Round-up of the 2017 fosterIANs

2017 Theatre

Best Actress in a Play
Hattie Morahan/Kate O’Flynn/Adelle Leonce, Anatomy of a Suicide

Best Actress in a Musical
Janie Dee, Follies AND Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music AND Josie Walker, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie

Best Actor in a Play
Ken Nwosu, An Octoroon

Best Actor in a Musical
Giles Terera, Hamilton

Best Supporting Actress in a Play 
Bríd Brennan, The Ferryman

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Tracie Bennett, Follies

Best Supporting Actor in a Play 
Fisayo Akinade, Barber Shop Chronicles

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Jason Pennycooke, Hamilton

And my top 10 plays of the year:
1. The Revlon Girl, Park
2. A Little Night Music, Watermill
3. Barber Shop Chronicles, National
4. Hamilton, Victoria Palace
5. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Crucible/Apollo
6. An Octoroon, Orange Tree
7. Follies, National Theatre
8. Romantics Anonymous, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
9. Hamlet, Almeida
10. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Menier Chocolate Factory
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My 10 favourite shows of 2017

Well we made it, just. 2017 passed by with just the 346 visits to the theatre, I don’t really know why I do it to myself! Out of those, 33 were return visits to shows I’d already seen and I got out of London for 32 shows, not too bad considering I don’t do Edinburgh and no-one is covering my travel expenses!
For the round-up, I’ve not included Roman Tragedies (which would have been very high indeed) as I’d seen it before and ranked it #1 that year. (Conversely, I didn’t include Hamilton when I saw that last year, which is why it is on this year’s list – my blog, my inconsistent rules!). And changing things up a little in reflection of what I want to the site to be, I’m not going to be doing a least-favourite list, nor a Leading Man feature – make of that what you will.
  1. The Revlon Girl, Park

    Getting to revisit this show after attending a reading a couple of years ago was an enormous privilege. And knowing in advance what it was going to do made it all the more achingly poignant in its study of life after Aberfan, I didn’t cry like that in another theatre all year long, I didn’t ovate like that either. One to watch out for should it ever return.

  2. A Little Night Music, Watermill

    Maybe I’m biased – this is where the blog gets its name from after all – but Paul Foster’s production at the gorgeous Watermill Theatre was masterly. Actor-musicianship at its best, Josefina Gabrielle elevating ‘Send in the Clowns’ to the gods, a sexy man in uniform…what more do you want from your Sondheim?!

  3. Barber Shop Chronicles, National

    A show that utterly transformed what it felt like to sit in the Dorfman. I could watched two hours of the pre-show entertainment in all honesty, it was so entertaining, but Inua Ellams’ study of black masculinity was a vital piece of writing  

  4. Hamilton, Victoria Palace

    If I hadn’t seen it on Broadway this would probably have been #1. As it is, the gap between this top 4 was infinitesimal and there’s no doubting that Hamilton is an extraordinary success that will hopefully live long at the newly refurbished Victoria Palace.

  5. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie, Crucible/Apollo

    Whilst I’m delighted it is doing so well in London, it felt important to see this show in Sheffield, its spiritual home as well as its literal setting, new musical theatre writing that is forward-thinking in so many ways, not least its presentation of diversity.

  6. An Octoroon, Orange Tree

    And speaking of diversity, Branden Jacobs-Jenkins made us all think a lot harder than we’re used to about race and how it is presented on our stages. A triumph for the Orange Tree and the deserved recipient of a NT transfer in the summer.

  7. Follies, National Theatre

    The head-dresses! The costumes! Every aspect of the design! 
    The Dee! The Quast! The Staunton!
    This may not be a perfect show but this was the perfect production of it.

  8. Romantics Anonymous, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

    Emma Rice bade farewell to the Globe in the most Emma Rice-ish way possible, with a glorious new musical that brought sound, light and chocolate-making into the Sam Wanamaker like never before (and probably never again!).

  9. Hamlet, Almeida

    A thought-provoking, modern interpretation that showed Robert Icke (after last year’s Mary Stuart) really establishing his place as one of our most exciting, innovative directors. Andrew Scott wasn’t bad either…

  10. The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾, Menier Chocolate Factory

    I really thought this warm-hearted British musical would have given the Menier another West End transfer but apparently it wasn’t to be. A real shame as it was really rather good.
    Shows 11-25 below the cut

  11. Yank! A WWII Love Story, Charing Cross
  12. Girl From The North Country, Old Vic
  13. a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun), Royal Court
  14. The Ferryman, Royal Court
  15. King Lear, Minerva
  16. Frankenstein, Brockley Jack
  17. Trestle, Southwark Playhouse
  18. Little Women the Musical, Hope Mill
  19. The Glass Menagerie, Duke of York’s
  20. Twelfth Night, Royal Exchange
  21. Beginning, National Theatre
  22. Caroline or Change, Minerva
  23. Network, National Theatre
  24. The Life, Southwark Playhouse
  25. Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill, Wyndham’s

2017 Best Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actor in a Play


Ken Nwosu, An Octoroon
It is great news indeed that this Orange Tree production will be gaining further life in 2018 with a transfer to the National Theatre in the summer. I really hope that as much of the original cast comes with it, especially Nwosu who anchored the complex ideas of the show with confidence and clear-sighted integrity. 

Honourable mention: Andrew Scott, Hamlet

In the parlance de nos jours, Scott managed that most difficult of things to really make this most-well-known of roles his own, his collaboration with Rob Icke breathing a conversationally, contemporary life into the part that was utterly mesmerising.

Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Gary Lilburn, Trestle
Ian McKellen, King Lear
Cyril Nri, Barber Shop Chronicles

Sam Troughton, Beginning

8-10
Bryan Cranston, Network; Conleth Hill, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; James McArdle, Angels in America

Best Actor in a Musical


Giles Terera, Hamilton
In the midst of all the hype and expectation that was the first preview, and in a production that had no right to be that polished and on-point, there was no doubt in my mind about who the star of the evening was. Terera’s Burr feels very much his own creation and delivers a well-deserved push into the limelight for this most charismatic of performers – I suspect this won’t be his first award.

Honourable mention: Scott Hunter/Andy Coxon, Yank! A WWII Love Story
Hitting the right time and place, I first saw Yank! in the afternoon of London Pride and a happier, gayer Clowns I could not have been. And at its heart is the epic, tragic romance of Stu and Mitch, brought to beautiful life by Scott Hunter and Andy Coxon respectively.

John McCrea, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
Philip Quast, Follies
Michael Rouse, Superhero

Jamael Westman, Hamilton
8-10
Alastair Brookshaw, A Little Night Music; Robert Fairchild, An American in Paris; Dominic Marsh, Romantics Anonymous

2017 Best Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Actress in a Play


Hattie Morahan/Kate O’Flynn/Adelle Leonce, Anatomy of a Suicide
How to split these three? Why would you even want to. Their effortless grace, their ferociously detailed complexity, their heart-breaking connectivity, all three will live long in my mind.

Honourable mention: Victoria Hamilton, Albion
Not far behind in the fierceness stakes was this epic role of near-Chekhovian proportions, tailored by Mike Bartlett for one of his frequent collaborators. Quite why this hasn’t followed Ink into the West End I’m not sure.

Shirley Henderson, Girl From the North Country
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Justine Mitchell, Beginning
Mimi Ndiweni, The Convert
Connie Walker, Trestle

8-10
Laura Donnelly, The Ferryman; Imelda Staunton, Who’s Afraid Of Virginia Woolf; Rosie Wyatt, In Event of Moone Disaster

Best Actress in a Musical

Janie Dee, Follies AND Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music AND Josie Walker, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
A second three-way tie? Hey, it’s my blog and my rules! From Dee thoroughly owning the Olivier through song and dance, to Gabrielle making me feel like I was hearing ‘Send in the Clowns’ for the first time, to the sheer beauty of Walker’s uncompromising love for her son, this was only way I could reward a banner year for leading female musical performances.

Honourable mention: Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women
Sadly ineligible to win since her name doesn’t begin with J…, Giselle-Ward nevertheless blew me away at the heart of this gorgeous musical which, if there’s any justice, should continue the Hope Mill’s admirable record of London transfers.

Sharon D Clarke, Caroline or Change
Kelly Price, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾
T’Shan Williams, The Life


8-10

Carly Bawden, Romantics Anonymous; Sandra Marvin, Committee; Marisha Wallace, Dreamgirls;

2017 Best Supporting Actor in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actor in a Play

Fisayo Akinade, Barber Shop Chronicles
To pick someone out of this prodigiously talented ensemble almost feels unfair, but Ellams’ narrative did repeatedly land on Peckham and the contested ownership of that salon was given blistering power by Akinade’s Samuel, bristling under the control of pseudo-father figure Emmanuel.

Honourable mention: Brian J Smith, The Glass Menagerie
To borrow from a different Tennessee Williams play, Smith was every inch the gentleman caller we all have been fantasising about since high school.

Philip Arditti, Oslo
Gershwn Eustache Jnr, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Fra Fee, The Ferryman
Patrice Naiambana, Barber Shop Chronicles
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Angels in America


8-10

John Hodgkinson, The Ferryman; Peter Polycarpou, Oslo; Sam Reid, Girl From the North Country

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical

Jason Pennycooke, Hamilton
Getting to play both Jefferson and Lafayette means Pennycooke has twice the opportunity to make an impact and he does so, on both accounts, with real flair. I’ve long been a fan of his and this show is a brilliant showcase for his talents.

Honourable mention: Mark Anderson, The Grinning Man
New to the cast from Bristol, Anderson’s take on Dirry-Moir was inspired in its quirky warmth and the moment where I thought he was going to sit down next to me was a mildly hilarious highlight in a great show.

Fred Haig, Follies
Cornell S John, The Life
Chris Kiely, Yank! A WWII Love Story
Gareth Snook, Romantics Anonymous
Obioma Ugoala, Hamilton


8-10

Rob Fowler, Bat Out of Hell; John Hopkins, The Secret Diary of Adrian Mole Aged 13 ¾; Tom Norman, Salad Days

2017 Best Supporting Actress in a Play + in a Musical

Best Supporting Actress in a Play

Bríd Brennan, The Ferryman

Thinking about this most well-received of plays, it is the role of Aunt Maggie Faraway who lingers most in my mind, the elegiac beauty of her speeches an elegant way of folding in traditions of Irish storytelling and emphasising the deep bonds of family. Breathtaking work from Brennan.

Honourable mention: Kate Kennedy, Twelfth Night (Royal Exchange)
When done well, Olivia is one of my favourite Shakespearean roles and the statuesque Kennedy didn’t disappoint with a highly-sexed take on the character which embraced all the physical potential of her height.

Sheila Atim, Girl From the North Country
Laura Carmichael, Apologia
Romola Garai, Queen Anne
Lashana Lynch, a profoundly affectionate, passionate devotion to someone (-noun)
Kate O’Flynn, The Glass Menagerie

8-10
Susan Brown, Angels in America; Jessica Brown Findlay, Hamlet; Denise Gough, Angels in America

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical

Tracie Bennett, Follies

All I have to say is ‘I’m Still Here’. I’M STILL HERE!

Honourable mention: Rachel John, Hamilton
Only the tiniest of margins separated these two and it’s only really the fact that she’s not Renée Elise Goldsberry that held John back from the title.

Christine Allado, Hamilton
Julie Atherton, The Grinning Man
Sharon D Clarke, The Life
Joanna Riding, Romantics Anonymous
Lucie Shorthouse, Everybody’s Talking About Jamie


8-10
Nicola Hughes, Caroline or Change ; Cathy Read, Little Women; Sharon Sexton, Bat Out of Hell

The 2017 fosterIAN nominations

Behold the 2017 fosterIAN award nominations, recognising the acting performances that stood out for me, the ones that made me sit up, and sometimes stand up. As ever, I have used the label ‘best’, the categories should really be considered ‘favourite’ as that is what the fosterIANs (fos-tîr’ē-ən) are – my favourites. 


Best Actress in a Play
Victoria Hamilton, Albion
Shirley Henderson, Girl From the North Country
Cherry Jones, The Glass Menagerie
Justine Mitchell, Beginning
Hattie Morahan/Kate O’Flynn/Adelle Leonce, Anatomy of a Suicide
Mimi Ndiweni, The Convert
Connie Walker, Trestle
Best Actor in a Play
Andrew Garfield, Angels in America
Gary Lilburn, Trestle
Ian McKellen, King Lear
Ken Nwosu, An Octoroon
Andrew Scott, Hamlet
Sam Troughton, Beginning
Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Bríd Brennan, The Ferryman
Laura Carmichael, Apologia
Romola Garai, Queen Anne
Kate O’Flynn, The Glass Menagerie
Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Fisayo Akinade, Barber Shop Chronicles
Philip Arditti, Oslo
Fra Fee, The Ferryman
Patrice Naiambana, Barber Shop Chronicles
Brian J Smith, The Glass Menagerie
Nathan Stewart-Jarrett, Angels in America
Best Actress in a Musical
Sharon D Clarke, Caroline or Change 
Janie Dee, Follies
Josefina Gabrielle, A Little Night Music
Amie Giselle-Ward, Little Women
T’Shan Williams, The Life
Best Actor in a Musical
Philip Quast, Follies
Michael Rouse, Superhero
Giles Terera, Hamilton
Jamael Westman, Hamilton
Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Christine Allado, Hamilton
Julie Atherton, The Grinning Man
Tracie Bennett, Follies
Sharon D Clarke, The Life
Rachel John, Hamilton
Joanna Riding, Romantics Anonymous
Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Mark Anderson, The Grinning Man
Fred Haig, Follies
Cornell S John, The Life
Jason Pennycooke, Hamilton
Gareth Snook, Romantics Anonymous
Obioma Ugoala, Hamilton

11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2017

As ever, the wait for the end-of-year lists of favourite plays and performances has to continue until I’ve actually stopped seeing theatre in 2017. But in the meantime, here’s a list of 11 of my top moments in a theatre in 2017, the things that first pop into my mind when someone says ‘what did you enjoy this year’. For reference, here’s my 2016 list, 2015 list and 2014 list.

Roman Tragedies again, and again

Self-imposed rules being what they are, Toneelgroep Amsterdam’s Roman Tragedies isn’t eligible for the official year-end list as it is a production I’ve seen before, 8 years ago as it turned out, when it ranked as the best thing I saw in my full first year of blogging. In the intervening period, much has happened – not least Ivo van Hove’s rise to the director that everyone best loves to love/hate – and so this epic show had gained something of a mythic status for those without the foresight to see it in 2009 😉 Fortunately, it has lost none of its power and with the added encouragement of using social media throughout, it pushes the bar even further. I loved it so much that I used the onstage wifi to book for a return visit before the first show had even finished.

Getting the Natasha Barnes thing

It’s the understudy’s dream, getting the call to step up to the plate and nailing it so well that you become a star. But such it was for Natasha Barnes when she filled in for the indisposed Sheridan Smith in Funny Girl, so much so that they co-headlined the UK tour of the show. Obviously I missed out on all of this so it wasn’t until this year’s concert of Mack and Mabel, presented by the London Musical Theatre Orchestra, that I got to witness her absolute star quality at first hand. Her rendition of ‘Time Heals Everything’ pretty much stopped the world and brought the house down in its astonishing power – Barnes is fast becoming one to make sure you don’t miss in future,
(c) Alex Fine

In Other Words, such light and sound

The play that probably affected me the most in 2017, as in had me properly sobbing for most of my journey home, was Matthew Seager’s elegiac study of dementia In Other Words. And in a perfectly pitched production, it was the uncompromisingly intense lighting from Will Alder and sound from Iida Aino that, almost unbearably, periodically pitched its audience into disorientating disquiet and thus refusing to shy away from the cruel despair that this condition can wreak. 

The great work began

One of the most anticipated theatre events of the year was the return of Angels in America and if the production ended up being something I like a lot rather than truly loving, it was still an immense privilege to be a tiny part of the thundering epic that was the two-show day.

Nowt so queer as theatre folk

And keeping things gay at the National, I really appreciated their Queer Theatre season, a set of readings of seminal LGBT works, reflecting the community’s experience in being represented by theatre over the last few decades. An intelligent and thought-provoking set of work accompanied by Q&As which were unafraid to tackle some of the more difficult questions about representing the full spectrum, about intersectionality and how much further we all still have to go.

Top of the Twelfth Nights

And speaking of, it was interesting to see some high profile productions of Twelfth Night pushing the boundaries as we got a lesbian Malvolia in the Olivier courtesy of Tamsin Greig and Simon Godwin whilst at the Royal Exchange, director Jo Davies cast transgender performer, writer and activist Kate O’Donnell as Feste to breathtakingly beautiful effect. In a play that has always been about gender fluidity and the questioning of one’s identity, this was a production that took audiences by the hand and said look, this is the modern world, full of people who are happy like you, who are sad like you. Infinitely more powerful than all troll-baiting comment you might find on Twitter…

Building a tight connection to my heart

Not being the biggest Bob Dylan in the world, I had my doubts about Girl from the North Country but within one song I knew I’d like it and within three, I knew that it was going to be one of my shows of the year. The key moment was Sheila Atim’s delivery of ‘Tight Connection To My Heart (Has Anyone Seen My Love)’ that completely won me over, a complete reinvention of the song into something full of aching longing and gorgeous restraint. Utterly revelatory and the heartbeat of the show encapsulated in one glorious moment. 

Simon Higlett taking Chichester into the round

The upswell in event theatre shows little sign of abating and at its best, inspires all involved to really up their game. And with Blanche McIntyre’s revival of The Norman Conquests at the Chichester Festival Theatre, it was Simon Higlett’s design – reconceiving the auditorium into the round – that really elevated the production as it allowed the lucky few who got onstage seating to experience the trilogy as if in the intimacy of the tiniest studio.

Deafinitely making up for lost time 

It has taken me an appallingly long time to get around to seeing some of Deafinitely Theatre’s work but it did mean that my introduction to them was via the blistering social commentary of Mike Bartlett’s expert two-hander Contractions, which had the added bonus of being put on in the magnificently bizarre surroundings of the New Diorama’s ND2 space. I shall look forward to revisiting both as soon as I can. 

Sparking up for Audra

Smoking may be a dirty habit but when none other than Audra McDonald asks you to light her cigarette (as part of the glorious Lady Day at Emerson’s Bar and Grill at the Wyndham’s) I ain’t gonna say no. The transformation of this West End house into a cabaret joint worked perfectly and being that close to perfection was just stunning.

Solidarity with Songs and Solidarity

And a final mention for the herculean efforts of Giles Terera and Danielle Tarento in pulling together the Songs and Solidarity benefit gig at such short notice. A concert in aid of those affected by the Grenfell Tower fire, it made us laugh, it made us cry, it made our hearts sing with joy, it made us dig as deep as we could into our pockets. A powerful reminder of the good in the world even at the darkest of times.

The 2016 fosterIAN awards

Pleasures were few and far between in 2016…

Round-up of the 2016 fosterIANs

Best Actress in a Play
Juliet Stevenson/Lia Williams, Mary Stuart

Best Actress in a Musical
Jenna Russell, Grey Gardens

Best Actor in a Play
O-T Fagbenle, Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom

Best Actor in a Musical
Louis Maskell, The Grinning Man

Best Supporting Actress in a Play
Jade Anouka, The Tempest

Best Supporting Actress in a Musical
Jennifer Saayeng, Ragtime

Best Supporting Actor in a Play
Peter Polycarpou, Scenes from 68* Years

Best Supporting Actor in a Musical
Julian Bleach, The Grinning Man

And my top 10 plays of the year:

1 Mary Stuart
2 Ma Rainey’s Black Bottom
3 Minefield
4 Escaped Alone
5 A Raisin in the Sun
6 Pink Mist
7 Steel Magnolias
8 The Grinning Man
9 Jess and Joe Forever
10 BU21