Our pick of the Top 10 London plays in 2015
Another year has flown by in Theatreland, and what an incredible year it has been. This year has felt especially strong for plays, and tallying my list of what I've seen this past year, I was taken by just how many fantastic plays, both revivals and new work, I have enjoyed over the past 12 months.
Having seen around 130 productions this year in London, it was certainly hard to come up with a top ten list of plays that will stick with me, but below are my pick of the Top 10 Plays in London in 2015. Next week, the musicals...
If you'd have asked me this time last year what I predicted to be my top play of 2015, I'm pretty sure that a Greek Tragedy couldn't have been further from my mind. This was a powerful and memorable adaptation of the Greek drama, pulling together three strands of different plays into one mammoth theatrical event. I was not only struck by the strength of the adaptation, which managed to make four hours fly by despite the constant countdowns that made you extremely aware of time, but also the careful execution of the overall concept. Director Robert Icke developed a strong concept that worked both practically and visually, delivering numerous powerful moments that challenged your understanding of the text. Performance wise, the production gave great scope for exploration, with Lia Williams as Clytemnestra giving one of the most memorable performances I've seen this entire year.
Martin McDonagh's long awaited return to the West End proved to be worth the 10 year gap, as this black comedy featured impressive performances, design and direction which all came together to form one of the best productions of the year. Lively and effective characterisation combined with astute direction from Matthew Dunster meant that the comedy was well balanced throughout and the intricate plot kept you guessing to the very end. By far the biggest success to come out of the Royal Court this past year, and now playing to sold out crowds in the West End until March 2016. Do not miss.
New comedies are extremely difficult to write, and Ian Kelly's adaptation of his own carefully researched and fascinating history of Samuel Foote and his relationship with the Theatre Royal Haymarket was a breath of fresh air in the West End. Genuinely funny, the carefully controlled performances led by a magnificent Simon Russell Beale provided moments of pathos that I've not seen in the West End for quite some time. As someone who rarely finds themselves laughing out loud, I couldn't stop myself from enjoying the expertly executed visual humour and witty one liners. One of the most enjoyable evenings of the year.
This year I've spent countless nights at the National Theatre, and this feisty production of Stephen Adly Guirgis expletive play, skilfully directed by Indhu Rubasingham, was the strongest offering in a very mixed repertoire. Grabbing you by the scruff of your neck for an uninterrupted 100 minutes, this production had you on the edge of your seat and pushed to the very edge. Guirgis' language may have been fairly brutal in parts, but his characterisation and ability to shock through sheer strength of his writing made this an unforgettable experience, one that was similarly matched in his 'In Arabia We'd All Be Kings' which I managed to also see at RADA performed by my fellow students. One of the most exciting playwrights working today, this was an unforgettable production.
Whilst this was the play that pushed my other half to boldly state he'd never sit through another Mamet for as long as he lives, for me this was an electrifying production and a masterclass in acting. John Goodman was extraordinary to watch, delivering a vocally perfect performance of one of my favourite writers firing on all cylinders. Complete with an impressive set design, Damian Lewis's sideburns were upstaged by Tom Sturridge's incredible performance as Bobby, which I will always now associate with that role. A frantic yet fully engaging commercial revival.
Following a rather patchy opening play, The Old Vic continued their season with an American classic. Admittingly, not O'Neill's most solid work, but thanks to the production, nobley directed by Richard Jones with design by Stewart Laing, this was a feast for the eyes and a workout for the brain. Bertie Carvel's powerful performance was both a physical and mental challenge, but was a gift that kept giving right up until the final moments.
Being new to Shaw's monolithic text, this production was a refreshing addition to the National's season. Ralph Fiennes gave a virtuoso performance in the lead role of Jack Tanner, commanding the stage in each act and proving a feat of endurance and delivery. Despite the long running time, the pace was kept steady and deliberate, with Shaw's trademark didacticism rising to the surface in a surprisingly powerful and energetic way.
It's extremely rare for new plays to open in the West End, but Mark Hayhurst's compelling drama of a mother's plight to free her son, the German Jewish lawyer Hans Litten who had previously put Hitler on trial, was a revelation. Penelope Wilton took home the Olivier Award for Best Actress, following her commanding and unfaltering performance in what was a bold and important West End production.
One of the biggest 'events' of the past year was the re-opening of the National's Cottesloe Theatre as the Dorfman, which was given greater significance thanks to its opening production of Tom Stoppard's newest drama. Whilst it wasn't necessarily the most dramatic or enlightening of texts, something about the play stuck with me for weeks afterwards, and I found myself wanting to debate and discuss the central issues. Nicholas Hytner skilfully directed the piece as one of his final productions before handing over the reigns of the National. Truly memorable for many reasons.
Whilst this was certainly a difficult watch, and one that made me uneasy at various points, I can only commend the writing and adaptation in its ability to not just talk about dementia, but effectively demonstrate the state of a sufferer's mind. Kenneth Cranham delivered an understated yet striking central performance, and you couldn't help but feel like you were going through the symptoms of the disease alongside him. The only play of the year that has made me so depressed after watching that I've had to buy a tub of ice-cream on the way home to try and regain happiness.