We asked our review team to nominate their 2017 theatre highlights. Julian Eaves nominated his favourites.
This has been a terrific year for new musical theatre writing, with so much great talent on show that it’s difficult to know where to begin.
‘The State of Things’ by Thomas Attwood and Elliot Clay made a dazzling debut at the ever-enterprising Brockley Jack Studio Theatre, with a score that easily outshone some much more celebrated new productions in the West End, and a book that holds promise but needs more development. Speaking of which, ‘Everyone’s Talking About Jamie‘ arrived from Yorkshire as a terrific collection of songs by Dan Gillespie-Sells and Tom MacRae, although the latter’s book doesn’t exert quite the same grip on the imagination. This seems to be a frequently experienced problem with new musical theatre and it is one that occupies the mind of many in the industry. Read my review of The State Of Things
As an example of exactly how to write a stunning new book, Connor Mcpherson blazed a trail with his wonderful new play, ‘Girl From The North Country’, at the Old Vic, stuffed full of fascinating new arrangements of Bob Dylan songs: as a ‘back catalogue’ show, it could hardly be better, and builds handsomely on the ground broken by ‘Lazarus’ back in 2016. Also in the ‘pop’ vein, 2017 also saw another outing for another version – with very exciting new material – of Henry Carpenter’s ‘Quentin Dentin‘ at the Tristan Bates Theatre. Carpenter continues to work like a demon, and I feel sure that we will be hearing more good things from him very soon. Read our review of Girl from the North Country. Book tickets for the transfer to the Noel Coward Theatre.
Another new voice making itself heard was the American composer-lyricist Ryan Scott Oliver, whose sensational ‘35MM‘ made its world stage premiere at The Other Palace (TOP) Studio. Other triumphs recorded by that house over the past year include bringing over the terrific for-one-night-only staged concert of songs by Duncan Sheik and Steve Sater, the vast majority of which were being heard in this country for the first time: so, the next time you’re thinking of doing ‘Spring Awakening’… again, please, please, please be aware that they have written lots of other wonderful stuff, too! Go and investigate. And, then there came the long-awaited London premiere of ‘Big Fish‘ by the inestimable Andew Lippa and John August. TOP, a house dedicated to the development and launching of new musical theatre work, has come in for a little bit of criticism for staging so many works – like these – from the States, but, frankly, who else is putting them on?
Well, the Donmar stood head and shoulders above the rest for a moment with its astonishing new work, based on the hearings of the ‘Committee…’ investigating the collapse of the charity, Kids’ Company. For this play by Hadley Fraser and Josie Rourke, Tom Deering created a wonderful score, using music in an original and very beautiful way to enhance the dramatic impact of what could have been slightly dry material, as well as elevating sometimes mundane utterances onto the level of true art. This was a very clever, memorable and aesthetically delightful creation. Read my review.
Elsewhere, some old friends have made a welcome return, notable amongst them being Andrew Lloyd Webber’s reworking of his, David Zippel and Charlotte Jones’ beautiful ‘The Woman In White’, realising in Thom Southerland’s magnificent production at The Charing Cross Theatre the beauty and truthfulness of the story first experienced more than a dozen years ago in much grander circumstances at The Palace. Read my review. Book tickets to The Woman In White.