This year I saw over 144 shows, from spectacular West end to powerful Edinburgh Fringe, exceptional regional theatre and sensational dance. Ahead of another busy year of theatre in 2020, I wanted to highlight the shows I’ve seen this year that have stuck with me throughout.
The Barn Theatre
Just So is an encapsulating musical with a gorgeous score based on Kipling’s Just So stories. The cast the Barn Theatre put together were superb and they delivered these charismatic musical numbers with sublime vocals and captivating character.
The Donmar Warehouse is a fantastic venue for theatre because of the intimacy and this show utilised that in the best way. Lynette Linton’s production boasted some of the best acting I’ve ever seen in a powerful play highlighting the lives of the working class in America.
Standing at the Sky’s Edge
The Sheffield Crucible theatre defined regional theatre with their production of Standing at the Sky’s Edge. Telling the story of a block of flats in the city from the 60s to modern day. It’s an epic new musical with punchy score and innovative storytelling.
The Belgrade Theatre
Emma Rice’s Wise Children is theatricality at its best. Based on Angela Carter’s novel, it is a celebration of show business told in the most exuberant and joyous way. It’s quirky, imaginative and the cast’s talent is jaw-dropping.
Grief is the Thing with Feathers
Adapted from Max O’Porter’s award-winning novel, Cillian Murphy starred as a recent widow bringing up his two boys. Set in a London flat, when the two young boys suddenly lose their mother, they are visited by a crow who guides them through their grief. It’s poetic, heart-wrenching and life-affirming.
Kunene and the King
The RSC’s Swan Theatre
Set in South Africa, when renowned actor Jack Morris is diagnosed with terminal liver cancer, his carer Lunga Kunene arrives to move into his house for full-time care. It’s an extraordinary story of friendship and understanding. One minute I was belly-laughing and the next I had tears streaming down my face. John Kani and Antony Sher draw you into their story, providing food for thought in a beautifully entertaining way.
The Watermill Theatre
It’s as if this gorgeous production was built into the Watermill Theatre. After its Broadway run in 2017, The Watermill Theatre’s brand new production strips it right back to its whimsical storytelling performed by an exceptional cast of actor musicians. It is heartachingly beautiful, witty and utterly magical. Audrey Brisson was born to play the role of Amélie.
Emila Bassano is a poet and writer who just wants her voice to be heard, and it finally is in this powerful production about her life. Morgan Lloyd Malcom’s play is pure perfection. It’s a thrilling, empowering and utterly essential story to have on stage.
Matthew Bourne’s Romeo and Juliet
It’s exciting to see a new production by Matthew Bourne and his Romeo and Juliet blew me away. Bourne creates something incredibly young, fresh and contemporary. This telling of the story has clarity and relevance. Everyone studying Shakespeare’s classic story should watch this production and be enthralled by the heartrending story of love.
West Side Story
The Royal Exchange
The Royal Exchange’s interesting venue puts the audience right in the heart of the action. So to bring a classic like West Side Story to their stage, brings a whole new sense of heart to the story. The astounding score is brought to life through intimate performances that was remarkably stirring. It captured every essence of my emotions as the flawless cast displayed the heightened emotions with such a raw poignancy.
The Color Purple
Birmingham Hippodrome and Leicester Curve’s first co-production saw Alice Walker’s novel come to life in this moving musical. With a score that boasts such emotion, power and triumph, the music in this show really is something special. This incredible cast made a musical bursting with heart and soul.
The View UpStairs
This show shines a light on the parallels of being LGBTQ+ back in 1973 and in today’s world. Asking the question; how far have we really come? It’s a poignant and powerful true story, as we meet a group of characters that face so much heart-ache and pain, yet find joy in each other and the sense of family they’ve created. It’s a stirring musical that makes you think and feel, with a jaw-dropping cast and infectious score. This theatrical experience will uplift, empower and inspire audiences to continue the fight for equality.
The National Theatre
This production is epic in a multitude of ways. Not only is it a huge story but the sheer volume of cast made this show a real experience. Small Island follows three intricately connected stories. Hortense yearns for a new life away from rural Jamaica, Gilbert dreams of becoming a lawyer, and Queenie longs to escape her Lincolnshire roots. It’s a completely consuming story of hope and human nature.
Les Mis all-star concert
Seeing Alfie Boe and Michael Ball play opposite each other as Jean ValJean and Javert in Les Mis is a musical theatre moment like no other. The Les Mis all-star concert blew me away for many reasons. Not only the extraordinary cast put together by Cameron Mackintosh, but the way a concert felt so theatrical.
Faith, Hope and Charity
The National Theatre
Hats off to the National Theatre for this production that I still think about today. Set in a community hall in England, we meet the people from a range of backgrounds that are fighting through life. As they all meet at the community centre for their daily hot meal, their stories begin to unravel. It’s immersive, touching and life-affirming like nothing I’ve experienced before, as it opened my eyes it broke my heart.
The Hope Mill Theatre
Mame is a musical that hasn’t been performed since 1969, but the Hope Mill Theatre took on the challenge of reviving it and they triumphed. Just when we thought they couldn’t lift the bar any higher, they created a piece of theatre that feels as if it belongs on Broadway. The message is moving and the performances are inspiring as Tracie Bennett leads the cast in an intimate performance that took my breath away. This production takes to the stage in Salisbury and Northampton over the next few weeks.
Northampton Royal and Derngate
Christmas theatre is tricky to get right but Jim Barnes and Kit Buchan’s new musical set in New York is a real gem. We meet British Christmas-lover Dougal who ends up spending his whirlwind trip to New York with Robin – who hates Christmas. It is simple two-hander that has an excellent score, remarkable narrative and perfect casting.
The Canary and the Crow
Telling the story of a young working-class black kid who is accepted into a prestigious grammar school on a scholarship. It’s innovative and pulsating gig theatre that electrifies the story. It’s a thrilling, dynamic performance that sheds real light on how segregating white spaces really are. It’s an important, honest show about racism and classism that packs a real punch.
Rosa Hesmondhalgh bravely and honestly tells her story with being diagnosed with Ovarian Cancer at the age of just 23 in her solo show Madame Ovary. But it’s not all doom and gloom as she brings light to the story with her frank sarcasm, witty humour and sincere personality. I left this show feeling emotionally exhausted but entirely empowered to celebrate life and be consistently grateful even when it throws you these curveballs.