Thursday, 31 December 2015

My 10 favourite shows of 2015

So here we are, 304 plays later (nearly a hundred less than last year doncha know!) and it's time to reflect and put them in some kind of order, because that's what we do at this time of year. Overall, I think it was a good rather than exceptional year of theatre, there didn't seem to be the same degree of breathtaking moments as in 2014. Which made ordering this list really hard, I could honestly say the top 10 were all of a standard and could easily have swapped places with each other...

Anyhoo, here's my selection of my favourite productions of 2015 (small order of business - eligibility is based on when I saw the show first, so Gypsy and In the Heights both fall into last year's cohort, and it's pronounced fos-tîr'ē-ən ;-))


I saw this around the same time as the all-white, all-male American Buffalo and the difference could not have been more pronounced. Danai Gurira's excoriatingly powerful writing bristled with truths barely-acknowledged in the wider world, the complex way in which wars (here the Second Liberian Civil War) are fought and 'won', ignoring the inconvenient reality of lives on the ground. For the women of this rebel army base, the consequences of their different choices were undeniably compelling and outstandingly performed by a cracking ensemble (Letitia Wright and T'Nia Miller particularly memorable), well directed by Caroline Byrne for the Gate, securing its reputation as one of the best places to go for new writing in the UK.
 

I don't think anyone dared imagine that the #AlmeidaGreeks season would be this good but from the off, Robert Icke's boldly contemporary adaptation of Aeschylus' trio of tragedies had an incendiary quality that burned bright all season long. Key to Oresteia's power was foregrounding Iphigenia's sacrifice, making us watch a father kill his little girl reframed Klytemnestra's rage and its consequential outpourings most effectively and in Lia Williams' hands, devastatingly.


Not a million miles away from Eclipsed in subject matter, but an altogether different theatrical beast. Jude Christian's production of Cordelia Lynn's scorching new play thrust the audience into a dangerously playful environment (I'll never look at candy floss in the same way again) and then kept us tumbling further into the darkness of the rabbit-hole. Unforgettable stuff.


One of the joys of blogging is the opportunity to be unabashedly personal when the mood strikes, and so it was with this most beloved of shows from my childhood. Little Shop... was actually the Royal Exchange's festive show from last year but I only made it up in January and boy, was I glad I did.

5 hang

You can tell a lot about a person by their reaction to debbie tucker green's choice of stylisation but no matter where you stand on capital letters, there's no denying the power of hang. Taut, intelligent, slippery and challenging, and with an uncompromising Marianne Jean-Baptiste at its heart - powerful stuff


I've not always totally loved Philip Ridley's writing but frequent director David Mercatali has become increasingly keenly attuned to its hypnotic rhythms, making it a more appealing prospect . And with this (slightly) more playful piece, which allowed acting tours-de-forces from Gemma Whelan and Sean Michael Verey, nailed it for me.


Small but perfectly formed, this touring two-hander from Box of Tricks thoroughly broke my heart. You felt every twist of Ella Carmen Greenhill's keenly observed writing and with the devastating power of Remmie Milner and Jamie Samuels' acting, the show wielded an extraordinary power.


Martin McDonagh's long-awaited return to the theatre didn't disappoint, brilliantly mining a mordantly dark vein of tragicomedy (even if audiences do seem to be focusing exclusively on the latter part, in their determination to have a hilariously good time!)


Everybody say yeah, yeah! YEAH!


One of Daniel Evans' many innovations during his time in Sheffield has been to turn it into a hotspot for some cracking regional premieres - shows like Penelope Skinner's The Village Bike, Deborah Bruce's The Distance and next year's Contractions by Mike Bartlett have ensured exciting new writing doesn't remain the province of London theatres and in the case of Lucy Prebble's The Effect, actually gave us an utterly gorgeous production that improved on the original.


11-25
15 Xanadu


And my least favourite shows...
The unthinking cultural insensitivity of Thoroughly Modern Millie
The baffling West End bow for The Mentalists
The well meaning but misguided cancer musical Happy Ending
The show that did exactly what it said on the tin, The Trial
and the best worst thing I saw, Flames, the show that made me laugh the most, though I really don't think it was their intention

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