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 London Fringe Shows.
Narrowing it down to five is so difficult after a year of superb fringe productions. Honourable mentions must go to productions at Finborough Theatre, Southwark Payhouse, Drayton Arms Theatre (The Baker’s Wife was a treat from a young ensemble), the King’s Head Theatre (particularly Not A Game for Boys & F*cking Men) and the tremendous output this year from the Jack Studio Theatre, Brockley, which continues to amaze with its consistently strong output.
1) Clarion, Arcola Theatre, April & October.
Mark Jagasia’s newspaper satire, Clarion, made the headlines when it first opened at the Arcola for causing the normally expressionless critics to break out, en masse, into hitherto unseen paroxysms of hysterical laughter. Greg Hicks gives a standout turn as a newspaper editor willing to stop at nothing for better circulation stats while Clare Higgins is right on the money as a jaded hack. Probably funnier to journos than the general public but the laughter didn’t stop when it returned to the venue later in the year. Review bit.ly/1zQrrfx
2) Operation Crucible, Finborough Theatre, August
Operation Crucible was Kieran Knowles’ debut play but you’d never have known it. The powerful narrative was confidently told and the simple structure and verbatim style delivered 80 minutes of visceral drama that remains with me still. Bryony Shannahan’s brooding and atmospheric production took us from the white heat of the Sheffield steel furnaces to darkness and abject terror when four young lads are caught in a WWII bombing raid and buried alive. Memorable performances from Knowles, Paul Tinto, James Wallwork & Salvatore D’Aquilla. Review bit.ly/1MBteOB
3) Orson’s Shadow, Southwark Playhouse, July.
American actor, director and writer Austin Pendleton’s wonderfully observed drama gave us a clash of the titans from stage & screen with one critic caught in the crossfire. Adrian Lukis, as the vain, artistic genius, Laurence Olivier, and John Hodgkinson’s booming turn as Orson Welles were riveting to watch as they circled each other in a fictional account of their meeting. Edward Bennett adds a beautifully understated performance as the frail, stuttering, theatre critic Kenneth Tynan who acted as narrator and referee. Review bit.ly/1H5n5o5
4) My Children! My Africa! Trafalgar Studios, August.
Athol Fugard’s explosive drama offered two contrasting views on apartheid as seen through the eyes of a pair of teenagers, one white and privilaged and the other black and poor. Directors Roger Mortimer and Deborah Edgington created an engrossing and thrilling production that humanised a political ideology and left us debating whether the pen or sword could solve the world’s ills. It was shocking, thought-provoking, and troubling which saw the cast act behind a segregated caged set.Review bit.ly/1DFFkog
5) My Eyes Went Dark, Finborough, August.
Matthew Wilkinson’s dark and intense revenge drama saw Cal MacAninch gave an outstanding and deeply moving performance as a father haunted by tragedy. After losing his whole family in an air crash (and finding their bodies), that was caused by corporate negligence, he vows retribution. Thusitha Jayasundera played everyone else, from his wife to a psychiatrist. A harrowing two-hander about a nightmarish scenario. How would you cope? Devastating and utterly compelling.Review bit.ly/1JmMqem