With a new year and new decade just days away, I’ve compiled a list of the productions which had a huge impact on me over the past twelve months. In no particular order, here’s my top theatre shows of 2019.
The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A late entry into this year’s Top 10, The Ocean at the End of the Lane opened at the National’s Dorfman Theatre in December and completely blew me away. Based on Neil Gaiman’s 2013 novel, Joel Horwood’s adaptation is a beautiful and fantastical tale of memory, imagination, love and loss. With inventive puppetry from Samuel Wyer and illusions from Jamie Harrison, the play is a visual treat which captures your imagination right from the very start. The Ocean at the End of the Lane is an enchanting, heartbreaking and utterly terrifying production, perfectly casted and a magical reminder of the power of theatre.
Present Laughter, Old Vic
‘Hot Priest’ himself Andrew Scott took a step closer to world domination with his performance in Nöel Coward’s Present Laughter at the Old Vic. He starred as successful stage actor Garry Essendine, a self-obsessed star going through something of a midlife crisis in a hilarious play about fame and loneliness. A riot from start to finish, Present Laughter was a wonderfully witty play packed full of laugh-out-loud moments. The whole cast, which included Indira Varma and Sophie Thompson, excelled, but this really was Andrew Scott’s show, and he deserves all of the awards for his turn as the flamboyant actor.
Mouthpiece, Soho Theatre
Having premiered at the Edinburgh Festival last year, Mouthpiece finally arrived at London’s Soho Theatre in spring and instantly made an impact. Written by Kieran Hurley, the play was a gripping two-hander starring Neve McIntosh and Lorn Macdonald as two people from very different backgrounds who strike up an unlikely friendship. Mouthpiece was a powerful commentary on the arts world and the representation of social class within theatre. With two brilliant performances and top-class writing, Mouthpiece was an essential watch and utterly captivating from start to finish.
Come From Away, Phoenix Theatre
It’s enjoyed success across the pond and finally Come From Away made its way to London’s Phoenix Theatre, brightening up a dull January and reminding us all of the kindness of strangers. The musical tells the true story of the small, Newfoundland town of Gander, which came to the world’s attention on 11 September 2001 when 38 planes were ordered to land there after American airspace was closed. The town’s population almost doubled in size and residents of Gander opened their homes to strangers, providing them with food, clothes, shelter, kindness and lasting friendship. With a heartwarming story, an infectious soundtrack and a fantastic ensemble cast featuring the likes of Cat Simmons, Clive Carter and Rachel Tucker, Come From Away is an absolute joy to watch and the musical the world needs right now.
Sweat, Donmar Warehouse/Gielgud Theatre
Lynn Nottage’s Sweat originally opened at the Donmar Warehouse last December to rave reviews and transferred to London’s West End earlier this year. Nottage spent two and a half years interviewing the real-life residents of Reading, Pennsylvania on America’s ‘rust belt’ and the result was this gripping story of a blue-collar town in decline. Her research more than paid off, with well-rounded, relatable characters brought to life thanks to extraordinary performances from the cast including Martha Plimpton and Clare Perkins. The compelling story, brilliant acting and Lynette Linton’s expert direction combined to produce an astonishing piece of theatre that really packed a punch – the ending in particular will stay with me for a long, long time.
Whodunnit (Unrehearsed), Park Theatre
London’s Park Theatre embarked on a spot of fundraising this summer with its comedy show Whodunnit (Unrehearsed). As the name suggested, Whodunnit was a murder-mystery with a twist. Each night of the two-week run, a different celebrity donned a deer stalker hat and stepped into the shoes of the detective investigating the crime. However, unlike the rest of the cast, the celebrity hadn’t seen the script and instead were fed their lines through an earpiece, with hilarious results. Detectives during the run included Jim Broadbent, Joanna Lumley, Gillian Anderson and Damien Lewis, who were all good sports as they coped admirably with whatever was thrown at them. A unique concept, Whodunnit (Unrehearsed) was an unforgettable few hours of entertainment – and all for a good cause!
The Son, Duke of York’s Theatre
Florian Zeller’s tale of teenage depression transferred to the Duke of York’s Theatre earlier this year and certainly packed an emotional punch. The play starred Laurie Kynaston who gave a career-defining performance as 17 year old Nicolas who’s struggling with depression following his parent’s (played by Amanda Abbington and John Light) divorce. The Son was a devastating play which did a brilliant job of shining a spotlight on men’s mental health. With a hard-hitting storyline, an ingenious twist or two, and a standout performance from Kynaston in particular, The Son was an essential and powerful watch.
Emilia, Vaudeville Theatre
It premiered at the Globe Theatre in the summer of 2018, but Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s Emilia had a second lease of life at the Vaudeville Theatre earlier this year. An all-female cast brought to life the story of Emilia Bassano, the 16th century poet said to be Shakespeare’s muse and the ‘dark lady’ of his sonnets. Emilia was an astonishing and empowering production which highlighted the plight of women throughout the centuries. Packed full of humour, the show featured incredible performances from Saffron Coomber, Adele Leonce and Clare Perkins as Emilia through the ages. The atmosphere was electric and the closing speech brought the f*cking house down every night. Theatre at its best.
Rosmersholm, Duke of York’s Theatre
Henrik Ibsen’s dark play Rosmersholm rarely treads the boards, but Duncan Macmillan’s new adaptation, which ran at the Duke of York’s Theatre, proved that it’s as relevant as it was when it was first performed. Starring Tom Burke, Hayley Atwell and Giles Terera, Rosmersholm was an absorbing and chillingly up-to-date production which more than lived up to the hype. With a beautiful set courtesy of Rae Smith, Neil Austin’s atmospheric lighting and outstanding performances from the cast, including a mesmerising turn from Hayley Atwell, Rosmersholm was a powerful and gripping play with a clever, if devastating ending.
Box Clever/Killymuck, Bunker Theatre
While it may seem like I’m cheating by featuring two productions in one, Box Clever and Killymuck were presented as a double bill at London’s Bunker Theatre and were two one-woman plays which packed an emotional punch. Starring Redd Lily Roche as Marnie, Monsay Whitney’s Box Clever told the story of a young woman’s experience of living in a refuge; while Kat Woods’ Killymuck featured Aoife Lennon as Niamh, a young woman who grew up on a council estate. Both Box Clever and Killymuck were powerful and thought-provoking productions and, like many of the Bunker’s plays, offered a voice to a group of people often ignored by the arts (and as a girl who grew up on a council estate, Killymuck immediately connected with me). With brilliant performances, slick direction and heartbreaking twists, these two essential plays were painfully realistic and will stay with me for a long, long time.
Special mention also goes to: Death of a Salesman (Young Vic), Jesus Hopped the A Train (Young Vic), Evita (Open Air Theatre), The Season (Wolsey Theatre), Smack That (Ovalhouse), Funeral Flowers (Bunker Theatre), Jesus Christ Superstar (Barbican).
Come From Away Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy