As a functioning theatre addict I clocked up 145 different shows in 2017. Which is no mean feat as my amateur status means I paid to see all these shows (as this is an unsustainable addiction, 2018 is gearing up to be much quieter). I suspect this gives me a very different mindset to a theatre critic, as I go wanting to find the best in a show. I also don’t critique theatre in the traditional sense, as I’ll only celebrate the shows I loved. I’m not here to shit on someone else’s Art.
So my end of year round up tends to be one of my favourite posts as I can gush about the shows that really moved me in 2017. The problem is getting that list down to a manageable number, as there was a lot to love theatrically this year. I managed to get my short list down to 19 shows, with a surprising number of musicals, as I don’t tend to watch that many (as a % of shows seen in 2017 they only account for 11% but make up 7/19 of my top shows)
So my shortlist is more of a long list but here is a quick snapshot of the shows I loved in 2017, starting with those that you can still go and see if you are inspired to. Unfortunately many have been and gone now, such is the nature of theatre, although you never know if one or two of them may not pop up again in theatres in the future.
So in no particular order of merit, here are the shows I loved in 2017, starting with the productions it is still possible to see:
- Romantics Anonymous at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at the Globe. A heart warming, joy filled musical for chocolate lovers everywhere. Wraps you up a in a gorgeous bubble of loveliness, but finishes the first week of January, so only a very limited time left to catch this gem.
- Ink at the Almeida. This is another one you need to move fast to catch as its West End transfer run finishes 6th January. My favourite James Graham of the year (although I’m not seeing Quiz until it lands in London next year, so can’t count that one), who, for a very prolific writer consistently turns out quality theatre. A brilliant, sharp, playful piece of theatre about the birth of The Sun newspaper. Whatever you may think of The Sun, this is a fascinating and timely play that is well worth running to see before it is gone.
- Girl from the North Country at the Old Vic. A poignant, melancholy musical, but what would you expect from a story created from Dylan songs? I’ve had the soundtrack on repeat when working from home. Such an accomplished beautiful musical and while it is too late to catch it at the Old Vic, the West End transfer means that even greater audiences will have a chance to see this wonderful show.
- Everybody is Talking about Jamie at the Apollo Theatre is an explosive firework of a show. Another soundtrack I regularly play at home, it is packed full of ear worm worthy songs. But on top of being a a lot of fun, this musical has a beautiful heart, with the love of a mother and her son bringing poignancy to this inspiring true story.
- The Jungle at the Young Vic. An entertaining yet devastating play about life in the Calais Jungle. While it is still running, it is sold out but this is definitely a show worth risking the returns queue for. Can not recommend this play highly enough, they’ve created something really special.
- Beginning at the National. I was excited about this show before I saw it, as I’ve long been a fan of David Eldridge’s plays and this may well now be my favourite (I’ve a few I’ve not seen, so can’t be definitive on this). An intimate, funny, moving two-hander that surprises as it entertains. Too late to see it at the National but well worth catching the well deserved West End transfer.
- The Ferryman at the Royal Court. What can I say, I’m with the critics on this one. I loved this show and came out feeling like I was going to burst out of my skin. An ambitious beast of a play, that continues to extend its West End run. Believe the hype.
- Caroline or Change at the Chichester Festival Theatre. Not the most cheerful of musicals but done to perfection. The best washing machine performance I’ve ever seen in a show. Good news is that this production is coming to the Hampstead Theatre in 2018, so Londoners don’t even have to brave the vagaries of Southern Trains to head to Chichester. Sharon D Clarke is glorious (as per usual) and is transferring with the production, so definitely one to secure tickets for.
Now we get to my favourite shows that are no longer available to see on stages, although some of the bigger shows have been captured through NT Live (or similar) services, so may resurface in cinemas near you.
- Follies at the National was a glorious production of an epic musical. So so specical
- Adrian Mole The Musical at the Menier Chocolate Factory was a joy to watch, and given the reactions of the youngsters beside me, you don’t have to have survived the 80s to appreciate it. I hope this production has a chance to play to even bigger audiences in the future.
- La Strada at the Other Palace took me on a magical journey before breaking my heart. A special, beautiful show.
- King Lear at the Chichester Festival Theatre. I adored this production so much it got its own blog post here
- Angels In America at the National. Justifiably one (or should I say two?) of the hottest tickets in 2017. Made every penny of my National Theatre membership worthwhile. Just spectacular.
- Mosquitoes at the National Theatre. Brilliant casting of a smart and thought provoking play. All aspects of this show came together to create something really special.
- What Shadows at the Park Theatre. This was a touring production that came to the Park (they get a lot of interesting stuff passing through, if you’ve yet to visit this lovely, vibrant North London theatre), another timely play about historic events that resonate with the mood of today. Enoch Powell is a polarising figure, I wasn’t sure what I was getting myself into with this show, but it definitely reached parts of my brain other more modern political plays and TV shows failed to reach.
- Executioner Number One at the Soho Theatre. Saw some wonderful shows at the Soho this year (Halfbreed, The Lounge and Expensive Shit deserve special mentions too) but this one really got under my skin. A dark comic look at a dystopian future where capital punishment has been reintroduced in the UK. Brilliantly written and performed by Toby Whithouse
- Guards at the Taj at the Bush Theatre. An imaginative, beautifully written two-hander that transported me back in time to a place I’ve never been (the Taj Mahal)
- Hamlet at the Almeida. Possibly the best production of Hamlet I’ve ever seen (my previous favourite was with the wonderful Ben Whishaw at the Old Vic, but it was so long ago I can’t directly compare them, so best to call it a tie). Robert Icke’s version came together in an exquisite whole that resonated with me, making me realise I’ve seen far too many average productions of Hamlet. Gushed about it at the time, so hoping all my friends managed to catch the West End transfer. If they missed it, they can’t blame me for not telling them about it.
- Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Harold Pinter. Magnificent production of a challenging play.
Phew and relax. So those were my favourite 19 shows of 2017. Lots of other brilliant shows that made it on to an even longer list, but I’ve only so much time available to write these posts and have things to do before the year ends, including seeing Pinocchio at the National Theatre tonight. If I love it as much as I hope I will, it may be the subject of its own separate post.
For those that celebrate New Year’s Eve have fun. For those that don’t, have a lovely relaxing evening. I’ll be back at the start of the New Year with a summary of the shows I’m excited about for 2018. This will be a much shorter list, as it’s time to scale back or I’ll never get my novel finished.