Last Updated on 28th December 2018
BritishTheatre.com reviewer Mark Ludmon nominates his theatre favourites from 2018.
Emilia, The Globe, London
Joyful and empowering, Morgan Lloyd Malcolm’s brilliant new play, Emilia, staged the life of a single-minded woman who fights against the obstacles of 16th- and 17th-century society to assert her identity. Little is really known of Emilia Bassano, who is often credited as the Dark Lady of Shakespeare’s Sonnets, but this show created an unforgettable character whose voice shouts across the centuries. With an all-female cast including Charity Wakefield as a plagiarising Shakespeare, it featured three superb performances as Emilia: Leah Harvey, Vinette Robinson and Clare Perkins. Directed by Nicole Charles, it transfers indoors to London’s Vaudeville Theatre from 8 March. Not to be missed.
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Funeral Flowers, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Emma Dennis-Edwards not only wrote but performed the beautiful, heart-breaking solo show Funeral Flowers during Edinburgh Festival Fringe, going on to win a Fringe First. She played 17-year-old Angelique who dreams of becoming a florist while navigating the challenges of her life, written in a style both conversational and poetic and sensitively directed by Rachel Nwokoro. Powerful and deeply moving, it was staged through the different rooms of a flat in Edinburgh’s Broughton Street – part of a pop-up space created by Power Play Theatre to champion female theatre-makers. It will be interesting to see how this intimate experience is re-created when Funeral Flowers transfers to London’s Bunker Theatre from 15 April. Read Mark’s review of Funeral Flowers
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Ulster American, Traverse Theatre, Edinburgh
Another highlight of this year’s Edinburgh Fringe was David Ireland’s twisting, blackly comic new play, Ulster American. Tense and brutally funny, it explores Irish cultural identity and abuses of power through the shifting dynamics of a meeting between a Hollywood actor, an ambitious director and a Northern Irish playwright whose script is being made into a film. Featuring Robert Jack, Darrell D’Silva and Lucianne McEvoy, it was tautly directed by Gareth Nicholls, building to an edge-of-your-seat climax. Read Mark’s review of Ulster American.
Leave Taking, Bush Theatre, London
Winsome Pinnock’s powerful, beautifully crafted play Leave Taking had a long-overdue revival at the Bush Theatre, directed by its outgoing artistic director Madani Younis. First performed in 1987, it explores the dislocated identity of being an immigrant in another country through the story of a British Afro-Caribbean family, headed by Enid Matthews who is struggling to bring up two daughters alone in London. It also looks at what we learn from our parents and what we pass on to our children, with strong performances from Sarah Niles as Enid and Nicholle Cherrie and Seraphina Beh as her daughters. Read Mark’s review of Leave Taking
Best of the rest
Aside from Edinburgh Fringe, I was disappointed not to be able to fit in many shows outside of London this year – it was challenging enough to find time for the incredible variety that the capital has to offer at its 240-plus spaces. From my theatre-going, highlights included Marianne Elliott’s magnificent gender-switched production of Sondheim’s Company, Rebecca Frecknall’s stunning revival of Tennessee Williams’s Summer and Smoke starring Patsy Ferran at the Almeida and now the Duke of York’s, Robert Icke’s clever adaptation of Ibsen’s The Wild Duck, also at the Almeida, Anthony Banks’s exuberant revival of Nick Dear’s 1986 play The Art of Success at The Rose Theatre Kingston with Bryan Dick as Hogarth, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s terrific Little Shop of Horrors, Kathy Burke’s lively production of Wilde’s Lady Windermere’s Fan, and The Inheritance – a gripping, entertaining and often moving six hours of drama about the lives of gay men in New York.