2016 has been a great year for London theatre. While new musicals have been somewhat lacking, there have been some very high profile revivals with the likes of Funny Girl, Dreamgirls and Sunset Boulevard. Meanwhile there have seemingly been more plays and more star name productions than ever before. And while West End Wanderer may be lacking in reviews (sorry about that!) that doesn’t mean I haven’t been keeping a close eye on the top productions of the year.
So without further ado, here are my top ten productions of the year, as seen by me…
Sunset Boulevard – ★★★★★
There aren’t enough superlatives to describe this landmark production of Sunset Boulevard. Returning to the role of Norma Desmond, Glenn Close worked her socks off to inject the same character that she became known for during the show’s earlier years. This may not have been a full-fledged production, but with an incredibly powerful orchestra and a killer supporting cast, I didn’t expect to see anything like it anytime soon, and eight months later I still haven’t. Read the full review here.
Harry Potter and the Cursed Child – ★★★★★
If anything was going to match the prestige of Glenn Close in Sunset, it was this landmark theatrical event. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child had more anticipation (and a higher advance) than any other production before it, selling out for over a year ahead of time. A two-parter, there were always worries that it would feel overlong, but in actual fact the opposite was true, with plenty of material providing just enough exposition to make it feel like a living and breathing world. But it was the design and stage magic that really won people over with some truly awe-inspiring moments and a more attentive audience than I’ve ever seen before. Read the full review here.
Show Boat – ★★★★★
Arguably one of the biggest surprises of the year, Show Boat had limited success in London following its run in Sheffield. With overblown production values (a truly incredible, yet incredibly simple set) and a cast who belted out the tunes with aplomb it brought an old school musical firmly into the 21st century. I went in expecting to enjoy it, and came out loving it. Read my full review here.
Dreamgirls – ★★★★★
If there’s an entry on this list where I have to admit I was won over by hype it’s this one. When Dreamgirls was announced I couldn’t wait – until I heard Amber Riley was to play the role of Effie. What was that girl from Glee who seemed like a mediocre singer doing playing one of the most challenging roles on stage? Why was there so much hype around her casting? I was wrong, and that was clear as she knocked the audience’s socks off, from start to finish. The production is an admirable one, getting many of the elements right that so many fail on now. A simple design used well, a fast-paced plot keeping momentum throughout.
Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom – ★★★★
If I could have throw in an extra half star for Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom then I would have. The cast were beyond perfect for their roles, the design was visually striking (if a tad fussy) and the play really hit the mark with such tight direction by Dominic Cooke. Focusing on the dynamics of black people in the music industry and the society around them, this was a powerful production that built so much tension throughout but still managed to surprise and pack a punch at the end. Read the full review here.
No Man’s Land – ★★★★
What a way to end the year? Watching two of the UK’s leading actors go head to head in Pinter’s play about… well, is anyone completely sure what it’s about?! Still, this is a good example of living in the moment at a performance and accepting the action on stage rather than over-analysing. Bleak undertones characterise this production, and both Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart did a cracking job at making the central roles believable and fitting to the world around them.
Groundhog Day – ★★★★
The only new British musical to make it onto the list this year, I think we all feel slightly cheated in that the Old Vic run was used as a try-out for Broadway. Still, Matthew Warchus’s interpretation of the 1993 film added some much-needed originality to the 2016 season. Previous collaborator Tim Minchin was in charge of the tunes once again, meaning there was plenty of wit in the music, while the staging was dynamic and frenetic (if a tad clumsy in places). Groundhog Day opens on Broadway in March and good luck to it!
The Maids – ★★★★
Directed by Jamie Lloyd, Jean Genet’s play has never been more direct, forcing the play’s themes down the audience’s throats in a way it’s not been done before. With petal showers and a cell-like quality to the stage design, it’s safe to say that at times the production was a tad too over-stylised but there’s no mistaking the strength of the cast – particularly Uzo Aduba who delivered a truly terrifying monologue near the play’s conclusion.
The Toxic Avenger – ★★★★
A cult hit during it’s original run across the pond and another cult hit for the Southwark Playhouse during this production. The Toxic Avenger charts the journey of an unlikely superhero who becomes a freak of nature after falling in a vat of toxic waste. The production may have been low budget but the cast put their absolute all into delivering a musical that was one of the funniest (if a little un-PC) things I’ve seen in years. There have been rumours of a rerun of the production at a later date, and it would be very welcome.
The Deep Blue Sea – ★★★★
Carrie Cracknell and Helen McCrory returned to the National earlier in 2016 following their previous engagement with Medea. This time with Terence Rattigan’s play about female anguish. Once again, McCrory delivered the pain and torment expected, but this time around it was the supporting cast and the stunning set and lighting design that won me over, despite some issues with the source material. Take a look at my full review here.