Review: The Duchess of Malfi, Almeida Theatre or where has the magnetic Lydia Wilson been?
Happy New Year and here's to 2020 - and an anniversary

End of year review: My favourite theatre of 2019, a year of dazzling performances, wit, drama and tears

It's been tough but I've managed to whittle down my 'best theatre of 2019' list to 10 plays, well, one isn't actually a play but deserves a place nonetheless. So here goes, in no particular order:

Photo by Jon Tyson on Unsplash

1. Downstate, National Theatre

A challenging, difficult play with humour and wit inflected with wisdom that carefully balanced entertainment without detracting from the seriousness of the subject matter.

2. Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre

I wasn't that enamoured with Jamie Lloyd's season of Pinter shorts and then came along Betrayal and it was utterly breathtaking.

The sparse script was layered with nuanced performances from Tom Hiddleston, Zawe Ashton and Charlie Cox. What wasn't said screamed loud.

3. Seven Methods For Killing Kylie Jenner, Royal Court upstairs

This made a lot of what is on stage in London look stodgy and staid. A fresh and achingly contemporary play that cleverly and boldly tackled social media and what it reveals about modern society.

4. Hansard, National Theatre

One of those plays that get mentioned a lot in theatre conversations, this was an extremely witty and acerbic political drama/comedy which had an unexpected emotional punch.

I loved it also for its balance approached in scrutinising both left and right-leaning politics.

5. All My Sons, Old Vic Theatre

All My Sons was a gripping play, a slowly unravelling emotional thriller with masterclass performances, particularly from Colin Morgan and Sally Field. Like the characters, it left me feeling a bit shattered at the end.

6. Present Laughter, Old Vic

This is one that has appeared on a few best-of lists and deservedly so. I enjoyed it so much I went to see the NT Live encore screening.

Andrew Scott is already picking up awards for his performance which made melodrama and over-acting look effortless but it was the way he still made you feel sorry for Garry that has left the biggest mark.

Genius gender-swap casting too.

7. Lipstick: A Fairytale of Iran, Omnibus Theatre

A play which mixed the colourful, camp and different genres of storytelling with harsh realities of life in Iran. It was clever, powerful and entertaining and I'm sure it will be back on stage.

BalletBoyz Them Us Photo by George Piper
BalletBoyz: Them/Us (Us). Photo by George Piper

8. Them/Us, BalletBoyz

Not strictly theatre but I couldn't not include this show by the BalletBoyz. It was the first time I'd seen a piece of contemporary dance and the beauty and emotion of it moved me to tears.

9. Teenage Dick, Donmar Warehouse

Shakespeare's murder-his-way-to-the-crown King Richard reborn as a disabled High School student Richard Gloucester who has reputations to kill in order to make school president.

It was crammed full of wit and black humour but Daniel Monk's Richard was emotionally layered, certainly not a straightforward villain.

Oh, and it had the best dance sequence I've seen for a long, long time.

10. Cyrano de Bergerac, Playhouse Theatre

James McAvoy and Jamie Lloyd already have an impressive back catalogue of collaborations but this is the best thing they've done yet.

Fresh, contemporary and stripped back to allow the dialogue and performances to flourish this was an emotional roller coaster and another play that took my breath away.

You might also like to read:

More of my favourite fringe plays of 2019.

Not everything I've seen in 2019 has hit the mark, these are my 5 least favourite plays.

Latest review: Lydia Wilson is the magnetic Duchess of Malfi, Almeida Theatre.

From the archive: The real reasons theatre addicts choose to see a play.