The Ruling Class
directed by Jamie Lloyd at Trafalgar Studios
Wild and unpredictable, The Ruling Class is probably the most bonkers play I saw all year. James McAvoy gave a stellar performance as a paranoid schizophrenic in Peter Barnes' play. Jamie Lloyd's production had absolutely no boundaries, it seemed nothing was off limits. I still can't decide whether I was moved or disturbed by Lloyd's top notch, thought-provokingly enthralling production.
directed by Gary Lloyd at the Southwark Playhouse
Known as the most expensive flop in Broadway history, 2015 saw Carrie The Musical finally make its long-awaited London premiere. As expected there was plenty of death and blood, but - thanks to a strong performance from the perfectly cast Evelyn Hoskins - the production also had a great deal of heart. I have no idea why it took so long to bring Carrie to London; Gary Lloyd's production certainly has potential for future life. Behind the blood and beyond the darkness is a touching story of self-discovery, and I loved every second.
directed by Matthew Dunster at the Royal Court & Wyndham's Theatre
When I sat down to see Hangmen I was expecting a grisly evening; but Martin McDonagh's play turned out to be wickedly funny and I laughed out loud throughout. A dark and gritty story told with some fantastically written characters, Matthew Dunster's production provided a superbly uncomfortable experience. The ensemble cast, including David Morrissey, Johnny Flynn, Simon Rouse, Sally Rogers and Bronwyn James, were all on top form.
Peter Pan Goes Wrong
directed by Adam Meggido at the Apollo Theatre
Whilst The Play That Goes Wrong continues its triumphant run, this Christmas the unstoppable Mischief Theatre brought their second show Peter Pan Goes Wrong to the West End. Henry Lewis, Jonathan Sayer and Henry Shields' play was at the top of my recommendation list this month; I can't remember the last time I laughed so loudly in a theatre. Adam Meggido's production is unspeakably slick whilst the cast is full of comical geniuses. It's such a shame that Peter Pan Goes Wrong only runs at the Apollo until the end of January - make sure you grab a ticket!
Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined
directed by Steven Hoggett at the Menier Chocolate Factory & Criterion
Presenting Burt Bacharach's back catalogue in an entirely new way, Close To You (previously named What's It All About?) highlights and brings together recurring themes surrounding love and the true meaning of life. When I first saw David Lane Seltzer and Kyle Riabko's musical at the Menier I fell head over heels in love with it, and was beyond thrilled when the West End transfer was announced. Close To You can't be put into a simple category; its a new kind of show which presents music in a theatrical setting. The multi-talented cast are an absolute dream, their passion is overwhelming. Close To You: Bacharach Reimagined is an exhilarating, joyful and absolutely stunning piece of theatre.
UK tour directed by Richard Eyre & Anthony Lyn
Back in October Cameron Mackintosh brought Mary Poppins back to the stage with a new UK touring production. I hadn't seen Marry Poppins for eight years, and found myself reliving my childhood as I watched the show at the Leicester Curve in absolute awe. There is something very emotional about the piece; it is a story with great heart staged with tremendous warmth. Zizi Strallen gave a stunning performance in the title role, performing with a twinkle in her eye. The hard working ensemble raised the roof performing Matthew Bourne and Stephen Mear's choreography which dazzles throughout. You can't go wrong with Mary Poppins, it's a glorious musical which can capture the imagination of those young and old - we need it back in the West End ASAP.
directed by Jamie Lloyd at Trafalgar Studios
When I saw The Homecoming in November I realised how much the West End had missed Jamie Lloyd - the West End had missed the bold, relevant and sometimes dangerous theatre Lloyd stages at Trafalgar Studios. Harold Pinter's twisted family drama is not the kind of play you 'enjoy' but Lloyd miraculously mastered the balance between the brutality of the story with black humour. I was gripped by the awkwardness which intensified throughout - the experience was electrifyingly unnerving. The Homecoming hit me with a breath of fresh air, it's encouraging to see a reimagined interpretation of a hard-hitting Pinter masterpiece being staged with such flair, identity and bravery.
WEST END FRAME'S LONDON FRINGE PRODUCTION OF THE YEAR
directed by Paul Warwick Griffin at the Southwark Playhouse
Bold, bizarre and camper than Christmas, Xanadu is the craziest musical I have ever seen... and I absolutely adored it! Jeff Lynne and John Farrar's score is frighteningly catchy whilst Douglas Carter Beane's script has no boundaries. I think when I saw Xanadu for the first time I was a little taken aback by the weird and chaotic story, but when I caught it again I had prepared myself and totally embraced the weirdness. Remarkably it didn't feel like I was watching a small show with a cast of nine because the cast performed with such huge character and Nathan M. Wright's terrific choreography completely filled the entire space. Carly Anderson was a big stand out whilst Samuel Edwards was a revelation; both truly mastered the comedy, starring alongside the brilliant Alison Jiear and Lizzy Connolly. Xanadu provides the best kind of escapism - it is in your face and absolutely insane, let's hope and pray it returns!
WEST END FRAME'S PLAY OF THE YEAR
directed by James Macdonald at the Tricycle & Wyndham's Theatres
Christopher Hampton's adaptation of Florian Zeller's play The Father was - without doubt - the best play I saw in 2015. Not only did it break my heart to watch Kenneth Cranham portray a man called Andre who was slowly losing grip of his reality, but I was also incredibly moved by how The Father showed the impact dementia has on loved ones. James Macdonald's production was so impressively clever; the disorientating structure gave an insight into the world though Andre's eyes with years flashing by in the blink of an eye. Zeller's play was absolutely devastating to watch; every detail from the set to the sound to the direction and performances enhanced the production to the max, and I was thrilled to see such an exceptional piece of theatre transfer to the West End.
WEST END FRAME'S SHOW OF THE YEAR
directed by Jerry Mitchell at the Adelphi Theatre
Everybody say YEAH, Kinky Boots - a musical with heaps of heart, irresistible style, killer songs and a sensational cast - is West End Frame's top show of 2015! Inspired by a true British story, it was about time Jerry Mitchell's high energy, glittering production found a West End home. Kinky Boots breaks down boundaries and is unbelievably empowering - it is the best feel good show since Legally Blonde. The cast are pure magic; it was a joy to see how Matt Henry, Amy Lennox and Killian Donnelly each put their stamp on the leading roles. Kinky Boots has one of the strongest ensembles in the West End, they all own their hilarious one-liners and give their absolute all during the sensationally staged musical numbers. Kinky Boots shatters stereotypes whilst providing an evening of glorious entertainment; it is the best new musical to have opened in the West End for years and I can't wait to see it again and again and again.
Andrew Tomlins (Editor)