As somebody who loves a listicle plus a bandwagon to jump on, how could I NOT compile my list of my top 20 new (to me) shows of 2022? It’s been 12 months in which live entertainment has come back with an encouraging roar, although the impending cost of living crisis is inevitably, and understandably, causing anxiety in theatrical circles. Please do get out there, if you can, and support your local venue in 2023.
In 2022 I saw 157 new shows between London, the UK regions and New York so whittling them down to just 20 favourites has been a considerable, but lovely, challenge. Honourable mentions go to Jodie Comer’s astonishing – and Broadway bound – solo performance in Prima Facie, the Donmar’s delicate reinvention of The Band’s Visit (a considerable improvement on the NYC production plus featuring a glorious UK debut for Israeli diva Miri Mesika), and Hampstead Theatre’s truly beautiful drama about the power of music, Folk.
I also loved the Old Vic’s rambunctious, timely Eureka Day which comically examined the thought processes of anti-vaxxers, the Royal Court’s haunting feminist time travel thriller The Glow, and Mark Farrelly’s affectionate and affecting solo shows Jarman and Quentin Crisp – Naked Hope, both of which are coming briefly to Wilton’s Music Hall in March. Wiltons hosted Starcrossed, the captivating gay riff on Romeo & Juliet and Punchdrunk made a triumphant return with The Burnt City, which is still tantalising audiences at their new Woolwich HQ plus there was a tasty musicalisation of the Great British Bake-Off in Cheltenham but heading into the West End next spring.
On Broadway I was exhilarated by MJ which features some of the most jawdropping choreography, by Tony-winning Brit Christopher Wheeldon, in decades (it’s hitting London in 2024: early booking will be mandatory) and Jordan E Cooper’s furious, wildly entertaining Ain’t No Mo which explored the Black American experience with humour, vitality and sheer in ya face originality. The New York production proved unjustly short lived but I doubt we’ve seen the last of Cooper’s extraordinary creation.
So , here’s my Top 20, in alphabetical order…..enjoy (I did)
1. A STRANGE LOOP – Lyceum Theatre NYC until 15 January 2023
Photograph by Marc J Franklin
The 2022 Best Musical Tony winner, Michael R Jackson’s “big Black and queer ass American Broadway show” (to quote it’s own tangy, racy lyrics) is a boundary-pushing, melancholic yet rollicking interrogation of racial and sexual identity, and what a musical even is. A breathtaking original with a sensational cast, it will go down in the annals of theatre history, no question. Would love to have experienced this again. Calling Stratford East, the Young Vic or Lyric Hammersmith….?
Full review: https://ajhlovestheatre.wordpress.com/2022/08/25/a-strange-loop-%e2%ad%90%ef%b8%8f%e2%ad%90%ef%b8%8f%e2%ad%90%ef%b8%8f%e2%ad%90%ef%b8%8f%e2%ad%90%ef%b8%8f-send-in-the-superlatives/
2. BACON – Finborough Theatre London – ended 16 March
Photograph by Ali Wright
A terrific surprise, Corey Montague-Sholay and William Robinson were astounding in Sophie Swithinbank’s swaggering but sensitive two hander that looked at toxic masculinity, peer pressure, social inequality and pent-up sexuality in a devastatingly powerful and inventively abstract production by Matthew Iliffe. This little firecracker surely deserves a further life.
Full review: https://ajhlovestheatre.wordpress.com/2022/03/05/bacon-%e2%ad%90%ef%b8%8f%e2%ad%90%ef%b8%8f%e2%ad%90%ef%b8%8f%e2%ad%90%ef%b8%8f%e2%ad%90%ef%b8%8f-is-it-too-early-to-call-best-play-of-the-year-yet/
3. BLUES FOR AN ALABAMA SKY – National Theatre London – ended 5 November
Photograph by Marc Brenner
UK premiere for Pearl Cleage’s poetic but muscular 1995 play, set in 1930s Harlem, and reminiscent of a Black Tennessee Williams. A superb evening, marking a magnificently confident NT debut for Bush artistic director Lynette Linton and featuring a brace of flawless performances from a company led by American TV star Samira Wiley and Olivier winner Giles Terera.
4. ELEPHANT – Bush Theatre London – ended 12 November
Photograph by Henri T
The first of several one person shows on this list, and Anoushka Lucas’s gig-family saga-history lesson hybrid is a multi-faceted beauty, taking on colonialism, the dualities of being mixed race, and the implicit racism within the music industry. Lucas herself played the young musician at the centre, as well as various figures in her life, and one fervently hopes she comes back to this when she finishes tearing up the stage as a brilliant Laurey in the Daniel Fish Oklahoma! reimagining.
5. HENRY V – Donmar Warehouse London – ended 9 April
Photograph by Helen Murray
A thrilling reinvention: one of Shakespeare’s driest plays felt dirty, raw, vital and dangerous in Max Webster’s modern dress, multimedia production which seemed to draw parallels between Henry’s unwanted march on France with the Russian invasion of Ukraine. Kit Harington was a dynamic, relatable king and a terrific ensemble included Anoushka Lucas (again) as an ice-cool Princess of France who conversed entirely in French. Theatrical dynamite.
Full review: https://ajhlovestheatre.wordpress.com/2022/03/03/henry-v-%E2%AD%90%EF%B8%8F%E2%AD%90%EF%B8%8F%E2%AD%90%EF%B8%8F%E2%AD%90%EF%B8%8F%E2%AD%90%EF%B8%8F-kit-harington-is-a-henry-for-our-times/
6. INTO THE WOODS – St James Theatre NYC until 8 January 2023 then touring
Photograph by Matthew Murphy & Evan Zimmermann
In the year following Sondheim’s death, I also saw, and hugely enjoyed, Into The Woods productions in Belfast and Bath but it was this supremely intelligent, immaculately crafted distillation of the New York City Center all-star concert that really got to the heart of this beautiful, complex piece. Lear deBessonet’s bare bones staging, lushly orchestrated and extravagant of imagination and understanding, proved that when the material and the talent are this good, you don’t need all the folderol. Plus Sara Bareilles’s Bakers Wife was one for the ages. Magic.
7. KIMBERLY AKIMBO – Booth Theatre NYC – now playing
Photograph by Joan Marcus
Possibly my new favourite musical. Adapted by David Lindsay-Abaire from his own quirky comedy about a sixteen year old girl with a rare genetic disorder whereby she ages five times faster than regular people, this fresh, funny heartbreaker boasts an entrancing Jeanine Tesori score and a haunting central performance from Broadway vet Victoria Clark that is one for the history books. Seriously life-enhancing, joyously off-beat, this has had the sort of reviews creatives and producers dream about.
Full review: https://ajhlovestheatre.wordpress.com/2022/12/06/kimberly-akimbo-%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F-heres-a-show-and-a-heroine-youll-never-forget/
8. MIDDLE – National Theatre London – ended 18 June
Photograph by Johan Persson
David Eldridge, whose unique ability to find the riveting in the apparent ordinariness of everyday life is one of the glories of British theatre, followed his quietly flawless Beginning about a young couple at the start of a relationship (to be revived at Manchester’s Royal Exchange in early 2023) with this equally exquisite two hander about a middle aged marriage in sort-of crisis. Polly Findlay directed a note-perfect production, played out in real time, which drew performances of such truth, tenderness and precision from Claire Rushbrook and Daniel Ryan that the angels could weep.
9. ONE WOMAN SHOW – Ambassadors Theatre London – until 21 January 2023
Photograph by David Monteith-Hodge
Seriously, go and see Liz Kingsman in this intimate setting before she becomes a global superstar. I’m not joking, even though she is in this exhilaratingly funny, gleefully bonkers almost-solo show that takes surreal pot shots at rom coms, the entire concept of a one woman play, and the ubiquitous comic trope of messy, “flawed but loveable” modern women (hello Fleabag). Absolutely tremendous.
Full review: https://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/reviews/one-woman-show-liz-kingsman-west-end-ambassadors_58052.html
10. ONLY AN OCTAVE APART – Wilton’s Music Hall London – ended 22 October
Photograph by Ellie Kurttz
Was it Theatre? Was it a recital? Was it a concert? Was it a cabaret? Who the hell cares…it was utter magic. Downtown cabaret NYC-style (in the endlessly elegant, tartly witty shape of Mx Justin Vivian Bond) met grand opera (engaging, internationally acclaimed counter tenor Anthony Roth Costanzo) in this quirky, eclectic slice of flamboyant joy. An evening of total and utter delight.
Full review: https://ajhlovestheatre.wordpress.com/2022/10/01/only-an-octave-apart-%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F-is-it-cabaret-is-it-theatre-is-it-a-concert-who-cares-its-divine/
11. PASSION – Hope Mill Theatre Manchester – ended 5 June
Photograph by Mark Senior
Another Sondheim, and one of the least popular, although anybody who saw Michael Strassen’s ravishing production, where jagged edges meet raw silk, may wonder why. While this version, ballsier than any other I’ve seen, embraced the delicacy of this semi-operatic tale of poisoned unrequited love, it also had the emotional impact of a sledgehammer. A trio of impeccable, yet consistently surprising, starry central performances (Ruthie Henshall, Dean John-Wilson and Kelly Price) make a further case for a further life for this exceptional staging.
Full review: https://ajhlovestheatre.wordpress.com/2022/05/23/passion-%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F-one-of-sondheims-most-complex-shows-soars-in-manchester/
12. PENNYROYAL – Finborough Theatre London – ended 6 August
Photograph by Helen Murray
Another entry for the tiny but mighty Earls Court powerhouse of new writing, and another delicious surprise. Lucy Roslyn (who also starred, winningly, alongside Madison Clare) took a 1922 Edith Wharton novella and turned it into a wonderfully perceptive, occasionally searing, and surprisingly universal mini-saga about infertility, eggs donation and the fractious relationship between a pair of sisters. Beautiful.
Full review: https://ajhlovestheatre.wordpress.com/2022/07/17/pennyroyal-%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F-its-true-good-things-come-in-small-packages/
13. PROJECT DICTATOR – New Diorama Theatre London – ended 30 April
Photograph by Cesaro de Giglio
This was my first exposure to theatre makers Rhum & Clay and I was bowled over. Starting out as a bit of merry audience participation comedy centred around an apparently trivial power struggle between the fabulous performers (Matt Wells and Julian Spooner), it devolved into a masterful, unsettling critique of power, coercion, collaboration and how artists fit into all that. Seventy five minutes to watch but months, maybe years, to process.
Full review: https://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/reviews/rhum-and-clay-project-dictator-new-diorama_56275.html
14. ROSE – Park Theatre London – ended 15 October
Photograph by Pamela Raith
Martin Sherman’s solo piece about a Jewish woman who survived the concentration camps to gain her own pragmatic take on the American Dream, was first seen in the 1990s with the late Olympia Dukakis, but really came into its own with Scott LeCrass’s spellbinding revival, featuring career-best work from Dame Maureen Lipman. An unforgettable evening and a riveting masterclass.
Full review: https://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/reviews/rose-at-the-park-maureen-lipman_57395.html
15. SOME LIKE IT HOT – Shubert Theatre NYC – now playing
Photograph by Marc J Franklin
Not just hot, but sizzling. This sparkling musical confection from the team behind Hairspray and Smash, takes a vintage Hollywood screwball comedy and remints it as something fresh, inclusive and full of heart, with an uplifting jazzy score. It’s both traditional yet woke, and announces J Harrison Ghee and Adrianna Hicks as major new Broadway stars. Irresistible.
Full review: https://ajhlovestheatre.wordpress.com/2022/12/23/some-like-it-hot-%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F-classic-broadway-showmanship-but-with-a-modern-twist-irresistible/
16. SOUTH PACIFIC – UK and Ireland tour ended 20 November
Photograph by Johan Persson
Originally seen in Chichester, Daniel Evans’s flawless production found new colours and textures in the Rodgers and Hammerstein classic, giving it an excitement and emotional urgency I’d never seen before. Revelatory central performances from Gina Beck, Julian Ovenden and Joanna Ampil helped to make this a soul-searing triumph.
Full review: https://ajhlovestheatre.wordpress.com/2022/08/13/south-pacific-%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F-its-a-soul-soaring-triumph/
17. THE LION – Southwark Playhouse London – ended 25 June, then US tour
Photograph by Pamela Raith
As somebody who had seen, and adored, Benjamin Scheuer perform his autobiographical solo musical about his family and his cancer survival, first time around, I didn’t see the point of reviving it without him. But then I saw Max Alexander-Taylor in Alex Stenhouse and Sean Daniels’s perfectly calibrated new staging, and fell in love all over again. A heartwarming, life-affirming little bit of magic.
Full review: https://www.whatsonstage.com/london-theatre/reviews/the-lion-southwark-playhouse_56635.html
18. THE P WORD – Bush Theatre London – ended 29 October
Photograph by Craig Fuller
Another Bush gem. Waleed Akhtar’s terrific two hander was a plea for tolerance, a study of the power of friendship, and ultimately a potent political act that grips like a thriller. Thought provoking, with a simmering rage and a cracking sense of humour, it was a gay Asian sort-of love story that took an unflinching look at the inhumanity with which refugees are often handled in this country. Akhtar himself and co-star Esh Alladi were devastatingly good in Anthony Simpson-Pike’s engrossing production. Revival please.
Full review: https://ajhlovestheatre.wordpress.com/2022/09/14/the-p-word-%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F%EF%B8%8F-a-terrific-new-play-that-works-on-every-level/
19. THE SOLID LIFE OF SUGAR WATER – Orange Tree Theatre Richmond – ended 12 November
Photograph by Ellie Kurttz
Short, sharp, shocking and utterly compelling, Indiana Lown-Collins delivered a shattering account of this remarkable Jack Thorne play that considers the effect of the loss of a baby on a young disabled couple. Katie Erich and Adam Fenton delivered soul-baring performances. Strong meat yes, but unforgettable, essential theatre.
Full review: https://www.whatsonstage.com/richmond-theatre/reviews/the-solid-life-of-sugar-water-orange-tree_57671.html
20. TITANIQUE – Daryl Roth Theatre NYC – now playing
Photograph by Chad David Kraus
A loving send-up of the Titanic movie and a certain adored French-Canadian diva, this is the Celine Dion disaster jukebox musical we didn’t know we needed but probably now can’t do without. Screamingly funny, jawdroppingly camp and musically enthralling, this off-Broadway smash has already moved into a larger venue and looks set for world domination. Resistance is futile, but really, why would you want to?! Co-creator Marla Mindelle’s Celine is worth the ticket price all by herself.