Critics chose the best theatre of 2016.
London’s critics have—like their New York counterparts—chosen some of their favorite shows of the year. For London’s most long-established critic Michael Billington (who has been reviewing for The Guardian for 45 years now, since joining the paper in 1971), Annie Baker’s The Flick (seen at the National), was top of his list. He declared “I loved everything about the play,” and added, “Sam Gold’s unhurried production, imported from New York, was a miracle and the acting was marvellous. But the main credit belongs to Baker, for making moving drama out of a trio of lost souls and for creating the year’s most unforgettable theatrical image.”
His list also included another New York import of John Tiffany’s production of The Glass Menagerie with Cherry Jones that played at the Edinburgh International Festival in August, and will transfer to the West End in February, about which he wrote: “Cherry Jones is a big name on Broadway but scarcely known in Britain. She was brilliant in John Tiffany’s production of the Tennessee Williams classic—the revival of the year, stripping an over-familiar play of gauzy wispiness.”
The Flick was also on Billington’s deputy Lyn Gardner’s list, about which she commented, “Few plays this year were as touching or thoughtful as Annie Baker’s play about the low-paid workers in a failing Massachusetts movie house that is being left behind by digital.”
In The Observer, Susannah Clapp noted the topicality of the proliferation of productions of Shakespeare’s King Lear: “In the year of the Brexit vote, the Shakespeare play that deals with the break-up of a kingdom was staged frequently and ingeniously.” It duly featured on her personal Top Ten, but top of her list was another Shakespeare trilogy, the all-female versions of Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest that the Donmar produced in rep in a new temporary theatre in King’s Cross. She dubbed it “One of the most important theatrical events of the past 20 years.”
In The Times, Ann Treneman led with Harry Potter and the Cursed Child: “It was, in a word, wizard.” She also admitted that she was wrong about Stoppard’s Travesties at the Menier, which soon transfers to the West End: “I gave this revival four stars on the night, but looking back I was wrong. This was a five-star production.” And of the Broadway bound Groundhog Day, she said it was “funny, frantic and at times touching... So good I could see it again—and again.”
The London Theatre Awards season starts to kick into gear.
Unlike on Broadway, where the theatre year builds to a crescendo with The Tony Awards in June and most other award ceremonies coalesce around each other the month before, the London awards season is spread out—from the November presentation of the Evening Standard Theatre Awards (winners on November 13 included Harry Potter and the Cursed Child, Glenn Close, Ralph Fiennes and John Malcovich) to the Olivier Awards in April (to be held at the Royal Albert Hall April 9).
In-between, comes The Critics’ Circle Theatre Awards, taking place January 31 at the Prince of Wales Theatre, which I will host in my role as chairman of the Critics’ Circle’s drama section. The winners’ speeches will also, for the first time, be streamed on Facebook Live.
Also just announced are the shortlists for this year’s The Stage Awards, across ten categories including London Theatre of the Year, Regional Theatre of the Year, and Producer of the Year. The winners will be announced at the annual The Stage New Year Party, to be held at Theatre Royal, Drury Lane on January 27.
Reviews: St. Joan
The Donmar Warehouse ended the year with a talkative play by George Bernard Shaw, St. Joan, that opened December 19. After the current Almeida production of Mary Stuart, its a second play (opened days apart) based on the life of a real-life historical figure. Rising film star Gemma Arterton—who has starred in the West End in Made in Dagenham and Nell Gwynn—plays the title role, and according to Michael Billington in The Guardian, “has the right mix of shining purity and grim determination and is very good indeed.” He is less sure about the contemporary updating of the production.
In the Evening Standard, Henry Hitchings described the updating: “We move from the fifteenth century into a world of boardrooms and laptops, where jittery stock market reports are projected on giant screens. While the still very medieval-looking Joan burns with zeal, the men who surround her are suited drones obsessed with strategy and protocol.”
The production runs at the Donmar Warehouse though February 18, and will be broadcast to cinemas around the country and world by NT Live February 16.
Yasmina Reza’s Tony-winning hit play, Art, was first seen in English in the West End in 1996 where it ran for eight years, and transferred to Broadway in 1998. It is now having a 20th anniversary revival that opened at the Old Vic December 20, helmed by its original director Matthew Warchus, with a cast that comprises Rufus Sewell, Paul Ritter, and Tim Key as three old friends whose relationship with each other is tested when one of them buys an expensive piece of contemporary art.
In The Guardian, Michael Billington asked aloud, “Is Reza’s play, in the end, a modern classic or a modish crowdpleaser? I lean to the former view but the answer, as with Serge’s enigmatic painting, lies in the eye of the beholder.” In The Independent, Paul Taylor wrote, “Warchus directs with an elegant lightness of touch and a finely shaded feel for both the absurdity and the melancholy.” A dissenting note is sounded, however, by Fiona Mountford in the Evening Standard, who concluded her review by declaring, “I doubt that this production is set for multiples reboots like its predecessor, but it’s an agreeable divertissement all the same.”
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