I’ve wondered whether I would compile this list since starting blogging really. I wondered if it was right to compare so many shows (I’ve seen seventy this year, which is crazy) especially as they are all so different and came from so many different places, companies, and finanical backgrounds. So I’ve decided to split them into different categories and create a top 5 of each category, just to make it more fair: Musical, Drama, Fringe, and Student/Community. It’s taken me a while to whittle it down, but here we go!
Long-running musical, which unfortunately closed in April this year, Billy Elliot, definitely makes it into my top five. The children were immensely talented, the story made me weep, and the music is beautiful. I hope it comes back. Likewise, Matilda the Musical which is still running at the Cambridge Theatre is a joy to watch. Peter Darling’s choreography is fantastic and works so well with Dahl and Minchin’s combined imagination. Other current West End Shows, Dreamgirls at the Savoy and Half A Sixpence at the Noel Coward Theatre also make it into my top five for very different reasons. Dreamgirls has a lot of heart and power, with Amber Riley pulling out all the stops. Half A Sixpence, on the other hand, is more fun than emotion, and a real quirky ensemble piece. Finally, The Last Five Years starring Samantha Barks and Johnathan Bailey at the St.James’ Theatre at the end of this year was a real treat. It’s wonderful to see a show so different in form doing so well and being appreciated. Brilliant performances by them both.
Musical Disappointment of 2016: The Bodyguard at the Dominion Theatre
I found it incredibly difficult to select my favourite plays I’ve seen this year as I have seen so many, and many were absolutely wonderful. I have cheated slightly, though, and chosen six. At the St.James Theatre in May and starring Maureen Lipman, My Mother Said I Never Should was a minimalistically-staged production about motherhood and what it’s like being a female through time. The production was excellent with equal measures of laughter and tears. Similarly, Ella Hickson’s new play Oil at the Almeida Theatre also explored mother-daughter relationships in an incredibly clever way in relation to the oil industry. At the National, both Terrence Rattigan’s play The Deep Blue Sea and David Hare’s adaptation of novel The Red Barn both caught my eye, with both plays exuding tension and showing just how much you need a good plot and good writing, and not necessarily a spectacle.
However, my final two favourite plays were most definitely spectacles. Emma Rice’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream really played with Shakespeare and how it can be made accessible for a contemporary audience, whilst still keeping all the original themes and language. The decision to change Helena to Helenus was all inspired, and I’d love to see more of that in the future. Finally, the much-anticipated Harry Potter and the Cursed Child (which I’d had tickets for over a year prior) apparated its way into the Palace Theatre and really was full of magic. Stagecraft and direction was wonderful, with inspired transitions and imaginative ways to make the magic seem real. Though plot was lacking, the entire show was such a fantastic spectacle and a train-trip of nostalgia that it had to nudge its way into my top shows.
Biggest Disapointement: King Lear at the Old Vic
I unfortunately didn’t see many Fringe, or smaller-scale shows this year. Perhaps due to moving to London I was very taken with seeing big shows, and unfortunately forgot about the smaller productions which are just as fantastic. My 2017 goal is most definitely to go and see more fringe and developing shows/scratch nights. Letters to Windsor House by Queen Mary graduate company Sh!t Theatre was a quirky, laugh-out-loud show which took performances back to basics but also included a social commentary on the London housing crisis. I’m really excited to see more of their work in 2017! Secondly The Resurrectionist, which I was lucky enough to be asked to review, was likewise great. An original retelling of Frankenstein with a clear attention to detail and brilliant performances.
Naturally, being part of my university’s theatre company, I’ve seen almost all of their shows this year, so four of five of these are from QMTC. Billy Bard, written and directed by Sebastião Marques Lopes for the company’s annual Shakespeare festival, was a fusion of one socially inept teenage boy’s struggle through life, and how scenes from Shakespeare eerily echo them. Next, Emily Collins’ direction of the two-hander Contractions was superb, set up in a traverse styling to really amplify the tension of the manager and Emma, her employee, and their various meetings, told in a series of vignettes. What a Dump!, a devised piece around Edward Albee’s Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf? was excellently directed, with a great chemistry between all the actors, a real commitment to characters, as well as feeling like it lasted five minutes – not two hours!
This semester, very recently in fact, I watched Drapers: The Panto Musical, which was a spoof of our SU bar, Drapers, and two opposing social groups: the Indies and the Sporties. It was hilarious and just a complete laugh, and it was nice to watch a show which didn’t take itself too seriously.
Finally, I really enjoyed Into the Woods, which was performed at the Cardiff Open Air Theatre festival in the summer. I felt like I could have been watching a professional cast, and having it set outside was a beautiful touch, too.
So, those were my favourite shows of 2016. There’s been a real mix of things but I am hoping to see much more variety and spread my wings a bit for 2017! Soon I’ll post my “What to Watch in 2017” article, but in the meantime – do you agree with me? What were your favourite shows of 2016?