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Review: Oklahoma! — beguiling, brave & occasionally contentious

Rodgers and Hammerstein’s 1943 musical is no cinch to sell to a modern audience. So fair play to Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s stirring Tony-winning production for shooting for something new.

Oklahoma! Photo credit: Marc Brenner

It does so by bringing bring to the stage a most wonderful selection of songs; it does so in a stark and dynamic version and an ending that needed special negotiations with the Rodgers and Hammerstein estate. 

This is a modern, edgy and disquieting take that injects adventure and sexuality into a classic musical, making it fresh-minted.

Yet, in some ways, not everything works. Some artistic choices are obtrusive and clunky. No overture?

Still, the result is a beguiling, brave and occasionally contentious 3 hours of flying corn, racial tension and lust. Lots of lust. 

Using Daniel Kluger’s plucky arrangements, the nimble 7-piece band keep things ticking over. There’s stunning dance and startling close-up video projection work.

Oklahoma! photo: Marc Brenner

Then there is the design, or rather the anti-design, by Laura Jellinek and Grace Laubacher. They set everything in a sort of sun-soaked village hall with trestle tables and the audience traverse on two sides. There is light – a lot of light. And then sudden darkness. 

For her part, lead cow girl Anoushka Lucas is a star. Her Laurey, stunning to watch is torn between guitar wielding Curly (Arthur Darvill) and shy Jud (Patrick Vaill). 

While containing the giggling frisky Ado Annie (Marisha Wallace), the “girl who cain’t say no”, tears the roof off the Young Vic with her number. 

The Oklahoma! company

Having said all that, this revisionist production is a mixed blessing, but it is a masterful reinvention that should win new fans. The American Dream wins, but at what price?

The Young Vic continues to be an essential theatrical destination.

At the Young Vic, London, until 25 June

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Cabaret, review: the show of a lifetime


Stunningly designed by Tom Scutt, London’s Playhouse Theatre is transformed into the Kit Kat Club – and Eddie Redmayne is its emcee – for this jaw dropping – expensive (the lowest price in the top two ticket price bands is £120)- production.

Eddie Redmayne and Jessie Buckley in ‘Cabaret’
(Marc Brenner)

In this grand, in the round space, these Kander and Ebb songs recall, rather strangely, the toughest emotional moments of opera, and powerfully re-render them.

The devil is in the detail.

I don’t think I have ever seen a more demented Emcee. I fell headfirst into Redmayne’s shape-shifting approach here. There was a strange menace to his otherworldly appearance, standing alone, facial features altered by extraordinary makeup.

In his party hat and Bowie attire, Redmayne resembles some kind of pale, alien clown being. Staking the stalls and swinging from the circle – you can’t take your eyes off the Oscar winner. His crumpled physicality is a marvel. 

Like a first-rate evil clown, he twists his impish body and tongue around the slippery role. He also has a beautiful singing voice.

Eddie Redmayne as Emcee / Marc Brenner

This A list casting might have triggered a frenzy, but make no mistake, this is director Rebecca Frecknall’s production — and it’s a radical reinvention with real political intent. Each possibility is laid out with complete clarity and assessed.

Her Cabaret is one of the most visually and atmospherically expressionistic productions I’ve ever seen, of anything, ever. The creative team’s theatrical ambitions are astute and dense.

Mind you, supporting cast (including an outstanding Anna Jane Casey as Fraulein Kost) may have big names to lean on but they make it look effortless; everyone is on magisterial form.

With Liza Minnelli erased from memory and Fosse’s iconic choreography stripped from this production, the audience are forced to confront the dark heart of the material. Julia Cheng’s twitchy choreography sweeps over the stage in waves. The gender-fluid ensemble frequently make you gasp. 

Omari Douglas and Jessie Buckley / Marc Brenner

Sardonic, seductive, uniquely done. This Cabaret is an distinctive, shattering, deeply humane evening. It is also genuinely cathartic, in the great, transcendent tradition of classic tragedy.

In a superb piece of acting, Jessie Buckley plays an anti-Sally Bowles; her subdued rock star approach to ‘Maybe This Time’ reduces the audience to hushed awe. But her voice rings out clear and she in total command.

Buckley gives her character a bewitching vulnerable finish that makes Sally both more life-size and broken than she’s ever been before. Her nervous breakdown performance of title song ‘Cabaret’ is distressing to watch.

Her voice is full of charm and hurt, an elemental howl that appears to affect the fabric of time. Towards the end, she roars with unruly splendour. 

Omari Douglas plays Cliff / Marc Brenner

But Omari Douglas! Holy smoke, what an actor! It would be easy to forget he is up on stage amidst the pandemonium and moments of rising fascism. But keep looking up, because occasionally there will be a scene he is in, and Douglas will be up there on the stage, apparently doing not much more than speak. Douglas gently presents the bisexual American novelist, Clifford Bradshaw.

As it is, the fact this triumphant production has been achieved 20 months into an ongoing medical emergency is nothing short of miraculous. 

Kind of amazing, I came out stunned into submission, admiring the musical more than ever: the accustomed world had shifted.

Cabaret is at the Playhouse theatre, London, until 1 October 2022.

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Review: The Ocean at the End of the Lane is incredible and scary as hell

What a triumph for the National Theatre to make a riveting nightmare out of this long-anticipated transfer.

Two years after The Ocean at the End of the Lane’s first staging, Neil Gaiman’s dark fairy-tale has returned, this time to the West End. 

The story from Gaiman’s award-winning book is about the escape a lonely child finds in fantasy worlds. In one of many extraordinary moments during Katy Rudd’s haunting production, the stage becomes a playground for the imagination. Anything can come to life; anything can be transformed. It is also occasionally unbearably chilling and poignant.

Leading the production, James Bamford as the Boy is commanding – at times heart-rending – as the distressed, gawky 12-year-old hero who is plunged into a confrontation with a wicked witch in his own home, screeching monsters and flapping creatures. Nia Towle is dynamic as Lettie, the farm girl who becomes his guiding friend. The magical realism is a pure spectacle. 

Nia Towle (Lettie Hempstock) and James Bamford (the Boy) / Manuel Harlan

Elsewhere, Nicolas Tennant as the Dad movingly portrays the messily human emotions of a family bereavement and subsequent trauma. The 16-strong cast work effortlessly to realise a slick and polished ensemble performance. Extraordinary moments abound. 

How do you stage unfurling forests, tunnels, witches, snapping demons, and action-packed drama so effortlessly? With the help of Joel Horwood’s nimble adaptation, a terrific team has found the way.  

Every small thing is beautiful; the creative team are chef’s kiss. Ian Dixon’s sound design turns innocent noises into explosions. In a triumph of theatricality, movement director Steven Hoggett, composer Jherek Bischoff and lighting designer Paule Constable pull out all the stops to ensure that the production soars; the dreamlike storytelling becomes the arena that the Boy makes his own. All this ensures that The Ocean at the End of the Lane is a triumphant theatre event. 

The disparate and menacing electric 80s music by composer Jherek Bischoff deftly underscores the journey of a man returning to his childhood home, and is a work of art. Taken as a suite of music on its own merits, The Ocean at the End of the Lane‘s official soundtrack flows rather seamlessly—no small achievement.  Perhaps the most deft and frightening as hell touch is the use of synths to mimic a vaguely inhuman howling. 

Photo: Manuel Harlan

Sometimes a show comes along that is so inventive that you just can’t help but be in awe of everyone involved. Separating the very good from the excellent moments in Rudd’s dreamlike production is almost impossible. Fly Davis’s set has benches, doorways and props popping amongst a beautiful series of tunnels and abstract backdrops.

I should also say that I am delighted that west end theatre is waking up to the notion that it should take advantage of the great blossoming of children’s literature in the last few years – and by doing so luring in a new generation of theatre-goers.

If you have the chance, make sure you get along to the show because it is visually thrilling, moving and extremely special.  

The Ocean at the End of the Lane runs at the Duke of York’s theatre, London, until 14 May 2022. 

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Review: The Shark is Broken is a wonderfully aquatic account of masculinity

How good is The Shark is Broken? It is quite good.

I admire it; partly because its surface exuberance seems to conceal a great melancholy, partly because it has the whiplash exactness of the best Edinburgh Fringe shows plus a good deal of intellectual resonance.

The Shark is Broken offers a glimpse at the overwrought relationship between the three stars of Steven Spielberg’s iconic 1975 film Jaws. Ian Shaw plays his own dad Robert who starred as Quint in the original blockbuster.

(from left) Ian Shaw (Robert Shaw), Demetri Goritsas (Roy Scheider) and Liam Murray Scott (Richard Dreyfuss) in The Shark Is Broken. Photograph: Helen Maybanks

And while things looked great on the screen, behind the scenes, the lead actors were trapped in a notorious feud; in addition, the mechanical sharks repeatedly broke down – something that inspired the play’s title.

As a film, it has been interpreted as everything from a depiction of masculinity in crisis to a post-Watergate paranoid parable about rotten bureaucracy. 

Guy Masterson’s production provides a new perspective on Spielberg’s film in this brooding, intelligent show. Shaw’s portrayal of his own father is bittersweet and tender.  

Staging it, however, poses problems, most of which Masterson’s production overcomes. The fishing boat to which the story is confined sits glossily on Nina Dunn’s video ocean backdrop. Surprisingly, the effect works. 

Meanwhile, Shaw and Joseph Nixon’s dialogue throughout is snappy and, crucially, hilarious when it counts. About Spielberg’s next picture, Roberts scoffs: “Aliens? What next, dinosaurs?”. 

Across the play’s 90-minute running time, addiction, love, regret, life, ambition, and masculinity are all unpacked and peppered between mock filming of the classic film. It felt to me that the shark off-screen becomes the means of exposing the men’s rootlessness, insecurity, and uncertain sense of self.

Their reservations about the blockbuster’s potential and anxiety over the inexperience of the young director play right into the mysterious nature of popular culture. And although there are few subtexts here, the portrayal of abrasive masculinity is all too recognisable and yet, in these fine performances, sympathetic and resonant.

Overall, the final impression of the making of Jaws is of frustration and emotion behind a posturing feud. It may take place in the past, but it says something that will always be current about our quest for meaning in a world in which it sometimes feels like that which we used to believe in and rely on no longer comforts us in the same way. 

Liam Murray Scott (Richard Dreyfuss), Ian Shaw (Robert Shaw), Demetri Goritsas (Roy Scheider)

I only hope the inventive work, which has just extended to 13 February 2022, gets through to the popular audience it deserves. Crucially, it’s a special play. 

The Shark is Broken runs at Ambassadors Theatre, London until 13 February 2022 

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Bat out of Hell rocks Manchester Opera House

Bat Out of Hell is the first big musical to be staged at the theatre and it’s a night of delirious entertainment.

It’s a tale of unrequited love from different sides of the track, with a parent determined to keep them apart. Story wise, it is post-apocalyptic Peter Pan.

Jay Scheib’s totally electrifying production re-imagines the jukebox musical for these mad times.

If you saw the show in London you won’t be disappointed –  the flames, the cameras circling the stage, the video screen capturing and magnifying the action are all here. There’s no expense spared.

What’s more, this talented and vibrant cast navigate the luminescent and fast-paced production with high stamina and real flair. The songs are gloriously sung and the occasion allows everyone to let their hair down.

Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby lead as Strat and Raven respectively, and are electric together. 

Glenn Adamson and Martha Kirby

Incredibly, Meatloaf’s three Bat Out Of Hell albums have sold a staggering 100 million copies globally. This lively and quirky show has been perfectly reconfigured for a UK Tour and features all the hits: Out Of Hell, I Would Do Anything For Love (But I Won’t Do That) and Two Out Of Three Ain’t Bad.

Jim Steinman’s soaring rock n roll anthems and Jon Bausor’s anarchic designs offer an extravagant sense of occasion, as well as a show with extremely high production values. The lighting and sound are world class here. 

It was great to see people having fun, and this high voltage and good-natured mega show is the perfect tonic to reinvigorate regional theatres and attract audiences back after a miserable 21 months. 

Vegas? Don’t bet against it. 

Bat Out of Hell runs at Manchester Opera House until 2 October and tours the UK through to November 2022.

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Anything Goes gave me one of the best nights in a theatre — ever. 

An actual show at the theatre. Wow indeed.

Financially, theatre is unviable. Yet at the Barbican in London right now, it’s never looked so enticing, beautiful and well produced.

Helmed by three-time Tony-winning director Kathleen Marshall, Anything Goes is the real deal.

Cheeriness is contagious, folks.

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

It has been a long time coming, but Cole Porter’s Anything Goes is the biggest new musical to open since the lifting of social distancing curbs on July 19.

Felicity Kendal is genuinely hilarious and brilliantly camp in her non-singing role. Gary Wilmot is thoroughly entertaining – that man is kind of amazing – throughout and theatre legend Robert Lindsay is cleverly funny as Moonface Martin – America’s 13th Most Wanted Man.

He is perfectly matched by chipper and demure Broadway star Sutton Foster making her UK debut as Reno Sweeney, who gets to sing some of Porter’s greatest songs including I Get a Kick Out of You and Blow, Gabriel, Blow

Reprising the role that won her a Tony Award a decade ago, from beginning to end Foster blazes through this feel-good show. She is full of jagged gestures. 

The story is nautical farce, but this is inconsequential. Even if you have never seen the musical, you know the songs.

However, if your main anchor is being offended by everything, then you must stay at home. The source material can, obviously, feel jarringly out of date.

Photo credit: Tristram Kenton

Basically, the gangsters are sex-crazed, women are leggy and there is a repressed aristocrat that sings about having ‘a bit of gypsy’ in him. 

In fact, the lines leading into song The Gypsy in Me have been tweaked, thankfully. 

Unworthy critics will fail to ruin the magic of a magnificent production like this. We all know that these glitzy shows are from another era.

The dancing here is exceptional. When did you last experience the truly awe-inspiring sight of two mid-show standing ovations? 

Having said all that, this is a triumphant, world-class, rousing piece of musical theatre. 

This magnificently starry production proves most captivating, while ultimately raising a toast to the redemptive power of theatre. It is pure escapism.

Basically, Anything Goes gave me one of the best nights in a theatre — ever. 

Anything Goes runs at the Barbican until 31 October 2021 

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Death of a Salesman – God I love this show

Wendell Pierce

Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell have treated us to a mesmerising evening that is overflowing with suspended furniture, sliding door frames, live music, Arinzé Kene in a vest and a inspired new version of Death of a Salesman, at the Young Vic. 

Inspired as in the Loman family are black, which casts their drudgery in pre-civil rights America in a whole different light. This Salesman stars Sharon D Clarke and Wendell Pierce as Linda and Willy Loman. 

Elliott and Cromwell co-direct with attention grabbing pace. And 70 years on, Arthur Miller’s play has chilling resonance. And it’s all here: the pathos, time bending and drama of intense despair. This revival illuminates the classic as the past haunts the present time and place majestically. 

Memory and reality are never overplayed.

Wendell Pierce

Wendell Pierce

It may demand a lot from audiences and take risks, but that’s what all great theatre should do. And if some don’t come off, it’s one of the few classic tragic plays that can usually fall back on its script or the astonishing performances of its cast.

Particular plaudits with Elliott & Harper’s impressive production, of course, go to Sharon D. Clarke who’s turned loyal wife Linda Loman into a thing of very slow-burning, bluesy pain. 

Wendell Pierce leads the collapse of the Loman family as the deluded Salesman: out of time. His Willy is lofty, pathetic and explosive. 

 Sharon D Clarke

Sharon D Clarke

The design by Anna Fleischle is a beautifully fragmented and disjointed shell of a home: The Young Vic shimmers in rich primary colours through short sharp bursts of light through a prism or wooden frames. Hats off to the glorious sound by Carolyn Downing and clever music by Temowo. 

Halfway through Act 1, though, I felt this was Marianne Elliott on both autopilot and at the peak of her powers: standing, at times, in the shadow of huge successes on both revivals of musical Company and Angels in America.

But Act 2 left me reeling and emotionally shattered. Make of that what you will. 

The final scene is 10/10. 

Personally, I thought the whole thing was so brilliantly executed that it should become a permanent fixture on The Cut. 

A perfect revival. 

Death of a Salesman runs at the Young Vic from May 9-June 29, youngvic.org

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Sweet Charity – Oh God

Look, I’m going to stick my neck out here and say that we’re not going to look back on ‘Sweet Charity’ as a roaring success.

You think Theresa May’s got a job on her hands?

Spare a thought for the sound crew on The Donmar Warehouse’s new show, where someone has inexplicably cast Ann Marie-Duff as the terrible, terrible lead.

‘Cos it really is the equivalent of trying to shove a boulder up Kilimanjaro. Act 1 ends with the sound of someone falling down a hole that is trapped in an elevator that is portrayed using an overhead projector. I’m not making this up, the whole occasion grinds with jerking efficiency.

It works on paper.

Josie Rourke’s production, her final production as artistic director of the Donmar, is a mess.This is a perfect example of a good idea gone bad. It is all too jarring to work. Duff and Arthur Darvill star as Charity and Oscar in this revival of the 1966 Broadway hit. The run is sold out and you are probably gutted that you can’t get a ticket.

So I’ll help you out.

What stops Sweet Charity from being the most pointless exercise in The Donmar’s history, though, is the choreography by Wayne McGregor his ensemble of ten hip-thrusting Andy Warhols are fantastically eccentric; they are the new dancing fish people in dreadful 80’s musical Eugenius!

There are, though, moments when this collection of talent threaten to hit the mark, as the fine ensemble demonstrate. Namely Debbie Kurup, who is sizzling. Seriously.

Elsewhere Sweet Charity underwhelms, even if you accept that three of the Britain’s most interesting creatives (Rourke, Duff & McGregor) would always struggle to create something greater than the sum of its parts. It would be cruel to think of this as a complete vanity project – it’s intended to sell. However, at least vanity projects carry a sense of artists finding and needing space to spread their creative wings.

What a waste.

With music by Cy Coleman, lyrics by Dorothy Fields and a book by Neil Simon, this show starts off being far better than you might have expected, ends up being far worse than you could ever have feared. It is not even an improvement on the film. It is mind-numbingly dull and Duff is as erotic as a wet sock.

For it’s one thing assembling a set of tin foil and step ladders, plus a rotating cast of folk to play the role of Daddy Brubeck, featuring appearances from the brilliant Adrian LesterBeverley Knight, Clive Rowe and La Gateaux Chocolat. Impressive. But in the brutal and relentless process, Rourke has somehow turned this epic final send off into one of theatreland’s funniest musical non-events, and I just wish that it was intentional.

I am sorry to report that Duff cannot sing; she also lacks the vulnerability that this character requires and she looks embarrassed to be there. And the thing lasts nearly three hours. Mad.

If this production actually managed to deliver the entertainment, like a theatrical version of a cheap acid trip, you might forgive her complete lack of characterisation or the uncertainty of tone that leaves the evening awkwardly pitched between the bonkers and the kitsch.

Let’s never talk about it again.

N.B. Anyone aged 25 and under will be able to enter a ballot for free tickets to see the show on its Friday performances between April 19-May 31, with schools in London also invited to see the show for free, which is nice.

Sweet Charity runs until June 8

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Standing at The Sky’s Edge

Standing At The Sky’s Edge’s portrayal of high-rise communities in the iconic concrete housing estate could hardly be bettered.

It’s an evocative setting.

Park Hill was built in the 1950’s as a solution to the city’s social housing. This new musical is all about that estate, its residents and is something very special indeed. It celebrates the people, place and  times.

Written by Chris Bush and with songs by Richard Hawley this new musical delicately tells the story of three very different families through generations in the 1960s, 80s, and 2000s on Sheffield’s most notorious estate. 

The songs? 

Well, here, Hawley’s lethargic northern atmospheric music sound like being punched in the face feels, in a good way. As comforting as a premium whiskey. 

The music pulses and then retracts before erupting in emotional outbursts. The results are kind of brilliant: a show of world-beating standard yet still intimate and gentle, a cherishing of the mundane, a blast of the everyday, a love of life. 

The story? Bush’s book cleverly tells the tale of three generations of Park Hill tenants. The words probably read like quirky poetry on the page but they cut through the air with wit & warmth when spoken. 

It is inevitably kaleidoscopic and somewhat beautifully fragmented, leaving the audience to piece together the connections. It’s political too; unpacking the destructive role of class in British society. It feels vital in its portrait of a divided nation.

Technically, Alex Young delivers an all-round emotionally true performance that grips from the start with ‘Lady Solitude’. Nevertheless, a fine cast shine consistently.

In the best possible sense, Standing At The Sky’s Edge is like a 21st Century Blood Brothers: authentic socialist principles intact, a gripping story and frankly sensational songs.

We get the industrial pain, Thatcher despair, Brexit Britain & more, it wears its political heart on its sleeve. It isn’t West End razzle dazzle, it is theatre rooted in its time(s) and place. 

There are some big gloriously unifying moments, too — all the ingredients are here for a massive crossover theatre moment, and it couldn’t happen to a more deserving creative team. 

In Act 1 closing number ‘There’s a Storm A-Comin’ a sofa is lobbed off a balcony, litter bins are emptied across the stage & the current political crisis context lends the audacious choreography  an added intensity. 

Robert Hastie’s production delights in being visceral. Ben Stone’s concrete multi-level design are to be both stunningly simple and enchanting; it all adds up to something greater than the sum of its parts. 

Seriously, this show made grown men around me weep, made me fall deeper in love with Sheffield than I have ever been before, could save as many relationships as it ignites. It touched people around me deeply. 

Act 2 swells the heart completely and invites the audience in with the unavailingly stirring ‘Standing At The Sky’s Edge’ during this storming scene the company takes off; ensemble are startlingly confrontational. 

I mean, bloody hell. 

Later on, intimacy suits: ‘After The Rain’ is so fragile as to nearly come apart at the seams. Importantly, it was a lot of fun.

This is a musical that, in Robert Hastie’s beautifully clear production, left the heart full & the brain buzzing. 

Standing at The Sky’s Edge deserves to transfer to our Royal National Theatre. 

Cheers, Rufus. 

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Top Shows of 2017 (According to me)

Theatre’s great isn’t it? Well not all of it – some of it is shit. 

Anyway, 2017 has been a terrific year for theatre – through which I have tried to do what most of the theatre media forgot to do – salute theatre’s good bits, even if doing so required shining a light on the bad bits… 

As 2018 rolls around, I’ve published my annual list of half-decent stuff from the last twelve months below.

  1. Angels in America – National Theatre, London.

Subtitled “a gay fantasia on national themes”, over two extensive plays – separately titled Millennium Approaches and Perestroika – lasting a combined total of eight hours. The cast was led by the seriously good Andrew Garfield, Russell Tovey, Denise Gough and Nathan Lane. The revelatory performance and superb focal point was Garfield’s Prior Walter. 

2.-Andrew-Garfield-Prior-Walter-in-AngelsInAmerica-Perestroika-photo-by-Helen-Maybanks[1].jpg

Andrew Garfield in Angels in America 

Everything was exquisite, Marianne Elliott’s direction completely breathtaking, the overall vision both flawlessly plotted and magnificently executed. And it’s the only show on this list without a single dud moment. The National’s timely revival of Tony Kushner’s play was 100% superb.

Angels in America heads to Broadway from February 2018, so well done everyone. 

  1. Follies – National Theatre, London. 

James Goldman and Stephen Sondheim’s 1971 musical was close to perfection. It felt like a genuinely special theatre experience, and when was the last time you felt like that about a thing?

Director Dominic Cooke delivered a really incredible, dramatic happy-sad musical of epic proportions. Every performance was sublime – from Tracie Bennet’s scene-stealing Carlotta to Janie Dee’s dynamic Phyillis.

Follies-Olivier-NT-948[1]

Follies

No other musical in 2017 tried quite this hard to be amazing, and no other musical production succeeded in as many ways.

It is fair to say that this is one of the greatest musicals I’ve ever seen. Bill Deamer’s choreography blurred real life and performance to spectacular effect enveloping us in in an emotional no man’s land, unsure where artifice began.

Follies allowed us to see and feel Sondheim’s classic in exhilarating new ways.

Glorious, glorious, glorious.

3. An American In Paris – Dominion Theatre, London. 

Christopher Wheeldon’s stage adaptation of the 1951 film was simply wonderful.

In its best moments, An American in Paris pulled off the trick of homaging multiple sources while looking and sounding like nothing else; a musical at its sophisticated and unhurried best.

George and Ira Gershwin’s irresistible songs coupled with beautiful dance was largely enhanced by Bob Crowley’s stunning design.

The company was fortunate to be led by the insanely talented New York City Ballet dancer Robbie Fairchild and Royal Ballet’s Leanne Cope; both sang, acted and danced sensationally. Remarkable stuff. 

N.B. Ashley Day took over from Fairchild as Jerry Mulligan in July and was quite splendid. So well done to Ashley.

4. Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf – Harold Pinter Theatre, London

A decadent, pensive and astute production.

It says something about the high standard of theatre in Britain that Imelda Staunton – nominated for 2017’s Evening Standard Awards in the Best Actress category for her portrayal as Martha, didn’t win. Staunton was a razor-sharp maniac in this role and demonstrated yet again to be one of our finest & fiercest Stage performers.

Director James Macdonald matched a breathtaking Staunton with a tremendous Conleth Hill and cut straight to the plays dark, throbbing heart.

Luke Treadaway and Imogen Poots held their own too, in this disturbing portrait of marital relationships gone wrong.

Edward Albee’s savage play remains, of course, a completely chilling, classic masterpiece.

  1. An Octoroon – Orange Tree, Richmond. 

As a theatre fan it’s hard to beat the feeling of finding out about a show early on and seeing something special. It’s hard to beat the feeling of seeing it in tiny, little theatres before they’re at the National Theatre, then championing it to anyone who’ll listen. And it’s hard to beat the sensation of seeing that play take a bold and brilliant step forward and being able to say to yourself: I was there.

octoroon_2[1].jpg

Ken Nwoso in An Octoroon 

Branden Jacobs-Jenkins reworking of a slave drama was both new and old; an adaptation of a 19th-century melodrama and a biting modern critique of it.

Directed with radical aplomb by Ned Bennett, it was Ken Nwoso’s energetic performance, however, that branded itself on the mind. 

A masterclass in smart theatre and a first-rate cast made this unforgettable viewing.

‘FYI’ An Octoroon will transfer to the National Theatre in June 2018. Don’t miss. 

Note:

1. Have I missed anything? Let me know E: mrcarlwoodward@gmail.com – I’ll publish some of the best suggestions.

2. I feel a bit bad about ‘The Ferryman’ not being on the list – it probably should have been. OH WELL.)