Everyone will tell you this: 2016 has been tough, incredibly so. However, looking back, it seems I’ve been pretty lucky in terms of theatre this year. I know it’s not over yet, but I’m not seeing any new productions in the next 12 days, so I might as well think of something to say about my theatre year. I don’t blog about productions I see, even though I probably should, even just for myself. Anyway, I do have something to say, so…
By the end of the year I will have been to the theatre 146 times, which is almost twice as many as in 2015 (it was 75), and I’ll end up seeing 54 different productions (massive improvement on about 20 in 2015). As you can guess, most of those visits were dedicated to a certain Sunny show: both in London and on tour. As a matter of fact, the tour is going to be my last show of the year – which is how it should be. There have been other shows I ended up seeing more than once, for different reasons: Hangmen, In the Heights, Kinky Boots and The Globe’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream, – so it’s not just one production.
Like I said, I’ve been very lucky this year but there’s a couple of shows that turned out to be below my usual standards. The worst production I had to endure was All or Nothing, by miles. I never got round to seeing it during its initial run at the Vaults so I can’t say if it got better or worse by the time I saw it in August, but it was the one time this year when I was thinking of leaving in the interval, which I never do, no matter how awful the production I’m seeing is. I saw it through, however, to make sure it was as weak as I’d been told. That said, I tried to be as unprejudiced as possible, it wasn’t that hard. I love The Small Faces, it’s one of my most favourite bands, and it pains me to see their story treated in such an immature way. The show may have its potential, but its book needs to be rewritten and some of the characters should be recast. I don’t know how it sounded in bigger venues, at the Vaults musical design seemed non-existent and I couldn’t hear any of the vocals, which is not a good thing. You should be able to hear Steve Marriott, I couldn’t, although it’s not the only problem with this show.
I was slightly disappointed by the UK tour of the Commitments, I don’t like the changed ending which comes out of nowhere and makes no sense to me, plus it didn’t feel to me like it was the same show I’d seen in London. I’m also not quite sure about Buddy: the Buddy Holly Story. It’s a fun show, but it doesn’t have much of a story (not their fault, obviously), it might’ve worked better as a shorter show without an interval. It appeals to certain audiences and it’s still enjoyable, though. There have been some other productions I’m not particularly keen on, I knew it might happen and it doesn’t mean they’re bad – just not my kind of shows.
However, 2016 has been a very good theatre year for me. Some shows opened in 2015 but as I saw them this year, they’re on my list. I stopped avoiding musicals and, even though I may not be coming back to see most of them, I happen to enjoy and appreciate some productions. Without further ado, I give you my Top 5 shows from 2016.
- In the Heights (King’s Cross Theatre)
It took me a while to get to see it, I missed its original run at the Southwark Playhouse and only went to the King’s Cross Theatre in May – and I fell in love. It’s a wonderful production, its simple story is full of heart and never fails to make me laugh and cry. I’m going to be sad to say goodbye to it in January, but I’m glad I got to see it and spent some time enjoying it.
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream (The Globe)
One of my least favourite plays and one of the best productions I’ve seen at the Globe. I’m grateful to Emma Rice for her first season and for this particular version of the play. It’s fun, it’s mad in the best way possible and it introduced me to a number of actors who quickly became some of my most favourite people. And don’t get me started on some of Emma Rice’s casting decisions: Debbie wrote a great feature on Helenus and I can only second everything she said, Katy Owen as Puck is my role model now, and Ewan Wardrop happens to be the Bottom that doesn’t set my teeth on edge but makes me cry with laughter. I’m annoyed and irritated by the board’s decision to get Emma Rice to step down in 2018, but I’m glad we still have one more year with her.
- Lazarus (King’s Cross Theatre)
2016 deprived me of one of the most important people in my life. Bowie’s legacy lives on, no doubt, but it’s the thought of not having anything new that’s devastating. I’m happy that Lazarus found a home in London and glad I got to see it. I’ve heard different opinions and reviews, to me it’s one of the most personal things I’ve ever seen on stage. It may be weird to some, to me it’s one of the strongest theatre experiences ever. I couldn’t stop crying for almost two hours and was visibly shaking when I was leaving the theatre. It’s so Bowie you could almost feel his presence. And don’t get me started on the cast, Michael Esper as Valentine is something to behold. My only regret is that I booked just one ticket when they went on sale, I’m going to see it again in 2017 – in fact, it should be my first show of the year – but having watched it from the middle of the front row, I want to see it from there again.
- Red Velvet (Garrick Theatre)
This was my most favourite production of the whole Branagh season at the Garrick – quite possibly because Branagh had nothing to do with it. It’s a timely story told by a top-notch cast, it’s Adrian Lester at his best. Productions like this stay with you for a very long time. I wouldn’t call it groundbreaking or use any other big words – it just makes you stop and look around you, and see that not that much has changed in 150 years. It’s a shame it had such a short run, but I’m so so glad I saw it in February.
- Hangmen (Wyndham’s Theatre)
To my shame, I missed Hangmen at the Royal Court in 2015, timing just wasn’t right (it was on around Sunny cast change, you know…) and then it was sold out so I couldn’t even try and risk cancelling something I’d already planned. However, I made up for it when it moved to the West End. I saw it 3 times and if I’d had a chance it would’ve been far more than that. There’s nothing I don’t like about this Martin Mcdonagh’s play, I could probably go on and on about it forever and I keep everything crossed that one day it’ll be back and I’ll get to experience it over and over again. It’s clever, it’s funny, it’s stylish, it doesn’t matter that I know its plot twists, I still enjoy it enormously and miss it a lot. And I’m still baffled and annoyed that Johnny Flynn didn’t get an Olivier nomination for his performance – he was definitely the best thing about this incredible production.
What? Sunny Afternoon is not on the list? You may have guessed that of those shows I’ve seen more than once this is still the one I see a lot. We had to say goodbye to its London version, which was tough, even though the world didn’t end, it just feels odd knowing it’s not in Panton Street anymore. On the other hand, I have the tour, and it’s the best option I could wish for. I’ve seen them many times now and I love them dearly – it’s still the same show and yet it feels fresh and new. I look forward to spending more time on the road and seeing them in 2017.
Speaking of things to look forward to next year, I have 9 new shows to see when I’m next in London and quite a few new productions in the first 6 months. One of my favourite actors is going back to the theatre and, even though it’s another version of the play I’m not very keen on, I’m glad I’m going to see him again. I’m also massively looking forward to the new season at the Globe and I’m determined to make the most of it and see every production at least once. In November, that little show called Hamilton is going to hit London, so that’s definitely another exciting prospect, plus, even though it’s not set in stone yet, I may finally make it across the pond again and see a few Broadway shows. Let’s hope 2017 will be better in general and in terms of theatre in particular. I hope that my fellow theatre addicts will get to see a lot of great shows and that my favourite actors will get the roles they want and deserve. I have decided to try and do some theatre blogging next year. I don’t know yet if I’m going to do monthly overviews, or if I’ll just write about those shows that should get a mention, for good or bad reasons, or if I’m going to write proper blogs on every new production I see – it all depends on how much time and energy I’ll have. In any case, here’s to a good 2017, filled with excellent theatre.