In the past 12 months Stage Review’s head critic, Anne Cox, and guest-reviewer Sarah Cox, have seen nearly 200 productions throughout London and the regions. Here we give our verdict on what moved and impressed us. First up is Sarah’s Top Five London Fringe Productions.
1) Shrapnel 34 Fragments of a Massacre – Arcola Theatre – March
I’ve read or watched quite a few of Anders Lustgarten’s plays this year. I wouldn’t describe many of them as ‘enjoyable’. In fact, I’d go as far as to say he’s ruined theatre for me.
Those are the biggest compliments I can think to give him, and the reason I’m choosing the short, sharp, Shrapnel 34 Fragments of a Massacre as my play of 2015.
Directed by the Arcola’s Mehmet Ergen, Shrapnel made me cry twice, feel physically nauseous, and go home seriously questioning everything I thought I knew about war, governments, and the media. Why did it ruin theatre? Now I’m left doubly disappointed when other so-called ‘shocking’ or ‘hard-hitting’ plays fail to make even half that impact.
Lustgarten’s second show of the year, Lampedusa at the Soho Theatre, tragically coincided with mass migrant deaths in the Mediterranean and seemed to be the bigger hit.
Both incredibly powerful but Shrapnel, in my opinion, was by far the better play. Review bit.ly/1CqY0GX
2) Elephant Man – Jack Studio Theatre – February
No, not that one. Bradley Cooper’s big-budget, Tony-nominated version of Joseph Merrick’s story left me bored to death and giggling in all the wrong places.
Fourth Monkey Theatre Company’s production – another play about the same man – couldn’t have been more different.
With no distortion of face or voice, but the most incredible acting with his eyes, Daniel Chrisostomou’s Merrick – a kind and gentle young man trapped in his cage of deformity and monstered by the public – was just stunning.
Elephant Man was simple and beautiful in its execution, uplifting, and unforgettable. Review bit.ly/1DMYymP
3) The Royale – Bush Theatre – March
Set in 1905 in the segregated boxing world, Jay ‘The Sport’ Jackson (Nicholas Pinnock) is the Negro Heavyweight Champion but wants a shot at the white man holding the world title.
Smoky, atmospheric, with boxing ring stage, sawdust and match fly bills littering the floor, the Bush Theatre played host to an imaginatively performed 90 minute dance that – please excuse me – really packed a punch.
Loud, rhythmic, energetic, with intense and charismatic performances from Pinnock and Frances Ashman, The Royale was beautifully choreographed, ducking and diving away from tired ‘underdog overcomes’ clichés. Anne’s review bit.ly/1LNbSzS
4) Romeo and Juliet – Brockley Jack – October
The second of two entries from my favourite fringe theatre, the cheap, snug, Brockley Jack: Immersion Theatre’s Romeo and Juliet was a fresh, funny and imaginative telling of an often tiredly told tale.
Set during the miners’ strikes of the mid-1980s, with a young flawless cast and Billy Idol on the soundtrack, this adaptation rightfully won rave reviews and sold out every night.
One of the only plays I saw this year where every single supporting actor – including Roseanna Morris, James Nunn and Harry Anton – stood out as leading man/woman material. Review bit.ly/1OY3JYB
5) The 2015 50-hour London Improvathon – LOST Theatre – May
As far removed from my number one play as you can get, the surreal, hysterical, and utterly insane 50-hour Improvathon makes it into the top five by being so funny it actually (well, probably) cured me of illness.
After catching about 24 hours of the 50 hour non-stop show, I was blown away by the stamina, passion and talent of the cast and crew – from Improvathon legend Mark Meer to Ali James and Justin Brett trying the whole 50 hours for the first time.
I left feeling very privileged to have been one of just a hundred or so people in the world to experience what I’d just experienced – because it can’t ever be repeated.