Wow – what a year 2016 turned out to be. While the political climate is as urgent and pressing as ever, we’ve seen theatre across the country respond to these crises with aplomb – delivering important, novel and innovative work. We asked our writers what their highlights of the year were and, in no particular order, we’ve compiled a juicy list of shows that really stood out from the pack.
2016 was also a milestone for the website – we managed a whopping 329 reviews in total – a mammoth effort (of almost one review per day!) and certainly something to try and topple in the new year!
- BU21 – Theatre503
A well-deserved transfer to Trafalgar Studios gives audiences a second chance to catch this topical, dark yet unexpectedly funny show from author Stuart Slade (catch our interview with him here). At the time reviewer Alex Wood had to say: ‘It is Slade’s ability to warp our expectations and subvert what would be perceived as a ‘normal’ character that really shines through. This is a piece of writing that seems to relish being trapped in a number of knots, each harder to loosen than the last.’
- The Duke – Unicorn Theatre, Edinburgh Fringe and National Tour
The Duke made headlines when it stormed to success at the Edinburgh Fringe, with Shon Dale-Jones masterfully creating a story through wafts of technical wizardry. As reviewer Madeleine Perham put it: ‘Give this man an hour of your life and he will pay you back tenfold. Bring change‘. It certainly had us sold.
- Tank – Edinburgh Pleasance Dome
Maintaining the Fringe vibe (having reviewed over 80 shows there!) is the standout success of Tank, a bizarre concoction that could only work with the carefullest of handling. Work it did – reviewer Helena Jackson described the show as a ‘wonder to behold, and my favourite show at the Edinburgh Fringe. Flippin’ amazing‘.
- Kill the Beast’s Don’t Wake the Damp – Edinburgh Pleasance Dome
Pleasance certainly had a stellar year according to Theatre Bubble, and this was no more true than in the case of Don’t Wake the Damp: ‘Don’t Wake the Damp is simply superb, a fantastic combination of a beautifully funny script, a group of gloriously talented actors that, most importantly, don’t take themselves too seriously, and a breathtaking set design.’ It’ll be exciting to see what the company bring to the table over the coming year.
- Love – National Theatre
2016 has been another big year for the National (when isn’t a year big for the National?) but one of the gems of the season came only a few weeks ago with the debut of Alexander Zeldin’s Love, a stirring piece of theatre that exists as a direct comment upon modern society. Features editor Luke Rollason states ‘the stage has found its first truly great work for austerity Britain – a cry for compassion for those forced offstage in society.‘ May it inspire future work of a similar magnitude.
- Shakespeare ReFashioned – Much Ado About Nothing, Selfridges
Paul Hegarty had only good things to say about The Faction’s restyling of Much Ado About Nothing, housed deep within Oxford Street’s Selfridges. ‘The Faction have really pulled it off with a heady mix of the innovative and an assured contemporary acting style without losing sight of meaning or language.’ Pop-up theatres were a big hit in 2016 – no doubt they’ll make a return over the next 12 months.
- A Midsummer Night’s Dream – Shakespeare’s Globe
It wouldn’t be a 2016 roundup without a discussion of Emma Rice’s untimely and dismay-inducing scheduled break with the Globe at the end of next year, particularly after such a vibrant, exhilarating opening season. This was epitomised by her A Midsummer Night’s Dream, a wondrous, bold re-telling of one of the most recognisable dramatic texts on the planet. Luke Rollason reflected on the show as nothing less than ‘a riot. Featuring a myriad of influences both in performers (drawn from Kneehigh regulars, Gaulier graduates and the classically trained) and design, there was no doubt that this production was a hit.’
- The Donmar’s Shakespeare Trilogy – King’s Cross Theatre
Okay we may have been a bit lazy in lumping together three different productions here, but the Donmar’s trilogy turned out to be a unified and critically acclaimed series of all-female performances. Featuring unforgettable turns from the likes of Harriet Walter, it will be a shame to see the temporary space depart at the end of the year. You can read Carmen Paddock’s verdict on a ‘tremendous, unmissable’ Julius Caesar here.
- Hamlet at the Trafalgar Studios
As this was a big year for the Bard, it seems right that we’ve managed to stick a few of our favourites in this list. The final one is perhaps the most intimate, coming from our reviewer Alasdair Mclan, in what he describes as ‘a true-to-purpose tour de force, (to say nothing of frightening levels of physical commitment) and one cannot walk out of the studio unmoved.‘
- How To Date A Feminist at the Arcola Theatre
The Arcola have produced a series of storming hits this year, many of whom only just missed out on inclusion on this list. But our founder and chief editor Alex Parsonage gave us his favourite show of the year, and we’ve included it here – How To Date A Feminist, a barnstorming comedic cavalcade that subverts mainstream tropes left, right and centre. We (much to our shame!) never published a review of the show here, but you can find out more about the play on the Arcola site.
- I Am Not Myself These Days at Shoreditch Town Hall
Sometimes the best shows you see are the ones you least expect to resonate – as was the case in Fuel Theatre’s I Am Not Myself These Days – a stirring one-person show that deals with trans issues in a pitch-perfect, hauntingly memorable fashion. The show has gone on to tour extensively and with good reason – this is, as Alex Wood put it, an ‘unmissable accomplishment‘.
- Grimeborn’s Marriage of Figaro at the Arcola Theatre
The Grimeborn Festival is a powerful string on the Arcola’s bow – a platform for cutting edge opera in a period when the art form seems to be increasingly inaccessible to a wider audience. Through careful curating and incredible performances, this year saw some of the finest performing talent on display, with writer Keith Hill having a particular fondness for Opera 24 & Darker Purpose’s The Marriage of Figaro. A glistening jewel of a festival, neatly outside the central London bubble.
So here are some of our favourites so far – got your own? Why not let us know in the comments below!