Friday, 30 December 2011

My Top 10 Theatre Shows of 2011

Everyone loves a round-up-of-the-year blog post, right?

I sketched a few ideas onto a post-it during the last week of work, in preparation for the annual Best Of The Year post we do for the blog. As the various theatre shows I've enjoyed in 2011 came out around the 10 mark, it seemed fitting to put them together for you here.

Obviously, it's been a pretty unforgettable year for me, events-wise (wedding, hen do, honeymoon being in the top three!), but in amongst all those life-changing events has been a steady stream of top-notch theatre too...

1. One Man, Two Guvnors, National Theatre, June
Now transferred to the West End, and extending its run with a new lead, I was lucky enough to see One Man, Two Guvnors without having read much about it, and before hearing all the hype. It turned out to be the perfect show for the Friday before the Friday before the wedding... Total escapism for me and my husband-to-be. Hilarious, slick, surprising, hugely entertaining; I felt like we were in the hands of enormously talented people, all with incredible performance power. Long may it continue to entertain. Here's what I wrote about it for londonist.

2. Matilda The Musical, Cambridge Theatre, November
I saw Matilda after the hype. But I still loved it. I defy anyone (with just the vaguest sense of enjoyment when it comes to musical theatre) not to be won over by this show. It's just got so much heart. And the show has introduced me to the brilliance of Tim Minchin (he's really from Northampton, y'know), and Bertie Carvel (who's possibly going to be Mark Darcy in Bridget Jones' Diary The Musical - oh my...!). After writing the Matilda review for londonist, I was also invited to talk about Matilda on French Radio London, which was fun.

3. Crazy For You, Novello Theatre, October
My sister and I saw Crazy For You back in the 1990s with the whole of our family during a lavish Day Out in London for my Grandma's (75th? 80th?) birthday. I was just about a teenager (13 or 14), and the day involved a trip to Claridges' for afternoon tea too. As it turns out, all I can really remember from the day is being offered actual different types of tea (who is this Dargie Ling you speak of?); a waiter telling my Grandma she looked like the Queen Mother (what a charmer!); and a girl singing while sitting on a crescent moon hanging from the flies at the end of the show. Nothing about the musical itself. Seeing it again all these years later, I realised it was no surprise that we couldn't remember the plot! It's totally nonsensical and arbitrary, in the best tradition of all the best musicals. (But, I'd argue, still contains what I like to call the Forest of Arden displacement treatment.) After this incredible production, my sis and I were thumping our knees and crying "Again! Again!" Really, for musical lovers, it's a total treat. The music! The dancing! The shoes! The tap routines! The telephones! The sets! The gloves!

4. Frankenstein, National Theatre, April
Another top show from the National; another which is now indelibly linked to 2011 in my head, as we saw it the day before The Hen Do. That night, Johnny Lee Miller was The Creature and Benedict Cumberbatch the Doctor (a role they alternated, in case you weren't aware). I'd've been happy to see it either way, but loved the dramatisation of this ever-fascinating tale. It was also a great example of a Nat Theatre epic: sets, sound and lighting that had you wondering as much about the skills of the builders back stage as the players on it.

5. Clybourne Park, Wyndham's Theatre, February
The first mention of a Royal Court show in this top 10, Clybourne Park transferred to the West End early this year, and made quite an impression on me. As well as a deliciously sassy script, it was wonderfully acted by a fantastic cast. Here are the thoughts I put together about the show for the blog.

6. Betty Blue Eyes, Novello Theatre, April
Ahh, Betty. With an actual royal wedding happening at the same time, Cameron Mackintosh producing and Alan Bennett in the mix, I just don't know what happened. At the time, I was pretty sceptical. But in hindsight, I think I actually loved a lot of it. Indeed, here's a round-up of reviews I put together for londonist, concluding:
"Fantastic choral skills ensemble, some brilliantly bonkers songwriting by Stiles and Drew (one about chiropody, another about a bad smell – seriously), and slick choreography by Stephen Mear."
Now watch this and tell me WHY this wasn't a hit?

7. The Westbridge, Theatre Local, November
It's not often you get to see Royal Court-standard theatre a short walk from your house. Unless you live in Sloane Square, of course. But I don't. So it was very exciting to be able to make the press night for The Westbridge at Theatre Local in the Bussey Building in Peckham, a mere hop, skip and a jump from my front door. As well as being wonderfully "local" in every possible way, the acting was spot-on, the script sizzled and the production was innovative and impressive. I hope the 'Court enjoyed their time in my 'hood.  Here's what I wrote about The Westbridge for londonist.

8. The Playboy of the Western World, Old Vic, October 
I was thrilled to finally see The Playboy of the Western World, having struggled through it at school. The Old Vic's production made for a fascinating evening of half-remembered A Level quotes, page-bound characters bursting to life, a strong slice of Ireland in the heart of Waterloo, and a hugely entertaining piece of comedy drama. Here's what I wrote about The Playboy of the Western World on the blog.

9. Hamlet, Young Vic, October
No video here, and no review to link up either. I'm so pleased I've finally seen Hamlet live. I'm also really pleased I've seen Michael Sheen perform. He was certainly everything I'd hoped for. And there was lots to enjoy in this innovative show  at the Young Vic. But ultimately I was disappointed. Several of the other actors just weren't good enough. And the production just felt kinda cheap. But Mr Sheen's performance just inches this into the top 10 of the year... 

10. Umbrellas of Cherbourg, Gielgud Theatre, March / Pippin, Menier Chocolate Factory, December
I know, I know. Having two for tenth place in a top 10 just makes it a top 11, right? Well, there are lots of similarities between these two shows. (As well as a shared cast member in the lovely Carly Bawden.) I guess I'd list both as flawed musicals. That's not to say they weren't enjoyable; indeed, there were moments of brilliance in both. I'm sad the sweet, stylish Umbrellas of Cherbourg didn't survive for longer. Here's what we made of it at work.

And Pippin was, well, different. Really different. And I rather liked most of it. Here's what I wrote about it for londonist.

There was more, of course. I Am The Wind at the Young Vic was one of my favourite reviews to write. The Children's Hour was star-studded, but a dud play, in my opinion. The RSC were on top form with King Lear and As You Like It at the Roundhouse, both quality productions, but because I always expect so much from them, they perhaps didn't surprise me enough to make the final top 10. I quite liked the overambitious 13 at the National. Then there was Rosencrantz and Guildenstern (finally!), and Backbeat (OK, but kinda disappointing), and Double Falsehood (a new theatre for me, but far from Shakespeare's best, IMHO.)

And next year? Well, there'll be more. I should try some more venues, as well as some new companies, and some new shows. Perhaps I can be a bit more adventurous in 2012 than I have been in 2011.

I'll keep you posted...

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