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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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!
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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)
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.
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!
One of my theatre highlights of 2012 was standing behind the back benchers in the House of Commons (well the National Theatre’s Cottesloe Theatre really) and watching James Graham’s superb new play This House; a play that made politics come to life and sparkled as the razor sharp dialogue pinged across the aisle of the House.
After the tumultuous political year we have seen in Britain, where unimaginable events have followed at each others’ heels as if episodes from a new television drama, there seems no better time for this brilliant production to return and this weekend saw me take a trip to Chichester to see This House once again, prior to its arrival at the Garrick Theatre in London next month.
The play begins in the Britain of 1974, after the February election resulted in a hung Parliament. Labour took power from the Conservatives as the biggest party, but without a majority. As Labour’s Chief Whip puts it – “we’ve got the bigger boat, but they’ve got more oars.” Over the course of the play, we watch as each side makes side deals and promises aplenty with the “odds and sods” MPs in order to try and topple the numbers in their favour and as the votes on each Bill before the House grow ever tighter and the gloves come off, it is the job of the whips to do everything in their power to see that their side is the winner.
It’s a testament to the writing that this play seems as pertinent today as it did the first time around and in some instances even more so; the discussion as to whether to go for an EU referendum vote or not being particularly ironic in our Brexit world (I must check if Mr Graham has rewritten any of the dialogue in light of June’s events). It’s also Graham’s ability to write so brilliantly, the many characters of differing backgrounds, ideals and personalities across the aisle that results in so many ridiculous arguments, all of which are a joy to watch. The desperate lengths the whips go to, to ensure every MP is present for crucial votes as Labour cling to power, seem a work of fiction, except you can’t help but imagine that similar events probably did happen!
Some of the original cast have returned to the play including Phil Daniels as Labour’s Chief Whip Bob Mellish and Lauren O’Neil as Ann Taylor, the woman determined to fit in to the boys’ club. However, what’s wonderful here is how the new additions to the cast have blended in seamlessly. I did love Philip Glenister originally, but Steffan Rhodri is excellent in the role of Walter Harrison, the best deputy whip the House has ever seen. He also has a fantastic chemistry with his opposite Tory number Nathaniel Parker as Jack Weatherill. Parker is a fine stage actor and a worthy successor to Charles Edwards. He brings a great deal to his role and despite their differences, the mutual respect these two men have for each other is clear.
Malcolm Sinclair is superb as the upper-class Tory Chief Whip Humphrey Atkins and he adds an extra layer of dry-humoured, elitism to the character, which made me laugh on many occasions – his utter horror at the thought of watching Coronation Street just one example of his ability to bring humour through Atkins’s disdain!
As well as a strong cast and a tautly written script, the other star of This House is Rae Smith’s set, which adds a further dimension with the inclusion of its Commons audience seating. It remains an excellent way of not only replicating the image of the Commons and its packed benches, but also drawing the audience further in. You are literally part of the furniture, watching the back room deals up close!
Whether or not you think politics matters to you, it undeniably affects us all and this play shines a light on a particularly interesting period of political history in an incredibly entertaining way. With such a talent for making politics fresh and engrossing (since This House premiered, Graham has brought us the wonderful The Vote on stage as well as Coalition on television), I can only imagine what James Graham could create if he ever writes about the politics of 2016!
No matter your political leaning, you’re sure to enjoy This House. It is witty, engaging and rather touching in places and with such a strong ensemble, it is yet again guaranteed to take London by storm. Buy your tickets while you can (and if possible make it a Commons seat too)!
This House continues at the Festival Theatre, Chichester until 29th October. It then transfers to the Garrick Theatre in London from 18th November – 25th February 2017. For more information visit the theatre websites:
After I was unable to see it during its original run at the National Theatre last year, it has taken me far too long to get to People, Places & Things. Before my visit last Friday, I’d heard all of the praise it has received and was wondering if this new play really was as good as everyone was saying. Could it really live up to the hype? The short answer – it is and it did. In fact, it is one of the most powerful theatre experiences I’ve ever had and is a production which will stay with me for a long time to come.
Duncan Macmillan’s new play centres on Emma, played by the superb Denise Gough (more on that later). Emma is an actress, used to lying for a living by always pretending to be someone else. Emma is also an alcoholic and drug addict, who is in a much more desperate state than she is willing to admit. At the start of the play, we see her on stage in The Seagull, while drunk and/or high. In the next moment, the period dress is ripped away and we find ourselves in a sterile whiteness, as she voluntarily arrives at a rehab centre. She isn’t planning to stay long, just long enough to detox her system and get a certificate to say she is not a danger to an employer, so she can get back to work.
Most of the play is set within the rehab centre and we watch her experiences and struggles and those of the people in the centre’s support group sessions. We see people graduate, people ejected for breaking the rules and all of the ups and downs in between, which are faced by those confronting their addictions and those who aren’t quite ready to face them yet.
I admit it doesn’t sound like a barrel of laughs, but one of the most impressive achievements of Macmillan’s writing is his ability to mix such difficult issues with humour. Emma is very funny and her humour is used to offset the more difficult aspects of her life. In fact you find yourself laughing out loud at moments that are darkly funny, when you perhaps think you shouldn’t. It adds an extra dimension of realism to the play.
This is also much more than a play about addiction – it is a very modern story, which feels incredibly relevant to today’s society. We may not all have the personal experience of drug or alcohol addiction, but the sense of battling to survive in the world, to succeed and be the best you can be, through all of the pressures and difficulties you may face, is one that everyone can relate to in some way. There is a scene in the play where Emma is talking to her friend Mark and they refer to Wile E Coyote – that he can seemingly run across a vast canyon and only plummets when he looks down. The message for life for all of us was clear – “Don’t look down.”
Director Jeremy Herrin’s production (a co-production by the National with the hugely exciting Headlong, whose past achievements include Enron, The Effect and American Psycho) moves with great pace, with occasional hedonistic music and lighting effects and some very clever methods of taking the audience in to Emma’s head as she begins to detox and Bunny Christie’s set is simple but very effective, which with the audience also on the stage (replicating the feel of the National’s Dorfman space) adds to a sense of the cast being enclosed in a confined space.
There are some strong supporting performances. Nathaniel Martello-White is very good as Mark, also at the centre for his third time. He has a lovely connection with Gough’s Emma, which feels very believable. Barbara Marten is also excellent, playing two different therapists (Emma quips that they all look like her mum) and then Emma’s mother, in some of the most powerful and emotive scenes I have seen on a stage. However, the stand out performance here is indeed that of Denise Gough, who after her recent Olivier win, is receiving all the prizes and praise she deserves for this performance.
All the usual superlatives don’t do justice to her portrayal of Emma. It’s simply astonishing to watch, fueled by so much emotion and physicality. You almost forget you are not witnessing the journey of a real person, so raw and believable is her work on the Wyndham’s stage. As the play approaches it’s incredibly powerful and moving conclusion, I was rooting for Emma in a way I haven’t for any other character. You could almost get out of your seat to go and support her. It has been a long time since I’ve been quite so invested in a person on stage. The comments I’ve heard that this is the greatest stage performance since Mark Rylance in Jerusalem are not an exaggeration.
This may, on the surface, be a play on a topic you wouldn’t normally choose to see, but I cannot urge you strongly enough to go to People, Places & Things. It is a theatre production that will be remembered for many years to come and will remind you just how powerful, raw and astonishing an experience live theatre can be. Go and buy some tickets. Do it now. Right now.
People, Places & Things continues its run at the Wyndham’s Theatre in London until 18th June. For more information visit its website here.
As a regular and enthusiastic theatregoer, I’m often asked by friends how I can afford it, to which I explain that, despite the rising prices for big West End shows, not all theatre in London is extortionate, especially if you know where to look and are open to visiting a wider variety of venues.
Last year, I shared a few tips, some obvious, some less so, as to how to secure tickets at a cheaper price and with the new year upon us and budgets tight after Christmas, it seemed the perfect time to revisit this topic. Most of these options require some effort, whether that’s getting up early to queue or setting a diary reminder to jump on a website the moment seats are released, but others are offers that may be available to you due to where you live or your age. Hopefully some of these tips will highlight that great seats at reasonable prices are possible and that you shouldn’t let the fact a show is sold out put you off, as nothing is ever really “sold out”.
1. Theatre-specific schemes
Many theatres have ticket schemes, which offer a cheaper price band of seats for certain productions, which are often still very good seats in terms of view. It’s always worth checking their website in advance to become familiar with such schemes and when tickets are due to go on sale. Some of the best schemes currently are set out below. Click on the links for more details.
National Theatre Travelex Scheme – this scheme is a fantastic aspect of the National Theatre, offering £15 tickets for certain productions throughout the year. In order to secure these tickets, the best tip is to book quickly as once public booking opens for each new National season these seats go fast.
National Theatre £20 Friday “Rush” – Every Friday at 1 p.m., some tickets for the following week’s productions go on sale online for £20. These are proving very popular, so set your reminders to make sure you don’t miss out.
Royal Court £10 Mondays – all tickets for Mondays of every show go on sale on the day for £10. Again, you need to be quick, so set yourself a reminder.
Southwark Playhouse Pay As You Go scheme – For £60 paid in advance, you can buy a subscription to the Southwark Playhouse, effectively giving credit which can be used to buy five tickets. There is no expiry once you’ve paid your £60, so you can buy the five tickets over as long or short a period as you choose (only two can be used at a time for one performance though). It’s a great scheme, so have a look at their website for details.
Donmar Barclays Front Row – This is one of the toughest, as tickets go very very quickly. Tickets are released each Monday, for performances two weeks later, offering the front row for only £10.
Old Vic PwC £10 Preview Scheme – Under this scheme, half of all seats are priced at £10 for the first five previews of each production. These go on sale five weeks in advance are are brilliant value for money.
The Trafalgar Transformed seasons from Jamie Lloyd have an offer for reduced price tickets on Mondays. The next show The Maids will also have a £15 Mondays scheme. Purchase details have yet to be announced. Keep an eye on the website here.
The Park Theatre at Finsbury Park has a Pay What You Can Afford scheme on certain days (usually all matinees) to allow people to make a donation instead of paying the standard ticket prices.
The Young Vic tends to offer a season saver, whereby if you buy three shows in the season at full price, you’ll get a discount (currently 20%). A great deal if you intend to see most of the theatre’s season.
The Bush Theatre also offers a season saver – book 3 shows at top price in one go and only pay for two!
2. Day Seats or Lotteries
Day seats are one of the most widely used and easiest ways to get cheaper tickets for bigger, more expensive shows if you are prepared to put the effort in. This basically means getting up early and joining a queue! Day seat policies vary from theatre to theatre and even show to show at a theatre, but are always great value as they tend to offer good seats, sometimes even the front row, for a cheaper price. Admittedly, the higher the stage, the more uncomfortable this front row could be, but if prices are inflated, it’s often the most accessible option. You can call up the box office of the theatre to check what it’s day seat policy is and how early the queue is generally starting. A great resource is the Theatremonkey website, which tries to give as much up to date day seat information as possible. One further tip for day seats is to take cash, as some don’t accept debt/credit cards.
Lotteries are less common in the UK, but are still run for certain shows, such as The Book of Mormon, which runs an online lottery for its day seats. Check with the theatre or the website of the show you are interested in.
3. Age-related Discounts
Many theatres have reduced price tickets for certain age groups, which are great value while you qualify for them. Don’t make my mistake and leave it too late to take advantage of these! Examples are:
- Almeida – under 30s can buy tickets for £19 on Mondays only.
- National Theatre – Those 16 – 25 can buy £5 tickets through the Entry Pass scheme. You need to sign up to the scheme in advance.
- RSC – Those 16 – 25 can buy £5 tickets through the RSC Key scheme. A bargain to see such great Shakespeare!
- Young Barbican – discounted tickets available for 14-25 year olds across all its events.
- Tricycle Theatre – TRIKE scheme offers £10 theatre tickets for those under 26.
- Young Vic – £10 tickets for under 25s.
Check a theatre’s website for details of their scheme and what you need to do to take advantage of it, as you may have to register first, bring proof of age on collection etc.
4. Resident discounts
Certain theatres offer discounts for residents within their community. The Bush (in Shepherd’s Bush) via the Bush Local scheme and the Lyric (in Hammersmith) are both examples of theatres which give some form of discount for certain performances to locals. Enquire at your local theatre for information and availability and what proof of address is required.
A good proportion of theatres sell preview performances at cheaper prices, to take account of the fact that the show is still under development. Don’t let this put you off though, as it usually merely means tweaks rather than substantive changes, which can be interesting if you plan on seeing something again later in the run and can then see what the changes were.
6. NT Live / the RSC’s Live from Stratford-Upon-Avon filming nights
These days more and more shows are being filmed for cinema screenings. Generally, these performances result in discounted prices for the audience in the theatre that evening, due to the possibility of a camera restricting your view at certain points. It also gives another perspective on a theatre production to watch it live as it is being filmed. I saw last year’s National Theatre Man & Superman on NT:Live filming night, enjoying a £50 seat for £29. Of course, these recordings also offer the opportunity for many more people to watch a performance from their local cinema for the price of a cinema ticket which is fantastic. Details of NT:Live here and the RSC’s Live from Stratford-Upon-Avon here.
7. Seat filling websites
Both The Audience Club and Play By Play UK are examples of companies which assist producers with filling seats, whether during early previews to get people talking or if a show is doing less well. The Audience Club membership starts with a £4 donation to Marie Curie and requires you to see 12 shows in the first year to qualify for the next level of membership (with access to larger shows). Play By Play costs £75 a year to join, which gives you access to their full range. Fees then payable on each ticket range from £2-£3. Crucially you must respect the discretion policy of both companies and if attending a show via either company, keep this to yourself within the venue and on social media both beforehand and afterwards. Both require you to email your interest in joining and you will then be contacted when room is available for new members. As a member of both schemes I definitely find them a wonderful additional resource for obtaining tickets and have made back the cost of my PBP fee in the last year.
8. Restricted view options
All theatres sell certain seats at cheaper rates due to their positioning causing a restricted view. The more you try, the more you get to know which are actually not that restricted at all. This often results in a bargain. Examples being slim pillars in your view, which often don’t block too much and are fine if you go as a pair and can lean more to one side if you know the person next to you or even swap with each other halfway! Check sites like Theatremonkey for opinions of views from seats as provided by regular theatregoers. Twitter is also great for seat tips, as well as the Theatre Forum (registration needed to access the forum).
9. Get In To London Theatre
Another wonderful scheme aimed at getting people to go to the theatre is the brilliant Get In To London Theatre scheme. I’ve been raving about this to friends over the last few weeks and there is still time to take advantage of the scheme for 2016. Get In To London Theatre offers cheaper seats to lots of London plays and musicals across January and early February. Tickets range from between £10-£40 and are particularly good value for the big musicals.
10. TKTS booth / in person at box office
The TKTS booth in Leicester Square is the official discount-selling booth, which offers some fantastic offers on discounted tickets for shows. This is especially useful if you are looking for tickets at the last minute. Another saving is to book at the box office in person if you can. This way you can avoid the booking fees added to online sales.
11. Mobile phone ticket apps
Mobile phone apps are starting to offer theatre ticket opportunities. The best for deals so far is TodayTix. This free mobile app (until last year only offering Broadway deals) now offers discounted London tickets for last minute theatre trips, or trips within that week to a variety of shows. Some productions are running their ticket lotteries through it, such as the Kenneth Branagh season at the Garrick, which offer £15 lottery seats via the app, which you can enter as many days as you like.
12. Recordings of Theatre Productions
Another recent development is the growth of filmed productions being made available online for purchase as rentals or purchases to keep forever. This is mainly thanks to the brilliant Digital Theatre, which currently offers some brilliant shows. These include the wonderful Private Lives starring Anna Chanellor and Toby Stephens, Much Ado About Nothing with David Tennant and Catherine Tate and The Crucible starring Richard Armitage. Prices are very reasonable (around £4 rental, £9 SD purchase and £11 HD purchase).
For older shows, there may be the possibility of watching a recording within a theatre archive. The best examples are the National Theatre’s own archive, housed at The Cut (next to the Old Vic) and the V&A Performance Archive (housed at Blythe House in Kensington Olympia). Both of these archives are free of charge but subject to making a request in advance (usually 2-3 weeks). On arrival, you put on headphones and watch the recording on a screen. You won’t be able to take food and drink in to the room and may only use pencils to make notes and of course filming on your phone or other device is not permitted.
1These recordings are a wonderful way to see productions from years ago or more recent ones you’ve missed. I have a very long list of productions I need to see in the archives! Why not search their online catalogues to see what may be of interest to you.
Some theatre companies are now releasing recordings on DVD, so you may even be able to purchase them to watch from the comfort of your home. Shakespeare’s Globe has been doing this for a while, but the RSC is now also releasing certain productions on DVD.
13. Sold out shows?
The other big question I am often asked is how do you get tickets for a “sold out” show. The fact is no show is ever really sold out. The simplest ways to obtain such tickets are either via Day Seats or Returns on the day.
Returns are something non-regular theatregoers tend not to know about. Tickets always say non-refundable right? Well, if you have a ticket bought from the theatre / show’s official website and can no longer attend, if that show is popular or sold out, you may be able to offer it for returns. Anyone at the theatre hoping for a ticket, will then but the ticket from the theatre, who will then credit your card.
Returns won’t be discounted, as you are offered whatever tickets have been returned to the box office. It’s never guaranteed, but I’ve never failed yet in a returns queue and that includes at small venues such as the Donmar. I’d recommend getting there around 3 hours before the show starts to join the queue, although for popular shows it may need to be much earlier than that. Some theatre simply take your name and say to come back at a certain time, at which any returns go to those waiting in order of the names on the list.
I’d add to this, if you have tickets you can no longer use, offer them back to the box office for returns. If a show is sold out then the theatre is usually willing to accept them, on the understanding that there is no guarantee of your money back. You lose nothing more by trying and it may mean someone else gets to fill the seat.
So if there’s something you really want to see, but think it’s too expensive or sold out, look in to some of these options and maybe you’ll be able to go after all!
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)
The 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)
Although 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)
Another 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 )
After 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)
This 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)
There 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)
I’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)
Another 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)
The 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)
After 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)
As 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)
This 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)
Although 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)
Terence 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)
I 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)
After 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.
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)
I 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
Martin 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?
This 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.
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.
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!
I can hardly believe it’s the end of the year already! Time to look back at another twelve months of theatregoing and reflect on what was brilliant, what was unexpected (whether in a good or bad way!) and what I wish I hadn’t bought a ticket for. Thankfully there aren’t too many in the latter category!
Starting with the numbers, I’ve seen 63 productions, of which I’ve seen seven more than once, giving a total of 76 theatre trips in 2015. Not too shabby, although still an amateur compared to others I know! Overall, it’s been a very strong year and the thrill of seeing a new play, visiting a new venue or seeing an actor I was unaware of grab my attention, remains just as addictive as in previous years.
Productions of the Year – My Top 10
Without further ado, here are my top ten productions of the year. Feel free to let me know if you agree or disagree!
- Oresteia (Almeida / Trafalgar Studios)
Perhaps a rather predictable number one this year is the Almeida’s new interpretation of Aeschylus’s 2,500 year old Greek tragedy. I missed it at the Almeida, but thankfully made it to the West End transfer. Simply put, this will remain one of the finest productions I’ve ever seen for a long time to come. Writer and director Robert Icke (now at the top of my must-see list) made such an ancient play current, while also delivering an exhilarating, powerful, intense and spellbinding production. The 3.5 hours flew by, as the whole audience seemed to hold its breath. Superbly acted, directed and designed, with set, lights and haunting sound combining to achieve something remarkable. It’s productions like this that remind me how incredible theatre can truly be.
2. Hello/Goodbye (Hampstead Theatre)
This may not make anyone else’s top ten of 2015 but I adored this production of Peter Souter’s play, having missed it in 2014. Maybe it was my mood in February, but it tapped in to my emotions and was a story that truly moved me by the end (yes, I cried). Miranda Raison and Shaun Evans had a wonderful chemistry as they brought the story of the evolution of two people’s love for one another (even when they can no longer see it) over a decade to life in such a believable way. I’d see it again tomorrow if I could. Read my full review here.
3. Love’s Labour’s Won (aka Much Ado) (RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre)
I still find it criminal that this beautiful RSC production didn’t transfer to London. Together with Love’s Labour’s Lost they made a wonderful bookend of stories around World War I, but this was my favourite of the two. The set was gorgeous, the costumes sublime and the cast excellent, led by a brilliant Beatrice (Michelle Terry) and Benedick (Edward Bennett). Ed has grown so much since stepping in to David Tennant’s Hamlet shoes in 2009 and is now a leading man in his own right. He was charming, funny and cocky and I loved every moment, making this my favourite Much Ado to date (sorry DT!). The DVD is available if you missed it and you can read my full review here.
4. City of Angels (Donmar Warehouse)
I have a friend to thank for my ticket to this musical revival and how very grateful I am for her queuing skills! The songs were all fantastic and delivered with strength, confidence and power (where on earth is the cast album?!) and the design concept visually wonderful. I especially loved the use of black and white, against colour for the two worlds depicted and the strength of the cast was superb. Everyone made the whole production better, whether Hadley Fraser’s author, Tam Matu’s private eye or Katherine Kelly’s sexy black widow to name but a few. A truly impressive show and my favourite musical of the year.
5. Hangmen (Royal Court / Wyndham’s Theatre)
Another production I managed to see on its transfer was Hangmen. I thought it was terrific. Martin McDonagh’s script is of the highest quality, filled with brilliant one-liners and exchanges and a twisting, turning story, during which you never quite know where it is leading. The cast are all superb, especially David Morrissey, but the standout is Johnny Flynn as the mysterious southern stranger, whose motives are unclear, but who makes you feel distinctly uneasy. Combined with a fantastic set (not to mention that first set change) and this should certainly be one your 2016 list if you haven’t seen it already. Read my full review here.
6. Tree (Old Vic Theatre)
My top ten of 2014 included my first experience of a production by Daniel Kitson and this year sees him back on my list with Tree. It was such a simple concept. Two men spend the duration of the play talking about their lives and what has brought them to be there (one waiting for a date, the other living high up in the branches!). Performed by Kitson and Tim Key it was funny, sad, inappropriate at times, but incredibly moving by the end and certainly made me think for a long time afterwards. Read my full review here.
7. The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios)
Seeing the return of James McAvoy to this venue, again directed by Jamie Lloyd, I had no idea what to expect from this play (last seen in London in 1968). My lasting memory of it will be how utterly bonkers it was, but oh what a joy to watch! A superb, satirical look at the upper classes of privileged families I was captivated for the entire performance. Then of course there was James McAvoy himself, whose performance was one of the best I’ve seen all year. He had so much to do – crazed, vulnerable, angry, affectionate, flirty and disturbing, as well as taking on so much physicality. A production and performance I will never forget. Read my full review here.
8. Farinelli & The King (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse / Duke of York’s Theatre)
I saw this new play by Claire van Kampen in both venues this year and I loved it each time. Part play, part music concert, it was one of the most enchanting and captivating productions I saw this year. Based on the true story that a famous singer who helped the depressed King of Spain in the 18th century, we were treated to the stunning voice of Iestyn Davies as Farinelli and the legend that is Mark Rylance. His King Philippe is one of a quiet disposition, but who is capable of moments of violent anger and intense sadness. He is also incredibly funny and I’d forgotten how funny this play was until I saw it again. Proving yet again that Mark Rylance on stage is something never to be missed, this was a gem of the theatre year. Read my full review here.
9. Rules For Living (National Theatre, Doorman)
My first trip to the refurbished Cottesloe Theatre was to see this new play by Sam Holcroft and what a joy it was. I admit that it came at a time in the year when I really needed something to make me laugh and this ridiculous glimpse in to one family’s dysfunctional Christmas did the trick. I hadn’t laughed that much for quite a while. Seeing how our own internal rules govern our behaviour and responses to others, highlighted so cleverly through the gameshow style scoreboard was a wonderful concept and gave the audience the pleasure of knowing more than some of the characters. Plus the final food fight was brilliant! It’s just a shame this isn’t back at the National for Christmas! Read my full review here.
10. Husbands & Sons (National Theatre, Dorfman)
Picking a final choice was quite difficult, but this tremendous new adaptation of three D.H Lawrence’s plays really did impress me (runner-up mention has to go to the RSC’s Henry V which I also very much enjoyed). Ben Powers’s play weaves the themes of all three plays together so perfectly, as we see the ongoing cycle, as women go from being the frustrated new wife unable to live up to the mother, to the mother being too protective and then jealous of the girl whom her son falls for, a role she perhaps once had herself years before. I loved seeing all three stories unfolding on stage at the same time and each was so well acted, containing some wonderful performances including Louise Brealey and Anne-Marie Duff. The staging and set were effective, suggesting each story occurring behind closed doors in one village and the use of the lightning rig to evoke a sense of the mine was a great touch. Crucially it’s a production I’ve continued to think about long after seeing it and one I would love to see again. Read my full review here.
Disappointments of the Year
There are bound to be some shows that sit at the bottom of the pile each year, but thankfully there haven’t been too many I’ve really disliked in 2015 and even those had aspects that I can appreciate even if they didn’t appeal to me. Having said that, my theatre year would have been fine had I not seen any of the below productions!
- How to Hold Your Breath (Royal Court Theatre) – Nothing else could beat this Royal Court show to take the title of worst of 2015 for me. Ten minutes in, I knew this wasn’t for me and it didn’t improve. I can appreciate some of the ideas and Maxine Peake was (as usual) very good, but it remains 90 minutes I’ll never get back. Read my full review here.
- Matchbox Theatre (Hampstead Theatre) – The concept of combining lots of little vignettes in to one production could have been entertaining, but too many of these pieces were just boring or not that funny. I did like the one about stage management as nocturnal animals and the member of the orchestra with barely any part, but overall this felt incredibly pointless.
- Carmen Disruption (Almeida Theatre) – This is another production for which I enjoyed some elements, but as a whole it just didn’t work for me. There were some strong performances (particularly Jack Farthing’s Carmen and Noma Dumezweni’s moving portrayal of a mother estranged from her children), but I found myself wishing I was instead just seeing Carmen. Read my full review here.
Productions I Was Sorry To Miss
Despite my best efforts, I never see everything on my list each year and 2015 has been no exception. These are the ones I’m most sorry I didn’t see this year.
- Young Chekhov (Chichester Festival Theatre) – I heard such wonderful things about this triptych of plays, with its wonderful cast. I hope the rumours of a London transfer prove to be true!
- The Wars of the Roses (The Rose Theatre, Kingston) – Another triple bill I missed was Trevor Nunn’s restaged histories, which included one of my favourite actors Alex Waldmann.
- People, Places & Things (National Theatre) – I had a ticket and couldn’t go to this highly praised production. However all is not lost, as it transfers next year to the West End and thankfully leading actress Denise Gough does too!
Performances of the Year
2015 has been an impressive year for individual performances, across musicals and plays and it almost seems unfair to only highlight a few. Below are my top leading and supporting performances of the year.
- Imelda Staunton (Gypsy) – a truly incredible performance as Mama Rose Lee, Imelda brought everything to this role and the way she hit those huge notes was astonishing! Watch it on BBC4 on 27th December if you can.
- James McAvoy (The Ruling Class) – as I have already said, his performance was in another league to most others this year. Captivating throughout.
- Ralph Fiennes (Man & Superman) – I’ve never seen anyone speak as fast and fluid as Fiennes here. The time of this play flew by despite the long running time and his performance was magnetic and incredibly memorable.
- Lia Williams (Oresteia) – Lia’s performance as Clytemnestra was astonishing. Both a woman of strength and vulnerability, seeing her finally take the revenge she had stored for so many years against her husband was so intense and her scream of relief and anger was spellbinding.
- Tobias Menzies (The Fever) – This one man monologue play in the Mayfair Hotel was an intense story and one I still don’t fully understand, but Tobias Menzies was superb and it was a privilege to watch him.
- Susannah Fielding (The Merchant of Venice) – Rapidly becoming one of my favourite actresses, she was superb as Portio in this RSC/Rupert Goold production.
- Johnny Flynn (Hangmen) – The standout of this play, Johnny’s performance is unnerving and darkly entertaining throughout.
- Mark Gatiss (Three Days in the Country) – This performance was full of humour and fun and the scene in which he attempts to propose while also doing his back in was utterly brilliant.
- Judi Dench (The Winter’s Tale) – I love Judi and she is excellent in this Shakespearean tale, bringing a gravitas to the production and effortlessly speaking the Bard’s words.
Memorable Moments of the Year
Each year also brings individual moments, which remind me why I love going to the theatre. It’s these that make live theatre unique – no one else will experience that moment in quite the same way. Here are my top theatrical moments from 2015:
- The daring nature of The Vote at the Donmar – a very British comedy, which was wonderful to see live and then watch again as it transmitted in real-time on television on Election Night.
- Ophelia’s final exit in the Barbican Hamlet – this was the most emotional moment of the Cumberbatch Hamlet for me. Sian Brooke’s Ophelia felt very real; truly broken by grief and seeing her break down at the piano and then turn and walk off up the slope in to the light, as if towards heaven, as Jon Hopkins’s score played, was incredibly powerful and visually and emotionally beautiful.
- The split-level ship set rising up during Treasure Island – I was a little disappointed by this National Theatre show, but the ship set rising up from the drum revolve was a wonderful sight.
- The final moments of The Red Lion – I thought this Patrick Marber play was very good, but it was the power of the final few minutes that I will remember. So poignant and powerful.
- Experiencing The Fever in a Mayfair hotel suite with Andrew Scott sitting at my feet – okay, so this is more a memorable audience moment for me, but seeing such an intense play, with the added experience of having Andrew Scott sitting at my feet is something I won’t forget in a hurry!
- A stage full of inflatable sex dolls – Shakespeare and sex dolls were a combination I never imagined I’d see, but it actually worked in this Young Vic production of Measure For Measure! Unexpected and surreal.
So, that’s my round-up of my theatre year and hopefully 2016 will bring even more special productions, performances and memories. My recommendations for 2016 will follow in the next few days! Thanks for reading!