Best of 2015
The Year in Review
A bumper crop of excellent shows this year makes it difficult to whittle down to a Top Ten, or even a Top Twenty. It grieves me but I have singled out 25 of the best productions throughout which I had my bum on a seat.
January got off to a cracking start with the superlative The Frozen Scream in the Patrick Centre at Birmingham Hippodrome. This pastiche murder-mystery turned out to be so much more. Even now, I am reluctant to reveal any of its secrets but I will say as a surprise piece of promenade theatre, it worked brilliantly. Also this month I ventured deep into Warwickshire to see a touring production of It’s A Wonderful Life playing in a village hall. Great to see high quality, inventive theatre being taken to alternative venues and new audiences, and leading man Richard Ede is always superb. Returning to the beaten track, I visited London’s Southwark Theatre for a superlative production of Bat Boy the musical.
A strong year for the RSC in Stratford began with a gripping Oppenheimer. Touring production of Rodgers and Hammerstein masterpiece Oklahoma! almost clinched my Show of the Year spot when it arrived at Wolverhampton’s Grand Theatre in February – I loved it so much I caught it again when it rolled around to Birmingham a few months later. Meanwhile, Theresa Heskins up at the New Vic Theatre reimagined Bram Stoker’s Dracula as a chilling exercise in Foley effects.
Birmingham based Stan’s Café delivered their finest show to date, A Translation of Shadows in April, while in Stratford upon Avon’s Swan Theatre there was a wickedly entertaining production of Christopher Marlowe’s The Jew of Malta. In May I was delighted at Coventry’s Belgrade Theatre by an operatic production of Hansel and Gretel.
Birmingham REP staged a festival of European theatre. Pick of the crop, of what I saw, was Locus Amoenus. The New Vic was even more ambitious with its festival celebrating the Staffordshire Hoard – a truly remarkable body of work. Back in the Swan, a rollicking staging of Jonson’s Volpone consolidated the venue as the most consistent in Stratford, while in Derby Theatre’s studio, I was blown away by one-woman show Joan.
In August, I caught the divine Ben Whishaw as Dionysus in Bakkhai at the Almeida – another strong contender for my Show of the Year…
September saw King Charles III, a futuristic Shakespearean history play reach Birmingham REP, while in Coventry, under-rated high school musical Crush was an utter delight. I was back at the Belgrade shortly afterwards for a moving production of children’s classic The Silver Sword.
In October, the RSC’s Henry V clinched Shakespearean production of the year (despite Cumberbatch’s Hamlet getting all the headlines) while Kneehigh’s Dead Dog In A Suitcase continued to blow people away on tour – another strong contender for Show of the Year, and another show that I saw twice. Alan Ayckbourn’s latest showed he is still very much on form, with the sharp and acerbic Hero’s Welcome, which I caught at the New Vic.
Little Bulb’s Orpheus was an absolute treat in the REP’s studio theatre, while a new adaptation of Huxley’s dystopian Brave New World proved you can do intelligent science fiction on stage in Wolverhampton!
The RSC capped off the year with a hilarious Love for Love (the Swan again) but the funniest shows of the year came from Oddsocks Productions touring Legend of King Arthur and the Belgrade’s alternative ‘adult’ Christmas show, the daft and inventive Vampomime.
But before I reveal my pick of the year, I have to say sometimes reviewing shows can be tricky. I try to be honest and kind, and constructive in any criticism I make, but from time to time, you come across an absolute stinker. This year that honour goes to the woeful Last Night A DJ Saved My Life, featuring David Hoff and more hassle than it was worth.
And so, my pick for Best Show of 2015 goes to Opera North’s flawless staging of Cole Porter’s Kiss Me, Kate, which I was fortunate enough to see just before it closed in Nottingham. Everything about this production was perfect. It’s a pity the show didn’t venture further south and have a longer run.
Thanks for reading my reviews. As always, comments and ‘likes’ are welcome. Thanks also to all the theatres who make me feel so welcome.
Looking forward to another year of theatre-going. First up in 2016 is Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming. Watch this space!