Inevitably you remember the awful shows more, as they stick out in a sea of good and brilliant productions. And when you see around 200 different shows, you’re bound to come across a few duff ones, but I’m pleased to say that nearly all of the bad shows I saw can be found in this post.
Usually, I’d only give you my six worst shows, plus a few more for good measure, but given the volume I’ve seen this year I’ve decided to bring it in line with my other compilation posts and give you my top 12 worst shows. Dishonourable mentions go to the inexorably bland The Wind in the Willows at the London Palladium, and the rather tedious The Doppel Gang at Tristan Bates. Here, in reverse order of awfulness…
12. Woyzeck, Old Vic
Famously left unfinished by Georg Büchner, Olivier winner Jack Thorne ‘filled in the gaps’ with this adaptation and Star Wars actor John Boyega took the starring role. Whilst the performances were brilliant (Boyega particularly impressed), the whole thing was incredibly confusing and seemed somewhat directionless. The sparse, abstract set worked well in some ways, but the minimalism of the design more often than not added to the latent confusion. There was also a moment of full frontal male nudity that was slightly unnecessary. I could understand the sense of intimidation they wanted to bring across here, but it definitely could have been more subtly done and been more effective.
11. Hamlet, Park Theatre
I’ll be honest, I only wanted to see this out of morbid curiosity. A 90-minute production of a play that could last about four hours if performed in its entirety – starring the Brandreth family… It was an accident waiting to happen. Its brevity meant any emotional or philosophical depth to the text was utterly lost, and the amount of doubling engendered considerable confusion (most notably as Ophelia seemed to take on the persona of her brother – both roles were played by Kosha Engler). If anyone’s taking notes, this is how you vandalise Shakespeare.
10. The Misanthrope, Drayton Arms Theatre
The theme running through this list so far seems to be confusion – and here’s another fine example. Not helped by the stifling summer heat in an upstairs, blacked out studio theatre, but even putting that to one side the production was simply unfollowable. Perhaps it worked better in its French version (the two language versions were running in rep), but the actors seemed completely out of their depth; forgetting lines and simply rudderless, a lot more preparation was needed.
9. A Tale of Two Cities, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
Oh dear, where to start? Beset with technical difficulties from the off, and having to make widely publicised script changes during previews, this new adaptation of the Dickens classic had a bumpy beginning. And unfortunately it never really levelled off. Press night just about missed any inclement weather, but we were forced to sit through an additional break as the set broke down partway through the first act – and it was overly long anyway. Its 7.45pm start time was inconsiderate programming that just rounded off a poor night.
Photo credit: David Ovenden
8. Metropolis, Ye Olde Rose and Crown
A show can flop on the West End for various reasons: niche interest subject matter or techniques, lack of a ‘star name’, produced in unsuitable venues, to name but a few. Another is simply that the material is just not up to scratch – this definitely applies to Metropolis. The frankly bizarre storyline is all well & good for a black & white 1920s German silent film, but when you try to stage it there are issues all over the place. The plot has a whiff of Les Mis about it, and actually several songs sounded suspiciously familiar (tune, characters, pitch). Add into that the exaggerated (visible) vibrato from many of the cast and it was an evening of real confusion and frustration.
Photo credit: Lidia Crisafulli
7. Ishq, Sadler’s Wells Theatre
An Anglo-Punjabi musical based on Sufi legend, and with some stunning production shots – it seemed almost too good to be true! It was. I can’t think of many better (polite) descriptions than ‘absolutely terrible’. The music seemed to be a backing track rather than performed live, parts of the story were quite confusing, the acting was wooden, and the book had no depth or meaning to it whatsoever. What could have been a glorious new strand of musical theatre ended up as a massive disappointment.
Photo credit: Stewart McPherson
6. The Mikado, Richmond Theatre
I’d never seen a Gilbert & Sullivan comic opera before, so I was keen to see what they were like – had I realised I might not have bothered. It’s definitely not my thing! Comic opera was basically a forerunner to pantomime, so really it’s obsolete now (for me, it’s bad enough that pantos persist). This particular production, all-male and backed only with a piano, was not helped by the massive auditorium it was expected to fill, but seeing it elsewhere would not have changed my mind about it – somehow it was dull and ridiculous at the same time.
Photo credit: Sea-Change Theatre Company
5. The Tempest, Rose Playhouse
Not one of my favourite Shakespeares at the best of times – and especially when a superfluous Lahndahn Tahn Mockney character is added between scenes. Myrtle was just pointless and irritating (played by someone who lauds herself as a standup comic, but I doubt she would’ve stood up to even the slightest heckle), and detracted from any vaguely decent moments dotted through the production. Thankfully, as with all productions at the Rose, it was at least short.
A Dark Night in Dalston
Photo credit: Helen Murray
4. A Dark Night in Dalston, Park Theatre
What sounded potentially interesting on paper (a Jew being attacked on a housing estate because of his religion, then being offered shelter by one of the other residents) was completely let down by script and, unfortunately, actors. For a two-hander to work, they need to be strong & solid – even a bad script could be transformed that way, but Joe Coen and especially Michelle Collins just couldn’t hack it. Another one where confusion crept in, as Gina’s inevitably odd back story almost engulfed the whole thing.
John Dagleish and Jemima Rooper in A Midsummer Night’s Dream
Photo credit: Keith Pattison
3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream, Young Vic
Another good example of Bard vandalism, this time his work being quite literally dragged through the mud. It was all wrong. Accentuating the darkness in a comedy is fine (interesting, even), but at the end of the day is does still need to retain its essence otherwise it ends up a complete mess. This production was also not helped by being almost entirely miscast; all of the actors worked within the play, but would’ve been suited to different roles (Leo Bill switching with Lloyd Hutchinson to play Puck and Bottom respectively, Jemima Rooper as Helena, etc.). Sadly a lot of the time the lines seemed to just be spoken rather than expressed with any sense of comprehension, and it lost nearly all of the comedy – I recall properly laughing once. An absolute travesty that reduced me to tears of frustration & disappointment.
Cat on a Hot Tin Roof
Photo credit: Johan Persson
2. Cat on a Hot Tin Roof, Apollo Theatre
The production that managed to make Tennessee Williams’ usually poetic words clang and jar. The horribly designed set was ominous as you first laid eyes on it (a garish metal frame surrounding a ‘stage within a stage’), and it didn’t get any better from there. Colm Meaney was a shining light amidst a fairly average company – led by dire performances from both Jack O’Connell and Sienna Miller. His accent veered more to Ireland than the Deep South, and she didn’t seem to have any appreciation of letting words hang and fill with meaning. And there’s no doubt in my mind that their nudity was completely gratuitous; a cynical bid to boost ticket sales amongst the dirty old man market.
Bat Out Of Hell
Photo credit: Specular
1. Bat Out Of Hell, Coliseum
I may have given this a slightly higher star rating than some of the shows on this list, but as it’s managed to generate the most longstanding loathing in me there was no doubt in it being named my worst show of 2017. It’s another example of a vanity project, really, with songwriter Jim Steinman thinking he was capable of writing the book as well as providing the music – what results is a vacuous script that is only fit to be scoffed at. I firmly believe it’s shows like this that give musical theatre a reputation for being a lesser art form than a straight play; if the book and music aren’t of equal quality it’s just not good enough. Even if songs are performed thrillingly well (Andrew Polec’s vocals, in particular, were genuinely astonishing) that is not enough for me. Give me a proper story, with lines that have some meaning – or go back to the drawing board.