My favourite plays of 2016: a year in review

This isn’t meant to be a comprehensive list of excellent productions in London this year, but rather a list of shows that stuck in my memory for various reasons.

people-places-things-review1People, Places and Things at Wyndham’s Theatre

Denise Gough..wow. She was actually as good as everyone was saying she was. I had managed to lose my phone in Camden Market one day and I was not in a great mood. That evening, I was walking past Wyndham’s – it was about 19:20 – and I thought, what the hell, if seeing a good piece of theatre won’t cheer me up, nothing will. So I marched right in, bought a cheap(ish) day ticket, and settled down to watch a play about a struggling actress in a mental hospital. It turns out that this was a very good decision. Standing up at the end to applaud Gough, I felt the entire auditorium buzzing with happiness for her. It was a wonderful feeling, knowing we had witnessed a rare performance. A well-deserved Olivier for Best Actress followed.

347476_770_preview The Tempest at the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

The Tempest might be my favourite Shakespeare play. I saw it three times last year – the Sam Wanamaker production, the Donmar’s Shakespeare Trilogy version and a student play by the King’s Players at King’s College London. The Sam Wanamaker one was my favourite. It was the first time I had seen the play brought to life – I had thus far only read it – and the candlelit setting made Shakespeare’s otherwordly tale especially magical.

the-seagull-32The Seagull at the National Theatre

I had wanted to see a Chekhov play for a while, and I thought a classic like The Seagull would be a good one to start with. Also, a graduate of the drama school I was currently doing a summer course at, Drama Studio London, was in it – Olivia Vinall, in the coveted role of Nina. Whether or not it was because I had one of the best seats I’ve ever had in a theatre (this was due to a particularly advantageous day ticket – usually I’m in the cheap seats), I loved it. It was wonderful and bright at first – Nina infuriatingly naive, Arkadina hilariously conceited – and dark and enthralling as the story went on. The set worked excellently, there was a real chemistry among the cast and it did not feel, as Chekhov threatens to, wordy.

ensemble-in-1984-west-end-credit-manuel-harlan1984 at The Playhouse Theatre

This must be the most terrifying play I’ve ever seen. An excellent adaptation that captured the horror of the novel, 1984 was both spellbinding and disturbing. I was pleased to see the influence of Duncan Macmillan (of People, Places and Things fame). I realised I had forgotten so much about the novel – the fact that it features the nursery rhyme ‘Oranges and Lemons say the Bells of St Clements’, for example. Having these haunting details brought sharply back into focus made this an especially thrilling experience.

lemons-beth-holmesLemons Lemons Lemons Lemons Lemons at the Camden People’s Theatre

When I read The Quiet World, the Jeffrey McDaniel poem that inspired Lemons, it was easy to see what rich potential for a longer version it held. I wondered if someone had turned it into a screenplay, drama or novel. In fact, Sam Steiner had – and so well that it won him the Paines Plough Playwright Fellowship.When his impressive debut play came to the Camden People’s Theatre for a while, I knew I needed to catch it. There’s been quite a buzz around it since it won accolades at the National Student Drama Festival, and I was pleased to see that it was indeed a beautiful piece of theatre. Two young actors, in the living room-like intimacy of the CPT, brought a stream of carefully selected words skilfully to life and took the audience on a journey that was both fantastically and strangely close to home.

peter-pan-paul-hilton-and-wendy-madeleine-worrall-in-peter-pan-c-steve-tannerPeter Pan at the National Theatre

Just wonderful.

4635Mary Stuart at the Almeida Theatre

This was the perfect play for someone like me taking a history module entitled ‘Early Modern Britain’ – or anyone who enjoys an expert contemporary staging of a piece of classic theatre. This production begins with an onstage coin toss. Seconds before they say their first lines, Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams determine by calling out ‘heads’ or ‘tails’ who will play Mary Stuart and who Elizabeth I in that night’s performance. When I saw it, Lia was Elizabeth and Juliet was Mary. They were both great, though I believe it would have worked even better the other way around. Once you’ve gotten over the suspense of the role-choosing, you can appreciate the excellent acting, the on-point costume and set design, and the well-executed physicality. All I can criticise is that it was way. too. long. But this is to be expected when writer (or, in this case, adapter) and director are the same person – they have no one to edit them.

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