Best (and worst) of London theatre for 2018...so far...and the actress in two plays on the list
As the halfway mark of 2018 rushes past, it's time to reflect on the highlights and low lights of London's theatre productions so far (edit: scroll to the bottom for the most read posts).
I'm not sure whether it's a reflection of more varied programming generally or just where my interests predominantly lie these days but it's a list dominated by women protagonists and BAME stories.
Best of the big stuff (West End and off West End)
Carey Mulligan's performance is a tour de force, precise, subtle and complex. It is a devastating and brilliant piece of theatre and it's transferred to the Minetta Lane Theatre in New York Theatre where it runs until July 22.
The York Realist, Donmar Warehouse
Like My Night With Reg crossed with God's Own Country and the steamiest flirtation on stage for a long while.
Stuff with Ben Whishaw in it doesn't always make it into my best of lists but being part of the mob was at times like being at a rock concert, a rally and in the middle of a war - never thought I'd enjoy standing at the theatre.
The Great Wave, National Theatre
Had no prior knowledge about the true events this play is based on but it proved the adage that the truth really can be stranger than fiction.
The first of two appearances on this list for Patsy Ferran, Summer and Smoke was a delicate, yet tense and heartbreaking play and I'm so glad it's got a transfer to the West End. See ATG's official website for details.
We need more plays like Nine Night. It's a great story, a story about a Black British family and it attracted an engaged and diverse audience both in ethnicity and age. It's what a night at the theatre should be. And another much-deserved transfer for details see the National Theatre website.
Prime of Miss Jean Brodie, Donmar Warehouse
When Lia Williams' Miss Brodie swept on the stage she took my breath away and I was smitten. But not just that the whole cast were pitch perfect loved, loved, loved this. (Runs until July 28, full details on the Donmar website.)
Notes From The Field, Royal Court
Quite simply the most affecting play I've seen for a long time.
Hayley Atwell at her ruthless best, packed with witty one-liners and left with lots to think about.
Best of fringe and pub theatre
The Claim, Shoreditch Town Hall
Powerful asylum seeker play that exposes farcical incompetence in the system.
My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court Upstairs
Sat on a bean bag in Patsy Ferran's girlhood bedroom watching her tell us a coming of age story - loved it. And it cemented my love for Patsy Ferran. The fact that she has two entries on the list is pretty good going.
An effervescent story of love and self-discovery, packed with wit and refreshingly breaks racial stereotypes.
There is a defined and painful tragedy in how a moment of lost control can have fundamental consequences but what haunted me most in this play was that for some of the characters their school days were as good as it was ever going to get.
Least favourite plays
Angry, Southwark Playhouse - lots of shouting and disappointment as I normally love Philip Ridley plays.
Macbeth, National Theatre - never has such a promising cast fallen short. You don't walk away feeling any sense of tragedy merely that you've watched a bunch of unsavoury characters killing each other.
Absolute Hell, National Theatre - long, tedious and with minimal plot. I'm over middle-class people whinging about easily solvable problems.
John, National Theatre - left at the second interval because there was nothing I cared about or cared to find out about.
I've had second helpings of RSC's Hamlet with Paapa Essiedu, Hackney Empire, Amadeus and An Octoroon at the National Theatre and Sea Wall, Old Vic and they tasted just as good but I'm not putting them on my main list because they've featured on previous 'best of' lists.
And finally, the most read posts of the year so far:
- Review: The Writer, Almeida Theatre - not a perfect play but there was much to wrap the grey matter around with a really clever structure that keeps you on your toes.
- Review: Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre - A rock and roll riot of a production that put the audience in the middle of the action rubbing shoulders with a starry cast.
- Review: John, National Theatre - I left at the second interval, the review explained why.
- Ben Whishaw's Hamlet the Hallelujah moment - one from way back in the archive in 2010 still has fans.
- Review: Coconut, Ovalhouse - so happy to see a fringe review proving popular, this play was an effervescent story of love and self-discovery. And its producers, The Thelmas, are taking their black comedy Ladykiller to the Edinburgh Fringe - help them with funding here.