For any theatre enthusiast who has been living under a rock, Nicholas Hytner’s new production of Guys & Dolls at the Bridge Theatre is unique because it is immersive, in the manner of this venue’s previous acclaimed versions of A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Julius Caesar.
‘Truly life-enhancing stuff’: SLEEPOVA – Bush Theatre ★★★★
In the week which saw the Bush Theatre pick up two out of a possible five nominations in the Outstanding Achievement in an Affiliate Theatre award category in this year’s Oliviers, the excellent West London venue has further cause for celebration with the opening of this sassy delight. As refreshing and spicy as an ice cold ginger beer on a sunny day, and as warm and lovely as a hug from a treasured friend, Matilda Feyiṣayọ Ibini’s irresistible sugar rush of a play Sleepova already looks like a strong contender for feelgood show of 2023.
‘It’s refreshing, a bit shocking & might leave you trembling’: BOOTYCANDY – Gate Theatre ★★★★
Exhilaratingly original and pleasingly ambitious in scope and execution, Bootycandy at the Gate Theatre is the theatrical equivalent to having a bucket of cold water thrown over you: it takes you out of your comfort zone, it’s refreshing, a bit shocking and might leave you trembling. Enthusiastically recommended, this Bootycandy is sweet and salty.
‘There is a lot here to savour’: PHAEDRA – National Theatre
A very interesting programme article will tell you the difference between the multiple takes (the National’s programmes remain the most informative and best value for money in the capital) but what audiences really need to know is that this is very much Simon Stone’s Phaedra, and he has once again done what he effected upon Lorca’s Yerma at the Young Vic then subsequently in New York in 2016-7.
‘Performed with heartbreaking truth’: BUFF – The Vaults ★★★★
With Ben Fensome’s highly entertaining Buff director Scott Le Crass comes up with another production rich in detail and dynamism but displaying total faith in the material and the central performer. Both entities here repay that trust abundantly.
‘Classy staging & nicely judged mood’: WE’LL ALWAYS HAVE PARIS – Sonning
This is the sort of fare that might have run for years on Shaftesbury Avenue in the mid- 20th century and, despite references to Brexit and the internet, and the use of mobile phones, We’ll Always Have Paris at The Mill at Sonning feels like a throwback to that simpler era.
‘A rare dark delight’: We Didn’t Come To Hell For The Croissants – Riverside Studios ★★★★
As it turns out, Jemma Kahn’s We Didn’t Come To Hell For The Croissants, the South African, multi-authored one woman riff on the Seven Deadly Sins, offers rather more than just a whimsical comic title and a series of outrageous pull quotes.
‘At its most engaging, it’s genuinely captivating’: AND THEN THE RODEO BURNED DOWN – King’s Head Theatre
Existentialism, absurdism, clowning, vaudeville, country music and a gentle queer romance all collide in this strange but rather lovely show. And Then The Rodeo Burned Down is sometimes reminiscent of other, more conventional, plays – Waiting For Godot and Rosencrantz and Guildenstern Are Dead spring most readily to mind – but has an off-kilter comic energy, suffused with a certain quiet melancholy, that is entirely its own.
’An illuminating, inventive revitalisation of a familiar piece’: A STREETCAR NAMED DESIRE – Almeida Theatre ★★★★★
However, Rebecca Frecknall’s production of A Streetcar Named Desire at the Almeida Theatre is an unusually youthful reading of a play usually marinated in the disappointments of middle age, which duly casts it in a bold, bracing new light.
‘A tangy, ambitious, thoroughly engrossing piece’: PARADISE NOW! – Bush Theatre ★★★★
“It could be worse” observes Baby, one of the pair of Irish sisters who open and close Margaret Perry’s richly enjoyable new play Paradise Now! at the Bush Theatre, as she contemplates their less-than-ideal lives; that statement applies equally to the existences of the other four women whose frustrations, tragedies and eccentricities inform this delightful, unruly tragicomedy.
‘Live entertainment has come back with an encouraging roar’: Alun Hood celebrates his Top 20 new theatre shows of 2022
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.
‘It’s pretty hard not to be won over’: NEWSIES – Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre
This London premiere of Newsies at Troubadour Wembley Park Theatre has already extended bookings until next spring and, if the ecstatic – verging on hysterical – first night reaction was any indication, it’ll be opening up ticket sales for beyond then fairly soon. One would imagine this was always the intention of principal producers Runaway Entertainment (in partnership with Disney Theatrical and a few others) who have clearly spared no expense in presenting this London Newsies.
‘A biting fury that feels raw & authentic’: AIN’T NO MO’ – Broadway ★★★★
AIN’T NO MO’ by Jordan E Cooper Directed by Stevie Walker-Webb Belasco Theatre, New York City – until 26 February 2023 https://aintnomobway.com All aboard the final flight of African American Airlines, a journey taking every last Black American, tired and pissed off from being sidelined, passed over, disappointed, hurt, viewed with suspicion and just plain […]
‘Tremendous energy but misses a trick’: A DEAD BODY IN TAOS – Touring
David Farr’s new play A Dead Body In Taos, briefly in London following performances in Bristol and Plymouth and before moving on to Warwick Arts Centre, is an earnest addition to an underpopulated genre. Undeniably ambitious, but more ponderous than engaging, it doesn’t make a great case for creating stage dramas in this mould.
‘Enchanting & quietly riveting’: THE BAND’S VISIT – Donmar Warehouse ★★★★
In Michael Longhurst’s dreamy new London production of The Band’s Visit at the Donmar Warehouse, where everyone is close to the stage, it’s enchanting and quietly riveting. It also features, in the work of leading lady Miri Mesika, in the role that won Katrina Lenk the 2018 Outstanding Actress Tony, one of the most remarkable British stage debuts in living memory.
‘90 minutes of sheer uplift & joy’: THE CHOIR OF MAN – Arts Theatre ★★★★
They’re back, those big burly men who sing like angels while dispensing free beer… yes, The Choir of Man has returned to town and it’s just the tonic that we need in these grim times. The term “crowd pleaser” was coined for shows like this concert-revue-jamboree hybrid, with a song stack featuring everything from Guns’n’ Roses, Queen, Avicii and Sia, to showtunes, Celtic folk songs and much more besides.
‘These are two true artists at the very top of their game’: ONLY AN OCTAVE APART – Wilton’s Music Hall ★★★★★
Pitched somewhere between cabaret and recital, but most definitely a piece of true theatre, Only An Octave Apart (the title refers to the fact that Anthony Roth Costanzo is a classical counter tenor while Justin Vivian Bond possesses a resonant deep baritone at home singing everything from torch songs to disco… so they literally do sing an octave apart) is a strange and compelling melange of the screamingly funny and just (exquisitely controlled) screaming.
‘Highly watchable comedy drama’: BRIGHT HALF LIFE – King’s Head Theatre ★★★
As it is, Bright Half Life has much to recommend it, especially the nimble, inventive direction of Steven Kunis which plays out under a rather beautiful kite shaped neon lighting grid (kite flying is a recurring motif in the text) and the exquisite, detailed performances of Eva Fontaine and Susie McKenna as the women who fall in and out of love across decades but never in a chronological order.
‘Hard to imagine a better production of the play than this one’: DISTINGUISHED VILLA – Finborough Theatre ★★★
The Finborough has a rich and noble history of rediscovering lost dramatic gems, alongside their programme of new work (this year’s Bacon and Pennyroyal are two of my favourite new plays since theatres reopened post-pandemic), and Kate O’Brien’s family tragicomedy Distinguished Villa, seldom seen since its 1926 premiere, continues that line of programming.
‘A thing of importance & carefully pointed simmering rage’: THE P WORD – Bush Theatre ★★★★★
Here’s something you don’t get to experience too often: a gritty piece of contemporary writing that gives theatrical voice to people largely unrepresented on stage, and does so with compassion and comedy; a new play that is at once delicately intimate yet epic in scope, and a cracking piece of storytelling that manages to indict it’s audience without ever feeling preachy or worthy. Waleed Akhtar’s The P Word is a plea for tolerance, a study of the power of friendship, a sort-of love story and ultimately a potent political act that grips like a thriller.