It’s that time of year again and as life has got in the way in the last few months, this is also my first blog post in quite a while. Hopefully looking back at the year will kick start my blogging ready for next year, but as far as 2019 is concerned, I saw fewer shows than I usually do (blame life again), brining my final total to 48 productions (11 musicals, the rest plays), 4 of which I saw for a second time, resulting in 52 theatre visits in total, across 3 countries. The year also saw only my second walk out ever (sorry Top Girls at the National, but you just were not my type of show).
I’ll be reflecting on my favourite theatre of the decade in a separate post, but for now, these were my top 10 shows of 2019! Do let me know what yours were.
1. A German Life (Bridge Theatre)
This really could be a joint first place, but when seeing Dame Maggie Smith on stage in a play was at the top of my theatre bucket list and was something I never thought I’d be able to see, the Bridge Theatre’s announcement of this show made my year. Thankfully, it also lived up to my expectations on both visits (as you can’t just book one ticket for Maggie Smith!), as this was more than a monologue; this was Maggie Smith taking us inside one woman’s life, but also vividly in to the past of Nazi Germany which, by the end, presented some very stark warnings to us about the world we live in today and where we could find ourselves. I’d certainly love to see her on stage again, but if this is the only time, then I’m so so grateful I was able to see her.
2. Present Laughter (Old Vic)
Any announcement of Andrew Scott on the stage is cause for celebration in my view and I ended the decade seeing one of my favourite actors, on stage, at the very theatre where I first saw him, in Design For Living, back in 2010. I loved this production. Everything about it was wonderful; the superb cast, none of whom put a foot wrong, the gorgeous set design and costume and the fabulous music choices before and during the interval. It made me laugh, it made me tear up and I left the theatre both times with a big smile on my face and more than anything, it reinforced just how versatile Andrew Scott is as an actor, able to turn from over the top dramatics, to a vulnerable soul in moments. And the good news? It’s now an NT: Live production, which is just as enjoyable on a cinema screen.
3. Betrayal (Harold Pinter Theatre)
Betrayal is my favourite of Pinter’s plays and this production is my favourite so far. Each of Zawe Ashton, Charlie Cox and Tom Hiddleston were excellent in conveying the complicated dynamics of the inter-relationships between these three characters and the simple set really helped in keeping the focus on the actors.
4. Death of a Salesman (Young Vic & Piccadilly Theatre)
Despite seeing a fair few Arthur Miller plays on stage, I’d never actually seen Death of a Salesman and I think I’ve likely been spoiled with my first experience thanks to the Young Vic’s production. Watching Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell’s re-imaging, which changes the Loman family to a black family in New York, it’s honestly hard to imagine how this wasn’t the original intention. Led by the superb Wendell Pierce and Sharon D. Clarke, this was an incredibly powerful production, which stayed with me for a long time after both my visits to it. As it closes its West End run on 4th January, you still have a few days left to see it if you can.
5. The Watsons (Menier Chocolate Factory)
The fact I saw less shows this year may be why this is the first of two that appear on this year’s list, as well as last year’s one. It may though simply be because of just how damn good they were. Having first seen The Watsons in Chichester, I was thrilled when it arrived in London and with almost all of the same cast too. It’s hard to talk about this play without giving things away, but what I loved about it is that it’s not simply a typical Jane Austen story. It also speaks to what it’s like to write, to bring stories and characters to life on the page and I loved that so very much. The good news is The Watsons is getting a deserved West End run in 2020 and I can’t recommend it highly enough.
6. The Inheritance (Noel Coward Theatre & Barrymore Theater, NYC)
This play took the top spot on last year’s list and the final London performance was one of my first shows of 2019 too. Therefore, I couldn’t miss the chance to see it again when it transferred to Broadway, especially when all of my favourites from the London cast were going too. It was fascinating watching it in NYC and seeing which scenes evoked the strongest audience reactions (some I thought would, didn’t). The changes made since London (mainly to Part 2) were largely beneficial to the story and the experience of seeing The Inheritance proved to be just as powerful and emotional as it was in London (although, overall, I preferred the London cast). The show is still running in NYC, so if you have a chance to see it, it’s certainly worth your time.
7. Nine Night (Trafalgar Studios)
Most people saw this during its original National Theatre run last year, but after missing out due to work, I thankfully had a second chance to go once it transferred to the Trafalgar Studios. I wasn’t sure what to expect from Nine Night, but it was so brilliantly written and performed and the lasting memory I have of it is how much I laughed and how much the audience loved it, creating such a wonderful atmosphere in the theatre.
8. All My Sons (Old Vic)
The second entry for the Old Vic on my list and another Arthur Miller classic. With such a strong cast, including the mighty Sally Field (and young British talents Colin Morgan and Jenna Coleman), my expectations for this were high, but I wasn’t disappointed, as the play weaves through the complex relationship of a family touched by tragedy, before ending with a big emotional gut punch. I hope this isn’t the last time we see Sally Field on a London stage either.
9. Les Miserables In Concert (Gielgud Theatre)
I’ve always loved Les Miserables and every few years, I return to the theatre for a top up and in 2019 I saw both the show (before the original staging disappeared – why something unique to London had to go, I don’t know) and the staged concert performance next door. I’ve watched the anniversary DVDs, so knew what to expect from the experience, but the sheer power of the vocals during this concert couldn’t fail to impress, especially John Owen Jones as Valjean, able to convey the performance element, as well as the voice.
10. & Juliet (Shaftesbury Theatre)
My last choice for 2019 was a show I had no idea I’d enjoy as much as I did and that’s & Juliet, a musical that combined Shakespeare and some of my favourite songs from the 1990s! It may sound like an unlikely combination, but it really does work, in a story that asks what Juliet might have chosen to do, had she not killed herself at the end of Romeo & Juliet and tells this story with the help of the songbook of Max Martin (so, Backstreet Boys, Britney Spears, Katy Perry, Bon Jovi and more). The songs fit in such a clever and often funny way, that those in their 30s upwards in the audience started laughing after just a couple of bars of a track. It was an unexpectedly fun and entertaining night at the theatre, which had me reaching for my old CD collection when I got home!
So, that’s my list of my favourite theatre shows of 2019. Next year is already looking promising and I’ll be posting a list of tips for 2020 over the next few days too. As always, thanks for reading!