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!

 

Theatre Review – Sunset Boulevard starring Glenn Close

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Today was a rare treat – a half day off work to see a weekday matinee! Having missed Glenn Close on stage in New York in 2014 due to my ankle injury, there was no way I was missing her West End debut as Norma Desmond in Andrew Lloyd Webber’s musical of Sunset Boulevard, a role Close is already familiar with, having played her on Broadway 22 years ago, earning her a Tony Award. With this run being so short (only 5 weeks until 7th May) I was excited to have a ticket to one of the year’s most anticipated shows.

Did it live up to my hopes? In short, yes it certainly did. I had never seen the show before, only being familiar with some of the songs I’ve heard from it over the years and decided not to read anything more before seeing the production. It is a show that I very much enjoyed and one which conjures a magic and mood of a bygone era through its story and musical numbers.

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Glenn Close returning to Norma Desmond after 22 years

The staging is very different to any other musical that I’ve seen. Described as a “semi-staged” production, there is minimal set on the large Coliseum stage, with all locations, from Norma’s palazzo on the Boulevard to the back lot at Paramount Studios existing within a metallic staircase and walkway structure. At the centre of this is the full 48 piece English National Opera Orchestra (the orchestra pit instead used for lighting and a swimming pool in Act 2). This was quite different from the usual musical theatre experience of large sets and glitz and I found it quite refreshing.

I heard some grumbling about the lack of a sumptuous set from some audience members but, in my view, this stripped back staging only added to the authenticity of Norma’s existence – in a world which is tragically quite empty and lonely and the acting and glorious score, which sounds superb from an orchestra of this quality, bring the settings to life in your mind as you watch. Projections of black and white images and video reels from the period, occasionally projected on to the safety style curtain and backdrop also add to creating a sense that this is a production from years ago.

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L-R: Fred Johanson, Glenn Close, Michael Xavier & Siobhan Dillon

As for the acting, above all this is Glenn Close’s show and she is superb as Norma, a tragic character who was once adored by so many and who cannot see that her star has faded. I couldn’t help but be moved by her and Close manages to convey over the course of the story, a woman who can be cruel and manipulative, but is ultimately emotionally fragile and vulnerable and who spirals in to her own world of the past, oblivious to the reality of how things have changed. She was certainly a character for whom I felt sadness and compassion, as it was easy to imagine myself growing older, perhaps looking back to better, happier times. In this respect Norma resonates with us all. We will all grow older and life will change, sometimes in ways we would not choose.

Also despite the passage of 20 years, Close is still able to deliver a vocally confident performance. There are times when her voice isn’t as strong as it perhaps was, but this is ideal for portraying a fading starlet like Norma. However, in songs such as the emotional “With One Look” Close’s vocal performance is incredibly powerful and I was impressed that it wasn’t overwhelmed by the large orchestra on stage with her.

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Glenn Close & Julian Forsyth

Supporting her, Fred Johanson is wonderful as Norma’s ever present companion Max, who clearly deeply loves her and out of love is (perhaps unwisely) maintaining her illusion of stardom. Johanson’s background in opera adds an extra layer of power, beauty and delicacy to his performance. I also enjoyed Michael Xavier’s portrayal of Joe Gillis. His is not an easy role, as Joe isn’t a hugely likeable character at times. You do feel sorry for his sense of being trapped by Norma’s manipulative behaviour, but equally dislike his more hurtful behaviour towards her (which is perhaps a testament to Close’s performance). However, Xavier has a charm which works well for the character, especially in the early scenes as we see Norma drawn to him and then in his scenes with Siobhan Dillon’s Betty, the woman who may come between Norma and her boy. In fact the cast as a whole is impressive and brings the show to life wonderfully in this all too short run.

I certainly wasn’t disappointed by Sunset Boulevard and if the long standing ovation given at today’s matinee is any indication, neither was the rest of the audience. Having the chance to see what will be a performance remembered for years, together with the unique experience of seeing its musical score brought to life by musicians on the stage in front of you (rather than hidden in the pit) was fantastic. For me, a musical has to have a story that I invest in emotionally, some memorable songs and strong characters. This production of Sunset Boulevard has all of these elements and I’ll almost certainly be making a return trip before it ends. If you have the chance to go, then don’t miss it.

Sunset Boulevard continues its run at the London Coliseum until 7th May 2016. For more information and ticket availability visit the official website here. It’s also worth having a look at other ticket outlets for cheaper tickets, such as the TodayTix app.

 

 

 

Theatre To See in 2016!

2016 has arrived, so it’s the time of year for theatregoers when we start planning all the shows we need to book for the new year, while pondering what rumours are circulating as to productions that may arrive during the next twelve months. This post has been a great way of organising my own theatregoing, as I see what I’ve yet to book while compiling this list of recommendations! 2015 was an excellent year for me for theatre (read my review of the year here) and I certainly hope 2016 proves to be even better.

So, here are the productions I’m most looking forward to in 2016. I am planning a New York trip in April, but as I’m not yet sure what I will be seeing this list is purely a UK selection and admittedly mainly London-based (although I plan to get to regional theatre more again this year).

16 to see in 2016

1. Sunset Boulevard with Glenn Close (London Colesium – 1st April – 7th May)

2311The forthcoming production of Sunset Boulevard is my most anticipated show of 2016 so far. It’s a musical I’ve never seen, I’ve never been to the London Coliseum before (this year I’m determined to visit more theatres) and it means I’ll get to see Glenn Close, an actress I greatly admire, on stage. Returning to a role she played back in 1994 on Broadway, tickets for this production’s five week run have been incredibly popular since going on sale last year, but there are still some available.

2. Richard II (with Mr Tennant returns) (Barbican – 7th – 22nd January)

David-Tennant_2705271b.jpgAlthough I’ve already seen this production during its last run in 2013, as a huge fan of Mr Tennant, especially for Shakespeare (something he seems to effortlessly make modern and accessible to all), I had to include this return of Richard II to the Barbican as part of the King & Country cycle. I am rather sad that Oliver Rix is not returning as Aumerle (who I thought was truly superb last time), but Samuel Marks will no doubt do a fantastic job in his place. Tickets are sold out for the individual performances, but returns are worth looking for.

3. The Encounter by Complicite (Barbican – 12th February – 6th March)

hqdefault.jpgAnother production coming to the Barbican which has been on my radar for some time is the latest work involving theatre company Complicite. Directed and performed by Simon McBurney this solo show will transport the audience to the Amazonian rainforest, through sound design to weave McBurney’s story with that of Loren McIntyre, a photographer who became lost in the Amazon in 1969. This wouldn’t normally be my type of theatre, but anything involving Complicite (whose A Disappearing Number and Master and Margarita in 2010 and 2012 respectively I loved) will get my attention. I’m sure this will be a unique experience.

4. People, Places & Things (Wyndham’s Theatre – 15th March – 4th June )

40e2193f-8439-49f5-b0f3-fbe90f755702-2060x1236.jpgAfter missing this highly regarded production during its initial run at the National Theatre, I’m thrilled it has a second lease of life in the West End. A new collaboration between the National and Headlong following Earthquakes in London and The Effect, the play introduces us to Emma, currently in rehab, but who thinks it’s the rest of the world that has the problem. I’ve heard nothing but positive comments about this play and the performance of its lead Denise Gough, so I’m looking forward to seeing this at the Wyndham’s.

5. No Man’s Land (Venue TBC – September)

NM6.jpgThis play was on my list for 2015, in the hope it might arrive by the end of the year. That didn’t happen, but in their New Year’s Eve video message, the dynamic duo of Patrick Stewart and Ian McKellen announced that this production (which played with Waiting For Godot in New York in 2013) would be in London this September. They are both such wonderful actors, but there is something very special seeing them together. If I enjoy this half as much as Waiting For Godot in 2009, I’ll be very happy indeed.

6. Uncle Vanya (Almeida Theatre – 5th February – 26th March)

unclevanyatopThere is so much about this production which makes it a top choice for 2016. For a start, the ensemble cast contains some brilliant talent including Vanessa Kirby (most recently of the Young Vic’s Streetcar) and Tobias Menzies (whose one man performance in The Fever last year was superb). On top of that is the involvement of Robert Icke, whose production of Oresteia last year topped virtually every theatre list of 2015 (including mine). As with that play, this will be a new interpretation of Chekhov’s Uncle Vanya by Icke, which he will also direct. Expectation as to what he will come up with next is incredibly high, so I hope this delivers.

7. After Miss Julie (Theatre Royal Bath – 24th – 28th May, followed by a tour)

2F77458900000578-3365133-image-m-3_1450399607098.jpgI’ve only seen one previous production of this August Strindberg play, which was the Young Vic’s 2012 version starring Natalie Dormer and it was one I have not forgotten, due to the power of the story and the emotionally charged atmosphere in which it takes place. As that production was also based on the adaptation by Patrick Marber to be used here, I’m thrilled to be able to see it again, with Helen George in the main role. Known to most through Call The Midwife, this role will give her room to show a very different side and I’m looking forward to seeing this in Bath or during the subsequent tour.

8. Nell Gwynn (Apollo Theatre – 4th February – 30th April)

cw-9336-medium.jpgAnother production I was sorry to miss last year was Nell Gwynn at the Globe. Although there has been a change of lead actress (with Gemma Arterton replacing Gugu Mbatha-Raw), I’m very much looking forward to a show which many people I know said was a highlight of their theatre year and learning more about the woman who went on to become Britain’s most celebrated actress (and mistress to King Charles II).

9. The Master Builder with Ralph Fiennes (Old Vic – 23rd January – 19th March)

18564_show_landscape_large_01.jpgThe first 2016 production for the Old Vic looks to be very promising, seeing Ralph Fiennes in the lead role of this Ibsen play. After seeing his brilliant performance in Man & Superman last year, I can’t wait to see Mr. Fiennes on stage again and in this new adaptation by David Hare (most recently having enjoyed success both in London and New York with Skylight), it should be very memorable.

10. The Nap (Sheffield Crucible – 10th – 26th March)

100112.jpg.pngAfter the success of One Man, Two Guvnors, this is the new comedy from Richard Bean. If that wasn’t enough to get excited about, it’s directed by actor Richard Wilson and stars rising British Hollywood star Jack O’Connell as a young, Sheffield-born snooker player. As this is running in the home of snooker at the Crucible I imagine this will add to the atmosphere of this production and is a fantastic part of Sheffield Theatres wonderful 2016 season.

11. Herons by Simon Stephens (Lyric Hammersmith – 15th January – 13th February)

Herons_Lyric-Hammersmith.jpgAs it’s been 15 years since this play by Simon Stephens was last in London, I have yet to see it and although I find his work a bit of a mixed bag of enjoyment (last year’s Carmen Disruption was not for me), he’s a playwright whose plays I will always book a ticket to see. Described as an unflinching and incendiary play, I imagine this will not be an easy one to watch, but I hope it will be as powerful as some of his other plays that I have loved.

12. Elegy (Donmar Warehouse – 21st April – 18th June)

Elegy-background-new-2.jpgThis is the only show I have booked for the new Donmar season and the reason is I’m very much looking forward to seeing the next play by Nick Payne, whose constellations has done so well on both sides of the Atlantic in recent years. Set in a near-future where advances in science mean it’s possible to “augment and extend life”, I’m expecting this to be a thought-provoking production.

13. Aladdin (Prince Edward Theatre – currently booking 27th May – 1st October)

Show_Aladdin.jpgAlthough I do tend to see more plays than musicals, I’ve been looking forward to the arrival from Broadway of Disney’s Aladdin, which had been on my list of things to see in NYC. A Disney musical done well is always good fun and Aladdin already has the advantage of having a strong set of songs from start to finish.

14. The Deep Blue Sea (National Theatre, Lyttleton – TBC, June 2016)

tumblr_inline_nutq4yD38Y1rdh6ct_500.jpgTerence Rattigan remains one of my favourite playwrights and I very much enjoyed the last production of The Deep Blue Sea that I saw in Chichester in 2011. Very little is known yet about this forthcoming production at the National, which will be directed by Carrie Cracknell (whose A Doll’s House at the Young Vic was superb), but I’m certainly hopeful for some wonderful casting. Watch this space.

15. Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Palace – begins May)

Harry-Potter-Cursed-Child.jpgI admit I’m not a Harry Potter fanatic and booked a ticket for this play more out of curiosity than anything else. It’s already had record-breaking ticket sales and is booking until mid-2017, so there is certainly a lot of expectation surrounding the next instalment in J.K Rowling’s universe, set 19 years after the last book. I am very excited though about the recently announced casting, as Jamie Parker has been one of my favourites for a few years and Noma Dumesweni is a brilliant actress. This is already set to be the most discussed and anticipated show of the year.

16. Pink Mist (Bush Theatre – 21st January – 13th February)

Pink-Mist-at-Bristol-Old-Vic_-Photo-by-Mark-Douet-I80A5019-2000x1333After receiving superb reviews last year at the Bristol Old Vic, it’s wonderful that Owen Sheers play, looking at the mental scars of war is coming to London. Inspired by interviews with retired servicemen, Pink Mist centres on three young men, deployed to Afghanistan, but whose greatest challenge is then returning to their old lives and loved ones after all they have experienced. I expect this to be an incredibly emotional and profound piece of theatre, which in the current world  will have an even bigger impact on audiences.

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Rumours….!

As with any year, there are certain rumours swirling in the theatre air about possible productions arriving in 2016 and I’ll certainly be keeping an eye on the ones below over the next few months.

1. Finding Neverland (TBC)

1275-b444e46ec9eae9dba52deacc5e5cc4e3.jpgI thoroughly enjoyed the film Finding Neverland and have been hoping this musical adaptation would make its way to London at some point. Nothing has been formally announced yet, although Gary Barlow has said it will be in London this year, so this looks very likely indeed. Those who I know have already seen it in New York were very positive about it and with music and lyrics written by the incredibly talented Mr. Barlow, I’m hopeful this will be a very enjoyable night at the theatre.

2. Colin Morgan in The Pillowman

97978.jpgMartin McDonagh’s latest play, Hangmen, is currently enjoying great success during its West End transfer and so it would be the perfect time to bring one of his earlier plays back to the stage. Rumours last year suggested The Pillowman may indeed make a return, with Colin Morgan linked to the production. I have only ever seen the grainy National Theatre recording of their 2003 production in their archive, but it’s a testament to the power of the piece that it’s still stayed with me. It’s certainly a disturbing and dark play, but I would certainly like the chance to see it live.

3. The Young Chekhov season from Chichester to the National?

Anna-Chancellor-and-Samue-010.jpgThis triptych of plays was one of the theatre events I was most sorry to miss last year and therefore I’m hoping the rumours of a transfer to the National Theatre prove to be true. In his new adaptations for the Chichester Festival Theatre, David Hare chose to stage two lesser known Chekhov plays (Platonov and Ivanov) in a season with The Seagull. It had a wonderful ensemble including Anna Chanellor, Sam West and Olivia Vinall and the reviews were all excellent. All my fingers are crossed for a second life for these productions in 2016.

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Catch Them Before They Close….!

1. The Dazzle (FOUND 111) – until 30th January

Although there are now only day seats and returns available, it’s certainly worth making the effort to try and nab a ticket for this new play, housed at the top of a warehouse-style building on Charing Cross Road. A story which imagines what the lives of two famous New York hoarders and recluses must have been like, Richard Greenberg’s play is powerful and emotional and contains two superb performances by two of Britain’s best young talents (Andrew Scott and David Dawson). Read my full review here.

2. Hangmen (Wyndham’s Theatre) – until 5th March

As I’ve already mentioned above, this Martin McDonagh play has been widely praised by both critics and theatregoers since it first opened at the Royal Court. After seeing it on its transfer to the West End, it easily made my top ten of 2015. With a brilliant script, wonderful sets and superb acting (particularly Johnny Flynn’s performance), this should be one on everyone’s list for early 2016. Read my full review here.

3. War Horse (New London) – until 12th March

It seems incredible that War Horse is closing in London. It’s become such a fixture since its premiere at the National Theatre in 2007 and move to the New London in 2009, that I expected it to be there forever. Sadly however the show will close on 12th March, before embarking on a UK tour in 2017. There’s certainly something very special about seeing Joey live. He may be a puppet, but the skill of the operators and the beauty of the story means that that is irrelevant. If you haven’t got round to going or want to see it again, make sure you book while you can. I already have my ticket for the last performance.

4. Billy Elliot (Victoria Palace) – until 9th April

Another long-standing show closing in early 2016 is Billy Elliot, which has played at the Victoria Palace Theatre for over ten years. After such a successful film, it’s wonderful that the musical adaptation has been received with such warmth over the years. If you’ve yet to experience the story of a young boy’s love of dance, you have until early April to book your ticket. It is eight years since I last saw the show, so I’ll definitely be visiting one last time before then.

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So, hopefully there will be something within my recommendations to appeal to you (or maybe even more than one). I’d love to pick up some more tips for myself, so do leave a comment about what you are excited about seeing in 2016. Happy theatregoing everyone!

 

 

 

 

 

TV Shows You Should Have Seen – Damages starring Glenn Close & Rose Byrne

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I have been a fan of the TV series Damages since it began in 2007 and it remains one of my favourite programmes. It was for this reason that I saved the final season five for over a year before finally watching it this week. Having reached the end of the series it occurred to me that there may be some out there who have never watched it, as let’s face it there is no shortage of TV shows to watch, especially with the increased availability through Netflix, Lovefilm and Blinkbox as well as satellite TV providers. Therefore I thought I’d take a moment to try and convince you to give it a try!

Damages is a legal drama centring on the formidable figure of successful high-stakes litigator Patty Hewes, played to perfection by Glenn Close, whose mission statement is to take on the big companies she believes are corrupt and each series features a different high profile case taken on by Patty. In the first episode we are also introduced to a young law graduate Ellen Parsons (played by Rose Byrne), keen to make a successful career for herself, who becomes the newest associate hired by Patty’s firm Hewes & Associates.

However Damages established itself as not just the usual type of legal drama through its structure. Rather than the story simply being told in a linear style, Damages makes effective use of flashbacks in order to give the audience more information than the characters without giving away the conclusion. Episode one of the first season opens with Ellen Parsons fleeing an apartment building covered in blood. Whose apartment is it? What has happened to her? These are questions the audience is immediately asking only for the story to jump back six months to when Ellen is hoping to join Patty Hewes. We therefore know where she is headed but still have no idea of the full picture or the circumstances. As the episodes progress, we are given flashes forward slowing moving backwards from the opening moments, as the timelines inch ever closer to each other, filling in more and more of the big picture, through many twists and turns.

By structuring the series in this way the creators gave the audience an exciting new show, with a plot where anything could happen at any time and that left you intrigued as to the final outcome. On top of this structure Damages always had strong characters, superbly acted. Tate Donovan is fantastic as Patty’s loyal associate, keen to make partner and prove himself out from her Patty’s shadow. Ted Danson was the central figure for the class action case Patty is fighting in season one and he proves to be a ruthless individual, very different to any character I had seen the actor portray before. Throughout its five seasons there have been a vast array of strong performances (John Goodman as a tough businessman and former soldier who will stop at nothing to secure the interests of his private security company, Ryan Philippe as a computer genius determined to leak secrets to the world in the mould of Julian Assange and Martin Short as a trusted lawyer and friend of a family under Patty’s scrutiny due to a fraudulent Ponzi scheme to name just a few).

However the key relationship in the show has always been that between Patty and Ellen, one which you had no idea as to the twists and turns it would take. Initially expected to be the usual mentor/protege relationship, it becomes very clear that there is much more to both women and the experiences they have during the series constantly shift the dynamic between them. Having two such strong female characters leading a legal drama certainly moved TV drama forward and Glenn Close has said herself that the strong female leads was something that set Damages apart from other shows. Look at the shows that have arrived since Damages – The Good Wife, and Homeland to name just two with strong female leads. It was also significant casting to see a successful, hugely respected film actress sign up for a television drama and was one of the finest programmes in what is now a long line of quality television drama attracting actors traditionally associated with films.

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For me the character of Patty Hewes is one of the finest written for television and Glenn Close is simply stunning in the role. Patty is the best at what she does, a fierce lawyer and businesswomen, ruthless and manipulative, doing whatever it takes to win, which many a times takes your breath away. However no matter how devious her methods, you can’t help but admire her and at times even feel sympathy for her and I was always excited to see just what she would do next, right through until the final episode. She is certainly a character I will miss and I doubt television will ever see another character like her.

All five seasons of Damages are available on Netflix, Blinkbox and Amazon Prime Instant or the series can be purchased through all the usual retailers. If you have a spare hour and want to see quality television at its best then give episode one a try. I’m confident you’ll be hooked by the time the credits roll!