Tuesday, 22 December 2015

The Gizzle Review's Top Theatre of 2015

With so much theatre in London, both on and off the West End, it's literally impossible to see it all. I've still been lucky enough to see some brilliant shows this year - the below are merely my personal highlights:

10. The Elephant Man @ Theatre Royal Haymarket

The Elephant Man @ Theatre Royal Haymarket

For some, this revival of Bernard Pomerance's 1977 Tony Award winning play was a little lacking in depth, skipping over multiple themes such as voyeurism, science vs religion and what it means to be a man in society. Yet this Frankenstein-inspired narrative was performed with subtlety and rich atmosphere, its dense script nonetheless offering clarity and a brisk pace. At the centre of it all was Bradley Cooper's remarkable performance as the titular Elephant Man, who used extreme physicality alone to suggest the character's disfigurement, ensuring we truly witness the man behind the myth.

Gizzle said: "Cooper really does offer a stunning turn – for once that star casting is wholeheartedly worthwhile."

9. Rotterdam @ Theatre 503

Rotterdam @ Theatre 503

Sometimes, no matter what the flaws, a play can get by on charm. And Rotterdam had that in spades. The narrative was a little forced and trite, but the story of Alice coming out as gay whilst her girlfriend simultaneously comes out as transgender was portrayed with warmth, tenderness and honesty, littered with amusing comedy and soundtracked with pulsing Eurodance. In a year where transgender issues became mainstream, Rotterdam was a timely and truly touching piece of drama.

Gizzle said: "...where you might expect high intensity, Jon Brittain’s play is a genuinely funny, light-hearted comedy that’s provocative only in its frank views and normalising of difference."

8. The Wasp @ Trafalgar Studios

The Wasp @ Trafalgar Studios

It's been a hugely successful year for the Hampstead Theatre who have had two shows transfer to the Trafalgar Studios (with more to come): Four Minutes Twelve Seconds and The Wasp. The latter was a disturbing watch, depicting a high school reunion with dark intent, slowly unfurling its layered narrative and shocking twists with superb pacing. To say anymore would ruin the plot, but this one act play bristled with nervous energy and explored some complex themes with thought-provoking power.

Gizzle said: "At its heart this is an exploration of the wickedly disturbing psyche of a woman unable to have children and unable to let go of the past, whilst simultaneously dissecting the impact of childhood psychological and physical trauma and the cyclical nature of violence."

7. Carrie: The Musical @ The Southwark Playhouse

Carrie: The Musical @ The Southwark Playhouse

I confess I'd only watched the 1976 film in preparation for this production, and whilst the musical diminishes some of the film's horror moments, it delivered a stunning and moving adaptation of Steven King's coming-of-age novel. Originally conceived in the 80s, the musical flopped but this production proved the strength of the core material and gave it a sleek and modern interpretation. Most of all, Evelyn Hoskins gave a memorable performance in the title role, introducing London to a new future star.

Gizzle said: "...this is a highly polished production that has clearly improved on the original flop extensively, turning it into a haunting teenage drama that deserves another chance."

6. The Sweethearts @ The Finborough Theatre

The Sweethearts @ The Finborough Theatre

In this new play from Sarah Page, heroes collide in a battle of the mind between soldiers in Afghanistan and a girl group who visit to boost morale. What begins as a comedy of two unlikely worlds colliding eventually descends shockingly into a truly disturbing climax as preconceptions are shattered. The Finborough excels at highlighting fresh and exciting new works and The Sweethearts delivered on that promise with an unexpectedly gripping and intense drama.

Gizzle said (for Exeunt): "The Sweethearts is a powerful drama with a powerful message, [Page's] characters contrasting and layered, her dialogue distinctive."

5. The State vs John Hayes @ The King's Head

The State vs John Hayes @ The King's Head

In this one act, one-woman play, Lucy Roslyn gave a striking performance as a female prisoner on Death Row suffering from multiple personality disorder. With her androgynous looks and masculine gait, Roslyn's character cleverly subverts gender stereotypes to become a frightening yet strangely alluring character, plentiful research clear in such a chillingly authentic performance. The play itself is a compelling exploration of what drives someone to psychopathic behaviour, but it was Roslyn's performance that had me transfixed throughout and has haunted me ever since.

Gizzle said: "Somehow her delivery makes us sympathise with a psychopath as we sit transfixed and daren’t move out of fear, fascination, or worse – attracting her own steely gaze and the powerful force for good and/or evil in those dark brown eyes."

4. Kinky Boots @ The Adelphi Theatre

Kinky Boots @ The Adelphi Theatre

Beginning the top run of musicals this year is a show set in the unlikeliest of settings: my hometown. Northampton is known predominantly for its shoe-making industry, but here this dreary setting is enlivened by a group of glitzy, glamorous drag queens. Cyndi Lauper's 80s-inspired score offers a whole string of smash hits and both Killian Donnelly and Matt Henry deliver in the lead roles. Mostly, in a show that's brimming with feelgood charm, it's the songs that offer a look at the men behind the make-up that outlast the sassy fun.

Gizzle said (for West End Wilma): "...Kinky Boots has everything: spectacle, infectious music, emotional performances, boundless razzle-dazzle, and lots and lots of shoes."

3. Showstopper! The Improvised Musical @ The Apollo Theatre

Showstopper! The Improvised Musical @ The Apollo Theatre

This year, if you were unable to decide which West End show to see, then Showstopper! was the one. This was the first full-length improvised musical to be performed on the West End (after massive success at the Edinburgh Fringe) and came hugely recommended. The troupe of intelligent performers have insanely deep knowledge of all theatre, able to think up witty referential dialogue and hilarious songs in seconds, yet still provide a credible narrative. Best of all, it's different every time you see it, like a Christmas gift that keeps on giving.

Gizzle said: "This is legitimately the funniest show on the West End with limitless entertainment value."

2. Miss Saigon @ The Prince Edward Theatre

Miss Saigon @ The Prince Edward Theatre

Technically it didn't debut this year, but it wasn't until 2015 that I was able to see this revival of Schönberg and Boublil's best work...twice. Yes, it's better than Les Mis. It focuses on a single love story of emotional turmoil with a thrilling score combining big Western tunes and enchanting Eastern orchestration, not to mention impressive spectacle. It has everything that musicals do best, but above all it has a heart-breaking turn from Eva Noblezada as Kim, whose angelic vocals are the main cause of all the sniffling from the audience (sorry everyone).

Gizzle said: "...Miss Saigon is the best production currently on the West End. Yes, it's blockbuster entertainment, but it puts every other show into perspective. This is how musicals should be done."

1. Gypsy @ The Savoy Theatre

Gypsy @ The Savoy Theatre

Yes Miss Saigon was the best production on the West End...until Gypsy. This revival, via the Chichester Festival Theatre, was simply a wonderful musical wonderfully performed. It may not have advanced theatre or pushed boundaries, but every aspect of this show was polished to perfection, telling a compelling story that rises above the usual West End froth. And then there's Imelda Staunton who gave the year's must-see performance as Mama Rose. Fiery, complex and tragic, it was a masterclass in acting and the most enduring, emotionally charged turn (ha!) of 2015. Outstanding.

Gizzle said: "It doesn't get much better than Imelda Staunton. Her performance is exceptional, capably balancing the extremes of the character, whilst delivering a strong vocal, brilliant comic timing and surprising sex appeal."