In 2015, I’m looking forward to checking out some new productions and to seeing some old favourites again. But until then, here are my top 5 London theatre highlights of the past twelve months.
The much-loved musical made its return to the West End this year, and did not disappoint. Newly discovered teenage star Eva Noblezada gives an astonishing performance, portraying a depth of emotion that someone of her age probably shouldn’t even know about, and reducing the entire theatre to floods of tears, while Jon Jon Briones dazzles as the Engineer. When you consider that although Kim’s story may be fiction, it’s based in reality – a fact hammered home by the Comic Relief-style video full of sad-faced children that accompanies the second act opener, Bui Doi – it only becomes more powerful. Also, the helicopter. If you have no other reason to go and see Miss Saigon, see it for the helicopter.
Twelve Angry Men
I managed to catch this play days before it closed at the Garrick Theatre, and I’m so glad I did. Who would have thought two hours of watching twelve men shout at each other could be so riveting, and yet it really was. The men are jurors in the case of a teenage boy charged with murder in 1950s America. What appears to be an easy guilty verdict soon becomes far more complicated, when one juror dares to stand up and disagree with the rest. A simple and yet ingenious set, and a brilliant cast, led by Tom Conti and William Gaminara, combined to make Twelve Angry Men one of the most powerful pieces of theatre I’ve seen in a long time, with a simple and timeless message at its heart: sometimes you have to stand up for what you believe in, even if nobody will stand with you.
Well, twice, technically. This year saw my second visit to see Once at the Phoenix Theatre, and despite a cast change since the first time, it was still brilliant. Those familiar with the 2006 movie starring Glen Hansard and Marketa Irglova (who also wrote the music) will notice some differences; the relationship between the two protagonists is more openly acknowledged, and a greater focus is placed on the rest of the characters and the ways in which they, too, have lost hope and the ability to dream. It’s difficult to describe Once without it sounding a bit cheesy – believe me, I’ve tried – but essentially it’s a story about music, and the ways it can bring people together and save us from our own demons. And it’s not cheesy at all. But it does close in March so you might want to hurry...
Shakespeare in Love
As a fan of both Shakespeare and the original movie version of Shakespeare in Love, I was basically beside myself with excitement when I heard about the stage show. It's a joyous celebration of everything about theatre, and if I had to sum it up in one word, that word would be 'fun'. The cast, which includes Tom Bateman and David Oakes, were clearly having a ball from start to finish, with boys dressing up as girls, girls dressing up as boys and a fair bit of comedy sword-fighting, not to mention a show-stealing turn from the dog. The script is adapted slightly for the stage, but just as witty and brilliant as the screenplay, with plenty of in-jokes for the theatre fan.
Like Miss Saigon, Cats is another classic show that made a comeback this year, although in this case it’s only for a limited run. Being one of the few, it seems, who didn’t see Cats first time around, I was excited to see the new production, and I wasn’t disappointed. Much has been said about Nicole Scherzinger as Grizabella, and I was as impressed as anyone by her confident performance. But Cats is an ensemble piece, and there wasn’t a single member of the cast who didn’t shine. Don’t expect a straightforward story - this is based on the poetry of T.S. Eliot, remember - but what you can expect is a spectacle of music and dancing like nothing you’ve ever seen before. And some pretty awe-inspiring makeup, too.
By Liz Dyer
What were your highlights of 2014? What are you most excited about for this new year? Tweet us @Theatre_Direct!