Mark Shenton reflects on the year in theatre, and looks forward to 2018

Mark Shenton
Mark Shenton

At this time of year critics routinely compile their best of the year lists; and it always fills me with guilt as my colleagues remind me not so much of what's been great across the year but of which apparently terrific shows I might have missed! This year is no exception, and it reminded me, too, that there are still some London theatres I'm yet to visit, like The Yard (where This Beautiful Future premiered, a show named by The Guardian's Lyn Gardner as one of her Top 10 of the year), or others that I don't visit nearly enough, like Richmond's Orange Tree (where An Octoroon received its UK premiere this year, though I can make amends for missing it there when it transfers to the National's Dorfman Theatre in June 2018). I also missed a late entry for the best of 2017 lists, the Young Vic's The Jungle which only opened there on 15th December, but it runs to 9th January, so is high on my list of shows to catch after my Christmas break.

But then nobody, as I always try to remind myself, can see everything. Even when I've seen 12 shows in a single week - every night plus five matinees - and I often do, I only just about skim the surface of everything I could potentially see. I know I don't help matters for myself by being a serial repeater, revisiting shows I particularly love. This year Groundhog Day transferred from London's Old Vic to Broadway, and I saw it six more times there (after having seen it three times in London) between its April opening and its premature closing five months later in September, including three times in its final week. (I unhesitatingly feel it is a masterpiece; one of the defining musicals of my life now, and I can't wait for it to return to London as the producers have promised, since it never had a full run here).  

I'd also originally seen Audra McDonald's amazing performance as Billie Holiday in Lady Day at Emerson's Bar and Grill when it opened on Broadway in 2014; then saw it twice more when it transferred to Wyndham's, first to review it, then for its London last night. Then there West End transfers for the Almeida's Ink (to the Duke of York's), the RSC's The Tempest from Stratford-upon-Avon to London's Barbican (starring Simon Russell Beale as Prospero), plus the Open Air's return season for Jesus Christ Superstar and the West End transfer for Stiles and Drewe's The Wind in the Willows to the London Palladium that I'd originally seen at its Plymouth premiere in 2016, amongst others. 

I try also not to confine my theatregoing just to London but also try to go beyond it as much as I can; this year I've been on multiple occasions to Manchester, Sheffield, Scarborough, Birmingham, Chichester, Newbury and a brilliant new discovery in Kilworth House in Leicestershire, as well as Brighton, Liverpool, Northampton and Canterbury. And then there's my home from home - New York, which I've visited eight separate times across the year. 

So in bidding farewell to 2017, I am compiling multiple lists - of the best shows I saw in London, divided into six new plays, six new musicals,  three musical revivals and three play revivals; the best six musicals on the fringe; the best six plays and best six musicals I saw outside of London in the UK; and the six best shows I saw in New York. I also list some of the best performances I saw. And finally, some of the shows that have been announced for 2018 that I'm most looking forward to. 

Click the links to read the review of each show.

The best plays of 2017

New plays in London Revivals in London Plays outside London 
Beginning (Dorfman, National) Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? (Harold Pinter Theatre) The Gabriels (Brighton Festival)
Consent (Dorfman, National) Angels in America (Lyttelton, National) House/Garden (Watermill Theatre, Newbury)
Ink (Almeida/Duke of York's) The Glass Menagerie (Duke of York's) The Norman Conquests (Chichester Festival Theatre)
Barbershop Chronicles (Dorfman, National)   Our Town (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)
Oslo (Lyttelton, National/Harold Pinter)   Uncle Vanya (HOME, Manchester)
    Quiz (Chichester's Minerva)

The best musicals of 2017

New West End musicals West End revivals Best of Off-West End Best regional musicals Best of Broadway

Everybody's Talking About Jamie (Apollo Theatre)

Follies (Olivier, National)
 The Wild Party (Other Palace)
 Caroline, or Change (Chichester's Minerva) The Band's Visit (Atlantic Theatre/Ethel Barrymore, Broadway)
Hamilton (Victoria Palace Theatre) On the Town (Regent's Park Open Air Theatre) The Life (Southwark Playhouse) A Little Night Music (Watermill Theatre, Newbury) Come from Away (Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre)
The Girls (Phoenix Theatre) 42nd Street (Theatre Royal, Drury Lane) Working (Southwark Playhouse) Pippin (Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester) Sweeney Todd (Barrow Street Theatre, Off-Broadway) 
An American in Paris (Dominion)   The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole 13 3/4 (Menier Chocolate Factory) Tommy! (New Wolsey, Ipswich) Sunday in the Park with George (Hudson Theatre)
Romantics Anonymous (Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)   Hair (The Vaults) Fiddler on the Roof (Chichester Festival Theatre) War Paint (Nederlander Theatre) 
Young Frankenstein (Garrick)     The Band (Manchester's Opera House, then touring) Hello, Dolly! (Shubert Theatre)


The best performances of 2017

Performer(s) Show Theatre
Imelda Staunton and Conleth Hill Who's Afraid of Virginia Woolf? Harold Pinter Theatre
Tamsin Greig Labour of Love Noel Coward Theatre
Philip Quast and Janie Dee Follies Olivier, National
John McCrae Everybody's Talking About Jamie Sheffield Crucible and  Apollo Theatre, London
Sharon D Clarke The Life/Caroline, or Change Southwark Playhouse/Chichester Festival Theatre
Joanna Riding The Girls/Romantics Anonymous Phoneix Theatre/Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Frances Ruffelle, Donna McKechnie and Tiffany Graves The Wild Party The Other Palace
Lizzy Connolly, Siena Kelly, and Miriam-Teak Lee On the Town Regent's Park Open Air Theatre
Alex Young Promises, Promises Southwark Playhouse
Bette Midler and Donna Murphy Hello, Dolly! Shubert Theatre, Broadway
Patti LuPone War Paint Nederlander Theatre, Broadway

Originally published on

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