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. Here are Anne’s Top Five West End/London Shows.
The big show is what London and the West End does best but choosing a top five of new work is difficult because a number of long running productions have taken up long-term residency in their venues.
There are few surprises – only one show can legitimately be called a West End production – and I have been so bowled over by the quality of work coming from off-West End venues that they get their own “Top Five” review (as does my Top Five Fringe shows).
There are also a couple of non-runners. I haven’t included the stunning Gypsy because I reviewed it last year in Chichester.
Nor have I put in Simon Russell Beale’s best turn in recent years in the splendidly funny Mr Foote’s Other Leg (Theatre Royal Haymarket), or the superb Hangmen, at Wyndham’s which I’d have probably put at number 1 but I saw both productions on my days off and not to review. Hangmen’s author, Martin McDonagh, uses gallows humour to great effect and Johnny Flynn’s psycho turn as a Mooney (pure vintage Malcolm McDowell) is classic.
I’m including in my selection a musical which played off West End but which, quite frankly, deserved to be seen my bigger audiences in a larger auditorium.
1) In The Heights, King’s Cross Theatre, October
There was a freshness and vitality right from the opening of award winning composer-lyricist, Lin-Manuel Miranda’s inspirational urban fairy tale. The pulsating Latino/hip-hop score, electrifying choreography and knockout performances from a talented ensemble gave us a story about the American Dream packaged for young audiences. From the storming 20-minute opening number, featuring a street poet rapping to an explosive salsa beat, it is clear that British musicals need to wake up and reinvent themselves if they are to attract new audiences. Review bit.ly/1Mzq0M5
2) Kinky Boots, Adelphi Theatre, September
Who’d have thought that a story about a down-at-heel Northampton shoe factory would ever be brought to the big screen, much less become an award-winning Broadway musical? It took its time but the Harvey Fierstein/ Cyndi Lauper musical finally made it to London and has charmed everyone with its originality, a cast that includes a group of stunning drag queens, Jerry Mitchell’s choreography and a magical story. Who says dreams can’t come true? Review bit.ly/1iIpa4b
3) King John, The Globe/ Royal & Derngate, April
Director James Dacre tried out this lesser known Shakespeare in Northampton’s 12th century Holy Sepulchre Church, where its characters actually worshipped, before taking it into London’s Globe Theatre. What unfolds is 140-minutes of thrilling plotting and counter plotting as England’s weakest king struggles to hold onto the English throne amid power plays from France and demands from the Catholic Church. Jo-Stone Fewings engrossing turn as John, was multi-layered and imbued with a flawed nobility while Alex Waldmann as a war-mongering firebrand scared audiences half to death. Review bit.ly/1JPMP9Q
4) Grand Hotel, Southwark Playhouse, August
The winning team of producer Danielle Tarento & director Thom Southerland, coupled with Lee Proud’s choreography delivered an impeccable revival of Grand Hotel which really should have transferred into one of the West End’s smaller theatres. It was enthralling, beautifully crafted, wonderfully sung and superbly acted by a company of unfamiliar names. With its Broadway credentials and a clutch of Tony Awards to its name, Tarento revived and upgraded Grand Hotel to super deluxe standard but squeezed it into boutique and bijou accommodation at Southwark. Italian musical theatre’s Christine Grimandi made a memorable debut on the English stage, sweeping in with the elegance and hauteur of an old school star. Unforgettable and oozing style. Review bit.ly/1TeEohn
5) Everyman, National Theatre, May
Carol Ann Duffy’s modern day morality play was bold, imaginatively told and makes its mark from the very start in an opening scene that sees Chiwetel Ejiofor’s hedonistic playboy fall from a skyscraper roof. It was Rufus Norris’ first outing as the NT’s new artistic chief and he has since acquitted himself well with a lively and varied programme of theatre. Everyman was a thought-provoking piece, beautifully told with stunning visuals and language that swung from rhyme to prose. Review bit.ly/1AWgWrA