Mark Shenton reflects on the year in theatre, and looks forward to 2018
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).
It's far from the only show I saw multiple times across the year, either. I saw the first night of the new British musical Everybody's Talking About Jamie when it premiered in Sheffield in February; the very next morning I booked a train ticket to go back to Sheffield to see the last night there, then when it transferred to the West End's Apollo in November I was there two nights running - reviewing the final preview, then just there to celebrate its opening night the next night. I was also at the first preview of the NT's amazing production of Follies, then the first night, then again at a performance in November followed by the NT Live performance two nights later; I'm also scheduled to catch an encore screening of the NT Live night in the cinema on 1st January, before I see it one last time at the NT itself at its last night on 3rd January.
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 LondonTheatre.co.uk 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
|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|
To end where I began: I'm looking forward to re-visiting some shows I've seen in earlier incarnations again in 2018, like the Hope Mill Theatre's production of Pippin (when it transfers from Manchester to Southwark Playhouse in February) and Chichester's Caroline, or Change (when it transfers to Hampstead Theatre in March in February). I'm also looking forward to seeing the London transfer for another Broadway musical Fun Home to the Young Vic in June, and Southwark's revival of Kander and Ebb's The Rink in May. Another Kander and Ebb show Chicago will also return to the West End in March (where it previously ran for 15 years), to re-open at the Phoenix, and I look forward to seeing it yet again, too (I recently caught up with it again in New York, and it remains a thing of joy and wonder and is the longest running American musical in Broadway history; it is beaten out in the longevity stakes only by The Phantom of the Opera).
Also from Broadway: the sumptuous 2015 revival of The King and I will play a summer season at the Palladium from 21st June, with original Broadway star Kelli O'Hara. I am also intrigued to see the stage version of Strictly Ballroom the Musical again that I saw at its Leeds premiere in 2016, when it transfers to the West End's Piccadilly Theatre in April. Another show I know and love, Sondheim's 1970 masterpiece Company, will be revived in London at the Gielgud from 26th September, but with its lead character turned from Bobby into Bobbi, when she will be played by the wonderful Rosalie Craig. And Tim Rice, Benny Ulvaeus and Bjorn Andersson's 80s Cold War musical Chess will be revived at the London Coliseum in April.
There are also many returning plays, too - Michael Grandage will revive his production of John Logan's Red, with original star Alfred Molina as the artist Mark Rothko, that was first seen at the Donmar Warehouse in 2009, at Wyndham's Theatre in May, and will subsequently direct a new production of Martin McDonagh's The Lieutenant of Inishmore, originally produced by the RSC, at the Coward Theatre in June, starring TV heart-throb Aidan Turner. David Haig will revive his play Pressure, first seen at Chichester's Minerva Theatre in 2014, at London's Park Theatre in March, while James Graham's Quiz, premiered at the Minerva this year, will transfer to the Coward in March, David Eldridge's National Theatre hit Beginning will transfer to the Ambassadors, a Bristol Old Vic revival of Long Day's Journey into Night, starring Jeremy Irons and Lesley Manville, will transfer to Wyndham's, and the Almeida's Mary Stuart with Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams, will transfer to the Duke of York's, all in January.
I look forward to revisiting - and re-reviewing - all of these here for LondonTheatre.co.uk in the coming months, plus all the new shows that 2018 will bring, too.