Top 10 theatre shows of 2019

As the curtain falls on 2019, here are the top 10 shows that stood out for me this year, in the order that I saw them.

1. Three Sisters at the Almeida Theatre – this blew my Chekhovian socks off

2. A Belly Full at The Mill at Sonning – a hip-wiggling hit

3. Anna at the National Theatre – an unnerving Cold War thriller for the ears

4. The Lehman Trilogy at the Piccadilly Theatre – epic and intimate, theatre doesn’t get much better than this

5. A Midsummer Night’s Dream at the Bridge Theatre – like being at a wild party you don’t want to end

6. Joseph and the Amazing Technicolor Dreamcoat at the London Palladium – energy so palpable you could make a coat out of it

7. What’s in a Name at the Yvonne Arnaud Theatre – long-buried resentments explode messily like a dropped bowl of cous cous

8. The Watsons at the Menier Chocolate Factory – a fantastic timey-wimey trip into the Jane Austen universe

9. Death of a Salesman at the Piccadilly Theatre – poetic, moving and devastating

10. A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic – an absolute cracker

Other honourable mentions go to:

Equus at Trafalgar Studios

& Juliet at the Shaftesbury Theatre

Posh at the Oxford Playhouse

The Doctor at the Almeida Theatre

Noises Off at the Garrick Theatre

Rosmersholm at the Duke of York’s Theatre

Original Death Rabbit at Jermyn Street Theatre

and a special mention for Ian McKellen on Stage at the Harold Pinter Theatre – my final theatrical experience of the year. Possibly the best one of all.

I’ll be back in the New Year with my top picks for 2020.

 

 

A Kind of People review – Royal Court

4 star review

Gurpreet Kaur Bhatti’s new play starts off as an entertaining and positive snapshot of multicultural Britain. School sweethearts Gary and Nicky are throwing a birthday party at their council flat. He’s black, she’s white – and they have their hopes pinned on Gary getting a promotion at work that will give them and their kids a better life.

The party guests include British Pakistani couple Mo and Anjum, Gary’s sister Karen, Gary’s workmate Mark (whose birthday it is) and Gary’s manager Victoria.

The big laughs and joyful atmosphere of the play’s opening scene quickly dissipate as Victoria gets drunk and comes out with a number of remarks that leave the atmosphere chillier than the Prosecco in the fridge.

What follows is a sharply observed examination of race, privilege, class and education in contemporary Britain. Victoria’s behaviour sets in motion a chain of events that open up devastating fault lines between Nicky, Gary and their friends.

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The cast of A Kind of People (photo: Manuel Harlan)

At a brisk 95 minutes it sometimes feels like watching a soap opera, but director Michael Buffong ensures every scene has the power to make the audience squirm or cheer out loud.

Richie Campbell and Claire-Louise Cordwell are outstanding as the central couple Gary and Nicky. Petra Letang’s no-nonsense Karen and Asif Khan’s Mo provide some comic relief, and there’s strong support too from Manjinder Virk as the ambitious Anjum, Thomas Coombes as Mark and Amy Morgan as Victoria.

There’s not much Christmas cheer here, but Bhatti’s emotional drama delivers a punch that you’ll feel for a long time after you’ve left the theatre.

A Kind of People is at the Royal Court until 18 January

 

 

 

 

 

A Christmas Carol review – The Old Vic

5 star review

It’s no surprise that this staging of Dickens’ Christmas classic is back for a third year at the Old Vic.  It clearly has the potential to become as perennial as other festive must-sees like The Snowman and It’s a Wonderful Life.

Directed by Matthew Warchus, writer Jack Thorne’s version of the Scrooge story manages to be both pleasingly traditional while at the same time feel like an exciting reinvention.

With the audience on all sides, Rob Howell’s atmospheric set cuts a path through the stalls, lit from above by myriad lanterns. The costumes, beautiful yet battered, might be described as distressed Dickensian chic.

Paterson Joseph plays Scrooge with the grouch dial turned up to 11. His dismissive description of the carol singers at his front door as “singing creatures” is particularly entertaining. And his handling of the old miser’s (spoiler alert) Christmas morning transformation was so well done I found myself grinning with uncontrollable delight.

Warchus doesn’t hold back on the emotional punches. Expect tears among the laughs, not least during Scrooge’s encounters with his lost love Belle (an excellent Rebecca Trehearn) and Tiny Tim (played variously by Rayhaan Kufuor-Gray, Lara Mehmet, Lenny Rush and Eleanor Stollery).

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Rebecca Trehearn as Belle and Paterson Joesph as Scrooge (photo: Manuel Harlan)

Not an inch of the auditorium is wasted, with some inventive set pieces popping up on every level, and the whole experience is enhanced by Christopher Nightingale’s exquisite score and beautifully sung carols.

This show is an absolute cracker.  If you’re lucky you might even get given a mince pie or a satsuma from one of the cast as you settle in your seat. Merry Christmas, one and all!

A Christmas Carol is at The Old Vic until 18 January 2020