2016 already promises to be very exciting for West End shows. Funny Girl is transferring, the new Harry Potter play will premiere, and perhaps most excitingly for me, it’s the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare’s death…okay, that sounded a bit morbid…
But before I look at what shows I’m looking forward to this year, I thought I’d reflect on 2015. And it was quite the year for theatre in London!
In total, I saw around 38 shows! Not quite one a week but getting there! So picking a Top 5 was quite tough, but here they are…
5) The Knight of the Burning Pestle (January 2015: Sam Wanamaker Playhouse)
I’ve been in the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse a few times for work, but this was the first show I saw in the indoor theatre. And it was quite the experience. Firstly, the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse is a beautiful space. It’s hard to evoke the same feel and atmosphere as the Globe itself, but this space magnifies it. Intimate and ornate, it’s a magical theatre.
Secondly, it’s rare for me to see something at the Globe and not have read it before. And going into the show, I had no idea of what to expect. I didn’t even know what a pestle was! But it was just what I fancied: pure Elizabethan farce! Comedic gold, special effects and actors running round the entire theatre, it was a great night out. Yes, it was hardly a play which made you think or had something which you take away from it…well, that’s less true in the case of the cast. At multiple points they took away some audience members’ food and drinks for themselves!
4) Spring Awakening (December 2015: Brooks Atkinson Theatre, NY)
I first heard the soundtrack to Spring Awakening when I was in uni and I was hooked immediately. Unfortunately, I was about one year too late on the whole ‘actually-seeing-it-live’ bandwagon, since it finished its brief London run in 2009.
I booked my holiday to New York in February this year and as luck would have it, it only went and got a bloody revival. While I was there! Totally partially myself to thank for that, after I predicted/begged for it!
I’ll mention this one in passing, since the review of it will be coming out this/next week. Deaf West’s revival was amazing: incredible movement, beautiful choreography and such an interesting interpretation. So good in fact, that my Dad who knew nothing about it was shocked when I told him that the original version didn’t include ASL.
3) Assassins (January 2015: Menier Chocolate Factory)
This is probably my favourite musical I saw this year (not the use of saw…the reason why will become apparent with the next entry) . And I’m still amazed it didn’t get a transfer.
With a star-studded and incredibly talented line up featuring Jamie Parker, Aaron Tveit, Catherine Tate, Andy Nyman, Simon Lipkin among many others, I can understand why. Keeping the original cast could prove difficult, as would any attempt to emulate the unique atmosphere of the Menier.
Not only was this one of my first Sondheim shows but it was the first one I saw at Menier Chocolate Factory. And I’m so glad it was. The theatre is so intimate and it completely complemented the show. Set in an abandoned fairground, the intimacy only heightened the sense of tension and audience complicity.
2) Hamilton (Ummm…Walter Kerr Theatre, NY)
Somewhat of a contentious entry here.
Well, I haven’t actually seen the show.
But the album contains all the dialogue from the show, save for one scene. So while I haven’t seen Hamilton, I have heard it. The brainchild of Lin Manuel Miranda, it’s possibly the strangest sounding concept: a musical about one of the founding father of America. Told through rap. Normally, when I telling my friends about it, I lose them at ‘founding father’! But it works so well. The casting is incredible, the vocals are pitch and word perfect, and the lyrics! No song, no line, no word is wasted or misplaced. Want proof?
I’m the oldest and the wittiest and the gossip in New York city is insidious. (Helpless)
Washington isn’t gon’ listen
To disciplined dissidents, this is the difference:
This kid is out! (Washinton On Your Side)
Thomas Jefferson, always hesitant with the president
Reticent, there isn’t a plan he doesn’t jettison. ( Cabinet Battle #1)
Oh and there’s are cabinet meetings. Told through rap battles.
Despite being about a period of history centuries ago, it’s truly a musical for our time.
1) War Horse (May 2015: The National at the New London Theatre)
I went to War Horse expecting to be amazed by the puppetry.
When I left the show and rang my Mum, I was in tears didn’t mention the puppetry once.
As I said in my review of War Horse, it’s an incredibly moving piece of theatre. The writing is superb, the plot and timing is heartbreaking; it’s such a human drama and so relevant in this time, that you almost forget about the puppets and become completely focused on the plot. And when the puppetry is that skilled, that’s an incredible thing.
I didn’t expect to burst into tears at the end. And I definitely didn’t expect to burst into tears before the interval. And it wasn’t just me, as a good 3/4 of the audience did too. I don’t even think I can write objectively about the plot or the show itself now, because of how moved I was. This was originally number 4 on my list, but writing this made me remember just how immersive it was and it had to be number 1. And even writing this now make me want to go back and see it before it closes.
If you see anything in the next few months in the West End, make it this.
Honorable Mentions: Book of Mormon, The Young Vic’s Measure for Measure, Rocky Horror and The Old Vic’s High Society.