Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Editor's Blog: Top 10 shows of 2014

2014 has been an incredibly diverse year for theatre. Producers have taken some risks and it's great that several off-West End productions managed to make it into the West End. In 2014 I went to the theatre 257 times and, out of everything I have seen (in the West End and on Broadway as well as in off-West End, regional and fringe theatres), below I have highlighted my top ten personal favourite shows...

Menier Chocolate Factory
"I don't think I breathed once"
Photo Credit: Nobby Clark

Assassins is probably the most intense piece of theatre ever written and Jamie Lloyd's production at the Menier has set theatreland alight (it sold out shortly after opening). I don't think I breathed once for the entire hour and forty-five minutes. The ensemble cast - featuring the likes of Catherine Tate, Simon Lipkin and Aaron Tveit - are remarkably strong. I am still digesting the piece and am hugely looking forward to seeing it a second time next year (I ensured I bought a ticket before publishing my review).

Read my ★★★★★ review of Assassins

Great Britain
National Theatre/Theatre Royal Haymarket
"outrageously funny"
Photo Credit: Johan Persson 

Interestingly Richard Bean's follow up to One Man, Two Guvnors opened to a mixed response, but I for one absolutely loved the bold and daring play. A brilliant and relevant satire about the phone hacking scandal, Great Britain makes some excellent points through humour. Great Britain is frantic and I found myself laughing out loud from beginning to end. I adored its vibe – it is slick, fresh and outrageously funny.

Miss Saigon
Prince Edward Theatre
"it blew my mind"
Photo Credit: Matthew Murphy

It is always very special to discover an iconic show for the first time. Prior to seeing this revival of Claude-Michel Schönberg and Alain Boublil's musical I didn't know very much about Miss Saigon at all. However, from the moment the show began I found myself being swept away by the epic score, cast, lighting, sound, costumes, projections and set. Miss Saigon certainly re-landed in style; it blew my mind.

St James/Apollo Theatres
"a new kind of theatrical bliss"
Photo Credit: Johan Persson

I can't get enough of Urinetown! It is utter brilliance! I love satirical humour and Urinetown is most certainly the best satirical musical comedy I have ever seen. Jamie Lloyd's production is unbelievably focused. It has been nice to have something so bold and different in the West End - Urinetown provides a new kind of theatrical bliss. Both the off-West End and West End casts have been exceptional - Richard Fleeshman, Matthew Seadon Young and Jenna Russell all shone in their respective roles. Everyone who has worked on Urinetown should be very proud.

Finborough Theatre
"the most riveting play I saw in 2014"
Photo Credit: Richard Davenport 

Carthage is the most riveting play I saw in 2014. Every time I think about the piece or discuss it with someone I find myself in deep, deep thought. The ninety minutes flew by in a grippingly captivating blur. As well as working in the intimate Finborough, I can see Carthage working in the West End, as a blockbuster movie or as a TV drama. I still can't believe that Carthage marked Chris Thompson's professional debut - he is certainly one to look out for over the coming years. I am intrigued to see more of his work.

Richard Rodgers Theatre in New York
"a remarkably special piece of theatre"
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus 

In 2013 I saw a musical called Lift which grabbed me in a way that no piece of theatre ever had before. Lift was complex and many dismissed it because they didn't understand it. One year later If/Then had the absolute same effect on me. I give every show I see an equal chance, but only very rarely do I find myself as engrossed in a piece as I did whilst watching If/Then. I think the show is so important as it speaks to people - it is almost like a new genre. I saw If/Then on the final night of my first ever trip to New York and after the show I remember walking through Times Square absolutely speechless; all I could think was, 'I never want to go to the theatre ever again' because my experience had been so perfect. Let's hope Idina Menzel can bring it to London if she ever finds herself with a spare few months..!

Good People
Hampstead/Noel Coward Theatres
"incredibly touching"
Photo Credit: Manuel Harlan

Good People is a fascinating play which delves into humanity and desperation. The production really grew on me and by the second act I was completely behind Margie - played by Imelda Staunton - who, after losing her job, struggled to pay the rent and support her disabled daughter. Following the early closure of The Full Monty, Good People secured a last minute West End transfer meaning those who missed Jonathan Kent's incredibly touching production during its sold out run at the Hampstead Theatre were given a second chance to see it.

Shaftesbury Theatre
"I'm still buzzing"
Photo Credit:  Johan Perrson

I'm still buzzing after seeing an electrifying performance of Memphis back in October. The musical has a story to tell and a point to make, but it also features the most incredible score. The epic finale number 'Steal Your Rock 'n' Roll' brought the entire audience to their feet and left me feeling overwhelmingly inspired (I remember leaving the theatre and publishing several overly excited tweets). People could not have screamed, yelled or applauded any louder. The entire cast are unbelievably talented, the choreography is impressive and overall the show is neat and slick. I cannot wait to catch Memphis again in January. 

In The Heights
Southwark Playhouse
"I have never jumped to my feet so quickly"
Photo Credit: Robert Workman 

In The Heights is the best show I saw in London in 2014. I remember approaching the piece with caution, I wasn't sure how it was all going to come together - particularly in such a small venue... but I ended up having the time of my life (and subsequently booked to see it twice more on nights off from reviewing). Not only did the musical's sets and costumes transform the Southwark Playhouse into a vibrant world full of colour and spirit, but so did the energy of the cast, the charm of the book and the sheer brilliance of the score. I remember feeling joyously emotional each time I saw it. Drew McOnie's choreography was exceptional and broke theatrical boundaries. Every element of In The Heights hit me like a breath of fresh air; I have never jumped to my feet so quickly at the end of a show, let's hope this production returns or transfers some time soon...
The Bridges of Madison County
Gerald Schoenfeld Theatre in New York
"the show I have been waiting for... utter perfection"
Photo Credit: Joan Marcus

The Bridges of Madison County... where do I begin? It was my first Broadway show and I had no idea what to expect, in fact as I looked at the empty stage prior to the performance I felt a little disappointed that I wasn't seeing something big and more commercial for my first New York show. I was simply not prepared for what then followed! I can't sum up The Bridges of Madison County in one paragraph (my five star review is the longest review I have ever written). Jason Robert Brown's musical is utter perfection - it took risks, it told a beautiful story and it was jaw-droppingly stunning. Despite not knowing anything about it, The Bridges of Madison County turned out to be the show I have been waiting for. Everything clicked into place, it fully restored my faith in theatre - there is hope! Although the musical closed early it was not a creative flop and went on to win two Tony Awards for its score (which is officially my favourite score of all time). I know that one day The Bridges of Madison County will return and receive the run it deserves. I could have seen it again and again and again and I would have wept every time. It is without doubt one of the best shows (if not the best show) I have ever seen. 

Andrew Tomlins (Editor)

What was the best show you saw in 2014? Which performer blew you away? Tweet us your 2014 theatrical highlights as we are putting together a special feature with all of your replies!

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