We asked our review team to nominate their 2017 theatre highlights. Paul T Davies nominated his favourites and a few productions for a special end of year ovation.
Angels In America (National Theatre)
About twenty-five years ago, I got a standing room ticket for the original National Theatre production of Tony Kushner’s epic. I stood for the whole seven and a half hour cycle, and, although I wore a younger man’s clothes then, I had to sit down afterwards not just because of the physical demands, but because of the emotional intensity. I had never seen a play like it, and it had a profound influence on me, it also became a cornerstone of my PhD. Marianne Elliot’s majestic production did what you hope every revival will do, it took every line, every scene, every act and every character anew and reinforced the play as a classic. It also had the best ensemble seen on stage this year. It remains as thought provoking, vital and entertaining as it always was, and it will take Broadway by storm in 2018. Read the review of Part 1 and Part 2
The Ferryman (Royal Court)
This was the year of big plays, themes and terrific ensembles. Jez Butterworth gave us a three and half hour epic, and Sam Mendes’s superlative production put naturalism firmly centre stage- a real baby and real animals! At times whimsical, at time fantastical in its remembrance of things past, the shadow of violence grew stronger until the devastating conclusion. I and a fellow playwright had to help each other out of the Royal Court, we were so overwhelmed. Best new play in a year full of outstanding new work. Now playing at the Gielgud Theatre.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie (Apollo Theatre)
Everything you have heard about this is true. The best British musical since Billy Elliot, based on the BBC3 documentary “Jamie: Drag Queen at 16”, is a joyous, roof lifting production of pride and celebration. The cast excel and the music by Dan Gillespie Sells is catchy and uplifting. Its message is vitally important, and the reaction from the audience will restore your faith in humanity. Now playing at the Apollo Theatre, it’s not to be missed!
Labour Of Love (Noel Coward Theatre)
Playwright of the year James Graham had Ink playing on the West End just a few doors down from this one, and next year Quiz, his play about the “coughing major” Who Wants To Be A Millionaire” scandal, arrives at the Noel Coward Theatre. But Labour of Love was the one that stole my heart, despite my initial disappointment at the withdrawal of Sarah Lancashire. But Tamsin Greig and Martin Freeman excelled as opposing forces in Graham’s examination of the last twenty five years of the Labour party. Its genius structure went back in time in part one, then forward in part two showing the next scene to the one witnessed in the first half. It broke my socialist heart and also repaired it with its message of hope, and was incredibly funny throughout. Read my review.
Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf (Harold Pinter Theatre)
Although Imelda Staunton was great in Follies, her performance this year was as Martha in Albee’s classic, a devastating portrayal of marriage. Conleth Hill, Luke Treadaway and Imogen Poots completed another terrific ensemble, and performed a gripping evening of an American classic. Quite simply brilliant acting.
Special plaudits must also do to:
TOURING PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR: Things I Know to Be True, Frantic Assembly.
REGIONAL PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR: Tommy, The Musical, New Wolsey Theatre/Ramps on the Moon.
REGIONAL PARTNERSHIP OF THE YEAR: Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre’s Rachel O’Riordan (Director) and Gary Owen (Writer), who followed up Iphigenia in Splott with Killology and The Cherry Orchard.
REGIONAL THEATRE OF THE YEAR: The Mercury Theatre Colchester, who have just been given the final green light for a multi- million pound development. At the core of their work is community and local talent development.
I’m already looking forward to 2018, and may I wish everyone, theatre makers and audience alike, peace and happiness for the festive period and beyond!