Like, really, really awful?
Honestly, I can’t think of a year that I’ve been more thankful that theatre is a thing that exists. I’ve never needed its insight, escape and sense of safety more.
And it’s been a good year for theatre too I think. The return of ensemble acting, the return of politics with both a lower and upper case P, being unable to move without falling over a James Graham play, the peerless Nathan Lane back on a London stage - all of these are things to be welcomed. Unusually, I’ve found picking my top ten really easy because there has been a crop of productions that have been so completely outstanding, even amongst a generally very good year, that they’re just head, shoulders and various other body parts above everything else. Only the tenth spot gave me pause for thought (hard luck to Girl from the North Country which very narrowly missed out).
So here, from top to bottom, are my top ten. Drum roll etc.
I mean, was it ever going to be anything else? This production was, I think, perfect: incredible design, cast of dreams, two of the best plays ever written, Nathan Fucking Lane. Possibly the best thing I’ve ever seen in the theatre, ever.
Almeida Theatre/West End
The first James Graham entry on my list (though certainly not the last) feels a bit like it was written and produced specifically for me. Written by my favourite playwright, starring my favourite actor (Bertie Carvel), directed by one of my favourite directors (Rupert Goold) and telling a fascinating, timely and achingly relevant story about the birth of The Sun. Hands down the best piece of new writing this year and an outstanding production, both the Almeida original and its well earned West End transfer. A gem.
Chichester Festival Theatre/National Theatre/West End
It’s that man Graham again. I think This House might actually be my favourite play, fullstop. It’s certainly a work of genius, a play about Parliamentary procedure that is human and relatable and funny and brilliant. This production was cracking too, with the perfectly cast Nathaniel Parker and Steffan Rhodri leading a enormously talented ensemble.
Royal Court/West End
Just a beautiful play; rarely has three and a half hours gone so quickly. Jez Butterworth’s tale of the Carney clan was stunningly well written and natural, and the huge ensemble cast, led by the outstanding Paddy Considine when I saw it, work it superbly. The ending stays with you long after the curtain falls.
Chichester Festival Theatre
A stonkingly gorgeous production of this justified classic. Stunning choreography, immaculately well cast, perfect orchestration. I cried almost continuously through the second half. Great to see Chichester’s musical tradition thriving under new AD Daniel Evans. I’m still holding out for news of a West End transfer.
Staunton + Quast + Sondheim = guaranteed joy. A beautiful, sparkly gem of a production that made use of the Olivier theatre’s cavernous stage like nothing I’ve seen before. A justified sell out and a reminder that the NT can really do musicals when it puts its mind to it.
Chichester Festival Theatre
The third and final James Graham play on the list and one I’m intrigued to see in 2018 in its new - and deserved - West End home. For me, the best thing about Quiz (and that’s a tough thing to choose) is that it cements Graham as that sadly quite rare thing: a playwright who can write plays that are insightful and interesting but also entertaining and fun. A innovative hoot (great word) of a production too.
Inua Ellams writes like no one else I’ve come across before. This play is so much fun and so well observed. The final scene, with one throwaway line that blows the main storyline wide open (and, yes, still makes me cry when I think about it ffs), is perhaps the single most effective scene I’ve seen all year.
Les Enfants Terribles/The Vaults
I was terrified going into this, my first experience of truly immersive theatre, but my god I loved it so much. The level of thought and detail that went into this incredible work (calling it a production does it a disservice) was mind bending. A real experience in every sense of the word and an utter joy.
National Theatre/West End
An entertaining and funny show about the Middle East peace process seems an unlikely concept but Oslo is exactly that. It’s also acutely well observed and hugely insightful. It’s also a political play with a female protagonist which is depressingly worthy of comment. Really well staged with a great cast, one of the most unexpectedly enjoyable - and educational - things I saw all year.