Theatre Review – Mary Stuart starring Lia Williams & Juliet Stevenson (Almeida Theatre)

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Prior to Christmas, I made my last trip of the year to the Almeida Theatre to see its new production Mary Stuart. The show imagines what could have happened if, prior to Mary’s execution in 1587, Queen Elizabeth I had met with her during her imprisonment. Making the experience a little different for the audience, actresses Lia Williams and Juliet Stevenson alternate roles and the decision of who plays who is determined on the spin of a coin at the start of each show.

There was only one way to guarantee seeing both versions of the show, which was to see both performances on a two-show day. On those days, the matinee roles are determined on the coin spin, with the evening being the opposite. As soon as the show was announced I wanted to see both interpretations, but I admit I was a little concerned that perhaps seeing the same three hour play twice in one day may be a challenge!

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I needn’t have worried as Friedrich Schiller’s play was not only a pleasure to watch on both occasions, but in fact made it in to my top ten productions of 2016 (you can read the rest here). Robert Icke is such a creative force and he brings his own distinct style to the direction of the production, which feels incredibly relevant in today’s turbulent political times. There is an excitement in the theatre as the show begins and the coin spins. Depending on how it falls, one woman shall be imprisoned while the other has the cast kneel before her.

The fact the actresses are dressed in similar clothes, with similar haircuts, all emphasises what these two British queens had in common and as Mary points out, who else can judge her but her sister and fellow queen, Elizabeth. One was destined for greatness and one was destined to die, but watching this play really brought home to me how really it could just as easily have been a role reversal. Like the spinning coin, history could have fallen a different way.

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Both actresses are superb, which knowing their stage work is no surprise. Having seen both, I felt each actress had a role for which they were better suited. In my view, Williams is a more convincing Mary, as she brings a vibrancy of spirit to the role that Stevenson doesn’t. She may appear smaller when face to face with Stevenson’s assured Elizabeth, but when she does unleash her fury it’s as powerful as her piercingly raw scream in Oresteia! 

Stevenson however did effectively convey Mary as a woman born a raised to be a Queen, as she exudes a status that fit for someone who has grown up in that world. Williams was also a superb Elizabeth; much more sexual in the role, as she strutted confidently around the stage and had a much more physical relationship with John Light’s Leicester. It was fun to see her Elizabeth light up a cigarette and create a very different, but as equally fascinating woman as Stevenson.

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There are also some strong supporting performances, particularly John Light, as Leicester dances between allegiances in order to protect his own position. Rudi Dharmalingam was also very good as Mortimer, whose loyalty to Mary is ultimately revealed by Leicester, as is Vincent Franklin as Burleigh. Being a Robert Icke production (again he adapts the play and directs it), it creates its own special atmosphere in the Almeida; there’s a buzz, as these people from centuries ago are put before us in a very contemporary style. This, as was the case with Oresteia, creates a world that feels current and fresh and as a result, thrilling. His direction of his two leads is also brilliant; the mirroring of their images, particularly in the scene were Elizabeth finally succumbs to her fears and signs the death warrant, as Mary looks on from her mind’s eye, works so well and adds to the tension on the stage.

The Almeida lends itself to these historical pieces so well. Its bare brick walls and stark setting help immerse you in this world in a way not many spaces can and combined with Paul Arditti’s sound design, plus a new song from there is a pulse to the production that makes its 3 hour running time fly by.

This is another superb Almeida / Icke production, which I cannot recommend highly enough. It also serves to make me even more excited about what Icke will create in this theatre for Hamlet next month!

Mary Stuart continues its run at the Almeida Theatre until 28th January. Check the Almeida’s website Almeida Theatre for more information and the limited seats that pop up there. The Theatre is also selling day seats every morning at 11 a.m. (get there early) as well as returns before each show (I recommend getting there at least 3 hours before the start for a good chance of getting one). Or you can call the box office on 020 7359 4404. Running time: 3 hours 5 minutes (including a 20 minute interval).

 

 

17 Films to see in 2017!

Happy New Year!

I’ve already set out my suggested theatre productions to see in 2017 (read it here if you want to), as well as my television choices for the next twelve months (read that one here too). This post will therefore take a look at the films we can look forward to. There were some wonderful films in 2016 and I’m hoping 2017 will also contain some gems. Any release dates listed will be for the UK seeing as that is the home of this blog.

Enjoy!

1. A Monster Calls (out from 1 January)

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The first film on my list is one I saw during the London Film Festival last year and loved. Out yesterday, A Monster Calls is a truly moving film based on Patrick Ness’s book, in which young Conor O’Malley copes with his mother’s cancer by escaping in to his imagination and the monster he creates from the tree in the cemetery at the bottom of their garden. Felicity Jones is wonderful as Conor’s mother, Signourney Weaver does a great job as his grandmother and Liam Neeson adds gravitas to the “monster”. However, the finest performance is that given by Lewis MacDougall as Conor. Take your tissues! Read my review here and you can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/gXRrcXHD3UQ

2. La La Land (out 12th January)

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It’s highly likely that you’ve already heard about La La Land. It has won a raft of awards and is the hot favourite for the Oscars. Having been lucky enough to see it during October’s London Film Festival, I can vouch for the fact it really does live up to the hype. The opening sequence is impressive (but perhaps a bit cheesy), but once you fall under the spell of this film, it’ll captivate you until the very end. With a superb chemistry between its leads Ryan Gosling and Emma Stone, some lovely songs and utterly magical scenes, this is guaranteed to become a modern classic. Read my review here. Go, go, go!! You can watch the trailer here too: https://youtu.be/0pdqf4P9MB8

3. Jackie (out 20th January)

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Another film tipped for awards glory is Jackie, in which Natalie Portman plays Jackie Kennedy in the aftermath of JFK’s assassination. From the trailer this looks to be quite a harrowing film, but Portman is such a fantastic actress that I can’t miss seeing it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/g9pW3B8Ycc4

4. Hacksaw Ridge (out 27th January)

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Mel Gibson’s latest film tells the true story of Desmond T. Doss, an American army medic who served during the Battle of Okinawa. He refused to kill anyone and yet due to his actions during WWII he was the first man to be awarded the Medal of Honour without firing a shot. Doss is played by Brit Andrew Garfield and I’ve heard lots of positive reaction to this film from those who’ve already seen it. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/s2-1hz1juBI

5. Moonlight (out early February)

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Moonlight has also received a great deal of acclaim and finally arrives in UK cinemas in February. Set in Miami, it charts the life of a young black man through three chapters of his life, as he seeks to understand his sexuality as a gay man. Loosely based on a play by Tarell Alvin McCraney, this film has quite a buzz around it due to the powerful nature of its story. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/9NJj12tJzqc

6. Star Wars Episode VIII (out 15th December)

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After the success of Rogue One this Christmas, December sees the arrival of the next instalment in the Star Wars saga with the release of Episode 8. I’m staying away from spoilers so I know very little about this film. One thing that is certain, is that following the recent death of Carrie Fisher, her role in this film will have an added poignancy.

7. The Circle (out TBC)

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Dave Eggers’s book The Circle has been on my to-read list for a while now, but it seems I may end up seeing this film adaptation first. Emma Watson plays a young woman who lands a job at the world’s largest tech and social media corporation called The Circle, but she soon realises that it is a world where everyone is watching. With the other lead being played by Tom Hanks (always one of my favourite actors) and support from John Boyega, this thriller sounds very promising indeed. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/QCOXARv6J9k

8. Guardians of the Galaxy 2 (out 28th April)

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I admit I’m not a huge superhero film fan. I like some, but not all of them and I’ve seen very few of the Marvel movies. I did however love the first Guardians of the Galaxy film and this sequel looks to be as much fun as the first, with all the leads returning. I can only hope the soundtrack is also as fab the second time around! You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/2cv2ueYnKjg

9. Hidden Figures (out 17th February)

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I’ve been looking forward to seeing Hidden Figures since I first heard about it last year. It’s based on the true story of a team of African American women who, due to their mathematical talents, worked with NASA to assist with it launching its first successful space missions. It’s such an incredible story that I was shocked I hadn’t already heard about it and so I hope the film will also bring the wider recognition these women deserve. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/RK8xHq6dfAo

10. Dunkirk (out 21st July)

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Christopher Nolan’s next film arrives in the summer and will tell the story of the evacuation of Dunkirk, one of WWII’s most well known events, when after becoming surrounded by German troops, Allied forces were evacuated in Operation Dynamo between 26th May – 4th June 1940. Written and directed by Nolan and with a cast that includes Tom Hardy, Kenneth Branagh, Cillian Murphy and Mark Rylance, I’m wondering whether I’ll find this as powerful as I did Saving Private Ryan. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/F-eMt3SrfFU

11. Blade Runner 2049 (out October)

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Last year saw Harrison Ford return to the iconic role of Han Solo and 2017 sees him return to another character – Rick Deckard. Set 30 years after the original film, Ryan Gosling plays LAPD Officer K, a new blade runner, who discovers a long-buried secret that results in him going in search of Deckard, who has been missing for decades. The original is such a classic that I’m still a little uncertain about a sequel, but after watching the superb Arrival, I’ve no doubt that director Denis Villeneuve is the ideal choice of director to pull this off. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/S_JAMRKzEHs

12. Fences (out 17th February)

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I missed a recent London production of August Wilson’s play and so it’ll be great to see this film adaptation, which was written by Wilson prior to his death. Starring Denzel Washington (who also directs) and Viola Davis, it’s the story of a working class African American family in 1950s Pittsburgh. The performances of both Davis and Washington have already been widely praised and I’m pleased this will finally reach the UK in February. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/spCxVd9ctFs

13. Murder on the Orient Express (out November)

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Murder on the Orient Express is a classic Agatha Christie story and perhaps the most famous Poirot tale. The version starring David Suchet a few years ago was very very good, but I’m curious to see this film adaptation due to the calibre of the cast assembled. Among the stars are Michelle Pfeiffer, Daisy Ridley, Derek Jacobi, Johnny Depp and Dame Judi Dench, alongside the director Kenneth Branagh who will also star as Poirot. He has big shoes to fill as Belgium’s famous detective, but I hope this is as good as it could potentially be.

14. The Kidnapping of Edgardo Mortara (out TBC)

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After the success of Bridge of Spies, I’m rather excited to see this collaboration between Steven Spielberg and (now) Sir Mark Rylance. It tells the story of a young Jewish boy in Bologna, Italy in 1858, who is forcibly taken from his family to be raised a Christian after having been secretly baptised and his parents’s struggle to to get him back. Their fight brings them up against the papacy and Rylance will play the Pope. Directed by Spielberg and written by playwright Tony Kushner, it will also star Oscar Isaac.

15. The Dark Tower (out 28th July)

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I’ve never read Stephen King’s series of novels, but I’ve heard a great deal over the years, as the possibility of a film was rumoured. Now it is finally happening and will star Idris Elba as a lone frontiersman knight. I admit this isn’t usually my kind of film, but with Elba involved I’m more than willing to give it a try!

16. Split (out 20th January)

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M. Knight Shyamalan has had an up and down career in terms of his films (personally I loved The Sixth Sense and Unbreakable, the rest not so much), but I’ll always give his films a chance. This latest one, written and directed by Shyamalan, stars James McCoy as a man suffering from disassociative identity disorder who kidnaps three teenage girls. It has been described as the director’s best film in years and as I already know how superb McAvoy is, I have my fingers crossed for this one. You can watch the trailer here: https://youtu.be/84TouqfIsiI

17. Manchester By The Sea (out 13th January)

 

 

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Manchester By The Sea was another film I was able to see during the London Film Festival and it’s one that certainly made an impression on me. Kenneth Lonergan’s story of Lee Chandler, who has to take on responsibility for his brother’s son, Patrick, following his death won’t appeal to everyone. It is quite long and rather slow in pace. However, it is a compelling and very raw look at how we cope with grief, loss and guilt and how it affects those around us as well as ourselves. Lucas Hedges is superb as Patrick, bringing humour and warmth to the film, but it is Casey Affleck’s movie, in what for me has to be a frontrunner for Best Actor at all the awards ceremonies. You can read my review here and watch there trailer here: https://youtu.be/NxQmuJnrjxg

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So, those are the films that I’m most excited about seeing (or indeed, in some cases, seeing again) in 2017. Time will tell whether they all live up to expectation!

 

 

Theatre to see in 2017!

Happy New Year!

I’ve looked back on my year of theatre in 2016, which means it’s now time to focus on what lies in store over the next twelve months. The good news is that there is already quite a lot to be excited about and below are 17 shows I’d put on your list for the new year!

1. Hamlet (Almeida Theatre, 17th February – 8th April)

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There is so much I’m excited about regarding the  forthcoming Almeida production of Hamlet. It’s my favourite Shakespeare play, directed by probably my favourite director at the moment, Robert Icke, whose Oresteia and current Mary Stuart productions are some of the finest plays I’ve seen and it will see Andrew Scott take the title role. He may be best known for playing Moriarty in Sherlock, but he is also a superbly versatile stage actor and I cannot wait to see what he and Icke come up with for this production.  All it needs is a strong ensemble cast, which it is well on the way to having wth Juliet Stevenson and Jessica Brown Findlay and this has the potential to challenge the RSC’s 2008 production as my favourite. Can you tell I’m excited?!

2. Angels In America (National Theatre, from 11th April)

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Ever since the National’s 50th anniversary celebration featured a scene from this play, I’ve been hoping it would return to the London stage and 2017 sees that happen. It’s such an iconic award-winning play, which made such an impact originally in the 90s and this revival promises to be very special with actors including Denise Gough, Andrew Garfield, James McArdle, Nathan Lane and Russell Tovey announced and directed by Marianne Elliot. Tickets will go quickly for this. You have been warned!

3. Don Juan In Soho (Wyndham’s Theatre, 17th March – 10th June)

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2017 also sees David Tennant return to the stage and this time it’s not Shakespeare. For me, he is one of the finest stage actors we have in the UK and I’m very excited to finally see him live on stage performing a non-Shakespeare role. Patrick Marber’s play is described as a savagely funny and filthy play, which has me intrigued to say the least! Directed by Marber and also starring the brilliant Adrian Scarborough, the only question for me is just how many times I’ll see this show over its run!

4. Hamilton (Victoria Palace Theatre, from November)

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The juggernaut that is Hamilton finally arrives in London late this year at the Victoria Palace (which is undergoing refurbishment in advance of becoming the hottest theatre spot in town). I have heard so much about this show, but have resisted the urge to listen to any music from it before I see it. With crazily expensive tickets for the New York run, hopefully the London production will be a little easier to get in to!

5. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Harold Pinter Theatre, 22nd February – 27th May)

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After her performances in Sweeney Todd in 2012 and Gypsy in 2015, I’d go and see the incredible Imelda Staunton in anything! Next on her list before Gypsy heads to Broadway is this production of Edward Albee’s play. Also starring Conleth Hill (now better known as Varys in Game of Thrones), this promises to be another gem in the 2017 calendar.

6. the ferryman (Royal Court Theatre, 24th April – 20th May)

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The Ferryman makes the list even though it is technically already sold out. This does not mean it should be ruled out however (I for one will be queuing as long as it takes for returns after failing to book this fast enough)! Jez Butterworth’s reputation for brilliant and exciting theatre was established with Jerusalem, but I also loved The River and I’m intrigued to see what is next. The production will also mark the Royal Court directorial debut of Sam Mendes.

7. Obsession (Barbican Theatre, 19th April – 20th May)

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This year also sees Ivo Van Hove, whose recent productions of A View From A Bridge and The Crucible both made quite an impression on anyone who saw them (including me) directing one of three Toneelgroep Amsterdam productions at the Barbican. Jude Law leads a cast of Dutch and British actors in Visconti’s drama where two people’s attraction to each other leads them to plot murder. This season as a whole is on my must-see list, but I’m rather intrigued by this one in particular.

8. The Goat, or Who Is Sylvia? (Theatre Royal Haymarket, 24th March – 24th June)

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Spring also sees two of Britain’s finest actors, Damian Lewis and Sophie Okonedo together on stage in Edward Albee’s The Goat, or Who is Sylvia? Described as a dark comedy, I am rather excited about seeing these two together and directed by Ian Rickson too!

9. Woyzeck (Old Vic, 6th May – 24th June)

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Woyzeck isn’t a play I’ve seen before and therefore I’m thrilled to be able to have a chance to tick this highly regarded piece of literature off my list. Set in 1980s Berlin, John Boyega (now of Star Wars fame) tackles the story of a young soldier on the border of East and West trying to build a better life for his family. This new version of Georg Buchner’s classic has been written by Jack Thorne, whose recent hits include This Is England for the screen and the Harry Potter play.

10. Speech & Debate (Trafalgar Studios, 22nd February – 1st April)

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Stephen Karam’s play The Humans was one I’d hoped to see next time I was in NYC (sadly I’ll miss it), but I will at least be able to see Speech & Debate when it arrives in London in February. Billed as the story of three misfits, brought together at school by a sex scandal, with hilarious consequences, I’m looking forward to seeing Douglas Booth and Tony Revolori (Zero in The Grand Budapest Hotel) tackle this play.

11. 42nd Street (Theatre Royal Drury Lane, 20th March – 22nd July)

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I can tick another classic musical off my list this year with the arrival of 42nd Street, the story of a young woman who, after joining the chorus line of a musical, may get her chance of stardom when the leading lady lady suffers an injury. Starring Sheena Easton as Dorothy Brock, this production will also be directed by Mark Bramble, the co-author of the original book of the production. I’ll be curious to see where this ranks in my list of musicals.

12. The Glass Menagerie (Duke of York’s Theatre, 26th January – 29th April)

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I’ve still yet to see The Glass Menagerie on stage and so I’m pleased this version of Tennessee Williams’s play is transferring from Broadway at the end of this month. Director John Tiffany’s (also director of Harry Potter & The Cursed Child) production was highly regarded in New York and will again star Cherry Jones as the matriarch Belle Amanda Wingfield.

13. Paul Auster’s City of Glass (Lyric Hammersmith, 20th April – 13th May)

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Regarded as a seminal American novel, I’m looking forward to a trip to the Lyric to see this new adaptation, which is billed as using ground-breaking stagecraft, projection, magic and illusion to tell the story of a reclusive crime writer who becomes drawn in to a thriller after receiving a call in the middle of the night from someone in need of a private detective.

14. Touch (Soho Theatre, 6th July – 26th August)

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I didn’t get to see Fleabag last year, but after the acclaim it received, as well as for the BBC series based on the play, I’m certainly adding Touch to my 2017 list, as it is by the same creative team. Starring Amy Morgan, it’s the story of a 33 year old woman trying to find her way in London.

15. Tribes (Crucible Studio, Sheffield, 30th June – 22nd July)

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I thoroughly enjoyed the original run of Nina Raines’s play at the Royal Court in 2010 and so I am looking forward to seeing this new regional premiere in Sheffield over the summer. The story of family life, where the son is deaf is very funny, but also incredibly moving and explores perfectly the desire we all have to be heard and understood.

 

 

16. Antony & Cleopatra (RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 11th March – 7th September)

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I’ve always struggled a bit with this play, but I’ll certainly be heading to Stratford-Upon-Avon for this production, which will see one of my favourite RSC actors, Antony Byrne take on Marc Antony. Byrne was wonderful in the original Richard II in 2013 (and very much missed by me in its revival this year) and also in Henry IV and V and it’ll be fantastic to see him again performing Shakespeare.

17. Sex With Strangers (Hampstead Theatre, 27th January – 4th March)

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The Hampstead Theatre has certainly come a long way since Edward Hall took the helm in 2010 and I’m very much looking forward to seeing its first production of the new year. Laura Eason’s comedy sees two people, very much opposites of each other, stuck together in a B&B in the snow, who find themselves undeniably drawn to each other. I enjoyed Emilia Fox’s performance in Rapture, Blister, Burn at this theatre in 2015 and so it’ll be lovely to see her back, in a production that also stars Theo James.

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So, those are some of my suggestions for this year on stage. I could have picked so much more, with theatres including the Bush Theatre and the Young Vic already setting out exciting seasons. Then of course there are all the shows yet to be announced! Finally, there are some shows that opened last year, but which are well worth a trip if you can see them before they close. A few examples are:

  • Love’s Labour’s Lost & Much Ado About Nothing (Theatre Royal Haymarket) until 18th March – the London transfer of the RSC’s gorgeous double-bill is not to be missed. With a lot of the cast returning, including Edward Bennett and Sam Alexander, they are perfect at this time of year. Go, go, go!
  • This House (Garrick Theatre) until 25th February – This superb National Theatre production sees a new run in the West End. Set in the 70s as Labour cling on to power before Thatcher, it’s a brilliantly sharp and funny glimpse in to Westminster. Having seen the current cast in Chichester over the autumn, I can say it’s just as strong as it was originally. Review here.
  • Hedda Gabler (National Theatre) until 21st March – My review will be up laster this month for this exciting modernisation of Ibsen’s play. Ruth Wilson is yet again superb and there are also wonderful performances from Rafe Spall and Kyle Soller. This was so close to being in my top 10 of 2016, so I urge you to go. Yes, it’s sold out, but there is the option of Rush tickets on sale on Fridays for the following week’s shows and returns will pop up, so keep checking.
  • Mary Stuart (Almeida Theatre) until 21st January – One of my highlights of last year was this play which sees Lia Williams and Juliet Stevenson swap roles as Mary Stuart and Elizabeth I. It’s an exciting production from director Robert Icke and is another must-see. Again, it’s sold out, but there are day seats of every performance and I’ve usually been successful in the returns queue at this theatre in the past.

Hopefully there is something on the list that you are interested in. As always, I’ll be adding reviews of shows as I see them and so please do pop back any time!

 

 

2016 Theatre Review – My memorable theatre moments the year!

Having already chosen my top ten productions of the year and my favourite performances of the year, for my last 2016 theatre review post I wanted to look back on my most memorable moments at the theatre in the last twelve months. These are the moments that have stayed in my mind, whether a set, scene or personal experience while seeing a show.

The mind-bending set change at the end of Wild (Hampstead Theatre)

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I had heard so many people talk about the staging of Mike Bartlett’s Wild before I arrived at the Hampstead Theatre and that final set change was certainly a sight to be seen! Watching one set change in to another, much starker one was already impressive and then it started to rotate! I admit I was a little distracted from the actual scene itself. Top marks to the set designer and stage management team for this feat.

Watching the cast of Unreachable do all they could to make each other corpse during their final show (Royal Court)

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I’d hoped to see Unreachable twice, but had to miss my earlier trip, meaning my only visit was to the final show. Seeing the final performance seemed to heighten the hilarity, as a number of times the cast, particularly Jonjo O’Neil, were trying to throw their fellow cast members off. It was very very funny and one of the most fun trips I’ve had to the theatre.

My return to the wonderful world of Punchdrunk (Sleep No More, NYC)

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A Punchdrunk show is always an experience to remember and Sleep No More in NYC was no exception. From the first moments of making my way in to the venue in darkness, to exploring the eerie and intricate rooms and levels, where I sampled the sweets in the shop and leafed through the books on the shelves, right through to my own one-on-one experience with one of the cast, I had a great time. I only hope it’s still there on my next trip.

Genuinely feeling as though someone was behind me blowing in my ear at The Encounter (Barbican)

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From immersive theatre to sensory theatre with my trip to Simon McBurney’s one-man show The Encounter. Using special technology (including the head in the photo), he was able to transport us in to the rainforests of Brazil. The moment he had us close our eyes and then created the effect that someone really was behind my right ear, blowing on it, was astonishing. The possibilities for audience interaction in future shows is very exciting indeed if such experiences can now be created.

The magical illusions in Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Palace)

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The most eagerly awaited show on the planet was just as much fun as I’d hoped (and I’m not even a huge Potter fan) and one of the biggest thrills of the theatre year for me was seeing the illusions achieved in this production. I especially loved the entrance to the Ministry of Magic. The cast must be on skates or something  backstage to get from one part of the stage to another so fast! A treat for young and old alike.

Watching Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard from the centre of the front row (London Coliseum)

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Glenn Close as Norma Desmond was a performance I’d been looking forward to since it was announced and on seeing it, I just had to go back for a second time. I’m still amazed that this wasn’t a total sell out, but the fact that a week before, I was able to buy a front row ticket was unbelievable. Having Close stand so close to me and deliver that performance was a real thrill for me in 2016.

 

Saying goodbye to War Horse and Groundhog Day at their final London performances (New London and Old Vic)

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I was lucky enough to be at the final London performances of both War Horse at the New London Theatre and Groundhog Day at the Old Vic in 2016. The first show was closing after over nine years, during which it has delighted and moved so many audiences and it was lovely to hear author Michael Morpurgo’s words of thanks to its cast and crew. On the other hand, we’d barely had Groundhog Day in theatreland before it was off to prepare for Broadway. I loved the show (it’s my favourite of 2016) and being able to say a fond farewell to it, from the front row no less, was a joy.

Experiencing the enthusiasm of New York audiences for Shakespeare during the RSC’s King and Country tour (BAM, NYC)

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This year also saw my first trip to NYC since 2012 and it was filled with a great deal of wonderful theatre. However, one of the things that truly stood out was during my time at the BAM Harvey Theatre in Brooklyn, where the RSC was showcasing its King and Country cycle. Having seen it in both Stratford-Upon-Avon and London, I was surprised to experience the plays in a new environment. Antony Sher has talked about how the New York audiences were more enthusiastic and I agree with him. There was a new kind of excitement in the venue and lines received an audience response they hadn’t in the UK, which in turn had an effect on the actors. From chatting to other audience members, many had read the plays before coming and had a genuine enthusiasm for the plays. It was wonderful to be a part of it.

Being given a reminder of how precious time and life is by Gavin Plimsole (Greenwich Theatre)

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One of the new theatres I visited during 2016 was the Greenwich Theatre and I was rather moved by its show The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole. As we journey through the last part of Gavin’s life, depicted by marbles dropping through a chute after a certain number of heartbeats, the audience was reminded of how precious life is and how we should not take it for granted. At the end of the show, we each opened a box. Mine had a marble in it for me to keep. I have kept it in my handbag ever since. Sometimes it is the smallest shows that make the biggest impression.

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There were so many special moments for me in theatres this year, but those are the ten that have stayed with me the most as I sit here and reflect on the last twelve months. Next I’ll be looking ahead to the productions I’m most excited about in 2017, which I hope to post very soon. If you have some moments that have stood out for you, let me know about them in the comments!

 

 

2016 Theatre Review – My Top Performances of the Year!

In previous years I’ve only written one theatre review post. However, after it was suggested to me by a friend, I’ve decided to split my review of the theatre year this time. I’ve already posted my top 10 productions of 2016 (here for those interested) and so this post will focus on my favourite performances from the last twelve months. You can also read about my most memorable moments of the year in theatre here.

Please do let me know your highlights in the comments below.

2016 – A Year of Strong Female Performances

As my top ten post highlighted, it’s been a strong year for women on stage, with so many stand-out female performances. Below is just the tip of the iceberg!

Lia Williams (Mary Stuart)

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After her incredible performance in Oresteia last year, Lia Williams is yet again one of the highlights of the year, in not one, but two roles. After being lucky enough to watch both versions of Mary Stuart back to back, what stood out the most for me was that no matter which version I was watching, the character Williams was portraying seemed to be the larger role. She was a vibrant Mary, unnerving Juliet Stevenson’s Elizabeth and yet she was also a strong, confident and sexy Elizabeth. I cannot wait to see what roles she will take on in the future, but I’ll be there for every one of them!

Ruth Wilson (Hedda Gabler)

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It’s always a joy to see Ruth Wilson on stage and she is currently delivering a superb Hedda Gabler at the National Theatre. She isn’t very likeable, but I couldn’t help admiring her character’s ability to be say whatever she wanted, regardless of the consequences! She is someone desperate for control and yet by the end we see her utterly at the mercy of Brack. In another powerful production by Ivo Van Hove, this is a must-see event.

Denise Gough (People, Places & Things)

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I’ve already gushed about how much I loved Denise Gough in this show and how she absolutely blew me away with such an emotionally, heartbreaking performance. It’ll stay in my mind for many years to come.

 

Glenn Close (Sunset Boulevard)

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The iconic Glenn Close finally brought her portrayal of Norma Desmond over 20 years after she performed it on Broadway. I had high hopes, but was nervous that perhaps she’d struggle to impress the way she did back then. It turned out she was spectacular and was still able to deliver the vocals. Yes, her voice may not have been as powerful, but it added a layer of reality to the character.

Billie Piper (Yerma)

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Billie’s performance in Yerma was one of the most emotionally draining trips to the theatre I had in 2016, so goodness knows how she performed it day after day! Modernising Lorca’s tale of a woman desperate to have a child worked perfectly for today’s world and as the play unfolded Piper her character from a young, vibrant woman to a lost, broken soul. Powerful and unforgettable.

 

Janet McTeer (Les Liaisons Dangereuses)

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It was hard to leave this production off my top ten and that was in large part due to McTeer’s portrayal of La Marquise de Merteuil. She was so devious and sexy and her chemistry with Dominic West really worked. I’m sorry I couldn’t get to New York to see the Broadway transfer, but if you have a chance to go before it finishes towards the end of January, it’s certainly worth the effort.

The cast of Eclipsed (NYC)!

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With Eclipsed it wasn’t just one strong performance, but five, with each of the five actresses in Danai Gurira’s play creating a memorable character and together the result was one of my theatre highlights. Lupita Nyong’o seemed years younger, depicting the young wife who yearns for a different life; Pascale Armand was a scene-stealer as Bessie, whose comic lines made me laugh out loud; Saycon Sengbloh brought a strength and motherly figure to the stage as Helena; Zainab Jah’s portrayal of the wife-turned soldier, who refuses to be a victim of any man was a moving one and Akosua Busia added an outside perspective as Rita, the woman determined to help the women of the camp leave this life. A remarkable play, that I hope to see in the UK soon.

Helen McCrory (The Deep Blue Sea)

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If I hear Helen McCrory is doing a play, I’ll book it without caring what it is. She is just so good. Her turn as Medea is still clear in my mind two years on and she was equally impressive as Hester Collyer, a woman trapped in life, who feels suicide is her only way out. A moving and powerful production for 2016.

Glenda Jackson (King Lear)

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25 years since she was last on stage, Glenda Jackson took on one of the most well known roles in Shakespeare – King Lear. I was rather surprised by how much power she brought to the stage. She may be older, but she still commanded the stage and although, I didn’t have the emotional reaction to the play’s ending that I sometimes do, I still left the Old Vic sure of the fact I’d seen one of the performances of the year.

Cynthia Erivo (The Color Purple, NYC)

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I was sorry to miss The Color Purple during its run at the Menier Chocolate Factory and so it was high on my list for my trip to NYC this year. I’d heard so much about Cynthia Erivo’s performance as Celie, the young girl, who overcomes so much to achieve happiness and independence in her life. There were two famous US actresses on stage, but the star was Erivo and hearing her sing “I’m Here” live was phenomenal. I’m so thrilled she won the TONY this year.

The men weren’t half bad either in 2016!

It may be a year when the female-led shows grabbed my attention, but there were certainly some excellent performances by the men too!

Andy Karl (Groundhog Day)

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Ahh Andy Karl. I loved Andy Karl in Groundhog Day. As he’s better known in the US, I wasn’t familiar with his work, but I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on his future projects from now on. As someone who wasn’t a fan of the original film, his portrayal of Phil Connors was a major factor in how much I loved this production. He was able to convey both his rude, arrogant attitude and his later kinder self with equal weight and by the end I was rather choked each time I saw it. If I needed just one reason to go back to NYC next year, this is it!

Anthony Boyle (Harry Potter & The Cursed Child)

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Undoubtably the most anticipated production of the year (and possibly the decade), the next story in the world of Harry Potter had a lot to live up to. I thoroughly enjoyed the show and all five of us in my group agreed that the show-stealer was Anthony Boyle as Scorpius Malfoy, the unlikely son of Draco, who forms a friendship with Harry’s son Albus. He was brilliant in the role; he is funny, brave, emotional and an utter joy to watch.

James Norton (BUG)

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James Norton is surely one of the most versatile actors we have at the moment. Able to be both the charming, gentleman and terrifying killer on screen, I was thrilled to see him perform this year in the intimate space of FOUND111. Tracy Letts’s play is one of growing claustrophobia, where Norton’s character, Peter, starts as a shy young man, who acts as a source of comfort to Kate Fleetwood’s Agnes, before slowly unravelling before our eyes. A hugely physical and emotional role, Norton demonstrated yet again why he is on my must-see list.

Jonjo O’Neil (Unreachable)

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I’ve been a fan of Jonjo O’Neil’s since I first saw him in the RSC company in Stratford-Upon-Avon (his Mercutio is yet to be beaten from those I’ve seen) and it was brilliant to see him take on such a quirky role as that of Ivan The Brute in Anthony Neilson’s new play. With the play taking shape during the rehearsal process, he was clearly able to bring so much personality to the character and I don’t think I’ve laughed that much in a theatre in a long long time (if indeed ever). It was an utterly bonkers performance that stole the show.

Simon McBurney (The Encounter)

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The Encounter was unlike anything else I’ve seen on stage. A one-man show, written and performed by Simon McBurney, it told the story of a National Geographic photographer who in 1969 travelled to, and became lost in, the Amazon rainforest. Through the use of innovative technology and the audience all wearing headphones, we were transported in to a sensory experience like no other. McBurney could not have put any more in to his performance, physically and mentally and if I could go again I wouldn’t hesitate.

Jamie Parker (Guys & Dolls / Harry Potter & The Cursed Child)

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Jamie Parker had to be on this list as I loved both roles he had on stage in 2016. I started the year watching him bring Sky Masterson to life in Guys & Dolls. He was superb and, in my view, one of the show’s biggest strengths, able to carry off the suave character and deliver the required vocals. Then it was on to Harry Potter. Harry isn’t the young man he was in the books/films and Parker convincingly portrays how his early life and experiences have impacted on him and indeed on his relationships as a husband and a father. Some of the most heartfelt moments in the play for me were those in which Harry is dealing with emotions and I can’t think of anyone better to play him.

James McArdle (Young Chekhov – Platonov & Ivanov)

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Having a chance to see the Young Chekhov trilogy at the National Theatre after missing its original run in Chichester was an added theatre bonus this year and my favourite of the three was undoubtably Platonov. This was largely down to James McArdle’s performance in the title role. Seeing the plays back to back also provided an even stronger contrast between his role in Platonov and that of the serious doctor in Ivanov.

 

Ian McKellen (No Man’s Land)

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I’ve been lucky enough to see Ian McKellen on stage a couple of times before (in No Man’s Land and The Syndicate) and what stands out most of me about McKellen’s stage work is that he simply becomes a new person. Despite being hugely famous for some iconic roles, you always see the character on the stage and not the actor and that was the case again in No Man’s Land.

Rafe Spall (Hedda Gabler)

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Rafe Spall’s performance as Brack in the National Theatre’s current production of Hedda Gabler really stood out for me. He is a man that starts the play as a rather playful, flirty friend to Hedda and yet by the end he had chilled me to the bone. Not every actor could do that, but through his previous work, Spall has demonstrated his ability to tackle characters on both sides of the moral spectrum. I certainly hope to revisit this production before the end of its run.

Jasper Britton (RSC Richard II / Henry IV)

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Anyone who knows me (or indeed has read this blog before) will know I’m a David Tennant fan and therefore a return trip to the RSC’s Richard II at the Barbican in January was never in doubt. The biggest thrill for me of the combined King and Country cycle was Jasper Britton. He brought a new dynamic to the Richard/Bolingbroke relationship and having the same actor as both characters enhanced the overall cycle. I particularly enjoyed seeing Bolingbroke’s relationship with Hotspur, which perfectly set up the events of the Henry IV Part One.

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What a year it’s been! Feel free to let me know which performances impressed you this year in the comments section.

2016 Theatre Review – My Favourite Productions of the Year!

Although there are a few days of 2016 left, I’ve very likely been to the theatre for the last time this year and so it’s time for one of my favourite posts – my theatre review. It’s always lovely to reflect on another year of theatregoing and all the wonderful productions I’ve been lucky enough to see over the previous 12 months.

Due to a few weeks with a bad cough during which I didn’t go to the theatre (I refuse to be that person coughing through a show!), 2016’s final tally was just 70 different productions; 12 of which were musicals (a record I think for me), with the rest being plays. As with any year there are always some repeat visits and in 2016 I saw 11 shows more than once. Although this year saw me take a long overdue trips to New York for 11 days of theatre (that seems to be the magic number for me this year doesn’t it?), I’ve actually been to very little regional theatre in 2016 and I’m determined to improve this over the next twelve months.

2016 has been a very strong year of theatre for me, with those containing a strong female performance particularly standing out. I’ve seen very little that has truly disappointed and nothing that will be added to my all-time worst production list. So, below is my top ten productions of the year. Before the year is out, I’ll also be posting my list of 17 shows to see in 2017 so please do pop back to have a look and let me know what your theatre highlights have been this year!

Productions of the Year – My Top 10!

1. Groundhog Day (Old Vic)

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There could only be one show at the top of my 2016 list and that’s Groundhog Day, the new musical based on the film, which premiered this year in London, before departing after only its ten week run to prepare for Broadway (previews start in March). I had been sceptical about a musical of this 1993 film (one that I’d not been a huge fan of to begin with). On seeing it for the first time however, I knew this was something very special indeed and I loved it every time I went (well if any show warrants repeat trips it’s this one). The colourful sets helped bring the community of Punxsutawney to life, and the book by Danny Rubin with Tim Minchin’s music and lyrics were a joy. It managed to be both very very funny and deeply moving over the course of the show, as Phil Connors gradually becomes a better man. Of course, the show needed a strong lead to anchor it and Andy Karl was utterly superb as Connors. He was able to portray a man who was both irritating, but still likeable and someone you were rooting for by the end. Yes, I intend to go to NYC to see it, but in the meantime, Mr. Minchin, please release a cast recording! You can read my full reviews here and here.

2. People, Places & Things (Wyndham’s)

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I missed this play during its original run at the National Theatre, but was able to see it when it reached the West End earlier this year. It certainly lived up to the hype, with Denise Gough giving one of the finest stage performances I’ve ever witnessed. As Emma, the young woman dealing with a drug and alcohol addiction, Gough pulled you in to her world and didn’t let go until the end. Very few theatre performances have as strong an emotional impact as this one and her Olivier win in April was truly deserved. I know this will be a performance I talk about for years to come. Full review here.

3. Sunset Boulevard (London Coliseum)

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This time last year, one of the most anticipated events of the 2016 theatre calendar was Glenn Close’s return to the role of Norma Desmond, one she performed on Broadway over 20 years ago (and one she will take back to NYC in 2017). I’d never been to the Coliseum, but it was the ideal venue for this unique staging of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical. “Semi-staged”, there was very little set; instead the focus was on the performances and the full ENO orchestra on stage. Fred Johanson was excellent as Norma’s loyal butler, as was Michael Xavier as Joe Gillis. However, this was always going to be Close’s show and she was superb. In fact I loved it so much I had to go again and being on the front row that second time is an experience I will never forget. Full review here.

4. Eclipsed (John Golden, NYC)

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My trip to NYC this year was designed to be a theatre-fuelled holiday and it certainly was! I saw some excellent productions during my time there, but the one that stands out and makes this top ten is Danai Gurira’s play Eclipsed, which centres on the lives on five women during the Second Liberian Civil War. The play was able to capture the perfect balance of serious hard-hitting material and humour. For a play that has some moments that are quite difficult to watch, it was also remarkably funny too. On top of that, all five women in this play were superb (made clear by the raft of nominations it received). Lupita Nyong’a seemed so much younger in her role, which commanded your attention until the final moments, while Pascale Armand made me laugh with her witty remarks. I’m so pleased I was able to see this. Full review here.

5. Mary Stuart (Almeida)

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Last weekend I was at the Almeida for a double day of Mary Stuart. Seeing this new show twice in one day was the only way to guarantee I’d see both actresses in each of the lead roles of Elizabeth I and Mary Stuart. I’m still writing up my review (watch this space), but needless to say that it’s inclusion on this list tells you exactly what I thought of it! The Almeida has such a unique atmosphere and you can feel the energy in the room as the coin spin takes place to determine who will play each part. On seeing both versions, I was thoroughly impressed by both actresses, although Lia Williams brought something extra to the stage whether as Mary or Elizabeth. It’s an exciting, powerful and absorbing production that you should see if you can.

6. Unreachable (Royal Court)

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After having to return a ticket for earlier in the run, I’m so pleased I managed to see the final performance of this brilliant new play by writer and director Anthony Neilson, although due to the unique structure of the creative process, it would have been great to have seen it more than once, as Neilson uses the rehearsal process to mould the story and relies on improv from the cast. Story-wise, it’s about a group of creative people coming together to make a film, with the director intent on capturing the right light (played by Matt Smith) and one of the actors, Ivan the Brute, an unpredictable lunatic (Jonjo O’Neil)! All the actors were excellent, but special credit must go to these two, who had me in stitches throughout, particularly Jonjo. It’s a character and performance I won’t forget in a hurry!

7. Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Palace)

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2016 also saw the arrival of the juggernaut that is the new Harry Potter play and I feel very lucky to have already been able to see it, knowing that some people have tickets for 2018! Set 18 years after the end of the seventh book in the series, we get to see Harry, Hermione and Ron as adults with children of their own off to Hogwart’s and the story focuses on the friendship of Albus Potter and Scorpius Malfoy. It’s a superb show, with magical trickery, lovely sets, a story with a positive message for us all and some brilliant actors. Special mention to Jamie Parker (one of my favourites on stage who really does bring something new to Harry) and Anthony Boyle who deserves as much recognition as possible for stealing the show as Scorpius. Review here.

8. Yerma (Young Vic)

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Billie Piper has established herself in recent years as a fine stage actress and her lead role in the Young Vic’s modern interpretation of Lorca’s Yerma is the best I’ve ever seen her. In a one act play, she simply left me speechless and a bit of a wreck through her portrayal of a young woman driven to despair by her inability to conceive a child. In this modern world where people like to think we can have it all and where woman are putting off having children until later, this play has an added emotional resonance. Brendan Cowell was also fantastic as her husband, struggling to keep their marriage together as his wife slowly breaks down. It was an emotionally draining experience, but a theatrical tour de force that I wouldn’t have missed for anything. Full review here.

9. Richard II (RSC, Barbican, London & BAM, NYC)

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Okay, okay, anyone who reads this blog may notice that this production has been on this list before, but technically the 2016 version did have a largely different cast and therefore I think I cab get away with it! David Tennant remains one of my favourite actors and a brilliant Shakespearean actor. Returning to Richard after a break of almost two years meant he was able to bring much more weight to it than he did originally. This was a stronger, more confident performance. Add to that the inspired addition of Jasper Britton as Bolingbroke, a role he made his own and a performance I preferred to Nigel Lindsay. Top marks also need to go to Sam Marks, who stepped in to Oliver Rix’s shoes as Aumerle and brought even more emotional depth than I could have hoped for. I was also lucky enough to travel to NYC to see the final two performances of Richard, meaning that I was able to see not only the first preview, but the very last show. Full review here and reflection on the full King and Country cycle here.

10. The Dazzle (FOUND111)

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Picking a tenth production for this list has been quite difficult and has left me torn, but in the end I had to choose a production I first saw last December and returned to in January of this year and that’s The Dazzle. With only a cast of three and staged in the intimate setting of FOUND111 (one of the venues of the year in my view), this was a show that was both humorous and deeply moving, as we see the bond between the Collyer brothers. Andrew Scott is mesmerising as Langley, whose strange ways are an increasing strain on his brother. However, it was David Dawson’s performance as Homer that floored me and by the final scene I was a wreck. Full review here.

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So, that’s my top 10 from another year of theatre. That was quite tough! Had I had more space, other productions I loved this year included Les Liaisons Dangereuses (Donmar), The Encounter (Barbican) and the returns of the RSC’s Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much About About Nothing (at Chichester, but which are now currently finally in London) and This House (also now in London).

It always frustrates me that there are things I miss, but ultimately you can’t see everything. That being said, I’m determined to go to more regional theatre, but also more new venues next year. It’s a little exciting to wonder what memories I’ll be looking back on this time next year! After a suggestion from a friend, my picks for top performances of the theatre year are in a separate post here, as are my most memorable moments of the year in theatre here.

Thanks for reading!

 

2016 Review – My Top Television of the year

It’s time to look back on 2016 and I’m starting off with a review of this year’s television offerings. Personally, I think it’s been a fantastic year for television across all channels and online platforms. There have been some fantastic new shows, which have drawn us in and have us anticipating their return, while other series have continued to keep us tuning in for yet another year.

It’s always hard to choose the highlights of the year, but below are the programmes that have really stood out for me over the last twelve months.

The Crown (Netflix)

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If any series has impressed me the most this year it’s been The Crown. I’d heard the rumours about how expensive it had been to make, but on seeing it, it was clear to see it was worth every penny Netflix had invested in it! Taking us through from the wedding of Elizabeth and Philip in 1947 to 1955, I became absorbed by the world it created on screen. Everything works in The Crown, resulting in a drama of the highest quality. The acting ensemble is superb, with Jared Harris making me cry as King George, Claire Foy’s award-nominated performance as Elizabeth and actors such as Matt Smith and Vanessa Kirby bringing people we feel we knew to life anew. Combined with strong scripts and direction, gorgeous sets and costumes and a wonderful score, this really was a television highlight.

Line of Duty (series 3, BBC Two)

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Line of Duty is a rare series for the simple fact that every series it just gets better. After the excellent second series in 2014, I really didn’t think it could impress me any more. How wrong I was! With the perfect balance of new story and continuing threads left lingering since series one, this was a taut, nail-biting drama that genuinely had me on the edge of my seat (and indeed jumping out of it too). Jed Mercurio’s scripts are a joy to watch and the cast continue to deliver. Take your time writing series four Jed, I’m sure it’ll be worth the wait. If you have yet to watch Line of Duty, catch up fast!

The Night Manager (BBC One)

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The BBC drama department didn’t hold back with this adaptation of John Le Carre’s novel. Made in partnership with AMC and The Ink Factory, the additional budget available to the series meant that the result was a hugely impressive, movie-quality production. Heck, I actually preferred this to the latest Bond film! Hugh Laurie was on top form as the charming, yet dangerous Richard Roper, a pregnant Olivia Colman kicked ass as Angela Burr and Tom Hiddleston demonstrated to a new audience outside of theatre and Marvel films what a great actor he is as Jonathan Pine. It was tense, thrilling, visually stunning and superbly acted. Some are sad it will likely never return. I actually think that’s a good thing. Sometimes a series should go out on a high.

Game of Thrones (series 6, HBO/Sky Atlantic)

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Game of Thrones series 6 was a bit of a mixed bag, with a few episodes in the middle slowing down in pace somewhat. However, as is always the case, it opened with some strong moments, including the return of Jon Snow (as if he was going to stay dead!) and ended with two of the finest episodes of television I’ve ever seen. The Battle of the Bastards was utterly incredible, showcasing battle scenes worthy of any film (and indeed better than most of them!), while The Winds of Winter took the show further down its darker path as Cersei Lannister shows everyone what a mistake it is to get on her bad side! With only two shorter seasons left, it’s all starting to get very exciting indeed!

Stranger Things (Netflix)

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I wasn’t sure whether I’d enjoy Stranger Things, but I’m so pleased I gave it a try, as I loved its mix of dark creepiness, humour and 80s nostalgia (right down to its brilliant title music and sequence). As a kid I loved The Goonies and watching this show took me right back to that era. Indeed part of the fun of watching it was spotting the nods to the films of that decade, whether ET, The Goonies or another. The strength of the acting of its young lead actors was also a surprise and surely Millie Bobby Brown as Eleven has now become an iconic character. Plus I’ll never hang Christmas lights again without thinking about this show!

Planet Earth II (BBC One)

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I admit I don’t watch many nature documentaries, but I couldn’t miss David Attenborough’s Planet Earth II, which surely brought some of the most incredible sequences to television this year. Whether the iguana escaping the snakes, the monkeys pinching people’s food in India, the bowerbird with its love heart, or the majesty of the eagles to name just a few moments, the series was breathtaking and really made you remember how much more to life there is on the planet that we all take for granted.

The X-Files (series 10, Channel 5)

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As a lifelong X-Phile, the return of my favourite duo to television was bound to make this list! Yes, I admit some of the episodes weren’t as strong as the original run, but as a set of six, I thought they did a great job of showcasing everything that made The X-Files such an iconic series. There was mythology, creepiness and Darin Morgan’s brand of craziness in my favourite instalment “Mulder and Scully Meet The Were-Monster”. The series was always able to switch between these different genres and it was fantastic that by re-assembling the old writers it was able to do the same again and of course it was a thrill to see David Duchovny and Gillian Anderson back together. Was it perfect? No. It was however a revival that made me smile in 2016 and I have my fingers crossed that there will be more to come.

Happy Valley (series 2, BBC One)

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Series one of Happy Valley was a highlight of 2014 and this year the second series proved again that Sally Wainwright’s gritty drama was worth tuning in to. Set 18 months after the previous series, we see Catherine Cawood (the excellent Sarah Lancashire) moving forward with life as Tommy Lee Royce (superbly played by James Norton) sits in prison. However, his influence was still felt through the eerily brilliant performance of Shirley Henderson as classroom assistant Miss Wealand, a woman who has become besotted by Royce and manoeuvres herself in to young Ryan’s life. Cawood also had her day job, as we see her working a case that crosses paths with a detective (Kevin Boyle) who finds himself in a terrible situation following an affair. If you have yet to catch Happy Valley, put it on your to-do list for next year.

Olympics 2016 (BBC coverage)

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Summer 2016 saw us all tuning in to Rio to watch the finest athletes in the world competing for Olympic honour. I always find the Olympics inspiring, as we see true role models who have worked hard to be there. You can keep all of your shallow footballers and reality stars in my view. Thanks to the BBC’s multi-channel and multi-platform coverage, I literally watched sport for two weeks and it was fantastic. Whether watching Team GB succeed in the velodrome, Bolt making history or Simone Biles’s incredible floor routine, it was a truly satisfying summer and I genuinely missed it once it was over.

The Hollow Crown: The War of the Roses (BBC Two)

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The first series of The Hollow Crown took us from Richard II to Henry V and this second series moved the Tudor story along through Henry VI, culminating in the iconic character of Richard III. Shakespeare may not be on everyone’s must-see list, but the BBC’s efforts to make these famous plays appeal to a modern audience deserve attention. Henry VI as a play can drag in places and so this adaptation was able to tighten up the story without losing any of its power and emotion. Hugh Bonneville was on top form as the Duke of Gloucester, Sophie Okonedo was a force to be reckoned with as Margaret and Tom Sturridge’s Henry was a much more emotional and less petulant portrayal than I’d seen before. Then of course there was Benedict Cumberbatch as Richard. It’s a superb performance, that was both chilling and charming and with support from Dame Judi Dench and Keeley Hawes this series really does showcase the strength of the British actors working today.

Victoria (ITV)

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This list started with one Queen and so it seems only right that it ends with another. The first series of Victoria took us in to the early years of the reign of Queen Victoria. Jenna Coleman (best known for her role in Doctor Who) was excellent as the young woman taking on the role of monarch in a world ruled by men. Her chemistry with Tom Hughes’s Albert really sold their blossoming romance, but it was her close relationship with her first prime minister Lord Melbourne, played by the superb Rufus Sewell that I truly loved and I admit I was very sad when Lord M’s time in her life came to an end. Hopefully series two will be just as strong as the first.

………..

So that was 2016 for me and there were so many shows I didn’t manage to watch (The Night Of and Westworld to name just two). The good news is that 2017 is already shaping up to be just as strong a year. For some suggestions of shows to tune in to next year, feel free to read for post on 17 shows to watch in 2017.

 

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