2017 Regional theatre recap

In Broadway, Manchester, Musicals, Opinion, Plays, Regional theatre, Reviews by Debbie GilpinLeave a Comment

I have to admit, my line about Mind the Blog going ‘on tour’ more this year was basically a reference to my secret New York trip that I’d been planning for a few months prior to writing the post about my plans for 2017. But, in the end, it has turned out to be a fairly accurate statement all round. Whilst there were several other shows I’d hoped to see, and venues I wanted to tick off the list, I think I have done pretty well overall.

Much of my ‘touring’ has been concentrated in Bristol and Chichester; there are a few other UK venues to add to the list, as well as some from my week in New York, of course…


Since my first visit for 946 in November last year, the Bristol Old Vic has basically become my out of London Kneehigh/Emma Rice haven. It is the oldest theatre in the country, dating back to 1776, and is a truly beautiful Georgian building. I gather the sightlines can be a bit iffy in places, but luckily I’ve never had any real problems there!

It took until August for me to make my return, and that was to (finally) see The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk. Its run at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse last year came before I had to see everything Emma Rice did… Having booked row B, I was pleasantly surprised to find that was actually the front row – and I fell in love so quickly that I wrote & published my review as soon as I got back to my hotel room! I have big plans about following it next year.

And from then I’ve had a nice little run to see out the year: People, Places & Things (a deviation from the norm), The Tin Drum, and The Little Matchgirl. Excitingly, my PPT seat was on the stage itself, making for an even more intense couple of hours. I’m glad my experience of the show hadn’t been coloured by a previous viewing, though now I obviously do wish I could have seen how Denise Gough did it, too!

I don’t think I’ve ever experienced anything like The Tin Drum before; it’s almost like the 21st century equivalent of an opera, darkly funny and incredibly relevant. Nothing could have prepared me for seeing that from the front row either! It was great to see Nandi Bhebhe in something new, and I enjoyed it so much (if that’s the right word) that I just about managed to see it again when it came to Shoreditch Town Hall for a pre-Christmas run. The final show of the year in Bristol was another missed Emma Rice production: The Little Matchgirl and Other Happier Tales. The first time I’d sat anywhere other than right at the front, but it was just as lovely from the dress circle. And my added incentive for that was, of course, Katy Owen being in the cast. Good thing I booked so far in advance…


Again, a bit of casting finally made me pull myself together and book a ticket for a show at Chichester. And then I couldn’t help but return a few more times… Both the Festival and Minerva Theatres are wonderful modern spaces; I do enjoy productions on thrust stages, and the seats are pretty comfy.

My first trip was to see Forty Years On, the Alan Bennett play, starring Richard Wilson as the headmaster – and featuring Silas Wyatt-Barke as one of the schoolboys. It was a bit of an odd one, but enjoyable all the same – and terrific production value. Next was my first ever press opportunity there, for BroadwayWorld UK, to cover Sweet Bird of Youth. Thanks to The Glass Menagerie I’d discovered a love for Tennessee Williams, and it was rather neat that one of the actors from that production (Brian J. Smith) was in the lead role for this particular play.

As the season came to an end, I focused my attention on the smaller auditorium. I didn’t think I’d want to see another King Lear again so soon, but when Kirsty Bushell was cast as Regan, and Damien Molony as my favourite character Edmund, I became desperate to go – though obviously with Sir Ian McKellen starring, that was easier said than done for a while… But closer to the time my persistence paid off! My final trip of the season was to complete my James Graham collection for the year: This House, Ink, Labour of Love and Quiz. I was there for the last matinée of Quiz, and definitely didn’t expect to be confronted with a pub quiz answer sheet and keypad! My booking was made fairly late on, just prior to the transfer announcement – before seeing it I was a little annoyed that this news had taken so long to come out, but now I’ll be intrigued to see what they keep and how it’ll work in a significantly larger theatre.

New York City

This is the big one, really. In the end, thanks to issues with my currency card, generally not having enough money, and the astonishingly ridiculous prices, I only ended up seeing three different shows. As a big fringe & Off West End fan, I am quite proud of not seeing a show on Broadway this time around! I am plotting my return, however, as I’d love to take advantage of Shakespeare in the Park – and I may have promised to follow the Flying Lovers when they make their journey over next year…

As well as getting my (final) fill of 946, it was great to finally see Avenue Q, and also make a ticket lottery win for a random Sunday afternoon jaunt! New World Stages is a fantastic venue; easily accessible (as long as you don’t continually get confused by the blocks, like I did) and obviously nowhere near as massive as Broadway theatres. And getting to go to one of the Public Theater venues (Joe’s Pub) was possibly the coolest thing I got to do over there. I definitely want to make another visit, and see what the other auditoria are like.


Finally! A self-confessed Shakespeare addict, and it’s taken until this year for me to visit the place where he grew up. As well as getting to look around all of the town houses (his birthplace, New Place and Hall’s Croft), I’ve now seen a couple of shows – one at each theatre – and am planning my return next year.

I made my first visit back in the summer (even staying in the Shakespeare-themed Mercure, though unimpressed at being put in The Winter’s Tale room) to contribute to my #Puppets2017 mission. Gregory Doran’s Venus & Adonis was revived as part of the Rome season; despite the appalling initial non-view (they don’t warn you about a narrator sitting in the way when you book) it was great to finally see it, especially after learning more about the poem at Scena Mundi’s FORUM.

After trying to swear off Twelfth Night for a while, I couldn’t resist an Ade Edmondson Malvolio (or the chance to see the brilliant Esh Alladi again), so my birthday celebrations began with a weekend away to see a Victorian, Aesthetic Movement production of my favourite Shakespeare play. I’m doing my best to head up and see it again, actually…


Just a little outside London… I was sent off to Surrey to review the Watermill Theatre’s touring productions of Twelfth Night and Romeo + Juliet. I’m not sure why those two Shakespeare plays have been put on so much this year, but I wasn’t going to turn down a trip to a different place to see how these different versions stacked up. Whilst they weren’t my favourites (why can so few people get me emotionally invested in Romeo & Juliet?), and I didn’t appreciate the evening’s 2h45 show starting at 8pm (I almost had to run the whole way to catch my train), they weren’t a bad pair. Always impressive to see Shakespeare done in rep, and the jazz concept for Twelfth Night really intrigued me.


Only the one visit, but it’s one I’ve been wanting to make for a while. I love a bit of museum nerdery, and the Ashmolean has been a longstanding target – so when I realised I was running out of time to see the brilliant Kay Milbourne from Sunny’s Team B as alternate Donna in the Mamma Mia! tour, I decided a day trip to Oxford was in order!

Those of you who know me will be well aware that Mamma Mia! isn’t exactly my usual thing (though the film is a bit of a guilty pleasure, to enjoy Pierce Brosnan’s atrocious singing), but it was such a thrill to hear Kay really sing this time – especially as she only got a couple of solo lines when she covered Mrs Davies. I wouldn’t hurry back to see it again, but I’d happily listen to Kay’s tracks if she ever got to record them.

South East

Venturing slightly out of London again (to… Kent) – though it definitely does still count as being ‘on tour’, as it can be more of a challenge than it should be. For one thing, there are complicated cost implications involved – and even living in the south east of London doesn’t help, as you invariably have to go up and back down again (and vice versa)…

I returned to Dartford, after seeing Sunny there last year, to revisit the wonderful Fantastic Mr Fox. In Chatham, I did my bit for am dram, reviewing the Gillingham Dramatic Society’s production of 9 to 5 – again, not usually my kind  of show, but it was impressively done. And the last stop on my South East venues was the Churchill Theatre Bromley, as firm favourite Ewan Wardrop was touring his one-man show Formby. Knowing very little about George Formby made this an educational as well as entertaining event – and really great to see Ewan showing off all his versatility (I’m thinking about all that tap dancing!).

South West

My earliest trip to the theatre outside of London this year took me to Salisbury, as former Sunny understudy Lloyd Gorman was back in a new run of Worst Wedding Ever. I’d been meaning to go back to Salisbury for some time, and finally try out their theatre, so this was ideal! It was a really fun show (including a short set from the band in the foyer beforehand), and a great little theatre.

I decided to follow that Fantastic Mr Fox to another stop – again, a perfect excuse to revisit a lovely place. I recently discovered that I had previously seen a show at the Theatre Royal Bath many years ago (for Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat, as a young child), but this trip was the first since my theatregoing got serious. A great way to get back there, anyway, and another nice little break for me.

Finally, my very last outside London theatre trip of the year. I’d not been to the Brewhouse since it reopened, so when 2016-17 Sunny cast member Megan Leigh mason was cast in their production of A Christmas Carol the Musical (the same one, it turns out, as I saw in a concert version at the Lyceum) – and I’d decided on #MTBChristmasCarol2017 – and I couldn’t avoid it any longer. A charming final show before Christmas.

The ones that got away…

In spite of all this, there are a few places I really had hoped to visit this year:

The Crucible, Sheffield – for the incredibly limited run of Everybody’s Talking About Jamie;Royal & Derngate, Northampton – it was one of my targets, as an iconic regional theatre, and the new version of The Jungle Book has started its tour there;Curve Theatre, Leicester – another on my hitlist, and a potential addition to #MTBChristmasCarol2017 with Scrooge the Musical;Birmingham Rep – amongst other things, I’d have liked to have seen Nativity! the Musical there instead of Hammersmith, as it’s better value and a more compact venue;Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester – the main wish was to see their production of Twelfth Night (yes, I know…), as well as their current all-black Guys and Dolls;Edinburgh Festival Fringe – I just would’ve liked to have ticked this off in general, but also a further trip to see Flying Lovers and a chance to see Alice Cardy (another former Sunny) in a new Irvine Welsh show would have rounded things off brilliantly.

Next year I plan to make even more trips and cover ever more of the country – London just isn’t enough anymore! It’s going to take a considerable amount of planning, as I have a fair few shows and tours floating around in my head already (and have booked some as well). Keep an eye out for my ‘Coming up in 2018’ post to get a taste of what I’ll be seeing next year…


Debbie Gilpin on FacebookDebbie Gilpin on RssDebbie Gilpin on Twitter
Debbie Gilpin
Debbie Gilpin stumbled into writing about theatre when she moved to London after studying for a degree in Human Genetics at Newcastle University. She started her website Mind the Blog in November 2014 and also tweets from @Mind_the_Blog. She spent the best part of 2014-16 inadvertently documenting Sunny Afternoon in the West End, and now also writes for BroadwayWorld UK. Debbie’s theatre passions are Shakespeare and new writing, but she’s also a sucker for shows with a tap routine.

Tags: , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , , ,

Debbie Gilpin on FacebookDebbie Gilpin on RssDebbie Gilpin on Twitter
Debbie Gilpin
Debbie Gilpin stumbled into writing about theatre when she moved to London after studying for a degree in Human Genetics at Newcastle University. She started her website Mind the Blog in November 2014 and also tweets from @Mind_the_Blog. She spent the best part of 2014-16 inadvertently documenting Sunny Afternoon in the West End, and now also writes for BroadwayWorld UK. Debbie’s theatre passions are Shakespeare and new writing, but she’s also a sucker for shows with a tap routine.

Leave a Comment