Yes, I’m officially jumping on the top 10 bandwagon. It had to be done. Like everyone else, I’ve thought long and hard about my choices – and given that I lost count a long time ago of the number of shows I’ve seen this year, it hasn’t been easy.
And here they are – but first, a quick disclaimer. These are ten shows that have meant a lot to me personally, for whatever reason. They might not be the biggest, or the best from a critic’s perspective… but that’s probably because I’m not a critic. I’m just a theatre fan who enjoys writing about it afterwards.
Oh, and they’re in no particular order. Just choosing ten was hard enough – if I had to put them in order too, we’d be here till 2017.
So here goes:
Beans on Toast (Patch of Blue)
My introduction to Patch of Blue came at the Wimbledon Illuminate Festival; I was sold instantly on the promise of lamplight and folk music, and I wasn’t disappointed. The story of a couple like any other couple is so totally human and relatable that the characters begin to feel like your friends, and you feel every up and down in their relationship along with them.
I haven’t seen the movie of Kinky Boots, and didn’t really know anything about it apart from it had drag queens in it – but I soon fell head over heels for this irresistible, feel-good musical with some catchy tunes from Cyndi Lauper. It might not be highbrow but it is ridiculously good fun, and sometimes that’s really all you need from a night at the theatre.
In The Heights
Lively, colourful and so full of energy it’s a wonder the roof stays on. In The Heights follows the hopes, fears, loves and losses of a close-knit Hispanic community in Washington Heights over three scorching summer days. With a great story, memorable characters and some spectacular dance numbers, In The Heights is an irresistible joy to watch.
Skin in Flames (stonecrabs theatre)
The best-known work by Spanish playwright Guillem Clua, this incredibly tense political thriller sees a photojournalist returning for the first time to the war-torn country where he took his most famous picture. It’s an ingeniously crafted piece and a gripping drama, but also leaves the audience with some serious questions about moral responsibility.
Also, Skin in Flames was the first time I saw a quote from my review on the wall, so it will always be special to me for that reason 🙂
Consolation (Théâtre volière)
An unexpected delight, about two lost souls who find consolation in their mutual friendship. Nothing about this play is predictable; set in France, it tells the unlikely story of a woman convinced she was a Cathar heretic in a former life, and a young re-enactor at the local museum. As they both try to make sense of their lives, the results are at times funny, at others moving, but always fascinating to watch.
The Scottsboro Boys (Garrick Theatre)
The Scottsboro Boys, a musical by Kander and Ebb, is based on the true story of nine black teenagers convicted of rape in 1930s Alabama. The show starts out fun and light-hearted, but soon takes a more sinister turn as the boys’ situation worsens. This deeply moving and chilling tale of injustice is one that stays with you long after you’ve left the theatre.
And Then Come The Nightjars (Theatre503)
Set during Britain’s foot and mouth crisis of 2001, Bea Roberts’ rural drama is a touching exploration of the friendship between a gruff Devon farmer and the local vet. It might not sound like a laugh a minute, but the chalk and cheese relationship between the two is unexpectedly funny and uplifting, with some truly moving performances.
Note to self: make sure you know what a play’s about before you go and see it… The Nether is a very disturbing story that messes with your head, set in a not-too-distant future, in which humans can live in a completely virtual world. The play poses some difficult questions – most notably, if you do something bad in the Nether but not in the real world, are you still guilty? Not one for the faint-hearted, but worth seeing for Es Devlin’s spectacular set alone.
To Kill a Mockingbird
I missed this production at Regents Park Open Air Theatre, so when it transferred to the Barbican after a nationwide tour, I jumped at the chance to see it. Starring Robert Sean Leonard as Atticus Finch, and some of the best child actors I’ve ever seen, this play is a loving homage to the novel that inspired it; I’m so glad I got a second chance to see it.
The Forbidden (Doll’s Eye Theatre)
This play still makes me shudder a little bit; it’s that unsettling. The Forbidden is a gripping story about four former school friends with a dark secret, which takes great delight in wrong-footing its audience with its twists and turns. But it’s also a startlingly accurate depiction of the way teenage girls interact… and it also ruined 5ive for me forever. But that’s okay.
A few honourable mentions, because I can’t help myself: Cyprus Sunsets, So It Goes, Blood Brothers, Rotterdam, The Railway Children, Proof and The State vs John Hayes. I’d better stop there or this bit could go on all day…
What were your theatre highlights this year?
Happy New Year – here’s to more great theatre in 2016!