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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).

julius caesar bridge theatre Rev stan
Julius Caesar warm-up gig, Bridge Theatre. Photo: Rev Stan

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)

Girls and Boys, Royal Court

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.

Julius Caesar, Bridge Theatre

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.

Summer and Smoke, Almeida

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.

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My favourite plays of 2017...so far #midyearreview #theatre

via GIPHY 

2017 is already the year that brought us Andrew Scott's Hamlet, Jez Butterworth's The Ferryman and my introduction to playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and it's only six months in. There are a further nine plays I couldn't not include in my 'best of so far' list and that was with the bar set very high. I've still got Angels in America, Ben Whishaw in Against, Rory Kinnear in Young Marx and the awarding winning Oslo to come later this year, among many others potential theatre treats - the end of year list is already looking tricky to narrow down.

Anyway, here's what I've enjoyed the most in 2017 so far. Feel free to agree/disagree...

(In no particular order, because that would be too traumatic to do.)

1. Amadeus, National Theatre  This was supposed to be a 2016 play but I gave up my ticket for the early part of the run because of work pressures, good words from @PolyG made me rebook for January and I'm so glad I did. It was a play that unexpectedly floored me. It's returning next year and yes I've got a ticket.

2. Out Their On Fried Meat Ridge Road, White Bear Fringe theatre kicked off in fine style with this brilliantly warm, funny, odd, dark, misfit comedy that was the antidote to everything disturbing that was going on the world at the time. It transferred to Trafalgar Studios 2 and I got to enjoy it all over again.

3. Hamlet, Almeida  I've seen a lot of Hamlet's and there is usually something new in each but Andrew Scott's prince in Robert Icke's production made me look at the play with completely new eyes. Sorry Sherlock but this was a battle that Moriarty definitely won. It's transferred to the West End.

4. An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre  Was tipped off about American playwright Branden Jacob-Jenkins and this is the first of his plays I've seen. It's a play I could write reams and reams about and reminded me why I love going to the theatre. Gloria, another of his plays is currently on at Hampstead Theatre, it didn't quite make this list but it is still really good.

5. Rotterdam, Arts Theatre  This was in my 'best of' list last year but after a stint off Broadway it's come back to London to the bigger Arts Theatre. It made me laugh, it made me gasp and it made me cry - all that even though I've seen it before and knew exactly what was coming. That's why it's back on the list. It's on until 15 July.

6. Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead, Old Vic  It's possibly the only Tom Stoppard play I really like and this was a great production that was lively, entertaining, profound and melancholic . There was a brilliant rapport between the two leads - Daniel Radcliffe and Joshua McGuire - and David Haig as The Player was worth the ticket price alone.

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My favourite plays of 2016 - or the year it was pretty much all about women and Ivo Van Hove

Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams, Mary Stuart Almeida Theatre. Photo Miles Aldridge

I don't know whether the proportion of plays with female leads was higher this year or whether it was those plays that were particularly brilliant but either way I'm pleased this has ended up being such a female dominated list. The other surprise (sort of) is that Ivo Van Hove who would easily run away with the best director gong if I handed out such things. Anyway, of the 100 or so plays I saw this year, these were my particular favourites:

A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing, Young Vic

A powerful solo performance, Aoife Duffin had me hanging on every word of this bleak, unflinching story of a girl's relationships as she grows up.

The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theatre, New York

Not just because Ben Whishaw was in it but because it was a tour de force production by Ivo Van Hove (and I loved the Old Vic/Richard Armitage version in 2014). And, there was a dog that looked like a wolf.

Mary Stuart, Almeida

Two brilliant female leads (Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams) made for an edge of the seat, emotional and utterly gripping play (playing until 21 Jan).

Yerma, Young Vic

A brilliant contemporary spin on the story, inventive staging and another knock out performance from Billie Piper.

Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon

I’ve seen a lot of Hamlets and this is up there as possibly my all time favourite thanks to Paapa Essiedu and a fresh, warm, funny and moving production.

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My five favourite Shakespeare productions of 2016

Paapa Essiedu as Hamlet for the RSC 2016. Photo (c) Manuel Harlan

It's been 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death this year and I think theatre land did him proud. From Ivo Van Hove's five-plays-in-one epic King's of War to a 90-minute Hamlet and a motion capture Ariel (I've yet to see the latter) here are five of my favourites:

Henry V, RSC, Barbican

Seen as the final play in the tetralogy this was a worthy final chapter due in part to Alex Hassell's wonderful performance as the playboy prince turned warrior king.

Midsummer Night's Dream, Lyric Hammersmith

This was just so inventive and so much fun. Don't think I've laughed quite so much at Shakespeare (or in a theatre).

King Lear, RSC, Barbican

Never really warmed to King Lear as a play until I saw this production. I laughed, cried, gasped and was utterly gripped from start to finish.

Hamlet, RSC, Royal Shakespeare Theatre

I've seen more Hamlet's than any other play and I've seen some cracking productions but I'd put this up there with the Old Vic/Ben Whishaw as my all time favourite. Paapa Essiedu was breathtaking in a production of fully rounded characters. (He was also brilliant in King Lear.)

The Tempest, King's Cross Theatre (Donmar)

This completed the series of all women, prison-set Shakespeare production's the Donmar has produced and proved to be a clever, lively, fresh and contemporary take. And always good to see Jade Anouka on stage, this time playing a street-wise Ariel.


There was another production worthy of this list, David Tennant's Richard II which wowed me all over again but I haven't included it as it was on the 'best of' list for 2013 which was when I first saw it.

Related posts:

My least favourite plays of 2016

Five favourite fringe plays of 2016

Overall favourite plays of 2016



My five favourite fringe productions of 2016

There's been some cracking fringe theatre this year - there's also been some best forgotten but we'll gloss over that. These five favourites are taken from a list of more than 40 fringe plays I've seen this year (in no particular order):

Rotterdam, Trafalgar Studios 2

Fresh, contemporary, funny and packing emotional punch Rotterdam didn't shy away from exploring difficult issues.

Odd Shaped Balls, Red Lion Theatre

A powerful solo performance that managed to inject sensitivity and emotion into the testosterone-fuelled world of rugby.

A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing, Young Vic (The Maria)

Another powerful solo performance, Aoife Duffin had me hanging on every word of this bleak, unflinching story of a woman's relationships as she grows up.

Pigs and Dogs, Royal Court

In a year in which theatre land seems to have decided that serious = long, Pigs and Dogs proved the opposite. It was a powerful, punchy, revealing 15 minutes long.

Hamlet, Trafalgar Studios 2

If you are going to do fringe Shakespeare you need to be inventive as there are so many big budget, starry productions for comparison. This version was stripped down to a powerful 90 minutes focusing purely on the mental health of the prince. It was cleverly done.

Related posts:

My least favourite plays of 2016

Five favourite Shakespeare plays

Overall favourite plays of 2016

My least favourite plays of 2016

27485423786_8780a5bbf5_zI've seen so many great plays this year (best of list coming soon) but occasionally there is play that doesn't work for me. I don't set out to dislike a play (why buy the ticket?) but not everything is to everyone's liking. The criteria for getting on this list is being memorable but not for good reasons. It generally has nothing to do with the acting or production but is usually the play itself.  Some plays are good but easily forgotten so there is an achievement, of sorts, in making this list at least.

Lunch and the Bow of Ulysses, Trafalgar Studios 2

This double bill about the start and end of a relationship was so relentlessly bitter and joyless it made me worry for the writer, Steven Berkoff. I think, given my track record with Berkoff plays, I'm adding him to my list playwrights I don't get on with and should probably avoid.

Travesties, Menier Chocolate Factory

Tom Stoppard expects a certain level of knowledge and familiarity with the historical figures and works of art and literature he features and most of the key characters I knew nothing about. I'm also not that familiar with Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest which forms the heart of a key plot line. As a result I felt alienated from the narrative and the humour, it was like watching a play through a window. I'm fully prepared to put my hand up and say I'm not clever enough for Stoppard.


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Rev Stan's 10 best plays of 2016 so far

4267324_ee18d61bbe_mSo we have reached the half way point of the year which is a good time to reflect on what I've really enjoyed or what has made its mark so far.  In case you were wondering, I've seen 50 plays (not including repeat visits) and the quality has been high. There has also been a good variety of things to see - some particularly good comedies - and some great fringe productions. The second half of the year holds a lot of promise which could make my end of year list trickier than usual.

1. A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing, Young Vic  A powerful and emotional 90 minute solo performance by Aoife Duffin.

2. The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theatre, New York Not every play Ben Whishaw is in makes it onto my best of lists (honest). The Old Vic's production of The Crucible in 2014 with Richard Armitage playing John Procter was cracking so this had a lot to live up to and director Ivo Van Hove's very different production including the against-type casting of Mr W as Procter ticked a whole series of different boxes.

3. Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon  Possibly the best Hamlet I've seen, so far and I've seen quite a few.

4. Kings of War, Barbican Theatre Four and a half hours of Shakespeare performed in Dutch with English subtitles - I wasn't sure at first but by the end I was utterly gripped.

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My 1,000th post: The theatre addict's initiation

Balloon_stock_png_by_mysticmorning-d3kdoy9In April 2010 I wrote my first post on my new theatre blog and six years later, here I am writing my 1,000th. My love for theatre and writing about it hasn't waned and neither, it seems, has the interest from those of you generous enough to indulge me by reading what I write. So thank you, it still surprises me that people actually do take the trouble.

To celebrate I've been thinking about those more unusual experiences you very occasionally have as an audience member - I see it as a sort of initiation, a test of endurance and dedication, so here are my five:

1. Spat on by an actor - That moment when you are sat on the front row, somewhere like the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and there is an actor walking towards you giving an impassioned and earnest speech with a generous accompaniment of spittle spraying far and wide. You brace yourself as they get closer.  I was once spat on by the lovely Alex Hassell, a former Hottie of the Month so I can't complain too much.

2. Splashed by stage blood - During Jamie Lloyd's production of Richard III they handed out protective T-Shirts for those sitting in the front row. I just wore dark colours and saw it as a rite of passage.  My reward was a few splashes on my foot. I have seen someone walk out with a nice smear right across their cheek. I live in hope.

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Me and Shakespeare - a list

CgtmglOWgAAbcEOOn the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death it seems appropriate to do a list:

First Shakespeare I saw

Midsummer Night's Dream at Tolethorpe Hall - Performed by a local am dram society outside in the grounds, the stage skirted by trees and shrubbery it was quite magical. The cast would just melt into the darkness of the leaves and branches.

Last I saw

Coincidentally it was A Midsummer Night's Dream, this time at the Lyric Hammersmith and it was brilliantly funny.

Plays I studied

Henry IV part 1 for O-level, Richard II and The Tempest for A-level, Hamlet, Othello, Richard II, Richard III, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night for my degree.

The plays I've yet to see

Cymberline (booked to see in the Autumn), Antony and Cleopatra, Henry VI (seeing an abridged version as part of Ivo Van Hove's King's of War tomorrow), Henry VIII, Merry Wives of Windsor, Pericles and King John.

Favourite play

Hamlet. Always see something new in every production and I'm still waiting for the perfect Ophelia.

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Five actors I'd love to see on stage - an update

7917222618_1050343ce5_zStarted watching the BBC's War and Peace this week - brilliant cast but Paul Dano particularly stands out as Pierre. I've long been a fan of his screen work; it was Little Miss Sunshine in 2006 that brought him to my attention. He's done a heap of amazing stuff since then: There Will Be Blood, 12 Year's A Slave, Love and Mercy and most recently Youth.

I would love to see him on stage which got me thinking about the lists I've done in the past so I dug them out and immediately wanted to add some names.

This was my first list in 2011 and it very much still stands although I can cross Julie Walters off now - she was a brilliant as I imagined she would be. Then @PolyG did a list in 2014 which I added to including Andrew Garfield whom I'm hoping to tick off my list next year. But here are five more names I want add, what do you think?

Paul Dano

For the reasons set out above and he's no stranger to treading the boards on Broadway so what's he waiting for? Come on Paul, it's lovely over here in London.

Alicia Vikander

She's been a regular presence on the silver screen, in fact at one point last year I think I saw her in three different films in the space of a month. She's nominated for best supporting actress for A Danish Girl - it should be best actress because it certainly wasn't a supporting role. I first spotted her in the Danish-language film A Royal Affair in 2012 and I'm intrigued to see if her screen presence translates to the stage.


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