Message to self. Do not drone on. Nobody will read this. You are seemingly dispossessed of any edit function. And there are literally millions of other lists of best plays/theatre of 2017 produced by people who know what they are talking about. This may be your blog, intended to consolidate all you have learnt from your cultural adventures, but that really is no excuse for blathering on.
Here goes then. Bear in mind this reflects when I saw the production listed below. If I lived in Stratford, or Amsterdam, I might have have got to see a couple of them sooner. Still better late than never.
1. The Ferryman – Royal Court Theatre
Marvellous story. Teeming with life. Cracking dialogue. Wonderful staging. Critics’ favourite. Five star reviews across the board. Everyone I know who has seen it has loved it. Sometimes it just all comes together. In every photo I have seen of writer Jez Butterworth since the opening night he sports a grin from ear to ear. And so he should. If you haven’t seen it, get a ticket before it closes as pulling together this size of cast (human and animal) is likely to make revivals thin on the ground.
2. Hamlet – Almeida Theatre
Think Shakespeare is boring and not for you. Then you haven’t seen wunderkind director Robert Icke’s Hamlet with Andrew Scott as the eponymous Prince of Denmark. Delivered in so matter of fact a way that it was just like having your best mate in the front room with you. Mind you he would be a best mate who tested your patience to the limit. You would probably de-friend him sharpish. A stunning lead performance. Plenty of superlative support. And a director who can marry respect for text with vibrant, relevant freshness.
3. Follies – National Theatre
I don’t like musicals. I do now.
4. Anatomy of a Suicide – Royal Court Theatre
This had me glued to my seat from the off. Immensely powerful, formally inventive, brilliantly written by Alice Birch, and intelligently directed by Katie Mitchell. I am a bloke. Heaven knows what this would have done to me if I was a woman.
5. Knives in Hens – Donmar Warehouse
I can see that this might not be everyone’s cup of tea but a meditation on the power of language, set in some unspecified “medieval” past, was always likely to reel me in. But David Harrower’s “modern classic” was even better than I had hoped. And director Yael Farber showed what she can do when she can focus solely on subject and expression in someone else’s text.
6. The Kid Stays in the Picture – Royal Court Theatre
I have learnt that anything Complicite, and its genius co-founder Simon McBurney, creates, must be seen. This theatrical “biopic” of the film producer Robert Evans is a technical tour de force, for sure, but also a bloody fantastic story. Don’t like the theatre. Love film. Then see this if it ever pops up again.
7. Roman Tragedies – Barbican Theatre
Not everything Ivo van Hove and Toneelgroep Amsterdam take on comes off but this stalwart from, arguably the world’s greatest theatre company, is just awesome. Six and a half hours in Dutch. Vast swathes of the three Roman Shakespeare “tragedies” it is fashioned from ditched or mangled. No matter. You can move around, fiddle with your phone (sort of), watch the screens, get in the way of the cast, buy a beer. And just immerse yourself in the tale of power. corruption and lies that might have been written yesterday. If it ever swings by you, go.
8. The End of Hope – Orange Tree Theatre
I saw this as part of the Directors Festival at the OT. It then went to the Soho Theatre. It deserves an even wider audience. It is hilarious. In only an hour writer David Ireland takes aim at so many contemporary issues, from his starting point of a one night stand in Northern Ireland, that it leaves you breathless. Actors Elinor Lawless and Rufus Wright had a ball but the real star of the night was director Max Elton. This young man will go far.
9. Junkyard – Rose Theatre Kingston
OK. So sometimes you take a punt and it really pays off. This sort of musical, about a bunch of misfits in Bristol who reluctantly build, then defiantly protect, a playground, could have been a cliche-ridden monstrosity. However, with Jeremy Herrin directing and Jack Thorne writing, it obviously wasn’t. It was just properly uplifting. And it had Erin Doherty in the lead. She is just a brilliant actor. Wish List at the Royal Court, My Name is Rachel Corrie at the Young Vic, A Christmas Carol and The Divide at the Old Vic. It has been a busy year of so for Erin. One day she will be made a Dame for her services to acting. You read it here first.
10. Much Ado About Nothing (or Love’s Labours Won) – Theatre Royal Haymarket
The RSC should nail Shakespeare. That’s its job. This production of Much Ado, which finally got aired at the RSC’s other London home of the TRH, was tremendous. Director Christopher Luscombe’s setting of Much Ado and Love’s Labour’s Lost, (not quite so good because it is not as good a play), before and after the First World War was a masterstroke. Lisa Dillon and Edward Bennett as the world weary lovers-to-be were outstanding. Loved it.
Just missed the cut? Loads actually since it was an annus mirabilis for London theatre. But my hopelessly subjective ranking system might have seen Albee’s Goat at the Theatre Royal Haymarket slyly directed by Ian Rickson, Roy Williams’s latest play The Firm at the Hampstead Theatre and the unlikely triumph Oslo, might all have squeaked in.
Let’s hope 2018 is up to similar snuff.