Having just reflected on my top 10 shows of the year, as I do every year, I couldn’t start a new decade without looking back on my favourite shows, performances and moments in theatre over the last ten years.
Although I’d been a theatregoer prior to 2010 and had started to go to more shows the year before, it was the start of 2010 when I think I can officially say that I became a regular theatregoer, seeing more shows that year than I ever had in other years. From then on, it truly became a passion and the more I immersed myself in theatre, the more I realised just how much there was to see!
So, starting with the numbers, for those curious about such details, over the decade I visited theatres 732 times, seeing 596 shows (and seeing 67 of those shows more than once). My total includes 75 musicals and 2 walk outs at the interval (and a few I wish had had an interval so I could escape!). The show I saw the most times was the RSC’s Richard II, with David Tennant in the title role (although I’ll keep the number I times I saw it to myself)!
It’s been an incredible decade for theatre and looking back on it for my blog has been a fantastic experience, bringing back memories I’d not thought about in some time.
So, let’s start with my favourite shows of the decade. I considered picking one from each year, but that felt wrong, as some years offered better shows than others and a top 10 should be a top 10!
Top 10 Shows of the Decade!
1. After The Dance (National Theatre, 2010)
Despite the years of theatre that followed it, I’ve known for some time that the top of this list would almost certainly be the National Theatre’s 2010 production of Terence Rattigan’s After The Dance. Where do I even start with this production? There’s so much to say (so I’ll direct you to my previous writings on it), but ultimately it takes first place because it was one of the first productions I saw that truly affected me.
I will never forget crying as Nancy Carroll struggled on stage to hold back her pain from the husband she was too afraid to tell she loved, after years of their marriage carrying on as if a playful game. Carroll was the reason I’d booked to see the show and yet it also introduced me to actors who have since become firm favourites – John Heffernan, Adrian Scarborough and Benedict Cumberbatch (who was on the cusp of fame, with Sherlock airing during the run of the show).
It was beautifully acted, Thea Sharrock’s directorial choices truly drew out the heart of each scene and the set (an expensive London living room in the pre-war 1930s) was one I wanted to move in to. Having adored it, there was no other option but to queue for day seats for the final performance, seeing me outside the theatre at 6 a.m. and being rewarded with the last pair of front row stalls tickets. A combination of a superb, unforgettable show and some special personal memories mean this will likely be at the top of my lists for years to come.
2. Hamlet (Almeida Theatre / Harold Pinter Theatre, 2017)
The end of the last decade was crucial in showing me that Shakespeare could be far more enjoyable than I’d ever found it while at school and that was all down to my first Hamlet at the RSC with David Tennant. As I saw more Hamlets, none could match it for the quality of production and overall ensemble (having just a great Hamlet isn’t enough for me).
That was until I saw Robert Icke’s production at the Almeida in 2017 (which later thankfully transferred to the West End for further visits). Why was it so special? It took a play I am very familiar with and played with certain scenes in new, exciting, refreshing ways, resulting in me seeing certain actions and characters in a different light. I’ve written plenty on this before, but it’s simple changes to the final duel, which paint Laertes in a totally differently light is just one example. As with the 2008/2009 RSC production, the ensemble was also strong. Yes, it had a big name lead in Andrew Scott, but he didn’t carry the show. It wasn’t all about him and that strengthened the piece as a whole. Add in the fact its final moments remain some of my favourite minutes I’ve ever experienced in a theatre and this show had to be in second place.
3. Groundhog Day (Old Vic, 2017)
I’m fussy when it comes to musicals. Some are perfectly enjoyable, but don’t stay in my mind and for me, I need the songs to be memorable and serve a purpose for the story. As I’ve already said above, I’ve seen a fair few in the last decade, but the one that I think on the most fondly and which I’d still be booking to see monthly were it still here in London, is Groundhog Day.
I admit, I thought I’d hate it, having not been a fan of the film, but having loved Matilda and with Tim Minchin attached, it was enough to draw me to the Old Vic. As my reviews at the time explained in much more detail (you can read here and here), this was an unexpected gem for me. It was a musical that made me happy. It was funny, moving and ultimately hopeful. The music and lyrics from Minchin were both clever and perfect for the show and Andy Karl’s leading performance was a highlight too. The fact it was here for so short a time, before heading to NYC where it wasn’t really appreciated, will always frustrate me. Maybe it’ll be back one day. I hope so.
4. The Inheritance (Noel Coward Theatre, 2018 / 2019)
Few theatre experiences have affected me as profoundly as The Inheritance. Over the course of its two parts and 7+ hours, I was completely absorbed in the characters in front of me, similar to when I’m pulled in to a good book. The use of Howard’s End and indeed its author, to help tell a multi-generational story, weaving the past and the present together, while also asking some important questions about community, resulted in this being a play that I found hard to forget. I’ve never cried as much in a theatre as I did during this story and the performances by its cast were superb. Having recently seen the Broadway transfer in NYC, I still prefer the London ensemble, but the emotional power of this play remained as strong as it was the first time. An unforgettable theatre experience.
5. Hello / Goodbye (Hampstead Theatre, 2015)
This is perhaps going to be a surprise for some people. It wasn’t a big West End show, or one that drew lots of attention, but it struck a chord with me and has stayed with me over the last five years. Its story of a couple, moving through their relationship from the first meeting, through their romance, to more difficult painful times, felt very real and Shaun Evans and Miranda Raison ensured that you felt connected to their characters. I cared about them and wanted them to come out the other side together and on each of the three times that I saw it, its story brought a tear (or two) to my eye. You can read my original review here.
6. King Charles III (Almeida Theatre, 2014)
A second show on the list for the Almeida (which has seen some truly superb productions on its stage this decade, especially since Rupert Goold took over) and one by a favourite contemporary playwright of mine, Mike Bartlett. This was another show that I first went to see having no idea quite what to expect. Could a play looking in to a possible future reign of Prince Charles really work?
The answer for me was yes and Bartlett’s decision to write the play in the style of a Shakespeare History play was inspired. The future set in the style of the past, added to the authenticity of the play as a whole. It also posed some interesting questions about the role of the monarch and the dynamic between them and the government. Yes, a certain ghost did make me cringe, but a Shakespeare-style play needs one and other than that it didn’t feel like a soap opera and some of the scenes were incredibly compelling, thanks to strong performances led by the late Tim Pigott-Smith, Oliver Chris, and Lydia Wilson. I wasn’t as big a fan of the BBC adaptation, but at least it means this show has been preserved in a form that I can have on my shelf at home! You can read my original review of the show here and of the BBC adaptation here.
7. Richard II (RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre; Barbican Theatre & BAM, NYC, 2013 & 2016)
I’ve seen a fair few Shakespeare productions by the Royal Shakespeare Company over the last ten years, but my favourite is Richard II, which I first saw in 2013 and then again (with a couple of cast changes) when it returned as part of the King & Country cycle in 2016. Yes, I am a huge David Tennant fan, especially his stage work and will always be enthusiastic about such productions, but interestingly, I didn’t love Richard II immediately. It took a bit of time for the ensemble (and indeed Tennant himself) to find its feet and really start to impress. Yet, by the end of each run, impress me it did.
Bringing RSC veterans such as Oliver Ford Davies and Jane Lapotaire together with young upcoming talents, was thrilling to watch, with the performances of first Oli Rix in 2013 and then Sam Marks in 2016 in the role of Aumerle truly standing out. Their characters’ relationship with Richard, strengthened by their chemistry with Tennant, resulted in another theatre highlight of this decade – the simply beautiful Flint Castle scene. I’ll never forget it and thankfully, with the release of the DVD, I at least can experience one version of this any time I want. You can read my original reviews here and here and also my review of the superb understudy performance in which Oli Rix played Richard II here.
8. A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic, 2014 & St. Ann’s Warehouse, NYC, 2016)
Another highlight of the decade has to be the Young Vic’s production of Tennessee William’s play, which I was lucky enough to see again two years later in Brooklyn. It’ll come as no surprise to anyone who knows me, or has read this blog in the past, that the big draw of this for me was Gillian Anderson, an actress I admired throughout my teens and beyond due to The X-Files.
Thankfully she regularly appears on the stage here, but it is her role as Blanche DuBois in Benedict Andrew’s production that raised her to the next level for me. It was a towering performance. Yet, Anderson wasn’t the only strength here, as the cast also included another longstanding stage favourite of mine, Vanessa Kirby, whose star continues to rise following her portrayal of Princess Margaret in The Crown and Ben Foster as Stanley Kowalski. You can read my original review here.
9. Once (Phoenix Theatre, 2014)
Once is another musical that I loved from the minute I first saw it. It almost doesn’t feel like a musical, but a love story that happens to have songs thrown in. Based on the film of the same name, I actually think the show is better (which doesn’t happen often), adding depth to the characters, the story and the world in which it is set and the pairing of Zrinka Cvitesic and Arthur Darvill truly brought it to life in a beautiful way. I’m still sad this show is no longer in the West End. You can read my original review here.
10. Much Ado About Nothing (Wyndham’s Theatre, 2011)
The last entry on my list is another Shakespeare starring Mr Tennant and that’s Much Ado About Nothing. Yes, I know many didn’t enjoy this, finding the setting a bit naff, but honestly, I loved it every single time. Bringing Tennant together with Catherine Tate, with whom he already had such a strong acting chemistry resulted in a great deal of fun for both the actors and the audience. They bounced off each other wonderfully in the roles of Beatrice and Benedict, bringing a smile to my face, while the soundtrack left me humming long after I’d left the theatre (and always makes me smile when it pops up on my playlist shuffle). Throw in some other entertaining performances, particularly from Adam James (still my favourite Don Pedro) and this show helped my through some personal ups and downs in 2011 and I will always remember it very fondly.
My Favourite Actors of the Decade!
There have been so many wonderful performances over the last ten years, from actors I’ve long admired, to newcomers who, over the decade, have gone on to wider recognition. It’s always fun to be able to say you were aware of them before they were famous! Which actors were favourites this decade? There are certainly a few that I’ll book to see in anything.
Top of that list is Andrew Scott. He may now be famous as the Hot Priest, but it’s also been a busy decade of stage roles for Andrew Scott and I’m fortunate to have been able to see all eight of them! The variety of production and role perfectly highlight his versatility and I’ve enjoyed every one I’ve seen so far. I can’t wait to see what he’ll choose next.
Another “must-book to see” actor ever since 2010’s After The Dance is John Heffernan who has tackled everything from monarchs, to physicists and I’ll watch him in anything. David Tennant will always hold a special place in my heart, as the actor who helped me to see how wonderful and accessible Shakespeare can be and seeing him on stage will always be an event for me. Jamie Parker is another favourite actor of mine, who seems able to take on anything – musicals; plays; Shakespeare, as well as making me a Harry Potter fan! Benedict Cumberbatch is now a worldwide star, but he’s been on this list ever since After The Dance blew me away a decade ago. He was superb in both roles in Frankenstein and was the main strength of his Hamlet. Hopefully screen roles won’t keep him off the stage for too long.
It’s not just the men on the must-book list of course. I’ll be in the theatre for anything Imelda Staunton appears in, after 3 incredible musical theatre performances and one play this decade and thankfully she’s back in 2020 (see my post of tips for 2020). As I’ve already mentioned, I adore Gillian Anderson and she’s a superb stage actress and I feel lucky that she still continues to regularly return to the theatre. Following After The Dance (now you see why it’s at no.1!), Nancy Carroll is another name I look for when booking shows. She’s wonderful in absolutely everything. Vanessa Kirby is a great example of an actress I’ve admired for years, who is now getting the wider recognition she deserves and I look forward to her next stage appearance.
Stand Out Performances of the Decade
The decade has also seen me have a chance to witness some truly remarkable performances / roles, which have stood out from the rest. These are just some of the highlights.
- Ben Platt – I’ve only seen him on stage in one role so far, but it’s easily one of the highlights of the decade for me. That role was Evan in Dear Evan Hansen in 2017 and he was so astonishing I booked to go back on a later trip to NYC.
- Andy Karl – The fact that I so loved 2016’s Groundhog Day is in large part due to Andy Karl’s performance as irritating weatherman Phil Connors, who you can’t help but love by the end. I can’t imagine anyone else in the role.
- Tracie Bennett as Judy Garland in End of the Rainbow in 2011 was simply astonishing. The voice, the emotion, the physicality. She became her character so completely.
- Lia Williams’s compelling performance in 2015’s Oresteia was a night in the theatre that stayed with me for a long time afterwards. She’s taking it to NYC in 2020 too, so go if you can!
- Bertie Carvel – another superb actor, but as the original Miss Trunchball in the RSC’s Matilda in 2010/2011, he set the tone for that role.
- Anthony Boyle was another example of an actor creating a blueprint for a role. His superb performance as the original Scorpius Malfoy in Harry Potter & The Cursed Child was the first subject my friends and I talked about after leaving the theatre.
- Cynthia Erivo thankfully transferred to NYC with The Color Purple, which meant I had a second chance to catch it and she was even better than I’d imagined.
- David Dawson’s performance in The Dazzle is another performance that I’ve not been able to forget. Both he and Andrew Scott were superb, but for me, Dawson was the emotional heart of the show.
Memorable Moments of the Decade!
Before I start looking towards 2020’s theatre offerings, I also wanted to mention just a few of my memorable theatre moments of decade. Most happened on stage, but a few are personal to me.
- A superb food fight that I wanted to join, during Rules for Living at the National Theatre.
- John Simm superbly using Hamlet’s speech about the stupidity of theatre audiences to show his displeasure about the man on the front row of The Crucible in Sheffield whose phone rang three times!
- Some impressive sets including My Fair Lady in NYC, Design For Living, Treasure Island and the details of Punchdrunk’s The Drowned Man and Sleep No More.
- Sitting in a hotel suite bedroom watching Tobias Menzies’s impressive performance in The Fever, while Andrew Scott was sitting on a cushion at my feet!
- Adam James’ unscripted antics during Much Ado About Nothing one night, causing him to chuckle so much, that he spat out his champagne all over David Tennant, as Adam stood behind him. Only those who’d been before truly appreciated how funny this was!
- The sheer surreal experience that was the RSC/Wooster Group’s Troilus & Cressida. I still can’t quite believe I witnessed such a nightmare!
- The day I spent 8 hours (there were breaks) as the entire text of The Great Gatsby was performed so magnificently during GATZ.
- The Flint Castle scene from the RSC’s Richard II. It was truly magical every time.
- Being reminded of the importance of cherishing the past thanks to Daniel Kitson’s Analog.Ue at the National Theatre.
- The end scene of Part 1 of The Inheritance. I’ve never been quite so emotional in a theatre.
- Having the chance to see so many admired actors perform, especially British greats such as Ian McKellen, Judi Dench and Maggie Smith and others from TV shows I’ve adored, such as Allison Janney; Richard Schiff; Elisabeth Moss; Josh Charles and Ben Whishaw.
I could go on, but I better not (is anyone still reading?!), so I’ll wrap up by saying that it’s been a wonderful decade for theatre and I look forward to many more memories from the next one!