Editor's picks: The top 10 London theatre shows of 2017
As the dust settles on another busy year of theatre in London and the West End, it can be easy to forget just how much great theatre we’ve been treated to over the past 12 months. From riveting revivals to marvellous musical to terrific transfers, it has been a year full of theatre discovery. Here are ten of my personal favourite shows from 2017.
The musical adaptation of Sue Townsend’s The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾ was one of the year’s hidden gems at the Menier Chocolate Factory. Songwriting duo Jake Brunger and Pippa Cleary served up a hilarious roster of songs performed by a great cast playing multiple characters. It was funny, it was charming, and it had better find its way back to the stage.
Lucy Kirkwood’s new play transformed the Lyttelton into a new world, withdirector Rufus Norris transporting us from pubs in Luton to the centre of a particle collision at CERN. A visceral production, telling a very human story of two sisters, with two memorable, earth-moving performances from the two Olivias, Colman and Williams, at its core.
Another new British musical makes the list. We’d heard good things about Jamie after everyone was talking about him in Sheffield in 2016. It was enough buzz to get producer Nica Burns up for the last matinee of the run, and convince her to bring the show to the capital. And for that we’re very thankful. Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom McRae’s first attempt at writing a musical delivered a real original offering about Jamie, a boy who wants to wear a dress to his school prom. The songs are ridiculously catchy, it’s funny and a general feel-good show. A welcome addition to the West End.
7. 42nd Street
From the moment the curtain inches up, revealing a horde of tapping feet, you know you’re in for an absolute treat on 42nd Street. To witness a 50-strong cast performing such perfectly synchronised, intricate tap routines, and the sound it creates too, is staggering. Sheena Easton and Tom Lister are reason enough to see this classic Broadway show, but the skill Clare Halse executes in the part of Peggy Sawyer is pretty remarkable. Enough, I’m sure, to inspire those who see it, young and old, to tap along to their nearest dance class.
Bat Out of Hell was no mere jukebox musical, it was more of an experience. Featuring a handful of the biggest songs in rock, courtesy of Jim Steinman, Andrew Polec’s heightened performance - especially during the title number - was one of the most adrenaline-pumping sights in the West End this year. I can’t wait to see it again at the Dominion in 2018.
It really was James Graham’s year, wasn’t it? Of his two new plays in the West End in 2017, Ink stood out. It told the story of the early days of Rupert Murdoch and his takeover of The Sun, and how he turned it into the redtop we all know today with the help of editor Larry Lamb. While Graham’s writing was a clever and funny as anything he’s written, it was the performances of Bertie Carvel and Richard Coyle that in the central roles that stood out. Carvel, who humanises the most monstrous characters such as Ms Trunchbull in Matilda and Simon in Doctor Foster, embodied Murdoch – and his creepy mannerisms - brilliantly, while Coyle commanded the play as Lamb.
There was so much hype and buzz around the opening of Follies, but in the end, it simply came down to a just exquisite 2 hours of song, dance and story. Sondheim’s musical thrilled as much as it pulled at the heartstrings, and had one of the best ensemble casts in a musical this year: Imelda Staunton, Janie Dee, Tracie Bennett, Josephine Barstow, Philip Quast and Peter Forbes. It was a simply stunning production.
Bryan Cranston could be one of the best television actors of our time after his transformation from comedy Dad in Malcom in the Middle to drug overlord in Breaking Bad. In Ivo van Hove’s production, Cranston was given an opportunity to get mad, giving it hell during one of Paddy Chayefsky’s film’s iconic scenes. If that alone wasn’t reason enough to see Network, Jan Versweyveld’s awesomely technical set was a marvel. And a five-course dinner on stage wasn’t bad either.
I was lucky enough to catch Andrew Scott’s Hamlet during the final week at the Almeida, which was put on for free for under 26-year-olds, and it bowled me over. The poise with which Scott presented his Dane was masterful, and you could tell Robert Icke’s production captured the young audience – some of whom would have been witnessing their very first Shakespeare. What an introduction. I look forward to reliving the production when it is broadcast on BBC Two in 2018.
It’s just as good as everyone says it is. Listening to the soundtrack on repeat solidifies songs like “My Shot”, “Yorktown” and “Alexander Hamilton” in your mind, but witnessing the sheer verbal dexterity and energy on show from the quite excellent cast is something else. I didn’t realise the scale of the breath-taking story of the life of the founding father until it was played out on the stage. Lin-Manuel Miranda took risks putting this show on, and it could have gone so wrong, but he really has created a modern masterpiece.