Paul T Davies reviews his favourite theatrical offerings of 2023
2023 felt like the year that theatre finally consolidated its return from the pandemic. Certainly, on the West End, there were plenty of plays and musicals that felt special, with top quality actors providing much “event” theatre. (And eye-watering ticket prices to match, a topic of much discussion from both sides of the stage). I certainly enjoyed my reviewing year and booked to see some incredible theatre! So, here’s my Top Ten.
The stuff of legends. Developed in fringe theatre, finally landing in the West End, and it’s glorious! A hugely talented cast of five multi-role with skill and ease to tell this unique tale of wartime espionage. It had me crying with laughter, then crying with the beautiful poignancy and sensitivity of the writing. I’ve already returned, and you will want to see it more than once too!
STANDING AT THE SKY’S EDGE
It’s unusual for me to have two musicals head my list, but it’s been a terrific year for the National, my THEATRE OF THE YEAR, and transferring in from Sheffield, this musical is a triumph of UK working class history, told through the music of Richard Hawley. One flat in Park Hill Estate, Sheffield, three time zones, 1960, 1989 and 2015, and a huge story of hope, despair and survival told through the inhabitants of that flat. It’s epic, and I cannot wait for its West End return!
ROMEO AND JULIE
Another National Theatre co-production, this time with Cardiff’s Sherman Theatre, and Gary Owen reworks Shakespeare’s across the divide story into a tale of a single dad meeting a girl on her way out of their locality. Exemplary performances, the universal story took the play out of Splott, whilst cleverly rooting it firmly in that area of Cardiff. Another triumphant working-class story.
No apologies for another National Theatre production, my revival of the year. Lynsey Turner’s majestic production resounded with urgency, and whispers of witchcraft reflected the slander in our current social media world, without reimagining any of the text. And it rained!
THE GRAND OLD OPERA HOUSE HOTEL
The Edinburgh Fringe Festival was its usual overwhelming, wonderful and tiring experience, but worth it for gems like this! Opera on the stage of the Traverse Theatre, a rare experience, but one that made my heart soar with joy!
THE FATHER AND THE ASSASSIN.
Back to the National for the best historical play I saw this year. The story of Ghandi’s assassin, Nathuram Godse, the play taught me much and had an excellent lead performance by Hiran Abeysekera. It also showed that directors have finally conquered the curse of new plays on the vast Olivier stage, it flowed beautifully.
REY CAMOY (COLCHESTER FRINGE FESTIVAL)
I don’t think I’ve listed a dance piece so high before, but we in Colchester are so lucky to have a burgeoning Fringe festival that featured companies from Japan. This piece about painter Rey Camoy, unknown outside of Japan, was beautiful and captivating, and stays in the memory.
MY DAD WEARS A DRESS (EDINBURGH FESTIVAL FRINGE)
Exactly what the Fringe should be about, Maria Telnikoff’s adorable piece about growing up with her cross-dressing father was a delight. A natural comedian, she held the stage with her tale, and it stayed with me long after the festival finished.
ARE YOU LOVIN’ IT? (COLCHESTER FRINGE FESTIVAL)
Weird, wacky, and wonderful, this biting satire about the globalization of food chains was a joy, with superb audience interaction!
A late entrant, but I thoroughly enjoyed the National’s new musical, and, with some tweaking, could well be the rival to Matilda we’ve been waiting for!
Those are the shows I was lucky to review, and, in addition, I thought outstanding productions were Brokeback Mountain @sohoplace, A Streetcar Named Desire, (Paul Mescal and Patsy Ferron the performances of the year), A Little Life, (though it was a test of endurance), The Motive and the Cue, now on in the West End, and the National’s Dancing at Lunghasa.
2024 has many mouth-watering productions scheduled! Let’s hope they live up to promises, and best wishes for a safe, healthy, wonderful New Year!