The end-of-year lists of favourite plays and performances should be on their way soon, once the food coma has abated, but to tide you over, here’s my list of 9 of my top moments in a theatre over 2016, the things that first come to mind when someone says ‘what did you enjoy this year’. For reference, here’s my 2015 list and 2014 list.
The ‘arrival’ of the Hope Theatre
I’ve been gazumped by The Stage in recognising this Islington fringe theatre for a stellar year but it is no more than Matthew Parker and his team there deserve. Over the course of 2016, intelligent and exciting programming has made the Hope into a must-see venue for me, no mean feat in a market already full of fringe venues and new ones opening every time you look up. From promoting new writing to astutely chosen revivals, scorchingly personal writing to themed seasons culminating in delightfully campy lesbian musicals, this theatre has been on fire all year long and has made me excited to see every single thing they put – and there’s precious few places, large or small, that can say that.
Wizards and magic and owls, oh my
I’d have to see Harry Potter and the Cursed Child again before deciding officially whether it is a great piece of drama or not, but there’s no doubting that it is a stonking piece of theatre and the atmosphere at the very first shows was something quite amazing to be a part of, even from the back row of the balcony. The romantic sweep of Christine Jones’ set and Steven Hoggett’s movement, John Tiffany’s endlessly imaginative direction and of course, the masterfully jaw-dropping effects from Jamie Harrison. It felt like something I’d never seen before and in the case of Sprocket the Owl, it was something no-one else saw either!
|(c) Stephen Cummiskey|
Miriam Buether turning the world upside down
It’s incredible that in the same month that I saw Harry Potter, a play at the Hampstead Theatre matched it for simply astounding set design. Miriam Buether’s work on Wild was jaw-droppingly good and what I was particularly proud of on a personal level, was how I managed to reference it in plain sight in the review, yet still managing to avoid spoilers.
See also: opening in the same month, Bob Crowley’s design for Aladdin was impressive against such stiff competition
The Hired Man brought to orchestral life
I knew the concert version of The Hired Man at Cadogan Hall would be good, but I wasn’t prepared for just how emotional it would be. Hearing Jenna Russell and John Owen-Jones duetting on ‘No Choir Of Angels’ took me to the edge, being joined by Matthew Seadon-Young for the soaring ‘If I Could’ pushed me right over to leave me quietly sobbing for most of the interval.
Discovering Lorraine Hansberry, for myself
Before March this year, I’d never seen a Lorraine Hansberry play and seeing two in a month – Eclipse’s touring A Raisin in the Sun and the National Theatre’s Les Blancs – absolutely blew me away. Both will rank very highly in my end-of-year list but more than that, I enjoyed finding my own way into loving Hansberry’s work. It’s all very well being told someone is good (even when that someone is my mum, who has ranked Raisin… as one of her favourite plays for a while) but I much prefer forming these opinions for myself and now I can hand-on-heart agree that Hansberry’s was a superb talent.
The glorious rise of Noma Dumezweni
There’s something beautiful in seeing karmic justice being served, especially to an actor who you’ve admired for a goodly while. Noma Dumezweni may not have been a household name at the beginning of the year but the trifecta of stepping into the lead role of Linda at a moment’s notice, making her directorial debut in I See You, and then nailing her inspired casting as the adult Hermione in Harry Potter and the Cursed Child has seen her profile rise stratospherically. Most impressive of all the serene grace with which she has handled all manner of racist trolling on Twitter.
Finally getting ‘Satisfied’
In a most rare example of restraint from myself, I had the Original Cast Recording of Hamilton for something like a year without listening to it, knowing that I would be doing my damnedest to see the show. And sure enough, with several months planning and the help of a generous birthday gift, I got to see the original cast live at the Richard Rodgers Theatre whereupon I experienced the absolute genius and glory of Renée Elise Goldsberry’s ‘Satisfied’ completely unspoiled. Without exaggeration, one of the best moments of musical theatre ever written.
See also: getting to relive the sumptuous harmonies of Jessie Mueller, Kimiko Glenn and Keala Settle in ‘A Soft Place To Land’ from Waitress thanks to the wonder of Broadway cast recordings
|(c) Pascal Victor|
Isabelle Huppert being Isabelle Huppert
I’d argue that Isabelle Huppert is one of the finest actors in the world and what is particularly exciting about her is that she rarely takes easy, predictable decisions in her choice of collaborators and material. From films such as Elle to La Pianiste, she always provokes and so perhaps it was no surprise that a rare UK theatre appearance would be equally challenging. If anything got me through the nearly 4 hours of Phaedra(s), it was the undeniable electric star quality that she radiates, no matter what she’s doing.
See also: getting to see Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart is always a pleasure, even if I had to suffer Pinter for the privilege
Holding the curtain in Derby
A personal one here but one that still makes me chuckle. Back in March, I was invited to Derby Theatre to see the double bill of Look Back in Anger and response piece Jinny but the train I was booked on was cancelled. I got on the next one, knowing that time would be extremely tight, but I wasn’t expecting that when I got to the station, the wonderful Heidi from Derby Theatre bundled me into her car along with Mark Lawson, Michael Coveney and some other bloke, drove us to the stage door, where we were rushed into the theatre where they had held the beginning of the performance for our arrival! Not bad for a two-bit blogger 😉