I’m not going to lie, I haven’t seen anywhere near as much theatre this year as I would like to have done. In that, I include theatre that has been streamed because, let’s face it, whether you’ve dressed up for a night out or you’re curled up on your couch, what your watching is the work of creatives who, against the odds in 2021, have brought some incredible work to your attention.
We all know how we feel about 2021. What we need to do is celebrate what made it fabulous so here is my pick of what the year had to offer.
Singin’ in the Rain – Sadler’s Wells
It would take a hard heart not to fall in love with Jonathan Church’s production, which finally ran at Sadler’s Wells earlier this year after a couple of false starts thanks to you know what.
The MGM classic is a film that appeals to every generation and is a regular family favourite. The very best of the film has been transferred with style and panache onto the stage. The ensemble embraced the style. The design brought the world to life on stage, as it did on film, in stunning Technicolor.
The overwhelming emotion as a spectator for this version of Singin’ in the Rain was joy. Pure joy. What better response? Especially this year.
Rockets & Blue Lights – National Theatre
Winsome Pinnock’s epic 2020 play landed at the National in 2021 after two previous incarnations: Manchester’s Royal Exchange and an online version.
It’s a play that spans history, tackles the legacy of the slave trade and confronts its spectators with unanswered questions that demands responsibility and action all via a JMW Turner painting.
Less meditation, more pulsating rhythm thanks to Pinnock’s startlingly beautiful script and Miranda Cromwell’s razor sharp direction, Rockets and Blue Lights is one of those rare state of the nation pieces that needs to land in everyone’s lap.
Iphigenia in Splott – Shedinburgh Festival, Online
Gary Owen’s adaptation of the Greek legend places Sophie Melville’s Effie into the Cardiff suburb with an array of characters all played, with devastating effect by Melville.
2021’s version was a one-off as part of Shedinburgh Festival, an online response to the uncertain future of live theatre we started to face in 2020.
The difference between this version and every other version is that Melville embraced the Shedinburgh etiquette of performing script in hand, sitting in a chair in a shed on the stage of Soho Theatre.
Despite the unconventional surrounding, this was a heart stopping 75 minutes of theatre from a dynamite script and a spectacular performer. Rarely has a one person show brought to life so many people, a location and a world with such startling effect.
LAVA by Benedict Lombe: BUSH THEATRE, ONLINE
You know that thing I said about one person shows in the previous paragraph? Well this is the second one that does the very same thing. Lombe’s writing, on one hand deeply personal and on the other, historically sweeping, is a trailblazing piece of prose. Matched by Ronkẹ Adékoluẹjo’s electric performance and Anthony Simpson-Pike’s slick, sensitive and theatrically charged direction, Lava is the kind of theatre that is as equally at home on stage and being beamed into your home. A celebration of identity and storytelling.
OZ by Pins and Needles Productions: TOBACCO FACTORY THEATRES, BRISTOL
A late entry, in fact it’s still on. At the time of writing, it’s running until the 16th January 2022.
You can read my thoughts about it here.
To bring it full circle, this Pins and Needles Oz is an absolute joy.
Resilient, robust and made up of creative teams that reflect everything that is truly wonderful about theatre, if the above 5 are anything to go by, 2022 has a lot to live up to.
What were your #top5 theatre productions of 2021? @MrShaneMorgan shares his from @Sadlers_Wells @BushTheatre @NationalTheatre @ShedinburghFest & @tfttheatres. #yearinreview #theatre2021