While I’m having to scale back my theatregoing this year, the quality of the shows I’ve seen recently has made up for the reduction in volume. For anyone looking for inspiration, here are my latest recommendations.
Closing 7 April 2018
I was lucky enough to see Summer and Smoke at the Almeida in preview and I realised I was seeing something truly special. This rarely performed Tennessee Williams’ play is brought to glorious, sexy, oppressive, heart-breaking life by an exceptional cast (it is hard to pull your eyes away from Patsy Ferran, she shines like the star she is becoming) and an inspired and gifted director Rebecca Frecknall. While the run is now sold out, it is still possible to get tickets. The Almeida release tickets at 1pm on Tuesdays for the following week, in its Almeida Rush. It is also worth trying for returns (online, in person or by phone). If you are a fan of Williams, you will regret missing this production.
Closing in May 2018
The Grinning Man, at the Trafalgar Studios, is a gorgeous new British musical that is well worth seeing. The run has been extended to 5 May, as clearly I’m not the only person who loved this dark, imaginative, quirky musical based on a story by Victor Hugo. From some of the Twitter exchanges I’ve seen, this show clearly has a hardcore, repeat viewing fanbase, and I’m not surprised. The cast is consistently brilliant, and Louis Maskell is captivating in the lead role of Grinpayne. All in all, this show is a magical experience and is quite unlike the other musicals playing in central London. Go on, treat yourselves.
The Inheritance Parts 1 & 2 at the Young Vic is that wonderful combination of funny and heart-breaking. I adored it. A stunning ensemble cast brings so much life and compassion to this beautiful play. I watched both parts in one day (the first full day preview) and while that is a lot of theatre hours, they flew by, particularly Part 1 (Part 2 is very good but felt baggier than Part 1, a slight nip/tuck would make it shine even brighter). The standing ovation was not the usual self-conscious Mexican wave you can get, it was a roar as the audience jumped to their feet. I didn’t want my time with these wonderful characters to end (despite the discomfort of a numb bum that comes with a marathon theatre day). While some performances are sold out, there is still availability and this show is well worth catching, particularly if you are a fan of E.M. Forster and/or are interested in gay history.
Opening later in the year
The Jungle is transferring to the West End this June (previews start 16th) after a sold out run at the Young Vic last year. Given the immersive nature of the show, I wasn’t sure how it would work in a West End theatre, but the Playhouse Theatre is being dramatically transformed and I definitely recommend sitting on a bench or cushion, in the heart of the action, to get the full impact. If I had to pick a favourite show of 2017, it would be The Jungle. I loved it so much, I’m going to see it again, I just can’t resist. I’ve been asked if it is harrowing (fair question), and I would answer, no. It is funny, honest, human and heart-breaking. I have seen powerful, harrowing theatre where audiences leave in stunned silence, but when I saw the Jungle the audience left abuzz, teary-eyed and energised. This show made me want to be a more compassionate person (in my actions, not just my very well meaning thoughts, like so many people I’m rich in good intentions). The great news is that despite its new home in the West End, 40% of the tickets are £25 or less. And cheap doesn’t mean sitting in the gods, detached from it all. There are plenty of £25 bench seats and £15 cushion seats right in the heart of the action. As anyone who follows me on social media will tell you, I can’t recommend seeing this show highly enough.
This list of recommendations is based on the shows I’ve seen, and obviously I haven’t seen everything that’s on in London (I don’t think that is even possible, not without cloning, we Londoners are lucky sods in some respects). There will be brilliant things running now/coming up that I’ve not heroed here. As I’m having to be much more selective about what I see, I’d love to hear about any shows you’d recommend and why.