Top 5 Shows of 2022 (according to me)
Well, 2022 – don’t start.
This time last year, I somewhat naively said that the industry was emerging from its pandemic trials. The UK is the only G7 country not to have regained the ground lost during the lockdown.
Crucially, though, Regional Theatres produced excellent, thoughtful and daring work during the most difficult and excruciating period in British Theatre history. Some institutions and freelancers may not make it to the end of 2023.
Royal Exchange delivered the quirky Betty! A Sort of Musical. Opera North remounted the exquisite A Little Night Music. The Covid delayed and ‘controversial’ Into The Woods landed at Theatre Royal Bath, and Nottingham Playhouse took on the Parent Trap with musical Identical.
Let’s face it, 2022 was a year that delivered exactly what none of us wanted it to.
Including but not limited to:
- ATG operating a “dynamic pricing” ticketing model that saw the cost of a £400 ticket to Cock
- Ridiculous, fictional embargoes
- Arts Council England decimating our cultural map in the name of ‘Levelling Up’
- Edinburgh Festival Fringe rubbish fiasco
- Extortionate ticket prices
- Andrew Lloyd Webber describing mounting Cinderella during the pandemic as a “costly mistake”
- Excruciating, but necessary, rail strikes that tested any Theatre lover’s patience
- The £120m so-called Festival of Brexit ‘Unboxed’
- Liz Truss
To quote writer Sean O’Casey: ‘The whole worl’s in a state o’ chassis.’
At least the 2021 London Cabaret Cast Recording is on its way. In the meantime, though, here are my top 5 shows of the year.
- Age is a Feeling
I loved everything about this. Haley McGee performed an interactive and somber solo show – first at Edinburgh Festival Fringe, and then two sold out runs at Soho Theatre, where I saw it.
Essentially, perched atop a ladder – like a lifeguard – McGee explored getting older.
Age is a Feeling chronicled turning 25 — when, we are told, the brain becomes fully formed — and explores the fate that lies ahead. McGee‘s wicked meditation on mortality is part autobiographical theatre and part TED Talk.
The 12 intersected tales from the same life, with six performed at each show. Pure beautiful, wry storytelling.
Age is a feeling, you’ll feel it.
2. My Neighbour Totoro
The Royal Shakespeare Company stage version of the globally adored Studio Ghibli film My Neighbor Totoro didn’t disappoint.
Phelim McDermott’s production combined sensitive performances and exquisite design, with Basil Twist’s enchanting puppet direction bringing us a mountainous, shaggy Totoro and a mad inflatable ginger Cat-Bus, not to mention butterflies, fluffy chickens and darting soot sprites.
My Neighbour Totoro was brilliant, bold, and bonkers. An unforgettable hit.
3. Crazy For You
CHARMING. That’s what this show was. Very charming indeed.
Charlie Stemp delivered a thundering performance for the ages. Musical theatre doesn’t get any better than Chichester Festival Theatre’s production of Crazy For You.
This classy, sophisticated show is transferring to the West End next Summer – with 20 minutes sliced off it.
As for Stemp, he displayed the physical comedy of Norman Wisdom and the dancefloor artistry of Fred Astaire, confirming his place as a true superstar.
4. Prima Facie
Suzie Miller’s smart play about sexual assault and the legal system, provided an electrifying performance from Jodie Comer that never let up for a moment.
The NT live broke all box office records as the highest-grossing event cinema release since cinemas closed at the start of the Covid pandemic in March 2020.
Comer gave an acting masterclass in this 100-minute solo show, playing a barrister who defends men accused of sexual assault – until she is date-raped by a colleague herself.
Prima Facie transfers to Broadway in 2023.
5. The Collaboration
“It’s not what you are that counts,” Andy Warhol, eternal fan of misdirection, once said. “It’s what they think you are.”
Paul Bettany and Jeremy Pope played Andy Warhol and Jean-Michel Basquiat brilliantly.
Anthony McCarten’s lively Young Vic bio-drama told the early-80s New York story of Warhol and Basquiat’s work on those 16 canvases, and the friendship that took root between them.
Listen, The Collaboration was a hoot. And Kwame Kwei-Armah’s vibrant production is now on Broadway.
N.B. I think I should have included Oklahoma! Oh well.