Here is a snapshot of my favourite theatre from the past 10 years. I say ‘favourite’, I’ve tried not to overthink it, these are simply the plays that stand out most in my memory, the ones I talk about if people ask.
The list is not about plays that broke new ground or changed the theatre landscape – there are plenty of those lists around already – rather these plays just had something in them that I remember fondly.
To say that it has been tough narrowing it down to 10 is an understatement but I get another go next year because my blog is 10 in April. (There, I spoilt the surprise.) In no particular order:
1. After the Dance, National Theatre
This is a play that gets talked about in ‘theatre circles’ a lot. It had a uniformly standout cast and I can still remember Nancy Carroll’s snot crying. But it has a particularly special place in my memory for being the play which turned Benedict Cumberbatch into ‘one to watch’ for me.
I’d seen him plenty on TV but this catapulted him from jobbing actor to leading man potential in my eyes. This was before Sherlock hit the screens and as a result, means I can smugly say ‘well I’ve been a fan since before he played Holmes’.
2. Hamlet, Stratford and Hackney Empire
I’ve seen a lot of Hamlets, more than one a year, and while technically I did see Ben Whishaw’s Hamlet for the first time in 2010, it was a recording rather than the live performance so it doesn’t count.
Paapa Essiedu’s Hamlet for the RSC was the first, since Whishaw’s, where I really felt he was a student and acting his age, he was also the most likeable which made the play all the more tragic.
Setting the play in an African country and having Rosencrantz and Guildenstern as two of only three white characters was also genius because it put them out of their depth in so many more interesting ways.
When I saw it for the second time, in Hackney, a group of teenagers were so swept up in it they leapt up to dance at the end. I don’t think there is higher praise than that really.
3. The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios
It’s the play in which director Jamie Lloyd had James McAvoy unicycling around the stage wearing just his pants. Have no idea why that sticks out in my mind. Ahem.
The play was brilliantly bonkers too. Wish I could see it again.
4. Coriolanus, Donmar Warehouse
We were very lucky to get tickets for this. Tom Hiddleston had just become a Hollywood star having just played Loki on the big screen for the first time – although he was already on my radar – and the theatre was routinely mobbed by fans.
The combination of physical performance – shaking in pain post-battle – and the emotional makes this stand out for me. He brought particular depth to Coriolanus which made him a far more sympathetic character than I’ve traditionally seen played.
Oh, and he took a shower on stage. There was that too.
5. Pigs and Dogs, Royal Court
I talk about this play a lot mainly in conversations about why serious and impactful theatre doesn’t need to be 3 hours long.
Pigs and Dogs was just 15 minutes but it was one of the most powerful and simple pieces of theatre I’ve seen.
Three actors reciting lines from speeches and comments made by different world leaders, it was gripping and has left an indelible mark.
6. Amadeus, National Theatre
This is on the list because it completely flawed me, to the point where I needed a hug afterwards – both times I saw it.
I was expecting it to be a big, colourful and entertaining production – which it was – but I wasn’t prepared for how sad it would make me feel.
And I still feel sad when I think about it.
7. A Street Car Named Desire, Young Vic
The sexual tension between Gillian Anderson’s Blanche and Ben Foster’s Stanley was palpable and I don’t think I’ve experienced it quite to that degree since.
A slowly revolving stage made you feel like you were a voyeur and a testament to Benedict Andrews direction that worked so well.
I can’t listen to Chris Isaak’s Wicked Game without thinking of this play.
8. Richard II, Barbican
This is mainly about a kiss, a lingering kiss between David Tennant’s Richard II and Sam Mark’s Aumerle that spoke volumes and it took my breath away.
It was a production that made me laugh and cry and set the bar for all subsequent productions of Richard. Basically, if there isn’t a boy kiss it gets a star knocked off.
9. The Man, Finborough Theatre
James Graham is a brilliant writer but I don’t think I’ve seen anything of his that has quite stood out like this.
When you describe it, it sounds really dull: A man doing his tax return.
What you get is a clever and skillfully performed sad, funny and poignant play that must be a real test of the actor’s ability.
The audience is handed receipts as they arrive and the actor (it was a revolving cast, I got to see Samuel Barnett) retrieves them one by one, telling a story attached to each.
Pieced together in random order with the help of some improv, the narrative slowly and cleverly unfolds.
I haven’t seen anything like it since.
Mojo, Harold Pinter Theatre (nee Comedy Theatre)
I saw this 10 times. Yep, 10. Haven’t seen any other production more than twice.
Why? A combination of the cast: Colin Morgan, Brendan Coyle, Daniel Mays, Rupert Grint and of course Ben Whishaw in a darkly comic thriller.
It’s possibly the best thing I’ve seen Ben Whishaw in and one of the most interesting characters. Baby is both a c-word and tragic and there was an absolutely brilliant dance sequence.
The final performance particularly lives in my memory for how destructive and emotional it was. Props getting smashed and seeing actors not only struggling to hold back tears during the performance but at the curtain call.
I would love to go back in time and see it for the 11th time.
…Over to you, which plays have stuck with you over the last 10 years? Leave your thoughts in the comments.
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