Tuesday, 22 December 2015

Top Ten Theatre of 2015

God knows how, but apparently it’s the end of the year. And nothing says happy end of the year better than the obligatory series of ‘Best of…’ blog posts!

Since I only have one interest these days (let’s be honest, I can’t really afford to have any more) I'm just going to squeeze a couple of posts out of my theatre going this year. And here’s the first: my top ten shows of 2015.

A qualifier before I start. I have been so spoiled with the range and quality of shows I've seen this year and this list was actually really difficult to compile and to put in some kind of order (except for the top three which were very clear). So kudos to London theatre for being excellent in 2015. And kudos to me for having such good taste, frankly. Anyway, onwards.

All images from here.

Clarence Darrow (Old Vic)
I'm trying not to talk too much about individual performances in this post (there’s a whole other post coming that’ll be dedicated to that, I'm sure you’ll be excited to hear) but there’s no question that Kevin Spacey made this show such a privilege - and I don’t use that word lightly - to see. I mean, it was a one man show after all. Intelligent, emotional, passionate and beautifully staged, I doubt I’ll ever see much better in the theatre again in my lifetime. Mindbendingly good.

Gypsy (Chichester Festival)
Another amazing central performance, backed up by a pitch perfect supporting cast and the most gloriously old school staging made this the best production of a musical I've ever seen. And what a musical it is. You could do a Now That’s What I Call Musicals album just from this one show - even the overture is iconic. Imelda Staunton’s rendition of Rose’s Turn is my second most memorable theatrical moment of 2015.

The Hairy Ape (Old Vic)
My most memorable theatrical moment of 2015 is the moment that Bertie Carvel’s Yank gets murdered by a gorilla. The back breaking sound effect alone will stay with me for quite some time. Again, it’s difficult to talk about why I loved this show so much without talking about the phenomenal central performance that grounded it - 2015 will go down in my personal history as the Year of Carvel - but incredible brutalist staging, amazing sound design (and not just when bones were being broken) and a fab supporting turn from Steffan Rhodri certainly helped.

The Beaux’ Stratagem (National Theatre)
Hands down my most flat out enjoyable evening at the theatre this year; a fluffy period farce done with such energy and class that it was impossible not to love it. Fantastically acted, joyously written, beautifully staged, near flawlessly directed (Simon Godwin - see also Man and Superman - is one of my favourite ‘discoveries’ of 2015) and my face hurt from laughing so much when I left the theatre. You can’t ask for much more from a comedy.

Assassins (Menier Chocolate Factory)
‘Joyously creepy’ is not a phrase I often use but one that perfectly describes this incredibly evocative staging of the little known - and typically off beat - Sondheim celebration of murdering US Presidents. An outstanding ensemble cast sold it to perfection and the staging and design could hardly have been better or, frankly, more offputting. Bonus points awarded for taking the piss out of society’s endless obsession with the marches of Sousa.

Othello (RSC)
A history making production where the fact that made it a first - that the actors playing Othello and Iago were both black - was less noteworthy than the sheer quality of the production. As it fucking should be. I love this play so much anyway and this was a production of utter class; beautifully staged, immaculately acted, but still with the capacity to be shockingly powerful and contemporary.

Man and Superman (National Theatre)
The final play of Nick Hytner’s tenure at the NT was a perfect swansong: three and a half hours of classy, witty, immaculately acted and beautifully staged Shaw. Ralph Fiennes and Indira Varma were both great and that man Simon Godwin’s perfectly paced direction made this dense and verbose text more fun and accessible than it really had any right to be.

The Winter's Tale and Harlequinade/All On Her Own (Kenneth Branagh Theatre Company)
Blatantly cheating here, but fuck you it's my blog post. I'm grouping these together because if you look at them as a repertory programme then there's been nothing close to this quality in London this year. I'm so excited to see the rest of the first season from this company. And if there aren't subsequent seasons to follow then something is deeply wrong with the world.

The Lorax (Old Vic)
A gloriously fun, inventive and visually stunning adaptation of classic Dr Seuss. Only the most hard hearted person could fail to be utterly charmed by this cute eco-fable. The incredible puppetry was the star, especially the Lorax himself, but everything about this show was perfectly pitched for children of any age.

A View from the Bridge (Young Vic)
Whilst I’m not as convinced of the genius of Ivo van Hove as everyone else in the world seems to be, there’s no denying that this production was incredible. A uniformly excellent cast (lead by an unforgettable Mark Strong) made the super minimalist staging their own and the river of blood finale was as beautiful and devastating as anything I've seen this year. If there was such a thing as an award for least surprising Broadway transfer of the year, this would surely win it.

A few honourable mentions for things that didn’t quite make the cut: since I stuck to London shows the beautiful, brilliant Broadway production of An American in Paris was excluded but man did I love this show (where’s the London transfer?), the NT’s Motherfucker with the Hat was as gloriously grown up and funny as its amazing title suggests, and whilst OppenheimerHenry V and Death of a Salesman (all RSC) were narrowly edged off this list I really rated all three - it’s great to see the RSC in such rude health with both bard and non-bard productions.

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