As with last year, there were too many brilliant performances to restrict this to one combined list – so once again I’ve split them up into male and female performances.
It was a particularly strong field this year, I thought, which makes for quite a cosy female performances subs bench: Kara Lily Hayworth (Maggie May – Maggie May & Sally Bowles – Cabaret), Shiloh Coke (Beth – Chiaroscuro), Beverly Rudd (Lucy Lockitt – Dead Dog in a Suitcase (& Other Love Songs)), Harriet Bunton (Hodel – Fiddler on the Roof), and Laura Baldwin (Dawn – Waitress).
In no particular order, my top 10 are…
Phoebe Waller-Bridge – Fleabag, Fleabag (Wyndham’s Theatre)
An absolute masterclass in solo show performance. Obviously the hype was at a stratospheric level, but Waller-Bridge well and truly lived up to it; she had the 759-capacity theatre transfixed and laughing their socks off from the word go.
Leah Harvey – Hortense, Small Island (National Theatre)
Following on from her impressive turn as the youngest Emilia in the play’s original run last year, Leah Harvey struck gold again with a powerful performance as the independent and single-minded Hortense in the stage adaptation of Small Island.
Audrey Brisson – Amélie, Amélie (Watermill Theatre & The Other Palace)
I said it in my review for BroadwayWorld UK: Audrey Brisson really was made to play Amélie. She has just enough of a hint of the film character (and doesn’t look too dissimilar to Audrey Tautou), but brings her own magic to the role – she’s magical, quirky and has sublime vocals.
Maxine Peake – Woman, Avalanche: A Love Story (Barbican)
I could sit and listen to Maxine Peake read the phone book, she’s that engaging. In solo shows, it’s vital that the performer is able to hold the audience’s attention for the entirety of the show, and with a voice so full of character Peake is ideally suited to the task.
Adjoa Andoh – Richard II, Richard II (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)
A fine example of why it’s vital theatremakers keep giving traditionally male roles to women; Richard II is a bit of an odd one – in many ways a tyrant, he’s also incredibly vulnerable at times. Andoh struck a fine balance, creating a conflicted but strong character, becoming the true heart of the production.
Lucie Jones – Jenna, Waitress (Adelphi Theatre)
Her introduction to the show may not have been handled in the best way – alarm bells were set off when images of her as Jenna were shared on Broadway, and she ended up being parachuted into the West End before her stint had officially begun (so without fanfare) – but she quickly became a fan favourite. Not only is she very funny, but she’s also adept at tugging at your heartstrings, particularly in She Used To Be Mine.
Maggie Smith – Brunhilde Pomsel, A German Life (Bridge Theatre)
Following on from Laura Linney last year, the Bridge Theatre managed to find another of the few actors capable of holding the attention of a full house all by themselves. So much so that I didn’t notice for quite some time that the set had gradually been moving forward throughout the 90-minute show. A remarkable evening.
Sarah Amankwah – Henry V, Henry IV (parts 1 & 2) & Henry V (Globe Theatre)
Yet more proof of the depth of performance a woman can offer a usually male role. Seeing the Henriad over the course of a single day meant I could see the development of the character from the unruly Prince Hal to all-conquering Henry V during the three plays. Amankwah’s performance shifted subtly as Hal grew up, and was eminently believable as the battling king.
Claire Foy – Woman, Lungs (Old Vic)
A two-hander is almost as exposing as a solo show, and if you’re performing in a previously successful combination opposite a former colleague the expectations become sky high. I was excited to finally see Claire Foy on stage, and her performance shone brightly; she had the best of the one-liners, which she put to good use with excellent comic timing. A really gripping performance.
Katy Owen – Mr Ubu, UBU! A Singalong Satire (Shoreditch Town Hall)
It wouldn’t be an end-of-year list without long-term favourite Katy Owen making an appearance! I had an absolute blast at the UBU! press night – all of the company are brilliant, but it was Katy Owen belting out Anarchy in the UK that really kickstarted things for me. She’s given free rein to go as crazy as possible, with hilarious results.