During 2016, London Theatre 1‘s team of reviewers were busy reviewing more than 840 productions in and around London. This is a selection of top London shows as selected by some of our busiest reviewers.
TOP 10 from CHRIS OMAWENG
1. Half A Sixpence, Noel Coward Theatre
This wholly astonishing performance from Charlie Stemp… sees the first of what must surely be many leading roles for a clearly talented and hard-working actor. Indeed, the whole cast is radiant with vitality and enthusiasm.
2. Titanic, Charing Cross Theatre
… this exhilarating, magnificent and intense musical left me feeling I had seen a truly remarkable production.
3. In The Heights, Kings Cross Theatre
Still one of the hottest tickets in town, and still blazing with an energy that continues to lift the spirits of the audience night after night.
4. Vanities The Musical, Trafalgar Studios
A glorious theatrical experience, this production, skilfully directed and choreographed by Racky Plews, was compelling from start to finish. A resounding success.
5. The Last Five Years, St James Theatre
Unafraid to portray the harsh reality of modern living, this show is a triumph… The actors sing their hearts out, and a good night out at the theatre is assured.
6. School of Rock The Musical, New London Theatre
With plenty of eagerness and heart, this unapologetically positive musical is well worth seeing – and hearing. The transformative power of music is inspirational in this splendid show.
7. Disney’s Aladdin, Prince Edward Theatre
There’s something for everyone in this laugh-out- loud and shimmering show… This is an Arabian night not to be missed – the professionalism and skill in this show is astounding.
8. Mrs Henderson Presents, Noel Coward Theatre
There hasn’t been a new British musical this good for a while now… It’s witty. It’s intense. It’s energetic. It’s sublimely superb.
9. Guys and Dolls, Savoy Theatre
A glorious revival, with plenty of laughs, passion and charisma. It’s a cliché, but they really don’t write musicals like this anymore these days.
10. Don’t Sleep There Are Snakes, Park Theatre
…a highly imaginative and sometimes very physical production, with minimal set and props – demonstrating that much can be achieved even without big budgets. An astonishing play.
TOP 10 from TERRY EASTHAM
1. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child Parts 1 and 2, Palace Theatre
No doubt this is the No 1 show of the year for me. J K Rowling, Jack Thorne and John Tiffany, have captured the essence of the Harry Potter books and brought them to life in wonderful style with these two fantastic plays. Relying on great story-telling and an amazingly strong cast, Harry Potter is a wonderful entry point for youngsters to start experiencing the joys of live theatre and has pretty much, made toast of many other openings this year.
2. Red Shoes, Sadler’s Wells
A truly fantastic dance piece from the UK’s foremost choreographer, Matthew Bourne. Base on the epic Powell and Pressburger film and using music by movie composer Bernard Herrman, the show is enchanting and holds the audience’s concentration from its great start to the awesome ending.
3. School of Rock, New London Theatre
Andrew Lloyd Webber proved why he is still the master of musical theatre as he brings the 2003 comedy film to London. Along with some great songs and a really excellent leading man, the show boasts some of the most amazing all singing, all dancing, musical instrument playing child actors you will see on the stage.
4. Odd Shaped Balls, Old Red Lion
In a year when homophobia in sport has really been brought to the front, this one-act play about a young closeted rugby player couldn’t have come at a more opportune moment. Matthew Marrs shone playing not only the potential rugby legend James Hall, but also every other character in this intense show that examines attitudes to gay sportsmen, which was performed on one of the most amazing sets I’ve seen in a fringe theatre.
5. Saucy Jack and the Space Vixens, Kings Head
My favourite Off-West End musical of the year – I even dragged some friends to go and see the show when I went back for a second visit. A cross between the Rocky Horror Picture Show and Barbarella, and is high on camp from start to finish. Making great use of every inch of the King’s Head Theatre space and with lots of audience participation, this was a really enjoyable and fun show.
6. Ibiza to the Norfolk Broads, Waterloo East Theatre
2016 was a terrible year in many respects, including the loss of some extremely important and influential music legends. One of those was David Bowie which made this one man show extremely poignant. However, it makes my top ten because the performance by Alex Walton was so good playing Martin, a young man with some mental health issues as he searched for his father that I really cared about the character and really wanted him to have a happy ending to his tale.
7. Party, Above the Stag
Above the Stag is renowned as London’s No 1 LGBT+ theatre and Party was a wonderful example of the work they put on. From the start I had a smile on my face and that stayed right to the end as this group of guys introduced me to the game of ‘Fact or Fantasy’. Although a lot of fun, the play was extremely realistic and covered some fascinating aspects of gay life and culture but without ever going too OTT.
8. Cargo, Arcola
This very dark and taut drama was amazing both in its timing – coming just after the EU referendum – and in its story and setting. The audience are deep in the action, sat inside a cargo container on packets which could contain anything from herbs like dill or parsley to toys destined to be the playthings of children from a better and freer society. The show is played out in real time and the audience is taken deep inside the world of asylum seekers trying to escape from one country to another where strong relationships can become fragile and your best friend could become your bitterest enemy.
9. Musical of the Year, The Lost Theatre
Writing one musical must be hard work but in this show, but writing a show that mimics songs from the best musicals of the last sixty years and then slotting them into Victor Hugo’s ‘The Hunchback of Notre Dame’ sounds like an impossible task that would result in a scrambled egg of a show. However, not only do Stephen Lanigan-O’Keeffe and Owain Ros mange to avoid this, but they pull off the feat in fantastic style , producing a show that is definitely worthy of a West End transfer.
10. F*cking Men, The Vaults
Based on Arthur Schnitzler’s 1897 play ‘La Ronde’, this show returns to London after a sell-out run in Edinburgh and has already extended its run into next year. Actors Richard De Lisle, Harper James, and Haydn Whiteside take the audience through the ten stories of sexual encounters with a style and panache that makes this show fresh and appealing no matter how often I’ve seen it.
So that’s my top ten. Some honourable mentions that just failed to make the list include Half a Sixpence, Grey Gardens, I Loved Lucy, Scrooge and the Seven Dwarves and Hello Norma Jean. All great shows in their own right.
SELECTED TOP SHOWS
School of Rock – New London Theatre
Outstanding “good fun” musical that appeals to all ages and shows off some of our most talented stage and music school kids. Nothing not to like about this show and everything to sing about.
King John at the Rose Theatre.
Superb production of a play that is not the easiest to stage or watch, lifted to a new level by exceptional performances from a cast that included the 14-year-old Sebastian Croft, who has gone on from Trevor Nunn and Shakespeare to film a movie in Italy that could well be the hit of 2017.
Goodnight Mister Tom – Duke of York’s Theatre
This one comes around as regularly now as Christmas but goodness it is a beautiful and evocative production that never loses its special magic. Of particular relevance with the large number of WWII anniversaries looming over the next few years, once again it was in the West End and then went on tour. Beautiful performances from adults and children alike,
My number one this year was Cyprus Avenue at the Royal Court. Mesmerising, riveting play, with absolutely brilliant performances especially from Stephen Rea. It left me and my friend wandering through the streets gobsmacked for an hour.
Close second for Groundhog Day, a big contender for the best musical of the past decade. Really slick performances from the whole cast, incredible staging, and really catchy score – I saw it twice and am still singing several songs!
Love Steals us from Loneliness at the Camden People’s Theatre – Gary Owen and Kim Pearce gave me the best bit of storytelling this year; procrastinating with intent through a revelation of love, loss, and grief.
BUZZ: A New Musical at the Drayton Arms – No woman needs a man to keep her satisfied in my favourite musical on the fringe circuit…possibly ever!
Blood Brothers at the Richmond Theatre – Lyn Paul was the definitive Mrs Johnson, bringing this reviewer to his feet, whilst clapping through his tears, when said reviewer seldom cries and only stands when it’s a truly magnificent performance.
Top 3 Shows: (in no particular order)
1. Rotterdam (Trafalgar Studios) – as an LGBT member it was nice to see such an intimate and ‘current piece’ of theatre receive a great reception. The writing was refreshing and the actors were impeccable. This play explored many issues of identity whilst still able to keep the audience laughing and enjoying these perplexed characters.
2. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour (National Theatre, Dorfman) – this is modern, funny, poignant show. A cast of young women are found to be engaging and relatable in this coming of age story involving music and ‘bouncer/shaker’-styles characterisations. Here’s hoping for a West End transfer/revival.
3. Showboat (New London Theatre) – Transferring from Sheffield, this is a show that was stunning in every sense and, in my opinion, never received the full attention it deserved. Many of the general public missed out on this heartwarming and grand classic. All creative and cast made this show one of my favourites and their renditions of songs will stay with me forever.
A compelling story about one man’s descent into dementia. Brilliantly staged with a stunning performance from Kenneth Cranham
A superb revival of one of the best musicals of the past 25 years. Wonderful use of instrument playing actors – a wonderful ensemble show.
Skin A Cat
First production at The Bunker – an ex-car park under the Menier. Tour de force performance from Lydia Larson who was absolutely sensational.
1. Titanic at Charing Cross Theatre – I saw this show knowing very little about it and came away absolutely mind-blown- the music, the performances, the set and the staging were all incredible and the story itself was incredibly moving. For me, the best I have seen this year and quite frankly one of the best I’ve seen ever.
2. People, Places and Things – The sound and lighting on this show, combined with a stunning performance by Denise Gough made this show outstanding. I was so emotionally invested in the show that when it ended it felt like the world created in the show had been more real than the world I had just returned to.
3. The Last 5 Years– I’ve been desperate to see this show for a very long time and when it finally arrived at St James’s Theatre it didn’t disappoint- I laughed and I cried and I laughed and cried a bit more. Just perfect.
2. Dare Devil Rides to Jarama by Neil Gore/Townsend Productions at The Bussey and on tour. Early Easy Rider combats fascism.
3. Love by Alexander Zeldin at The Dorfman
Highly-charged, issue-led political statement.
The Roundabout (Park Theatre) – a funny and perceptive look at English life in the 1930s.
Whiskey, Foxtrot, Tango (Tristan Bates) – well performed, fun, informative, and eye-opening.
The Boys in the Band (Park Theatre) – an emotional, yet fun piece, brilliantly performed by a stellar cast, the play has a great soundtrack too.
Dreamgirls is a five-star show and the best thing I’ve ever seen. I couldn’t find a fault in it and it’s the first show at which it took me half the interval to be able to speak. Stunning production with exemplary performances.
The Stripper at the St James was wonderful. A well-crafted production of a hidden gem of a show.
Wind in the Willows at Colchester’s Mercury Theatre was fun for all the family with gorgeous designs and a lovely folk inspired soundtrack compositions.
Hand to God (Vaudeville Theatre, Feb 2016): The strange tale of the relationship between a troubled young man and a demonic puppet. One of the weirdest and most wonderful nights I’ve spent in the West End, and still memorable for an extraordinary central performance by Harry Melling.
The Invisible Hand (Tricycle Theatre, May 2016): Western capitalism on trial in the person of an American banker held prisoner in Pakistan by a trio of disaffected locals. Thought-provoking, entertaining, intelligent, funny and always absorbing, I’m surprised this play hasn’t transferred to the West End.
The Comedy of Errors (Gray’s Inn Hall, August 2016): Performed in its original 1594 setting by a group of talented actor/instrumentalists and produced by theatre company Antic Disposition. Worth seeing alone for the experience of watching actors chasing one another around this sedate setting like demented schoolchildren.
PEOPLE, PLACES & THINGS at Wyndham’s Theatre – I knew good things about this play before I went in because Duncan Macmillan and Headlong always produce amazing work together, but this play is perhaps the best theatrical experience I have had to date. Denise Gough gives one of the most convincing and intense performances the London stage has ever seen and this story about substance abuse and loving yourself is both necessary and unforgettable.
SUNSET BOULEVARD at the London Coliseum – Glenn Close returning to the role of Norma Desmond is one of the most triumphant stage returns of recent years. Not only was her performance both powerful and moving, but the rest of the fresh-faced cast and the sound of the stunning 40-piece orchestra reminded us all of how fantastic Webber can be when he’s at his best.
DREAMGIRLS at the Savoy Theatre – Despite only opening this month, this is one of the best musicals that has hit the West End in years. Not only is this production packed to the brim with glamour and glitz, but the cast are equally as sublime. Amber Riley, Liisi LaFontaine, and Ibinabo Jack tear the roof of the Savoy down every night alongside other cast members like Joe Aaron Reid and Lily Frazer in this showstopping classic. If there’s anything worth seeing in the West End right now, it’s Dreamgirls
1. Jesus Christ Superstar at Regents Park Open Air Theatre
Electrifying Revival of Andrew Lloyd Webber and Tim Rice’s rock opera. Still their best score in my opinion. One of Lloyd Webber’s very best scores. Cannot wait to see it again this summer! Tyrone Huntley as Judas was incredible. Drew McOnie’s choreography brilliant.
2. Into The Woods at Menier Chocolate Factory
Wonderfully Inventive actor/musician adaptation of Stephen Sondheim’s Into the Woods from Off-Broadway company Fiasco.
3. The Burnt Part Boys at Park Theatre
Powerful and moving European Premiere of The Burnt Part Boys (Book by Mariana Elder, Music by Chris Miller, Lyrics by Nathan Tysen. Follows the stories and adventures of a group of teenagers in 196 West Virginia’s coal country.
4. Ragtime at Charing Cross Theatre
Thom Southerland at Charing Cross Theatre continues to make his mark with a stunning cast of 24 actor/ musician production of Ahrens and Flaherty’s 1997 show Ragtime. Truly outstanding cast telling the epic story of the growth of a nation through different eyes.
5. Floyd Collins at Wilton’s Music Hall
Adam Guettel’s powerful and upsetting chamber musical about a trapped miner and the efforts to rescue him. Directed by Jonathan Butterell. Glorious singing and acting.
6. Dreamgirls at Savoy Theatre
Spine-tingling singing and band!! Gorgeous costumes and set. Love Love LOVE! Will be seeing this many more times through 2017 for sure!
7. This House – Chichester Theatre
Brilliantly staged, sharp and full of energy. Incredible dramatization of the last months of the Labour Government in the late 70’s. Far funnier than I thought it would be. Tremendous cast and direction.
8. Sunset Boulevard at London Coliseum
Glenn Close’s portrayal of Norma Desmond on this magnificent stage in that magnificent theatre with an utterly magnificent 48 piece orchestra will stay with me for many many years. The stuff of legends indeed. Spine-Tingling. All Norma’s are fabulous but for me, Glenn Close is the most Fabulous of ALL
9. SID at Above The Arts
I reviewed this and started with “SID at Above The Arts, grabs you by the throat and holds you mesmerised for 50 minutes, with a tremendous tour de force solo performance from Dario Coates.” Amazing performance in this one-man play written by Leon Fleming
10. Grey Gardens at Southwark Playhouse
Glorious perfectly judged eccentric performances from Jenna Russel and Sheila Hancock in this strange and disturbing true story of mother and daughter living alone determined to do things their way.
Just outside of the top 10 are; She Loves Me at Menier Chocolate Factory – heart-warming and perfectly cast with Scarlett Strallen at the centre, Side Show at Southwark Playhouse – spine-tingling singing from Louise Dearman and Laura Pitt-Pulford and cast, Toxic Avenger at Southwark Playhouse, amazing singing and also incredibly funny throughout. Finally, Drew McOnie’s fantastic Jekyll and Hyde dance theatre production at The Old Vic.
1. Harry Potter and The Cursed Child Part 1 and 2 at the Palace Theatre
Without giving too much away (#KeepTheSecrets), as a die-hard Harry Potter fan, I was so worried I’d be disappointed, but The Cursed Child was the wizarding world as magic as ever! Beg, borrow or steal a ticket… it is the best show on in London and something pretty special would have to come along in 2017 to beat it for that title!
2. Radioman at the Old Red Lion
Clever, funny, heartbreaking and exciting, radioman is one of the best plays I’ve ever seen not just in 2016. A one man show isn’t easy to pull off but under Tom Crowley’s direction, Felix Trench did so with ease and flare. I very much hope this show has a life in 2017.
3. Every Wild Beast at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival
A beautiful and entrancing show, the three-hander was pure magic. Casey Jay Andrew’s script in the hands of herself, Tom Coliandris and Sullivan Brown was breathtaking.
4. Grace at Mountview Academy of Theatre Arts
I’m slightly biased on this one as I attend the school, but Richard Vincent’s new play was absolutely exceptional, perfectly cast with some of the most phenomenal young actors I’ve ever seen. There is no doubt that this play will have an incredible future as will it’s cast, both things to look out for in 2017!
5. This House at the Garrick Theatre
An incredibly clever and fast-paced show, This House is a National Theatre production at it’s very best. Brilliantly directed, wonderfully written and performed, the thought-provoking play tackles politics with charm and not a trace of pretentiousness in sight.
To conclude – a fabulous year of theatre in and around London, where our team of reviewers have attended and written about what they have seen, heard, and experienced. Thank you to our reviewers, and also many thanks to all of those people involved in putting on productions for the theatregoing public.
Very best wishes for a peaceful Christmas and for a successful year ahead.