67 posts categorized "Lists" Feed

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:

Jon-tyson-1Mq4QQaVhis-unsplash
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.

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


End of year review: My 5 least favourite plays of 2019

I always go to the theatre expecting something good, hopefully amazing, but it doesn't always work out that way for a variety of reasons. Here is a list of what hasn't impressed me, my 5 least favourite plays of 2019.

National theatre nudity and violence warning

In no particular order (links through to my reviews):

1. When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other, National Theatre

My first chance to see Cate Blanchett on stage and she had to choose this tedious play which rendered potentially interesting themes cold, unengaging and, well, boring.

Despite the warnings (see pic) it was emotionally flaccid and about as exciting.

Still disappointed and a bit angry.

2. Admissions, Trafalgar Studio

It's a play about white privilege, told entirely from the nice, safe perspective of a white middle-class family. Oh, the irony.

Admissions failings are particularly stark given the swathe of powerful and clever plays we've had this year about race and prejudice for example Fairview, A Kind of People, Queens of Sheba and My White Best Friend.

Continue reading "End of year review: My 5 least favourite plays of 2019 " »


End of year review: My 5 favourite fringe plays of 2019

It's the end of year theatre review time and thought I'd kick off with my favourite fringe plays of 2019.

Kompromat Vault festimal photo mark senior
Guy Warren-Thomas and Max Rinehart in Kompromat. VAULT Festival. Photo: Mark Senior


Some of these may well end up on my final top 10 list but this is my way of cheating highlighting some more great theatre.

In no particular order (links are to my original reviews):

1.Kompromat, Vault Festival

David Thame's sexy spy thriller is elevated by emotional depth. It was just as much a play about loneliness and connection as it was about a hitman and his target.

Can't wait to see what he writes next.

2. 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.

Continue reading "End of year review: My 5 favourite fringe plays of 2019" »


10 plays from the past 10 years that stand out - for a variety of reasons (not necessarily overly worthy ones)

Here is a snapshot of my favourite theatre from the past 10 years. I say 'favourite', I've tried not to overthink it, these are simply the plays that stand out most in my memory, the ones I talk about if people ask.

Theatre tickets
Stan's growing pile of theatre tickets


The list is not about plays that broke new ground or changed the theatre landscape - there are plenty of those lists around already - rather these plays just had something in them that I remember fondly.

To say that it has been tough narrowing it down to 10 is an understatement but I get another go next year because my blog is 10 in April. (There, I spoilt the surprise.)

In no particular order (the links are through to my reviews):

1. After the Dance, National Theatre

This is a play that gets talked about in 'theatre circles' a lot. It had a uniformly standout cast and I can still remember Nancy Carroll's snot crying.

But it has a particularly special place in my memory for being the play which turned Benedict Cumberbatch into 'one to watch' for me.

I'd seen him plenty on TV but this catapulted him from jobbing actor to leading man potential in my eyes.

This was before Sherlock hit the screens and as a result, means I can smugly say 'well I've been a fan since before he played Holmes'.

2. Hamlet, Stratford and Hackney Empire

I've seen a lot of Hamlets, more than one a year, and while technically I did see Ben Whishaw's Hamlet for the first time in 2010, it was a recording rather than the live performance so it doesn't count.

Paapa Essiedu's Hamlet for the RSC was the first, since Whishaw's, where I really felt he was a student and acting his age, he was also the most likeable which made the play all the more tragic.

Setting the play in an African country and having Rosencrantz & Guildenstern as 2 of only 3 white characters was also genius because it put them out of their depth in so many more interesting ways.

When I saw it for the second time, in Hackney, a group of teenagers were so swept up in it they leapt up to dance at the end. I don't think there is higher praise than that really.

3. The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios

It's the play in which director Jamie Lloyd had James McAvoy unicycling around the stage wearing just his pants. Have no idea why that sticks out in my mind. Ahem.

The play was brilliantly bonkers too. Wish I could see it again.

Continue reading "10 plays from the past 10 years that stand out - for a variety of reasons (not necessarily overly worthy ones)" »


London Theatre 2019 in review - the highs and lows so far...

So we are halfway through 2019 which means time to look back and reflect on what London's theatre scene has offered up so far and this year: 

5 plays I loved:

Emilia, Vaudeville Theatre

"Yes, Emilia is an angry play about the frustration of inequality and how it limits opportunity but the message and call to arms is served well with a mixture of sharp humour, merriment and music."

Downstate poster

Downstate, National Theatre

"This is a challenging, difficult play with humour and wit inflected with wisdom, carefully balancing entertainment without detracting from the seriousness of the subject matter."

Betrayal, Harold Pinter Theatre

"Hiddleston, Ashton and Cox deliver precise, layered performances in a production that grips with tension."

Continue reading "London Theatre 2019 in review - the highs and lows so far..." »


I've given the theatres where I pay for membership an appraisal - how did they score?

Rob-laughter-491252-unsplash
Photo by Rob Laughter on Unsplash


You know when you get appraised at work and scored on your performance? Well, I've done the same for the theatres Poly and I have 'friends' memberships for.

Essentially these schemes are ways of theatres raising money and in return, you get perks like priority booking.

Return on 'investment'?

We have memberships at the theatres we visit the most, which means we also buy a lot of tickets, so I wanted to work out what the return on our 'investment' is.

Are we getting bangs for our theatre bucks in terms of enjoyment, after all, you don't go to the theatre to be bored or miserable?

Continue reading "I've given the theatres where I pay for membership an appraisal - how did they score?" »


Happy New Theatre Year: 9 plays I'm particularly looking forward to seeing in 2019

Starting off 2019 with plenty of theatre in the diary, these are the nine plays I'm particularly looking forward to seeing (in date order):

RG-3X9vs_400x400Kompromat, Vault Festival (23-27 Jan)

What the website says: Inspired by the still-unsolved 2010 murder of GCHQ agent Gareth Williams, Kompromat is a tense drama of double agents and our capacity for self-deception played out against a high-stakes game of love.

Why I'm excited: Having read an early draft a couple of years ago and then attended a rehearsed reading at the Arcola I've got a good feel for what this might be like.

Tartuffe, National Theatre (9 Feb-30 Apr)

What the website says: A scalpel-sharp comedy looking at the lengths we go to find meaning – and what happens when we find chaos instead.

Why I'm excited: Tartuffe is one of the classics I've long wanted to see, John Donnelly has done the adaptation and Olivia Williams is in it. I love Olivia Williams.

Jesus Hopped The 'A' Train, Young Vic (14 Feb-30 Mar)

What the website says: From Pulitzer Prize winner Stephen Adly Guirgis (The Motherfucker with the Hat), comes this critically-acclaimed dark comedy about the American justice system and the contradictory nature of faith. 

Why I'm excited: I loved The Motherfucker With the Hat when I saw it in 2015 at the National and I've been waiting for another Stephen Adly Guirgis play to hit London ever since.

Continue reading "Happy New Theatre Year: 9 plays I'm particularly looking forward to seeing in 2019" »


2018 theatre review: My favourite plays of the year (and my first six star play)

So I've published my favourite fringe plays list and my least favourite plays list, time now for my best plays of 2018 overall, gleaned from everything I've seen - large productions and small, commercial theatres, subsidised and fringe:

via GIPHY

Misty, Trafalgar Studios

A play which put the pulse back into the West End and as a result was a breath of fresh air.

A Monster Calls, Old Vic

I was nervous about seeing a stage adaptation of a much-loved book but the creativity with which it was staged combined with the performances meant I was an emotional wreck by the end. So much of an emotional wreck, I had to walk around for a bit afterwards to compose myself.

Queens of Sheba, Underbelly, Edinburgh Fringe

A play about the dual prejudice of sexism and racism encountered by black women that succeeded in being both angry, uplifting and empowering.

It left me feeling teary in a happy/sad/exhilarated way and ready to march if the call came.

There is another chance to see it at the New Diorama Theatre, Jan 30-Feb 3 as part of the Vault Festival.

Notes from the Field, Royal Court

It was an uncomfortable, seat-squirming, horrifying joy to sit and experience and I gave it an unprecedented six stars. Yes, six stars.

Continue reading "2018 theatre review: My favourite plays of the year (and my first six star play)" »


2018 theatre review: My least favourite plays of the year

Not all the plays I see are brilliant. Some are 'OK' and easily forgotten but then there are those that haunt but not in a good way. Seeing 100+ shows a year it's inevitable that some will disappoint and these are the ones that did just that in 2018.

Allelujah Bridge Theatre sign1. A Very Very Very Dark Matter, Bridge Theatre

I love Martin McDonagh's writing and his dark humour and was stupidly excited to see a new play but this wasn't going down as a favourite. 

It feels like a play that should have had another few months of development and it is the wasted opportunities and clunky moments that have stayed with me rather than the good bits.

2. Foxfinder, Ambassadors Theatre

A play and production that couldn't decide whether it wanted to be a surreal comedy or a thriller and failed at both. All the more disappointing because it had a great cast.

3. Allelujah, Bridge Theatre

Second entry for the Bridge on the list, this time a new Alan Bennett play which had me ducking out at the interval. It was too wrapped up in whimsey to carry any punch and by the interval getting an early night was more desirable than finding out what happened. 

4. Absolute Hell, National Theatre*

I found the plot too peripheral and with so many characters there was little depth. It felt very long.

Continue reading "2018 theatre review: My least favourite plays of the year" »


2018 theatre review: My 10 favourite fringe plays

Edinburgh Fringe media pass2018 was my first year at the Edinburgh Fringe which produced a bumper crop of excellent plays (look out for transfer details) but London has delivered some gems too.

Out of the 50-odd fringe plays there are 10 that really stand out but what strikes me most when revisiting them is how many evoked such a strong emotional reaction.

Yes, some are on the list for being highly entertaining but others made me feel angry or empowered or rebellious, some even a bit teary.

The other thing that strikes me is their diversity in ethnicity and gender balance tipped away from male dominance but I'll be writing more about that in another post.

So, in no particular order:

1. The Claim, Shoreditch Town Hall

Based on research into Home Office procedures this exposes the farcical system that asylum-seekers encounter but more than that, how incompetence endangers people's lives. It made me very angry.

2. My Mum's A Twat, Royal Court Upstairs

It's been an incredible year for Patsy Ferran, kicked off in fine style with this solo performance in a play about a girl's relationship with her mother who has joined a cult. Funny and spirited it also had dark edges.

3. Coconut, Ovalhouse

An effervescent love story and a coming of age story that challenged stereotypes.

4. Flesh and Bone, Soho Theatre upstairs

Shakespeare-esque lyricism combined with East End vernacular cleverly takes you on a revealing and entertaining journey that elevates the stories of those that often overlooked. Shakespeare would, no doubt, have approved.

Continue reading "2018 theatre review: My 10 favourite fringe plays " »