Review: Bonding, bravery and bleeding in Fear In A Handful of Dust, COG ARTSpace
Theatre review 2014: My favourite fringe productions and my fringe star

Theatre review 2014: My favourite Shakespeare/Jacobean productions or the two Hamlets and two Henrys

Anyone who's met me over the last few weeks will have heard my rant about 'best of lists' being released before the end of the year and here I am doing it myself but in my defence, I have seen all the Shakespeare and Jacobean drama I'm going to see for the year so there isn't a danger of a last minute entry (my last play of the year is actually tomorrow night).

Have seen far more plays in Stratford this year than previously which has bolstered the RSC's appearance in the list. Wanted to make it my top five but there are two Hamlets and two Henry IV's I had to get in (well three Henry's technically) so it's six.

In no particular order:

1. Roaring Girl, Swan Theatre  First time I've seen this play by Dekker and Middleton and came out wanting to be Lisa Dillon who plays the protagonist Moll. Brilliant end of performance dance sequence too.

2. Hamlet, Riverside Studios   Both Hamlets I saw this year make an appearance in my list and Hiraeth's prison set Hamlet at Riverside Studios was the first. It wasn't perfect but it had an energy and physicality...and an angry young Hamlet in Adam Lawrence that made it stand out. It also had some of best stage fighting I've seen this year too.

3. Hamlet, Manchester Royal Exchange Maxine Peake was my second Hamlet and brought a brilliantly youthful portrayal of the prince in a production that made Hamlet into more of a family drama, than a political one. I loved the children's performance of the play within the play and the production also gets points for not acknowledging that a woman was playing a man's role.

4. Shoemaker's Holiday, Swan Theatre This was perfect pre-Christmas fare. Again a play I've not seen before although I did study it at University - I only have the play text with my margin notes for evidence of that because I couldn't remember anything about it. Sixteenth century comedy can sometimes fall flat with a contemporary audience unfamiliar with the double entendres and play on words of the time but director Phillip Green and the cast expertly teased out the humour and it was lively and fun as a result.

5. Henry IV, Donmar Warehouse Combining both parts into one straight through two hour play gave this a great pace. I was disappointed to hear that it was going to be the second all-women Shakespeare set in women's prison by the Donmar team but what elevated this was the casting. Firstly a genuine mix of ages, ethnicity, shapes and sizes which was so refreshing to see and gave its prison setting a real authenticity. Secondly the delivery and performances brought a new clarity and understanding of the play.

6. Henry IV Part 1 and 2, Barbican Saw Part 1 of this RSC production when it was in Stratford and if I  hadn't seen this as a matinee/evening double bill it probably wouldn't have made it into the list. Seeing both parts together made it more of an occasion, certainly, but there was clarity in the continuity of story. Hotspur who had irked me in Stratford had calmed down a little and the production generally had found its feet, relaxed and gelled into something funny and moving. Like the Donmar production I discovered new things about the play and that always gets brownie points.