particularly as O’Flynn delved deeper and deeper, and the play went to darker places; her ability to harness raw emotions is incredible, and I remember being left quite flabbergasted as she reached out right in front of me at the very end.
Amy Ross – Elphaba, Wicked (Bristol Hippodrome)
This was a very special moment. Obviously I first saw Amy in Sunny Afternoon, followed by a stint in the original West End cast of Kinky Boots – but we Afternooners knew that her talents hadn’t yet been made the most of. So in comes the role of a lifetime! As I’ve mentioned before, I spent nearly the entire show in tears; I’ve not seen Wicked that many times, but it’s become quite an iconic show over the years. I think it’s safe to say that Amy really put her own stamp on the role, and found many different ways of presenting Elphaba to the audience. Now all we need is for Carly Anderson to come back as Glinda to play opposite her…
Katy Owen – Grandma Chance, Wise Children (Old Vic + tour)
I couldn’t let a year go by without a certain Katy Owen finding her way onto this list! My first view of Wise Children may have left me feeling a little uncertain, but there was no doubt in my mind that Katy’s Grandma Chance was up there with her previous performances. That fat suit definitely has a mind of its own… You also get the sense that she’s out to make her fellow cast members corpse, as she constantly pushes to comedic extremes. She also puts in a nice supporting performance as Imogen Hazard later on, in full spoilt brat mode!
Leah Harvey, Vinette Robinson & Clare Perkins – Emilia Bassano, Emilia (Shakespeare’s Globe)
This is a bit of a cheat, but the character of Emilia Bassano is obviously pivotal in Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s new play – and each age of Emilia brought something different to the table. Leah Harvey embodied her youthful enthusiasm & precociousness, Vinette Robinson brought out her emotional side a bit more, and Clare Perkins really brought the fire to “burn the whole fucking house down”. The three of them really commanded the Globe stage, and between them made it feel like we were starting a revolution inside that historic theatre; heading up an all-female cast was a great feat, and the entire company did a fantastic job. Keeping my fingers crossed we’ll see some more of them when it transfers to the West End next year!
Daisy Maywood – Bella Chagall, The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk (Wilton’s Music Hall + tour)
Daisy Maywood took over the role of Bella from Audrey Brisson this year, and proved to be an excellent addition to the Flying Lovers family. Her physicality was just extraordinary, contorting herself and showing amazing strength & stamina – she and Marc Antolin made a formidable pair. Maywood’s singing was absolutely sublime, and she brought fantastic comic timing to the role of Bella. I’m rather hoping she’ll return to this show again one day.
Laura Linney – Lucy Barton, My Name is Lucy Barton (Bridge Theatre)
Whilst the play wasn’t necessarily the strongest – it probably needed a longer running time to get the whole story across properly – it was astonishing how Laura Linney managed to captivate the whole of the Bridge Theatre (in thrust setup), and was almost non-stop for about 90 minutes. She had incredible stage presence, seemingly very comfortable being out there on her own the whole time; there was also just enough variety in characters that she had to bring to life, so it didn’t become monotonous with the single voice being used.
Golda Rosheuvel – Othello, Othello (Liverpool Everyman)
An iconic role in an iconic play. Over the years different directors have tried their best to make some innovations, such as race-reversal (Patrick Stewart taking on the title role), and Gemma Bodinetz’s approach was to bring in a female Othello; though she’s by no means the first woman to play this part, this supposedly being “the Year of the Woman” made it very well timed – and her being an out lesbian brought an extra dimension to the play, giving Othello’s enemies yet another reason to be prejudiced against her. Golda Rosheuvel is insanely talented, and I couldn’t have pictured anyone else doing this role justice this year.
Patsy Ferran – Alma, Summer and Smoke (Duke of York’s Theatre)
This was a properly heartbreaking one. Patsy Ferran is just superbly talented, and so gifted at every aspect of performance. Starring in Summer and Smoke as Alma (opposite Matthew Needham), she was a magnetic presence – I honestly couldn’t take my eyes off her the entire time she was onstage. Obviously the character’s journey through the play is a sad one anyway, but Ferran’s wide-eyed portrayal of the minister’s daughter brings an additional sense of naïvety and despair; she deserves all the awards going for this performance.