Looking for theatregoing inspiration? MyTheatreMates co-founder Mark Shenton chooses his top three plays and top three musicals to book for. Click on links to BUY tickets in the Mates Ticket Shop.
Top three plays
1) Mary Stuart — Duke of York’s. First seen at the Almeida in December 2016, director Robert Icke’s extraordinary production of Schiller’s German classic Mary Stuart has now transferred to the West End, with Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams reprising their phenomenal turns alternating from performance to performance in the title role of the Scottish Queen and her adversary the English monarch Elizabeth I. Both Stevenson and Williams made early bids for theatrical stardom when they transferred from the Royal Court in the original London productions of Death and the Maiden and David Mamet’s Oleanna respectively in the early 90s to this same theatre. Now they’re on the same stage again together, in one of the fiercest, finest display of acting talent in town.
2) Girls and Boys — Royal Court Theatre. Carey Mulligan performs Dennis Kelly’s extraordinary monologue Girls & Boys (running to 17 March only). In my review, I wrote: “It’s one of those plays where you could hear a pin drop as the audience collectively holds its breath for the dread moment when our suspicions will be confirmed… It’s not a comfortable play to watch – yet it’s impossible to look away. It is one of the acting achievements of the year so far.”
3) The York Realist — Donmar Warehouse. This tender, beautiful, aching story of unrequited gay love in 60s Yorkshire is given a tender, beautiful, aching revival by director Rob Hastie in a co-production with Sheffield’s Crucible that he runs and where it will play after its Donmar season ends on 24 March. In my review, I wrote that the play “may very well be a contemporary classic, but it doesn’t advertise itself as such. It’s one of those beautiful, tender, understated plays that works entirely by stealth; there’s no great dramatic revelation or pay-off, just a quiet accumulation of detail and suppressed emotions as we follow the budding relationship between a young Yorkshire farmer (still living at home with mum) and the assistant director of the York Mystery Plays that he’s signed up to appear in.”
Top three musicals
1) The Grinning Man — Trafalgar Studios. First seen at Bristol Old Vic in 2016, this is one of a slew of new British musicals that have made their way to the West End recently. Now playing at the Trafalgar Studios, co-producer David Adkin told me: “It’s probably the riskiest thing in the West End – but sometimes you have to take a risk, otherwise the dynamic of the West End becomes quite dull.”
2) Girl from the North Country — Written and directed by Conor McPherson, this is a jukebox show with a difference, embedding a play set in 1930s Depression-era America with a soundtrack of wonderfully performed Bob Dylan songs. Originally premiered at the Old Vic last summer, I wrote in my review of its transfer to the Noel Coward Theatre that “it feels like a bona fide gem in a world of costume jewellery. Conor McPherson provides an intricate and precise yet impressionistic account of these lives unfolding, with big and small dramas playing out there. Not since Once — the stage version of the Irish indie film — have I felt a show move with such organic vitality; the songs emerge from the action as a swirling, fluid commentary on it, though not specifically to further the dramatic action.”
3) Pippin — Southwark Playhouse. Long one of my favourite musicals, this 1972 Broadway musical gets a wonderful new production that has transferred to Southwark Playhouse from a run at Manchester’s Hope Mill Theatre last year. In my review, I wrote: “While I loved the 2013 Broadway revival for its extraordinary circus thrills, this unmissable production has even more integrity and dramatic conviction.”