The Best Theatre & Performances of 2018

In Features, London theatre, Musicals, Opinion, Plays, Reviews, Ticket recommendations by Rachel WilliamsLeave a Comment

It’s mid-December, I’m more mince pie than human and I only know what day it is based on which Christmas lunch I’m going to. This can only mean one thing: it’s time for my annual theatrical year in review post.

Now, normally I do two of these – Top Ten Shows and Top Ten Performances – but this year I’m combining the two – plus some sundry other awards. Consider it my Christmas present to all of you. You’re welcome.

So, without further ado, and without Rita Ora being here for some reason (looking at you, Evening Standard Awards), let’s get stuck in.

Top ten shows

1. The Jungle (Young Vic/West End, now at St Ann’s Warehouse in New York)
Not only the best thing I’ve seen this year, but the best thing I’ve seen this lifetime. Everything that theatre should be: relevant, challenging, innovative, human, perception-shifting. My number one regret for 2018 is that I didn’t get to see it more than once.

2. Julius Caesar (The Bridge)
The only production I’ve ever enjoyed enough to see three times. Revelatory staging, the perfect cast and arguably the best piece of Brexit theatre to date. Completely changed my perception of the play and what Shakespeare can and should be.

3. Company (West End – still playing)
A revelation from start to finish, Marianne Elliott’s gender-swapping production deserves every single accolade it has already received – and then some. A game changer for women in theatre, and indeed women in general, and just a bloody brilliant staging of a bloody brilliant musical.

4. The Inheritance (Young Vic/West End – still playing)
I loved every minute of each of its seven hours. Funny, incisive and profoundly moving, this belter of a play stays in the mind long after the lights come up. Not an easy watch, but a deeply rewarding one.

5. My Name is Lucy Barton
(The Bridge – returning in 2019)
To be honest, a one woman show starring Laura Linney was never not going to appear on this list. But my god Lucy Barton is an astonishing show. Linney will return later in this blog post, but actually it was the beautiful writing that gets this production on this list. It broke my heart pretty conclusively.

6. Hamilton
(West End – still playing)
I mean, do I need to explain? No, I don’t. Believe the hype.

7. Sylvia
(Old Vic)
I doubt this unfinished, lovable mess of a production will make many ‘professional’ critics’ top tens but I fucking loved it. An absolute riot of a show that deserves a future AND A CAST RECORDING FFS. An incredible piece.

8. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie
(West End – still playing)
The most uplifting show I’ve seen in years, featuring a genuinely diverse and utterly kick ass young cast and music so catchy you’ll be singing it for months afterwards. A joy.

9. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child
(West End – still playing)
Again, do I really need to explain? Magical theatre, in many senses, and much more moving than I ever expected. A repeat viewing is very much on my 2019 to do list.

10. The Lehman Trilogy
(National Theatre – transferring to the West End in 2019)
The most imaginative show about international finance you’ll ever see. Entertaining, sad, amazingly staged and with probably the best cast in London. It’s another long one, but worth every single second.

Also 10. Hadestown(National Theatre – still playing)It’s my blog and I’ll have two 10s if I want to. I just couldn’t have this list without Hadestown. A brilliant, life affirming, hope generating show with the most amazing music.

Top ten performances1. Laura Linney (My Name is Lucy Barton)
Laura Linney is an utter legend for a reason. This incredible performance playing multiple characters in a one woman show genuinely broke me a bit. Haunting.

2. Arinzé Kene (Misty, The Bush/West End)
Misty may have narrowly missed out on my top ten shows but Kene’s performance was an absolute knock out. Acting, writing, rapping, singing, emerging from a massive balloon – there was nothing that he couldn’t and didn’t do.

3. Patsy Ferran (Summer and Smoke, Almeida Theatre/West End)
Another show that narrowly missed out on my list, but features an absolute gem of a performance from Ferran. Surely a star making one to boot. She certainly deserves for it to be.

4. Kyle Soller (The Inheritance)
The top highlight in a cast full of highlights, Soller anchors The Inheritance with a performance of huge empathy, depth, complexity and heart.

5. Adjoa Andoh (Julius Caesar/Leave Taking, The Bush)
Cheating slightly, I couldn’t pick which role of Andoh’s I loved her in more. Just a really fucking excellent actress tbh. I didn’t really know her before this year and now I’m a bit obsessed.

6. Rosalie Craig (Company)
Showing absolute zero signs of the weight of expectation on her shoulders, the first ever female Bobbie was so good you forgot the part had ever been played by a man. Perfect casting.

7. Vanessa Redgrave (The Inheritance)
Redgrave is in, like, two scenes in seven hours of The Inheritance but for me she almost stole the whole show with a performance so moving I cry just thinking about it. She’s still got it.

8. Ammar Haj Ahmad (The Jungle)
The Jungle is really an ensemble piece, but a performance as beautiful and humane as this was will always stand out. You’ll struggle to find an actor more invested in their character too.

9. David Morrissey (Julius Caesar)
In truth, I’ve always thought Mark Antony is a bit of a dick but THIS Mark Antony I would follow into battle. Probably the most modern take on a Big Shakespeare Part I’ve seen and certainly one of the most charismatic. At least 75% of the reason I saw this show three times, if I’m honest. Probably more.

10. Ben Miles (The Lehman Trilogy)
It’s so difficult to pick just one actor from the trio of utter class that is The Lehman Trilogy’s cast, but for me Ben Miles’ easy charisma and charm is always a winner. One of those performances you can hardly take your eyes off – even when he’t not doing anything.

A few other awards for which there is no prizeBest Season: has to be Tyhe Bush for their zero fucks given attitude to commissioning.

Best Outside London: Bold Girls, Theatre By The Lake

Best Director: Marianne Elliott for Company (obviously)

Best Design: Bunny Christie for, amongst other things, Company and Julius Caesar

Best Choreography: Alistair David for Chichester Festival Theatre’s Me and My Girl

Best Music: Hadestown. I cannot stop listening to it. Seriously, it’s becoming a problem

Best Tour: my beloved This House

Worst Show: a few contenders this year, but David Hare’s dreary I’m Not Running at the NT just takes it

Biggest Disappointment: the waste of potential excellence that was the NT’s abomination of a Macbeth still makes me angry

Rachel Williams on InstagramRachel Williams on RssRachel Williams on Twitter
Rachel Williams
Rachel Williams stumbled into blogging entirely by accident and mostly as a way of amusing herself and a couple of theatre-loving friends. Several years and a permanent move to South East England later and blogging at viewfromthecircle.blogspot.com has become a real passion (balanced increasingly precariously with a day job in the charity sector). Theatrical passions include Shakespeare, musicals, new writing, new theatres, James Graham and anything Bertie Carvel happens to be doing.
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Rachel Williams on InstagramRachel Williams on RssRachel Williams on Twitter
Rachel Williams
Rachel Williams stumbled into blogging entirely by accident and mostly as a way of amusing herself and a couple of theatre-loving friends. Several years and a permanent move to South East England later and blogging at viewfromthecircle.blogspot.com has become a real passion (balanced increasingly precariously with a day job in the charity sector). Theatrical passions include Shakespeare, musicals, new writing, new theatres, James Graham and anything Bertie Carvel happens to be doing.

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