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!

 

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Theatre Review – Yerma (Young Vic) starring Billie Piper

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Simon Stone’s modern adaptation of Yerma, Frederico Garcia Lorca’s 1934 play, is one of those nights at the theatre I’ll never forget. Productions such as this latest offering from the Young Vic (a venue that continues to excite with its programming), are exactly why I love the live theatre experience. Simply put, you don’t just watch this production, you feel its intensity and it stays with you long after you’ve left.

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Brendan Cowell & Billie Piper. Photo: Johan Persson

The story revolves around its central character, played by Billie Piper, in what is undoubtedly her finest stage performance to date. Set in today’s London (complete with references to Sadiq Khan, Brexit and Boris), her life is falling in to place perfectly. Together with her boyfriend John, she has just bought a house and they both have successful careers, and so she turns to the next, logical path in their life together – having a child. It’s apparently not something he thought she wanted, but at 33, in a world where women are constantly reminded about their ticking biological clocks, she is starting to think differently about the future. Over the course of the play, we witness how what begins as a seemingly casual idea becomes the all-consuming focus of her life and how that affects not just her, but everyone around her.

It’s a timeless story, which will no doubt resonate with its audience and in this 21st century interpretation, Piper could so easily be any young, professional, modern woman in her early 30s, which is highlighted by her lack of a name (the programme simply referring to the role of “Her”). With so much opportunity and choice on offer to us today, it’s incredibly harrowing to watch as something out of her (and indeed all of our) control, can so devastate someone’s world.

With no interval, time passes quickly, sometimes by hours, sometimes by years, signposted by the two small screens above the stage, on to which chapters, complete with short descriptions, appear. Initially, this style felt a little jarring, but you soon adjust to its rhythm and as time moves forward and each scene faded to black, I found I was bracing myself for what I might see next before me. As is the case when watching some of the Greek classics, you sense tragedy is inevitable.

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Billie Piper is utterly incredible. Photo: Johan Persson

I admit that I hadn’t heard of the play before and having now seen it, I understand why it is described as one of the greatest female roles in drama. Indeed, I’m surprised it hasn’t been performed more and following in the footsteps of recent strong female roles including Medea at the National Theatre and Electra at the Old Vic, it’s a role that results in an astonishing performance from Ms. Piper, which together with recent stage successes in The Effect and Great Britain, mark her out as a truly talented actress. Her character is so very human and painfully believable that you could forget this isn’t real life unfolding before you, as she experiences the gauntlet of human emotion from love and happiness, to anxiety, fear, despair, jealousy, anger and indeed deep sadness and grief. It’s an emotional rollercoaster that doesn’t pause to catch its breath.

Lizzie Clachan’s set also adds to this intensity, as the audience sits on either side of a long, rectangular, perspex box. We observe the lives of the characters, seemingly trapped within its confines. It’s as if they are under the microscope and as Piper begins to unravel, the closed off nature of the stage setting enhances our sense of her isolation.

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John MacMillan as Victor. Photo: Johan Persson.

Although, Piper is the focus of Yerma, she is not the only one giving a strong performance in this production. Maureen Beattie is very good as her emotionally distant mother, who although she clearly loves her two daughters, is not very good at demonstrating it openly. John MacMillan brings a gentleness to her former boyfriend Victor, whose reappearance in her life a decade later brings with him the painful reminder of the child she chose not to keep when she didn’t think it was the right time.

However it’s Brendan Cowell’s moving portrayal of her partner John that stands out. He may seem rather unsupportive early on, focusing on his job more than his relationship, but as the play progresses you find yourself growing more and more sorry for him, as he watches the person he loves changing while he can do nothing to stop it. His chemistry with Piper is intense throughout, whether in the lighter, passionate early days, or in the darker, painful years that follow and their raw emotion is incredible, if not difficult to watch.

Simon Stone has done a fantastic job of updating the source material from its rural, farmland setting in Spain, to 2016’s London, in which although women’s place in society is very different, the struggles many face to conceive remain unchanged. He has made some changes to the underlying story. One in particular is very interesting and, although I won’t spoil it for those familiar with the play  was, in my view, a logical change that made perfect sense given Piper’s character’s emotional state. I also loved that some of the dialogue felt as though it was improvised by the actors in the moment, which again added to the realism of the piece.

In short, Yerma is a superb production and will without a doubt be one of my theatre highlights of the year. It is immensely powerful and manages to capture moments of wit, humour and love, as well as anger, sadness and despair and within which Billie Piper commands the stage in a performance worthy of all the accolades it will surely receive. It may be a difficult subject, which is sometimes painful and indeed heartbreaking to watch, but theatre of this standard should not be missed. Book your tickets now while you still can.

Yerma continues its run at the Young Vic until 24th September 2016. Running time is approximately 1 hour 50 minutes with no interval. Prices range from £10 – £35. For more information and availability visit the website here.

How to Find Cheap London Theatre Tickets in 2016

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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

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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

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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

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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.

5. Previews

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 

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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

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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

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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

Digital Theatre

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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).

Archives

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.

DVDs

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?

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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.

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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!

Theatre Tips – How to Find Cheap Theatre Tickets and Access “Sold Out” Shows

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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 (the latest attention focussed on the forthcoming musical of Elf, with its exorbitant prices), not all theatre in London is extortionate, especially if you know where to look.

I therefore thought it may be useful to share some tips, some obvious, some less so, as to how to secure tickets at a cheaper price. 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. However, if you can take the time and are keen enough to see something, then hopefully some of these suggestions will prove helpful.

1. Theatre specific schemes

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Many theatre have ticket schemes, which offer a cheaper level of seats for certain productions. 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 are:

  • National Theatre Travelex scheme – the scheme is a fantastic aspect of the National Theatre, offering £15 tickets for certain productions throughout the year. What I love about this scheme is that the seats are fantastic, with the first four rows of the Olivier and Lyttelton available as an example. 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.
  • Royal Court £10 Mondays – all tickets for Mondays of every show go on sale on the day for £10, half online and half in person at the box office. Again, you need to be quick, so set yourself a reminder.
  • Southwark Playhouse Pay As You Go Scheme – For £50 paid in advance, you can buy a subscription to the Southwark Playhouse, giving you five tickets. There is no expiry, so you can use the five 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. Each Monday tickets go on sale for the following week’s performances at 10 a.m., offering the front row for only £10.
  • The Trafalgar Transformed seasons from Jamie Lloyd release all Mondays for each month on the 2nd day of each month for £10. If he returns for a third season, it’s almost certain this scheme will return as well.
  • 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 price.
  • 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. A brilliant 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

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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 front row even, 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 starting. A current example of a popular day seat queue is the Barbican Hamlet with Benedict Cumberbatch (30 tickets at £10 each day). A great resource is the Theatremonkey website, which tries to give as much up to date day seat information as possible.

3. Age discounts

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Many theatres have reduced price tickets for certain age groups, which are great value while you qualify for them. Examples are:

  • Old Vic – under 25s can enjoy £12 tickets for all performances.
  • 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.
  • Young Barbican – discounted tickets available for 16-25 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.

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 to locals. Enquire at your local theatre for information and availability.

5. Previews

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

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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 points. It also gives another perspective on a theatre production to watch it live as it is being filmed. I saw the recent 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. Details of NT:Live here and the RSC’s Live from Stratford-Upon-Avon here.

7. Seat filling websites

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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.

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, which in some cases 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! Check sites like Theatremonkey for opinions of views from seats. Twitter is also great for seat tips, as well as the Theatre Forum (registration needed to access the forum).

9. TKTS booth / in person at box office

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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.

10. Digital Theatre

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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).

Sold out shows?

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The other big question I am often asked is how do you get tickets for a “sold out” show. The simplest ways are  either via Day Seats or Returns on the day.

Returns won’t be discounted, as you are offered whatever tickets have been returned to the box office, but if someone can’t attend a show or some of their party can’t, then hopefully they will return their tickets on arrival at the theatre. Anyone waiting in the returns queue will then be offered those tickets at face value. 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.

I’d add to this, if you have tickets you can no longer use, offer them back to the box office for returns. Yes, your tickets are non-refundable, but 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. Chances are a sold out show will have a day seat queue hoping for such tickets to be put up for resale. 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!

Theatre review – Bull by Mike Bartlett at the Young Vic

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As my theatre going has increased over the last few years, one of the playwrights whose work has stood out has been Mike Bartlett, ever since Earthquakes In London in 2010 (more recently known through the success of his brilliant play King Charles III). I was therefore not going to miss the premiere of his new play, Bull, in Sheffield in February 2013, especially as one of my favourite actors was in the cast! Bull became a highlight of my theatre year and following a run in New York in 2014, I had to see it again during its first London run at the Young Vic (a theatre on a roll at the moment).

Little has changed since Sheffield and Bull remains a fantastic piece of theatre, which truly gets under your skin. Tony, Isabelle and Thomas are in a fight to keep their jobs in a time of cutbacks – one must go, the question is which one? Over the 50-55 minutes, we witness the cruel tormenting of Thomas by the other two and what’s most effective and also affecting about Bartlett’s writing here for me is how the discomfort builds for the audience. It all seems to be silly banter at first, but grows more and more uncomfortable, forcing you to think about where the line is between banter and bullying.

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Neil Stuke & the cast of Bull. Image by Carol Rosegg

The staging is perfectly designed for the play, as we see events unfold within a boxing ring-shaped office, enhancing the animalistic fight taking place, as the stronger turn on the weaker to survive. It was also wonderful to see the Young Vic’s Maria full, including the standing audience around the ringside itself, which certainly added to the atmosphere. Having seen it before, it was interesting for me to observe other audience members and watch as their reactions / responses to the play altered as it unfolded, resulting in a much quieter room by the end, as you feel almost duplicitous with Tony and Isabelle simply by being there.

The cast remains fantastic. Adam James (on my must see actor list since Blood and Gifts in 2010) plays Tony so well – charming yet devious, playful yet cruel, as he has his fun at the expense of Thomas. The sad truth is you know people like him really do exist! Eleanor Matsuura has the tough task of playing a truly horrid character as Isabelle’s tormenting of Thomas intensifies. For me, it seemed all the more dreadful because she was a woman acting this way and their two-hander scene is a true highlight of the play.

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Eleanor Matsuura, Adam James & Sam Troughton

Sam Troughton, also reprising his role, is wonderful as Thomas and carries much of the emotional pull of the hour and by the end you really do feel sadness for him, as you imagine yourself in the same position. Neil Stuke’s role as their boss (replacing Adrian Lukis from the original cast) may be brief, but it still carries weight and is very believable. I imagine there are many bosses throughout the country (and the City in particular) who would share his attitude.

Bull is not an easy play to watch, but it remains a short but incredibly powerful piece of theatre. If you have an hour to spare and can get a ticket to see this at the Young Vic, then don’t hesitate.

Bull continues its run at the Young Vic’s Maria theatre until 14th February 2015. More information can be found here or by calling the box office for ticket availability on 020 7922 2922.

Looking Ahead to Theatre in 2015

With a new year almost here, it’s that time of year for theatregoers to start looking forward to all the exciting and intriguing prospects announced, as well as planning strategies to nab tickets for those sold out or hot tickets! After four months out of the theatre loop, I’ve needed to do my research this year more than ever to make sure I know what’s coming in 2015. This year has been very strong and it looks like 2015 is shaping up to be just as thrilling, in London and the regions.

So, here are the productions I’m most looking forward to in 2015.

15 to see in 2015

1. Hamlet (Barbican, 5th August – 31st October)

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There couldn’t really be anything else at number one for me than the upcoming Hamlet at the Barbican starring Benedict Cumberbatch. As one of my favourite stage actors, ever since I saw After The Dance in 2010, it seemed only a matter of time before such a brilliant actor would want to take on Shakespeare’s most challenging role and I admit my expectations are already rather high! He’s now had a good amount of time to contemplate his Hamlet and I’m intrigued to see the choices he and Lyndsey Turner make as to setting and staging. With the run of 89 performances selling out as soon as public booking opened, this is certain to be the theatre event of the summer. I just hope that, as David Tennnat did with me in 2008, Benedict brings a whole new audience to Shakesepeare, who then become addicted to it! If you didn’t succeed in acquiring tickets earlier this year, then 100 £10 seats will be released for each performance nearer the time. Now to find out who else will be in this production. I’ve chosen my fantasy cast here and I really hope at least one of them could happen. Time will tell.

2. Oppenheimer (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 15th January – 7th March)

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Another actor who I would watch in absolutely anything and who I also first saw on stage in After The Dance is the brilliant John Heffernan, whose stage work just seems to get more and more exciting (with recent success in The Hot House and Edward II to name just two). This play centres around the development of atomic fission in 1939, as J Robert Oppenheimer (Heffernan) races to win the battle to create the first nuclear bomb as World War II continues across Europe. It may sound a bit heavy for some people, but with such a talented lead actor, I’m certain this will be a highlight of 2015.

3. Closer (Donmar Warehouse, 12th February – 4th April)

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Although I’ve still never watched the 2004 film version of Patrick Marber’s play Closer, whose star-studded cast of Natalie Portman, Clive Owen, Julia Roberts and Jude Law had lots of people talking before its release, it was still the film I was aware of raher than the 1997 play and so I’m thrilled it is being revived by the Donmar. For theatre fans the cast for the upcoming production is even more thrilling: Nancy Carroll (yet another After The Dance cast member!), Oliver Chris (fresh from his success in King Charles III) and Rufus Sewell (most recently seen in Old Times) are joined by recent RADA graduate Rachel Redford. Due to the Donmar’s size, the only ticket availability is now through the Barclays Front Row Scheme or returns, but this is certainly promising enough to make it worth the effort if you have yet to nab a ticket.

4. Bull (Young Vic, 8th January – 7th February)

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This year has been a great one for Mike Bartlett and 2015 could be just as successful, with two productions included in this list. I first saw Bull during its premiere run in Sheffield in 2013 and I’m thrilled it’s finally getting a London run at the Young Vic, with three of the four original cast (Neil Stuke replaced Adrian Lukis for the Broadway run and continues in the role in London). It’s short and sharp at only 50 minutes long, but its powerful office dynamics certainly pack a punch and Adam James, Sam Troughton and Eleanor Matsuura are bound to bring the same quality as I saw at the Crucible. One not to miss.

5. Tree (Old Vic, 5th – 31st January)

2850My first experience of a Kitson production was this year’s unique and moving Analog.ue, which has left me very excited to see his next idea brought to life at the Old Vic for its London premiere (following a staging at the Manchester Royal Exchange). The overview simply says this is about dissent, commitment, two people and a tree. I’m sufficiently intrigued and after finding the simple beauty of Analog.ue, both in terms of story and how it was told, incredibly moving, there is no way I can miss this.

6. Game (Almeida, 23rd February – 4th April)

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It’s another entry for Mike Bartlett, as he brings his latest play to the Almeida. The simple summary on the Almeida’s website gives very little away. We know this is a play about the current housing crisis and what price people are willing to pay to have a home of their own. Even more intriguing is the staging, with four different zones offering “equal, yet subtly different” perspectives on the action. The Almeida is certainly incredibly versatile for such a small theatre and this is shaping up to be yet another exciting viewing experience. Now to wait and see who will be in it – yes I admit I’m hoping for Adam James (who seems to be a staple part of Bartlett’s shows)!

7. The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios, 16th January – 11th April)

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Jamie Lloyd’s Trafalgar Transformed season at the Trafalgar Studios has, in such a short time, established itself as must-see theatre after so many brilliant productions since it began with McAvoy’s Macbeth last year. Coming next is a play I’m not very familiar with – The Ruling Class, a satire which looks at the foibles of English nobility after a possible paranoid schizophrenic with a Messiah complex, inherits the title of the 14th Earl of Gurney when his father passes away in a bizarre accident. Directed by Lloyd and starring James McAvoy, tickets are selling fast for this production, which sounds perfect for such a skilled actor. If you want a bargain, hold off for the £15 Mondays (the tickets for the Mondays of each month are released on the second day of each month at just £15 each).

8. The Hard Problem (Dorfman, National Theatre, 21st January – 16th April)

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Its been nine years since Tom Stoppard wrote a new play and this one arrives at the National Theatre’s newly refurbished Dorfman (it’ll still be the Cottesloe to me) in time to be the last production to be directed by Nicholas Hytner before he steps down as Artistic Director. All we know is that it centres on Hilary, a young psychology researcher at a brain-science institute, who is asking herself the “hard problem” – if there is nothing but matter, what is consciousness? With a cast that includes Olivia Vinnell (whose work in the NT’s Othello and King Lear have proven she is someone to watch) and Anthony Calf, I’m very much looking forward to this one.

9. The Vote (Donmar Warehouse, 24th April – 7th May and live on More 4 on 7th May)

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I’ve included this production here despite the fact I hold out little hope of seeing it in the theatre itself! James Graham has earned a great deal of praise with the political drama This House and this year’s Privacy, which shone a spotlight on technology and online security. The Vote could possibly combine the two, set in a fictional polling station during the last 90 minutes of polling day for 2015’s General Election. Will it be the same each show? Who knows, but what makes this even more thrilling and unique is that it will also be shown live on television (on More 4) on election night, so we can see it play out in real time on 7th May! You can’t get much more current than that! Tickets for the rest of the run will be available via a ballot, but at least we’ll all get to see it from the comfort of our sofas on 7th May!

10. Carmen Disruption (Almeida, 10th April – 23rd May)

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Another playwright whose work always impresses and excites me is Simon Stephens (whose Birdland made this year’s top ten for me and whose other recent work includes Seawall and the adaptation of The Curious Incident of a Dog in the Night Time). This could be a thrilling run for the Almeida, as this UK premiere follows Mike Bartlett’s latest offering and is said to be a reimagining of Bizet’s opera Carmen. From rock and roll in Birdland to opera? If anyone can do it, Simon Stephens can – I don’t suppose Andrew Scott can be in it can he?!

11. American Buffalo (Wyndam’s, 16th April – 27th June)

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I first heard that this production would be arriving in the spring of 2015 from the lead actor himself, when Damian Lewis excitedly announced it at the Times Talks interview earlier this year. Now more famous for his television success in Homeland (and soon to be seen in the BBC’s Wolf Hall as King Henry VIII), Lewis has not been on stage since 2009 and as I was unable to get to The Misanthrope, I won’t want to miss American Buffalo, a play about a pair of junk-shop workers plotting to steal a valuable coin collection. Directed by Daniel Evans, who has done such wonderful work in recent years as Artistic Director of Sheffield Theatres, I’m very excited to see this production.

12. Bugsy Malone (Lyric Hammersmith, 11th April – 1st August)

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Just when I thought a musical wouldn’t make the list, I hear about the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Bugsy Malone! What a fantastic way to reopen the theatre after its redevelopment! The Jodie Foster film from 1976 is certainly very well known and it will be thrilling to see this gangster musical set in the Prohibition era of the 1920s brought to life with, as the theatre says, “a cast of exciting young talent.” 2014 has been a tough year for musicals, so I hope this one proves to be a success.

13. Death of a Salesman (Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford-Upon-Avon, 26th March – 2nd May)

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2014 has seen me tick off two more Arthur Miller classics from my list of plays to see and thanks to the RSC next year, I’ll also be able to add Death of a Salesman to that list. To be directed by the brilliant Greg Doran (whose plays seem to be brought to life in such an accessible and clear way) and with a cast that includes well established stars Antony Sher and Harriet Walter alongside younger RSC talent such as Alex Hassell (currently Prince Hal in Henry IV) and Sam Marks, I’m looking forward to planning a trip to Stratford-Upon-Avon for this.

14. A View From A Bridge (Wyndam’s transfer, 10th February – 11th April)

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It would have been criminal not to include the transfer of the Young Vic’s utterly incredible production of another Arthur Miller classic. Mark Strong was one of the best performances of 2014 as Eddie, whose complex relationship with his family, particularly his niece drives the play. You cannot take your eyes off him and I have no doubt it will be the same when this production begins at the Wyndam’s in February. The main cast are all back for its West End transfer, including Nicola Walker and Phoebe Fox as his wife and niece. Get your tickets fast!

15. My Night With Reg (Apollo transfer, 17th January – 11th April)

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Another West End transfer coming soon is the transfer of the recent Donmar production of Kevin Elyot’s My Night With Reg. Set in a flat in 1985, everyone I know who saw this funny, yet bittersweet play loved it and so I’m so pleased I have another chance to catch it.

Sold out shows to keep an eye on

There are also a couple of exciting prospects which are already sold out, but I’ll be trying to get a return or day seat for if I can (the things you miss booking when in hospital!). So if you’re willing to not let the words “sold out” get in your way, keep these productions on your radar!

Man and Superman (Lyttelton, National Theatre, 17th February – 17th May)

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I’m not familiar with this Bernard Shaw play, but the description sounds very unusual and interesting and it marks the return to the stage of Ralph Fiennes as Jack Tanner, together with Faye Castelow (yet another After The Dance alumni!) and Nick Hendrix (last at the NT in The Light Princess).

Farinelli & the King (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, 11th February – 8th March)

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Another production I’m wishing I’d booked, especially due to its short run, is Farinelli and the King at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. A true story about the world’s most famous castrato Farinelli, who is sent for to sing to the King of Spain to help his insomnia and depression, this production sees the return to the stage of Mark Rylance. I’m really going to need a strategy to get to see this now. Wish me luck!

Catch them before they close!

Of course there are also some productions that are already running and continue in to next year and which deserve a mention here too.

King Charles III (Wyndam’s, until 31st January) – My top production of 2014 by Mike Bartlett is worth catching if you can.

The Scottsboro Boys (Garrick, until 21st February) – I saw this at the Young Vic before its transfer and loved it. It is full of wonderful songs and dancing, while managing to movingly convey this true story of injustice in 1930s America.

Cats (until 28th February) – I still need to grab a ticket to this revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber’s feline musical. I saw it years ago and loved it and it’s certainly getting praise this time too. Former Pussy Cat Doll, Nicole Scherzinger, appears until 7th February.

Once (Phoenix, until 21st March) – Another one of this year’s top ten for me. If you have yet to see this utterly beautiful musical, you have until 21st March before it leaves London. I’m no Boyzone fan, but even I plan on going while Ronan Keating is in it in order to see it once again while I can.

The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time (Gielgud) – As long as this play runs in London, it will always make my theatre recommendations list. It’s just that good. I’ve seen it in every theatre so far in London, so I’ll have to add the Gielgud to my list in 2015.

So, hopefully this list will include something for everyone, whether Shakespeare, or a short 50 minute show. There is already so much to look forward to and who knows what other productions will be announced as we start the year. Happy theatre-filled New Year everyone!!!

My 2014 Theatre Review

As 2014 is almost over, it’s time for my look back at my theatregoing year. I’ll start by saying it’s been far shorter than I’d have liked, as due to breaking my ankle, I’ve not been able to get to a theatre since August. As I try not to think about the productions I had to miss, I can at least look back at a nine months filled with some truly superb shows. In 2014, I managed to make it to 38 live productions, of which I returned to see 7 productions more than once, giving a total of 58 theatre trips. I also managed to tick another two productions off my archive list, by visiting the V&A archive to see the RSC’s 2011 production of Cardenio and the Royal Court’s 2007 production of Rhinoceros.

After much thought and in no particular order (apart from my number one, as ranking them further would be too big a challenge!), my top ten is below.

Top 10 Favourites

1. King Charles III (Almeida Theatre)

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Photo: Johan Persson

Top of my list this year is the superb King Charles III, which I saw during its original run at the Almeida. I’m a big fan of both Mike Bartlett’s work (his recent play Bull made it on to last year’s list!) and Rupert Goold and found this to be a refreshingly new and exciting play (see my full review here). A bit of a slow burner, but as the story progressed I became absorbed by it, wondering what direction Bartlett had chosen to take in this alternate United Kingdom. The brilliance here is also structuring it in the style of a Shakespearian History play! Filled with fantastic performances, particularly Tim Pigott-Smith, Oliver Chris, Adam James and Lydia Wilson, I loved that it dared to do something different and the ending was incredibly powerful. I must try and see the current cast at the Wyndams Theatre before it ends in January if I can.

2. The Pass (Royal Court Theatre)

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I wasn’t sure what to expect when I headed to the Royal Court Upstairs in February for The Pass. However, it didn’t take long for me to know that this was something very special indeed. The Pass centres on two friends at the early start of their professional football careers and follows their different paths, while also superbly raising the issue of what it would be like to be in such a world and perhaps by unsure as to what you really wanted in life and what really will make you happy, sexually or otherwise. Russell Tovey was truly incredible as Jason and commanded the stage throughout.

3. Birdland (Royal Court Theatre)

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More from the Royal Court, this time downstairs for Simon Stephens’s (whose Seawall topped last year’s list) new play Birdland. We are drawn in to the world of Paul, an international rock star whose 15 month world tour is reaching its conclusion. He can have anything or anyone he desires, but is that really enough anymore? Andrew Scott is always mesmerising on stage and he gave an absolutely phenomenal performance as Paul, tackling every imaginable emotion over the course of the play. He effortlessly moved from lighter moments to those which suggest a dangerous, darker side to Paul lurks just below the surface. It takes great skill to be able to be both emotional and emotionless in so short a time and Andrew Scott was more than up to the task. The set was also very clever and I left the theatre feeling very excited at seeing something new and powerful (feel free to read my full review here).

4. Once (Phoenix Theatre)

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I’d always quite liked the sweet indie film Once and had been meaning to go and see the stage version. Unbelievably it took me over a year but I’m so pleased I made it this year, especially during the time of Zrinka Vitesic and Arthur Darvill. They were both utterly superb. Zrinka had been in Once in London since it opened and this year justifiably won the Olivier award for her portrayal of this heart-warming character. She brought a perfect blend of playful humour, bossiness and tender emotion to the role and you instantly connect with her as soon as she steps foot on the stage. Arthur was also excellent as the Guy, who is at first bewildered by this whirlwind of a woman who has entered his life. After playing the same role on Broadway for a number of months he clearly understood the soul of the character and his chemistry with Zrinka was beautifully tender and romantic. Its warmth and magical spirit will make you laugh, smile and cry and will leave you feeling deeply moved. Try and see it if you can (my full review is here).

5. A Streetcar Named Desire (Young Vic)

Gillian Anderson is superb as Blanche
Photo: Johan Persson

It’s been a fantastic year at the Young Vic and the two standout productions for me both make my top ten. First is Tennessee Williams’s classic production starring Gillian Anderson and Vanessa Kirby. I’d never seen Streetcar before and this was certainly a superb production to start with. I loved the staging. As an audience member you can’t help but feel as if you are intruding on the innermost lives of the characters and there is a wonderfully effective, voyeuristic quality too, due to the rotating stage. I’ve admired Gillian Anderson for years and she was absolutely incredible. She drew the audience in so much to Blanche’s disintegration that by the end of the production I certainly felt exhausted and incredibly moved after having watched such a powerful and emotional performance (my full review is here).

6. A View From A Bridge (Young Vic)

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Photo: Jan Versweyveld

Another incredibly powerful night at the Young Vic this year was for the stunning production of Arthur Miller’s A View From A Bridge. Everything about this production was superb – the claustrophobic box set, the lighting, but above all the performances of the cast. Nicola Walker does a fantastic job as Eddie’s wife, who is growing ever more concerned about his attachment to their niece (also wonderfully played by Phoebe Fox). However, the standout performance is by Mark Strong, who is breathtakingly intense as Eddie. It is such a nuanced performance, through which we really see the depths of his character and he is certainly one of the finest actors I have seen on stage. This production is transferring in to the West End next year, so make sure to grab a ticket fast.

7. The Crucible (Old Vic)

Richard Armitage's Proctor confronted by the sinister children of Salem.
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From the Young Vic, to the Old Vic up the road for another Arthur Miller classic (and another first for me – my full review is here). This superb production also stands out for me as it was the last production I was able to see before breaking my ankle! South African Director Yael Farber’s powerful production particularly benefited from the current configuration of the Old Vic stage. Playing such an intense story on a smaller stage, surrounded by the audience was an inspired decision. Its deeply atmospheric, sparse staging by Soutra Gilmour, the effective use of light and shadow by Tim Lutkin, mist-covered entrances and terrifyingly eerie music score by Richard Hammarton, are all enhanced greatly by the almost claustrophobic atmosphere created by having faces gathered all around the stage. Richard Armitage has an incredibly powerful presence on stage and you could not fail to be moved by his portrayal of Proctor, as he moves from moments of sorrow, to weakness, intense anger, rage and delicate emotional vulnerability.

8. Rapture, Blister, Burn (Hampstead Theatre)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

I thoroughly enjoyed Gina Giofriddo’s latest play, focusing on the choices available to women today – career or family? marry or remain single? – and whether any of these possible choices will make you feel fulfilled or whether the grass is always greener. I found the scenes in which the history of feminism, the role of women and their relationships with men are debated incredibly absorbing and thought provoking and the performances of all five actors were excellent. However it was Shannon Tarbet as Avery who stole the show with some truly sharp and witty one-liners and who you couldn’t fail to like. A highlight I wasn’t expecting too much from before I went (my review is here).

9. Wolf Hall (RSC, Swan Theatre)

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Photo: Alastair Muir

I have owned Hilary Mantel’s Booker Prize-winning novels for a few years now and have never had time to read them. However I was thrilled to hear that Mantel herself was to adapt them, together with Mike Poulton for the RSC and what a brilliant production it was. I preferred Wolf Hall out of the two, but both this and Bring Up The Bodies were excellently acted, directed and conceived for the stage. On the smaller stage of the Swan, the plays seemed even grander, almost too big for the space, while keeping a wonderfully intimate feel. Ben Miles was utterly superb as Cromwell, who for each 3 hour production barely leaves the stage. I hope this finds just as much success on Broadway next year.

10. Analog.ue (National Theatre, Lyttelton) 

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Choosing a final production has proved quite difficult, with so much I’d enjoyed this year. In the end the top ten had to include Daniel Kitson’s latest part theatrical, part art installation show at the National Theatre as it was certainly a highlight for me and one which has stayed with me ever since. It was a unique story, which weaved together memories from the past with the present. It was incredibly moving and beautifully reminded me of the power of memory and how important memories of our past will be to us as we grow older or to those who come after us, offering them a glimpse in to a time long past. I even dug out an old recording of my grandparents, which I hadn’t listened to for years after seeing this. My full review is here.

Narrowly missing out on the Top 10

These are the productions that almost made it in to the top ten.

  • The Knight of the Burning Pestle (The Sam Wanamaker Playhouse) – A quirky, comic and fun production from the new Sam Wanamaker Playhouse. Having the grocer and his wife within the audience throughout is such a brilliant device, especially in such an intimate setting and truly engages the audience in a whole new way. You can read my full review here.
  • Richard III (Trafalgar Studios) – Martin Freeman’s intelligent Richard simmered with menace in another great Shakespeare adaptation from Jamie Lloyd.
  • Clarence Darrow (Old Vic) – Kevin Spacey was superb yet again as human rights lawyer Darrow in this impressive one-man show (see my review here)
  • 1984 (Almeida Theatre) – Another brilliant production for Rupert Goold’s theatre, as Headlong perfectly brought such an atmospheric and iconic book to the stage.
  • Coriolanus (Donmar Warehouse) – Another of the Bard’s plays ticked off my list in an engaging production with a strong cast led confidently by Tom Hiddleston.
  • Red Velvet (Tricycle Theatre) – After missing it the first time around, I loved Adrian Lester’s passionate performance as Ira Aldridge (see my review here).

Wonderful repeats from previous years

There are always productions I can’t help but see again another year, although this year there were only two, both of which were on last year’s top ten:

  • American Psycho (Almeida Theatre) – Rupert Goold’s first production in charge of the Almeida was a gloriously refreshing and exciting production, brilliantly led by Matt Smith. I still wish there had been a cast recording!
  • Richard II (RSC at Barbican Theatre) – This was certainly a production that grew over its run and by the time it reached London the cast were on fine form. David Tennant may not have been as strong as he was in Hamlet, but his Richard II was still wonderful to watch. Although for me, the stand out performance remains that of Oliver Rix as Aumerle.

Disappointments of the Year

  • A Small Family Business (Olivier, National Theatre) – Although there were some good performances, this play was too dated and dull for me and far too long.
  • Mr Burns (Almeida Theatre) – Although I enjoy seeing something that dares to be different, the third Act of Mr Burns was just too weird for me, making me wish I’d left after Act 2.
  • Slava’s Snowshow (Royal Festival Hall) – I was simply bored by this. Perhaps it’s more for kids.
  • The Mistress Contract (Royal Court Theatre) – Another production that was just a bit dull for me, despite two good performances.

Memorable moments in Theatre

There have been some wonderful moments that I’ve witnessed or experienced at the theatre during 2014, which included:

 A West End return – Seeing Angela Lansbury’s return to the West End stage at the age of 88 in Blithe Spirit and from the front row for only a tenner too!

 Martin Freeman commits brutal murder – Just when Martin Freeman’s Richard III didn’t seem that frightening, he kills his wife by strangling her over a desk with a telephone cord! After watching him cruelly stalk her around the room, watching him finally kill her was very chilling (especially from my stage seat).

 Kevin Spacey captivating an audience – Watching how at home Kevin Spacey looked, sitting in an armchair, at the centre of the Old Vic, surrounded by a rapt audience.

– The thrill of a first preview – Attending the first performance of Birdland and being reminded yet again how incredible Andrew Scott is on stage.

 Discovering a new young talent – Discovering Shannon Tarbet in Rapture, Blister, Burn, who I’m excited to watch in lots more to come.

 Site specific theatre in gorgeous surroundings – Experiencing voyeuristic theatre at the Langham Hotel for The Hotel Plays.

 The thrill of knowing you’ve seen something new and utterly brilliant – By the end of my first trip to King Charles III (on the second preview), it was thrilling to feel the excitement of seeing a superb new play, especially by the time it reached the glorious last scene.

 Visiting a new, fantastic theatre – My first trip to the Park Theatre, a theatre I’m sure I’ll be visiting a great deal in the years to come.

 Saying an emotional farewell – Joining in the emotional applause at the final performance of Once for Arthur Darvill and Zrinka Vitesic from the front row.

 Enjoying phones being used in a theatre – Enjoying the quirk of actually using your mobile phone during a production at the Donmar for Privacy. I doubt I’ll ever think that again!

All in all it’s been a fantastic, if somewhat curtailed year of theatre for me, in which I’ve seen some wonderful moments on stage by some of the finest actors working today. I am thoroughly looking forward to what surprises 2015 will bring (and I’ll post my top choices for 2015 soon)!