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London Theatre's Top 10 Plays of 2016
It's that time of the year once again when we look back at the past twelve months and pick our favourite shows. This year, I've started with the plays and have looked back through almost 160 productions I have seen in London to come up with my Top 10 plays and musicals. It's important to stress that these results are only shows seen in London - thankfully reducing an already difficult task to a more manageable size.
In forming this list I've taken into account plays that opened in London in 2016. Some plays may have been written earlier or presented regionally before hand, but this list reflects performance dates in London this year.
10. The Master Builder – Old Vic
The Old Vic's ambitious new season continued with an extraordinary revival of Ibsen's challenging late play which starred Ralph Fiennes and Sarah Snook. This new adaptation by David Hare gave me a fresh perspective on the drama, beautifully staged by Matthew Warchus with stunning design by Rob Howell. Ralph Fiennes was at the top of his game as Halvard Solness, bringing an enigmatic intensity to the character shrouded in intellectual nuance that led to a well-earned and powerful climax. One of my favourite productions in the Old Vic's new season under Warchus, this was haunting and spectacularly acted, making me revaluate my relationship with this troubled text.
9. Iphigenia In Splott – National Theatre
One of the best things to be seen in the National Theatre's Temporary Space, Gary Owen's Iphigenia In Splott arrived in London following runs at Sherman Cymru before a UK tour. The reworked myth addressed the human effects of the recession, packed with comedy and aggression that shifted constantly in tone yet ended up being powerfully relevant. Sophie Melville's solo performance was nothing short of extraordinary and made this a true highlight of the year.
8. Richard III – Almeida
A second entry for Ralph Fiennes, the Almeida Theatre's timely production of Shakespeare's greatest political villain. Framed by the recovery of the body of Richard III from a car park in Leicester the drama ran alongside the Brexit vote and subsequent political intrigue that followed, including backstabbing turns from Michael Gove and Boris Johnson. The play enjoyed a deeper political relevance, heightened by a powerful central performance of Fiennes alongside Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret. Rupert Goold managed the space particularly well, creating a visually arresting production dripping in symbolism alongside a spot-on cast to make this one of the most relevant Shakespeare productions of the year.
7. Les Blancs – National Theatre
Lorraine Hansberry's 1970 play completed by her former husband Robert Nemiroff after her death in 1965 was a hauntingly powerful addition to the National Theatre's season. Chekhovian in its scope it told a powerful story of the collision between black nationalism and white imperialism in Africa. Director Yael Farber elevated the play to a stratospheric level creating a highly atmospheric production that was everything good theatre should be – challenging, thought provoking and confrontational, delivered with the highest level of theatrical skill and ingenuity.
6. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – Palace Theatre
The eagerly anticipated stage production featuring the internationally famous Boy Wizard created headlines all year, mainly due to its sell-out box office records and reports of angry fans failing to get hold of a golden ticket. As expectation mounted and a six week preview period began, audiences were encouraged to #KeepTheSecrets in order to save the surprise for fans around the world. Difficult to review without giving away the magic, critics were positive about the production and the play, only increasing the show's popularity and demand for tickets. Beautifully staged and stunningly presented, the West End has welcomed a long-running hit that's set to break records at the Palace Theatre. A Broadway transfer is already in the pipeline, and Potter fever shows no signs of slowing down as tickets continue to sell out as soon as they are released.
Whilst James Graham's powerful political drama had already enjoyed two runs at the National Theatre, 2016 saw the West End transfer to the Garrick Theatre. In a year that has seen the Western political landscape turned on its head, audiences found much to enjoy in this behind the scenes look at the Houses of Parliament in action during a minority government and hung parliament. The beauty of the play came in the form of Headlong Artistic Director Jeremy Herrin's fluid direction and management of a huge ensemble cast. MPs were portrayed as human beings, creating a delightfully funny and beautifully researched production.
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4. Things I Know to Be True – Lyric Hammersmith
Sometimes you see a piece of theatre that reflects elements of your life back at you so firmly that you get chills down your spine. Andrew Bovell's play was presented at the Lyric Hammersmith by Frantic Assembly and State Theatre Company of South Australia, co-directed by Geordie Brookman & Scott Graham. A complex and intense study of the mechanics of a family it was beautifully staged and effectively delivered by a strong cast and an excellent design. A modern tragedy it struck a chord with audiences of all ages, from parents to children - I found myself captivated by the staging and the text. A truly memorable play that highlighted some of the best theatrical elements capable of colliding.
3. Yerma – Young Vic
Billie Piper's reinvention of the title role has to go down as one of the finest performances of the year. The Young Vic continued their non-stop track record of reinventing classic plays for new audiences, adapted by Simon Stone after Federico Garcia Lorca. Directed by the author set in a Perspex box design by Lizzie Clachan, it provided an intense and haunting journey of a desperate woman's relationship with her own mind and body, compounded by the expectations of her sex and family position. Stunningly portrayed, this was a powerhouse of a performance in a wonderfully conceived production. Heart-stoppingly good.
2. The Flick – National Theatre
Pulitzer Prize-winning plays carry their own weight in expectation, and the National Theatre's production of Annie Baker's 2014 winner was no exception. Following runs off-Broadway this hypnotically remarkable play ran at the Dorfman Theatre earlier this year, offering a slice of real life faithfully presented. Directed impeccably by Sam Gold the cast included a mesmerizing Matthew Maher, Jaygann Ayeh and Louisa Krause who brought this hugely rewarding yet pointed look at American suburban life to the fore. Remembered by many for its running time, the drama may take some time to unfold, yet was ultimately worth the effort, and never have I witnessed such sustained concentration in an auditorium.
1. People, Places and Things – Wyndham's Theatre
Although Duncan Macmillan's high octane drama premiered at the National Theatre in 2015, this year saw it transfer to the West End's Wyndham's Theatre to captivate a wider audience for a limited 12 week run. Reconfiguring the auditorium with the audiences surrounding the stage, the intoxicating new play starred Olivier Award-winner Denise Gough in the role of Emma, an actress recovering from drug addiction. Outstandingly directed by Jeremy Herrin, this remains the most powerful performance I have seen all year, and a true collision of a knock-out cast and creative team.