2019 Theatre Round-up

Posted: December 30, 2019 in Theatre

On the face of it, 2019 was less vintage than the two preceding years, with fewer brilliant (5-star) productions. However, the year was rich with quality, making it difficult to restrict a list of favourites to just ten. So I haven’t!

The National Theatre continued to fluctuate between (in my opinion) the great and the ghastly, which is its job. The Almeida may have slipped very slightly and, rather worryingly, the Donmar Warehouse, Hampstead Theatre and the Royal Court are all absent from my favourites. London theatre of the year has to be Matthew Warchus’ Old Vic, which has produced a string of hits and has even gone some way to resolving front of house problems. London Fringe Theatre of the year is Paul Miller’s Orange Tree.

FAVOURITE PRODUCTIONS

1  West Side Story (Royal Exchange, Manchester)

With the 1961 film now looking very dated, Sarah Frankcom’s re-imagining of the classic Bernstein/Sondheim musical was sorely needed. Nothing about her thrilling, modern production disappointed (btw I haven’t seen the Leicester version – yet).

 

 

2  Present Laughter (Old Vic)

Director Matthew Warchus delivered a definitive, hilarious version of the play, with a brilliant gender reversal to make Noël Coward’s sub-texts work even better. Andrew Scott was in blazing form.

 

 

 

 

3  Hansard (National Theatre)

Echoes of Albee’s …Virginia Woolf in Simon Woods’ debut play, a witty and moving account of clashes between political beliefs and private anguish. Alex Jennings and Lindsay Duncan were magnificent.

 

 

 

4  Downstate (National Theatre)

A co-production with Chicago’s Steppenwolf Theatre Company, Bruce Norris’ play painted a devastating picture of the hopelessness of  former prisoners who can never be fully integrated back into society.

 

 

 

5  Dear Evan Hansen (Noël Coward Theatre)

Proof that Broadway musicals don’t have to be glitzy spectacles. A modern tale of teenage angst takes us to unexpected  places, finding levels of truth and tenderness that Hamilton could never come near. Pasek and Paul’s songs are the icing on the cake.

 

 

 

 

 

6  Faith, Hope and Charity (National Theatre)

Alexander Zeldin’s play focussed on desperate situations at the very bottom of our social ladder, but somehow managed to highlight the hope amid the faith and the charity.

 

 

 

7  The Curious Case of Benjamin Button (Southwark Playhouse)

F Scott Fitzgerald transplanted to Cornwall, this tiny British musical cast a magic spell over Elephant & Castle.

 

 

 

8  Death of a Salesman (Young Vic/Piccadilly Theatre)

I confess that this is the one Arthur Miller play that I’ve never been able to stand…until now. Co-directors Marianne Elliot and Miranda Cromwell, with a superb cast led by Wendell Pierce and Sharon D Clarke, came up with a production which deserved to raise the roof and (unfortunately) did so literally.

 

 

 

 

 

 

9  The Son (Kiln/Duke of York’s Theatre)

After tiresome comedies, seen in London at the Menier Chocolate Factory, French writer Florian Zeller returned to the top form of The Father and The Mother with this gripping examination of teenage depression and parental oversight.

 

 

10  Come From Away (Phoenix Theatre)

With a plot resembling that of a ‘70s disaster movie, this Broadway musical told of what happened when a group of disparate characters were thrown together by the adversity of 11 September 2001. The show could have benefitted from a few more decent songs, but Christopher Ashley’s vibrant direction and an exuberant company won the day and it proved impossible not to be carried away by the euphoria of it all.

11-25 (alphabetical order): A German Life (Bridge Theatre), All My Sons (Old Vic), Anna (National Theatre),  Baby Reindeer (Bush Theatre), Blood Knot (Orange Tree), Fiver (Southwark Playhouse), Leave to Remain (Lyric Hammersmith), Little Baby Jesus (Orange Tree), Lungs (Old Vic), Master Harold and the Boys (National Theatre), Pinter at the Pinter season (all eight),  Small Island (National Theatre), The Doctor (Almeida Theatre), The Hunt (Almeida Theatre), The Ocean at the End of the Lane (National Theatre).

 

FAVOURITE PERFORMANCES

Female in a play: Lindsay Duncan (Hansard)

Male in a play: Andrew Scott (Present Laughter)

Female supporting in a play: Sophie Thompson (Present Laughter)

Male supporting in a play: Luke Thallon (Pinter 5 and Present Laughter)

Female in a musical :Jenna Russell (The Bridges of Madison County)

Male in a musical: Sam Tutty (Dear Evan Hansen)

Female supporting in a musical: Rebecca McKinnis (Dear Evan Hansen)

Male supporting in a musical: Andy Coxon (Curtains)

Ensemble in a play: Faith, Hope and Charity

Ensemble in a musical: Come From Away

 

OTHER FAVOURITES

New play: Hansard

New musical: Dear Evan Hansen

Director (play): Jamie Lloyd (Pinter at the Pinter season)

Director (musical):   Sarah Frankcom (West Side Story)

 

LEAST FAVOURITES

1  When We Have Sufficiently Tortured Each Other (National Theatre) The name of Cate Blanchett could certainly sell the tickets, but it proved beyond the powers of even this supremely gifted actor to sell Martin Crimp’s preposterous load of tosh to many of those who bought them..

2  Hell Yes I’m Tough Enough (Park Theatre) Unfunny, out of date, juvenile political satire which could only have found approval among supporters of of the Member of Parliament for the constituency in which the Park is located (Islington North).

3  Peter Gynt (National Theatre) Noël Coward had a few unflattering things to say about Henrik Ibsen’s play in Present Laughter and none of them were disproved by David Hare’s tedious re-working, which seemed utterly pointless.

 

MOST OVERRATED

Preludes (Southwark Playhouse) The sort of off-Broadway musical that would be raved over when performed in some basement in Greenwich Village, but it’s a mystery why Dave Malloy’s psychoanalysis of the young Rachmaninov was generally well received here. Baffling, pretentious and largely tuneless (apart from contributions by “Rach” himself).

 

MOST DISAPPOINTING

Sweet Charity (Donmar Warehouse) In theory, it should be hard for a professional company to go wrong with this classic musical, but Josie Rourke’s lacklustre production managed to disprove the theory. Anne-Marie Duff has won an Evening Standard award for her performance in the title role, which poses a question as to whether their voters actually saw the show.

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