10 of my top moments of the decade

Ever behind the curve, I present 10 of my top moments in a theatre over the last ten years (plus a few bonus extra ones because whittling down this list was hard, and it will probably be different tomorrow anyway!)

© James Bellorini

Extraordinary Public Acts for a National Theatre

The establishment of the Public Acts programme at the National Theatre offered up something sensational in Pericles, an initiative designed to connect grassroot community organisations with major theatres, resulting in a production that swept over 200 non-professional performers onto the stage of the Olivier to create something that moved me more than 99% of professional productions.  A truly joyous and momentous occasion. 

Honourable mention: this year’s musical take on As You Like It proved just as heart-swellingly beautiful over at the Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch.

Writer of the decade? Tom Wells is certainly up there for me

If I had to name a favourite writer whose work has really stood out for me over the last ten years, it has to be Tom Wells with his uncanny ability to capture so much of the extraordinary in the ordinariness of contemporary gay life. From his impeccable early trifecta (Me, As A Penguin; The Kitchen Sink; Jumpers for Goalposts) to his adorkable Twitter presence to his willingness to answer questions for me, I’ll happily spend another decade watching his work.

Honourable mention: Mike Bartlett – despite having done more for TV than theatre in the last couple of years, Bartlett is still right up there in terms of being reliably interesting in variations of scale, form and piercing insight into human relationships.

© Johan Persson

Reinventing Shakespeare: Cheek by Jowl’s Буря (The Tempest)

I’ve seen a fair amount of Shakespeare over the years but none of it has stuck with me like the ending of this stunning interpretation by Cheek by Jowl, a visceral reading of the inter-relationships of the play which I can’t ever imagine being bettered.

Honourable mention: Roman Tragedies – 6 hours of Shakespeare, in Dutch – shouldn’t have worked as well as it did but again, utterly transformative.

Discovering Wilton’s Music Hall in Edmond

What an introduction to this most characterful of venues this was. A promenade production of the David Mamet play which took you into every nook and cranny of the oldest Grand Music Hall in existence and thoroughly won me over. Oh, and it was directed by and starred Elliot Cowan too…

Honourable mention: You Me Bum Bum Train – simply beyond words, I’ve never felt nervous anticipation like that and I really did do things I’d never done before and have never done since! Pray it comes back.

© Catherine Ashmore

The power of design – Bunny Christie showing us The White Guard

You might know how deep the stage of the Lyttleton is but to find out the way I did, through the sensational scene changes in this cracking play, was a game-changer. It’s easy to get jaded when you go to the theatre a lot but its capacity to surprise, often thanks to the work of ever-inventive designers like Christie, is a constant pleasure.

Honourable mention: Miriam Buether going Wild at the Hampstead. Even if you thought you knew what was going to happen, the way she tipped the world of the play upside down was thrilling to watch.

© Tristram Kenton

Ernie Get Your Gun!

Infamous West End musical Too Close To The Sun went down in history as a notorious too-good-to-be-true flop but the reason it is on this list is because at the performance I saw, the biggest and best episode of corpsing occurred as two actors sat on a wicker table, destroyed it and completely lost it for the first half. The ensuing shenanigans elevated the show to iconic camp classic as constant references were made to the mishap – had they worked this into the show every night, it might have lasted longer than two weeks, or not…

Honourable mention: another, sadder, ‘I was there’ moment comes with the final night of Made in Dagenham, where Gemma Arterton preached as yet another new British musical fell by the wayside

Also putting their spin on Shakespeare: Propeller’s Richard III

They say you never forget your first time and so it was with the Propeller boys for me, a quick jaunt to Guildford proving magical with Ed Hall’s darkly atmospheric and hauntingly musical take on RIII. Richard Clothier, Dominic Tighe and Tony Bell all stood out in a fantastic ensemble.

Honourable mention: Propeller’s The Winter’s Tale – running a close second, the beautiful sadness of the final moments of this production are etched in my memory.

The potential of the two-hander: see how Constellations shines

It was clear that Nick Payne’s ingenious play was a thing of wonder when it opened at the Royal Court Upstairs and so over the years, I have dutifully followed it into the West End, to Broadway (in fact, my entire trip was planned around seeing Ruth Wilson in it!), to Woking and back to the West End, its heartbreaking intricacy losing none of its power.

Honourable mention: the breath-taking wonder of Lungs. A contender for 2012 play of the year against Constellations no less, its recent revival at the Old Vic demonstrated both the freshness of the writing and the gift that it is to the couple acting it.

Getting ‘Satisfied’ again and again

I crossed the ocean because I could not wait to see Hamilton and in a show that blew my tiny mind over and over, Angelica’s song ‘Satisfied’ stood out as an epoch-defining moment in musical theatre. Renée Elise Goldsberry nailed it on Broadway, Rachel John put her own spin on it magnificently in the West End and I’ve got the pleasure of Allyson Ava-Brown to come in the New Year, can’t wait!

Honourable mention: In the Heights turned out to be pretty much OK too, that Lin-Manuel Miranda chap seems to know what he’s doing!

Falling in love with…Avenue Q

 I couldn’t not include Avenue Q, the first show I really tumbled hard for as an adult as I saw it multiple times over the few years it was in the West End hopping from theatre to theatre, winning me over every time with its touching relatability – the perfect show for a boy who’d just moved to the city.

Honourable mention: in came Company. Thankfully this only had a limited run because I’d’ve probably broken my all-time records seeing this over and over more than I already did!

And some honourable honourable mentions (because I am that indecisive…):

  • Stephen Mear’s choreography for Hello, Dolly! – ‘Put On Your Sunday Clothes in particular’
  • Nancy Carroll’s exquisitely played grief in After the Dance
  • the breath-taking design (Jan Versweyveld) of Mary’s execution in Maria Stuart
  • the swings in Matilda
  • seeing Isabelle Huppert onstage in Paris
  • Kelly Price and Natalie Langston singing ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs’ right in front of me in Perchance to Dream
  • Eve Best’s “there was a star danced…” in Much Ado… at the Globe
  • pretty much everything about MIke Leigh’s Ecstasy at the Hampstead
  • same too with Broken Glass at the Tricycle, as was
  • Audra McDonald taking my hand in Lady Day…
  • Sam Swainsbury sitting on me in The Rivals… and with that, I’ll have to stop!

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