It’s customary for critics and others who purport to have some kind of overview to look back over the previous twelve months and come up with a list or two. What follows is a list of the 10 shows which have impressed me most this year. They’re in no particular order.
Bear in mind, though, that my list isn’t quite like other people’s because:
a) I see a great deal of young audience work
b) I review a fair amount of student and amateur work and see absolutely no reason to exclude it
c) I’m more often at fringe venues than major ones
d) I’ve seen “only” 132 shows this year whereas some critics will have seen two or three times as many
e) owing to the above I don’t always get to the Big Shows which all my colleagues are busy raving about.
1. King Lear, directed by Tom Morris, which Bristol Old Vic Theatre School mounted at Bristol Old Vic with Timothy West, Stephanie Cole and David Hargreaves in the three lead roles and graduating students playing everything else. It was both an inspired concept and a fine piece of theatre.
2. Babe the Sheep Pig directed by Michael Fentiman. David Wood’s adaptation looks and sounds (talented actor musos) terrific at Polka Theatre and the story telling is really strong. It runs until 5 February.
3. Half a Sixpence directed by Rachel Kavanaugh. Unbeatable for warmth and smiles. I saw it in Chichester and then at Noel Coward Theatre where I’m due to see it a third time (my Christmas present to Mr E) next week. It’s now booking well into 2017 and I think it will run and run.
4. Spamalot, directed by Chris Cummins for Cambridge Theatre Company and staged at Cambridge’s ADC Theatre. They’re a non professional company but they achieve a most enjoyable standard and if you want smiles and jolly tunes, Spamalot hits all the buttons.
5. Sasha Regan’s all-male HMS Pinafore which toured again this year is a terrific show. Set on a submarine where the crew does the show for something to do, the singing is top notch and the score and text do the rest of the work.
6. The Revenger’s Tragedy directed by Tom Espiner for Fourth Monkey Training Company. Fourth Monkey offers full-time ensemble training and makes a speciality of staging Elizabethan and Jacobean drama beyond Shakespeare. This was an impressive and ambitious project staged in Fourth Monkey’s own traverse theatre at Monkey House, near Finsbury Park.
7. Aladdin, directed by Nick Mowat for Capitol Horsham and definitely the best panto I saw this year – not least, but not only, because of Ben Ofoedu’s wonderful Genie. It was clean fun and foot tappingly cheerful. Sadly it ends this weekend.
8. Frankenstein directed by Eliot Guiralarocca for BlackEyed Theatre. I saw it at the Wilde Theatre, Bracknell but it’s touring until March 2017. It’s a magnificent, brooding take on Mary Shelley’s gothic masterpiece. The star is Yvonne Stone’s slightly larger than life puppet monster.
9. Richard III, directed by Rupert Goold at Almeida Theatre with Ralph Fiennes in the title role and Vanessa Redgrave as Queen Margaret. This very compelling production made sense of the evil which lies at the heart of the play and I loved its design and theatricality.
10. Robin Hood directed by Greg Banks for Egg Theatre, Bath. This is a delightful, gently musical, take on the Robin Hood legend for today. It’s muscular, funny, thoughtful, as far from panto as it could possibly be – and it runs until 15 January.
Happy new year, folks.