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My best of theatre list for 2017 - with some rom-com, Chekhov and Christmas surprises

If you'd told me at the start of the year that there would be a rom-com, a Chekhov and a Christmas play on my best of list, I'd have laughed in your face. Just goes to show you should always expect the unexpected...here are my favourite plays of 2017, in no particular order and links are to my reviews.

An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard
An Octoroon - Orange Tree Theatre - publicity photo by The Other Richard

Dirty Great Love Story, Arts Theatre

Let's face it most rom-coms are a bit rubbish - they generally aren't that funny - but this tale of modern romance had me guffawing with laughter and I wasn't on my own.

An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre

This is a play that reminded me why I love going to the theatre and I could write pages on it. Thought-provoking, sometime uncomfortable to watch and yet it was still entertaining. It's transferring to the National Theatre in June and I'll definitely be getting a ticket.

Apologia, Trafalgar Studios

In my review I said: "Apologia is a play of sharp humour and depth that slowly breaks down the defences to reveal something raw and emotional. You will laugh and you will have a lump in your throat." It was also a great play for female characters.

Out There on Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Theatre and Trafalgar Studios 2

This odd-ball, misfit comedy was a breath of fresh air and it got a much deserved transfer so I got to enjoy it a second time.

Hamlet, Almeida

Up there as one of the best Hamlet productions I've seen, it made me see the play anew.

BU21, Trafalgar Studios 2

Writer Stuart Slade took real testimonies from terrorist attacks around the world and used them to create a story around a fictional attack in London. The result was an honest, awkward and funny piece that was also really clever.

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My 5 biggest theatre disappointments of 2017

Not everything is brilliant or lives up to expectations. These are the plays that disappointed me the most in 2017.

Obsession, Barbican Theatre

Ivo Van Hove had two plays in my best of list last year but Obsession, starring Jude Law, felt at times pedestrian and aloof where it should have been passionate and tense.

HamletAgainst, Almeida

While I always enjoy watching Ben Whishaw on stage the play itself was so disappointing. On reflection, in my review I think I was still trying to like it  but it was just so doughy, lacking any punch or defined focus.

Woyzeck, Old Vic

Was really excited to see John Boyega on stage but like Against, the play was a disappointment. You can see where it is going early on - there is a particular line which is like having a gun on stage - but it takes a long, long time to get there. It also felt like it was trying too hard to be shocking and edgy.

Nuclear War, Royal Court

I'm a huge fan of Simon Stephens but I wasn't a fan of this at all. It felt like an experiment that shouldn't have made it out of the rehearsal room. It was so abstract and difficult to make sense of its 45 minute running time felt too long.

Hamlet, RADA

Ah yes the Tom Hiddleston/Kenneth Branagh Hamlet I was so excited about this. Love Tom Hiddleston but I'm not a fan who sees everything he does through rose-tinted spectacles (Ben Whishaw/Against is a case in point) and this felt like a huge opportunity missed. It's a small, intimate space and the play was staged in the round with the stalls seating effectively 'on stage' but it seemed as if Kenneth Branagh had directed it for a huge West End theatre.  There was no subtlety, no surprises, no innovation and given that the last two Hamlet's I've watched have been among the best I've ever seen it was really disappointing. I'm still a little bit cross about it.

Related: My best of theatre list for 2017


My theatre 'StOlivier' awards 2017

Step aside best actor/actress/play etc this is what was noteworthy for me in theatre land, in 2017.

Menagerie award The Ferryman was an award winning play in many way but for me it deserve an extra gong for fur and feathers - a cute little rabbit and a goose both made scene stealing appearances. Babies? Schmabies. Real, live animals on stage are the thing.

Exhibit A: Roman Tragedies, Barbican Theatre
Exhibit A: Roman Tragedies, Barbican Theatre

Event theatre and star studded audience award Ivo Van Hove's  six hour Roman Tragedies at the Barbican was an event for many reasons not least for allowing audience members to wander onto the stage between scenes and perch wherever they could get a seat. Photos, without flash, and tweeting (see exhibit A) were also encouraged. It also attracted probably the most thespy audience I've seen so far: Simon Stephens, Rupert Goold and Kate Fleetwood, Kyle Soler and Pheobe Fox, John Heffernan, Angus Wright, Jamie Lloyd, Ruth Wilson, Ian McDiarmid, Jonjo O’Neill, Jeremy Herrin and Leo Bill.

Best kiss When Paddy Considine and Laura Donnelly's characters kissed in The Ferryman, Royal Court it was so charged with years of repressed feelings it took my breath away and broke my heart a little bit.

Best spit - Not since I (probably) gave an award to the cast of Richard III for all spitting on Ralph Fiennes has their been a gobbing incident worthy of note but step forward Jasmine Hyde who spat so spectacularly on Harry Melling during Jam, Finborough Theatre.

Hottie of the month kinda lives on...these were my particular favourites in 2017: Theo James, Andrew Garfield, Douglas Booth and James Norton but if I had to choose one it would be Theo because I'm such a huge fan and it was the first time I've seen him on stage.

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My 3 current theatre turn-offs

No Entry

There are so many things that inspire my choices of what to see at the theatre but there are a few things that are actually a turn-off, besides musicals.

Here are three things that have me running in the opposite direction. What are yours?

1. BREXIT

It's everywhere, everyday, the reminders, the opinions - and I'm happy to share mine in a different forum - but if I see BREXIT in the synopsis for a play something inside me dies a little bit.

2. Immersive theatre

When it is done well it's brilliant, but more usually it's just awkward, exposes bad story-telling or reminds you of why there are conventions in the first place. It feels like a term that is bandied about to make a production sound daring and exciting.

3. Male-centricity

Guess what, the world isn't just made up of men and a play that has only men in it, is starting to be a big turn off. Was seeing the world purely through male eyes ever a novelty?

Image by Erica M on Flickr

 


10 plays I'm really looking forward to seeing in London 2018

Julius Caesar, Bridge TheatrePrompted by the Daily Telegraph's rather uninspiring and quite frankly lazy list of upcoming theatre treats - three plays which have already opened? Oh come on - here's my list of what I'm already really excited about seeing in the first half of 2018*.

1. My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court Theatre - Patsy Ferran, I love Patsy Ferran and this is the first of two plays she's doing in 2018 and it's a solo piece *insert big smile here*

2. Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre - Ben Whishaw playing Brutus alongside David Morrissey and Michelle Fairley and the chance to mingle with the Roman mob? Already booked to see it twice.

3. The Brothers Size, Young Vic - Written by Tarell Alvin McCraney who also penned Oscar best picture winner Moonlight (which I loved) and starring Sope Dirisu who was brilliant in One Night In Miami at the Donmar and the RSC's Coriolanus.

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That was November in London (and beyond) theatre land or Martin McDonagh month

 

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Beginning, National Theatre

You wait ages then two Martin McDonagh plays come along...

 

* The Bridge Theatre announced a new play by McDonagh, The Very Very Very Dark Matter which opens in October 2018 and not only that it stars Jim Broadbent.

* Before that, in June, The Lieutenant of Inishmore is being revived by Michael Grandage at the Noel Coward Theatre from June starring Poldark's Aidan Turner.

* Grandage is also reviving John Logan's play Red which he originally directed at the Donmar. Alfred Molina returns as artist Mark Rothko while Alfred Enoch will play his assistant Ken. It is at the Wyndhams from May and is really good although I'll always be grateful I saw it in a small theatre.

* Elsewhere, Paines Plough is transferring three of its Edinburgh hits - Black Mountain, How To Be A Kid and Out Of Love - to run in rep at the Orange Tree Theatre in Richmond from Jan. And for those who do this sort of thing, you can see all three plays in one day.

* Carey Mulligan returns to the stage in Dennis Kelly’s Girls and Boys at the Royal Court from February next year.

* The fabulous play Beginning transfers from the Dorfman to the Ambassadors theatre from January.

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That was October in London theatre-land

Mischief Movie Night
Mischief Theatre

A little later than usual as I've been on holiday...

* Quite a few nuggets of excitement in the National Theatre’s 2018 season announcement. Sam Mendes will direct The Lehmans Trilogy and Ralph Fiennes will appear alongside Sophie Okonedo in Antony and Cleopatra. Stan-fav Colin Morgan will star in Brian Friel’s Translations, Vanessa Kirby will star in Polly Stenham’s new version of Miss Julie (the Miss has been dropped) and one of my favourite plays of this year (so far), An Octoroon, is transferring to the National next summer.

* Sheila Hancock will star in the stage adaptation of 1971 comedy Harold and Maude at the Charing Cross Theatre from February.

* Mischief Theatre - those clever peeps behind The Play That Goes Wrong, Peter Pan Goes Wrong (etc) - are returning to the West End with their improvised Mischief Movie Night at the Arts Theatre from December 13.

* The next season at the Park Theatre will include a new play written by and starring David Haig called Pressure which is about meteorologists trying to predict the perfect weather for the D-Day landings.

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That was September in London theatre land with added mobile phone disturbances and actor drop outs

 

Ben-Whishaw-as-Luke-in-Against_credit-Johan-Persson-14328
Ben Whishaw in Against. Picture Johan Persson.

* Suranne Jones, Nina Sosanya and Jason Watkins have been cast in Frozen (the Bryony Lavery play not the Disney thing) which opens at Theatre Royal Haymarket in February.

*Punchdrunk announced its latest London production which is a six hour, two at a time walk. And no I'm not the least bit bothered about seeing it, I'm still scarred by The Drowned Man.

* The Almeida announced casting for Mike Bartlett's new play Albion which includes Victoria Hamilton, Margot Leicester, Vinette Robinson, Christopher Fairbank and Nicholas Rowe. Previews from Oct 10.

* Up in Stratford, Christopher Eccleston is to play Macbeth with Niamh Cusack as Lady M. (How many Dr Who's is that who've trod the boards in Stratford?) It opens for previews on March 13. I'm hoping for a London transfer.

* Kwame Kwei-Amah was announced as the new artistic director of the Young Vic and takes over the role next year. Love the Young Vic and I think he's a great choice.

* The Donmar announced its new season. Michael Longhurst is to direct James Norton and Imogen Poots in Amy Herzog's Belleville from December. Then there is Peter Gill play The York Realist from Feb and I must admit I'm not a huge fan of his work but it's got Katie West in it so... The season finishes with The Way of the World which I've only seen once before, at the Sheffield Crucible, and I loved it. Linda Bassett stars and it's directed by James Macdonald. Full season details on the Donmar website.

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That was August in London (and Stratford) theatre-land with a bit of a Hamlet theme

Hamlet
Tom Hiddleston as Hamlet, photo Johan Persson

* The lucky charms came out in August as it was announced that Tom Hiddleston would play Hamlet, directed by Kenneth Branagh, for a limited run at RADA as a fund raiser for the drama school. The lucky charms were for the ticket ballot, the only way to see the production. My stars were aligned or at least @PolyG’s were. Can’t wait. (Production photos here on What's On Stage.)

* And while we are on the topic of Hamlet, Andrew Scott/Robert Icke's amazing production is due to be broadcast by BBC 2 next year. It opened at the Almeida earlier this year before transferring to the West End's Harold Pinter Theatre and has set the bar high for Hamlets, so no pressure Tom/Ken.

* Another Hamlet related bit of news (kinda), Jonathan Slinger - a former RSC Hamlet  -  has been cast in Trouble in Mind at the Print Rooms at the Coronet.

* Stan-fav and RSC regular, Jasper Britton, is starring in a new Howard Brenton play, The Blinding Light, at the Jermyn Street Theatre from September 6.

* And still with the RSC, if you fancy a unique souvenir of a favourite production get down to Stratford on Sep 23 for the company's costume sale.

* Elsewhere, Samantha Bond and Richard Dreyfus have been cast in the Florian Zeller's play The Lie at Menier Chocolate Factory from September 14.

* Michelle Dockery has been widely reported as joining Brian Cranston in the Ivo Van Hove directed Network although there is nothing on the National Theatre website, as yet, to reflect this.

* The amazing Rachael Stirling has been cast in Labour of Love - and so has Tamsin Greig who is replacing Sarah Lancashire who has pulled out of the production. It opens for previews at the Noel Coward Theatre at the end of September.

* And this is particularly lovely casting news, Oliver Chris and Nancy Carroll will join Rory Kinnear in Young Marx, the inaugural production at the new Bridge Theatre which opens on October 18.

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