If there is a lesson from 2016 theatre, it is that the plays for which I have forked out least have been the most enjoyable and that the companies I have hitherto relied upon to provide consistent entertainment and intellectual stimulation can no longer be trusted.
I have one more set of tickets for The Globe — All Angels — and after that I shall stay away until Emma Rice has gone. The RSC and I are on a break until there is a change at the top and I shall continue to tread warily with the National despite the excellence of Hedda Gabbler.
Who will fill the gap? Well my money is on the Hampstead Theatre, the Almeida and the Rose Kingston– all affordable and producing consistently strong drama. Chichester Festival also looks promising and I hope to be making my first ever trip there. More regular trips to the TKTS booth in Leicester Square for bargains such as the Old Vic’s Art are also in the plan.
The pinnacle this year was Hampstead’s West End transfer of Mr Foote’s Other Leg — another TKTS bargain. The writing, acting and directing were so good I went three times to the combination of Simon Russell Beale and Dervla Kirwan, both of whom were mesmerising.
Aspiring and current directors should track down Richard Eyre and learn. The pace, blocking and lucidity of his productions illuminate so much that has been wrong elsewhere this year.
He also knows how to use music to enhance, not dominate. Audiences want to be able to see the actors and hear them too so why drown them out with intrusive music? The Globe under Emma Rice is a massive offender here, particularly hard to bear after the glorious final season with Dominic Dromgoole.
Eyre also scored by moving audiences and making them laugh and, above all, by not boring them.
Theatre-going is an expensive business and audiences have a right to be entertained — that is why they have paid.
That does not mean shows cannot be disturbing or heartbreaking but they do have to be engaging. It is really not impossible – Good Canary at The Rose Kingston, directed by John Malkovich, managed it as did Mary Stuart at the Almeida and the excellent Art at the Old Vic.
Queen Anne and Don Quixote from the RSC in Stratford also deserve an honourable mention.
Intervals are high up on my list of priorities after having to sit through a number of shockers to the bitter end. Please note that if the running time is above 1 hour 20 minutes and particularly if the work is “challenging” or “provocative”, there needs to be an interval.
You do run the risk that a chunk of your audience will escape at the interval but this is a free country. You can also console yourself with the thought that they will doubtless have a drink first to recover which is good for the bar takings — and hard though this may be to accept, they really should not have to stay if they do not like the show, even if you think it is good for them.
I bear the scars from not being able to leave three of the shows I most disliked last year without extreme rudeness or the suppleness of a Russian gymnast and, believe me, I did contemplate crawling out, having discounted the possibility of climbing.
I endured a mind-numbing version of lovely fairy tale the Matchgirl at the Globe with some really talented actors; Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour at the National, well done but not my sort of thing, and The Red Barn at the National, beautiful to look at but my goodness it was tedious. If only I had heeded the wise words of a friend who always books on the end of a row for ease of departure.
2016 also unveiled the absolute worst thing I have seen in my whole life — Phaedras (review on my blog –measurestillformeasure.com–if you must but be prepared to disinfect your brain) — mercifully, it had an interval and was at the Barbican which has seat rows wide enough to allow egress during the action, a facility that was used to the full.
But the good has really been good. I really wish I been able to go more than once to Dominic Dromgoole’s gorgeous Cymbeline, and Pericles, at the Wanamaker whilst Nell Gwynn was as entertaining in the West End as it had been at the Globe — Christopher Luscombe knows how to stage a play.
Of the plays that are still on, my favourite is Art with Rufus Sewell. Its director Matthew Warchus is someone to watch out for in a good way. I have seen this production twice and will probably go again next week (tickets at the TKTS booth). The original production, I saw five times. It is a well-made play.
2017 Look at the stars
Cursed Child is a lovely family show and I’ll hope to go again. If you haven’t been, do go ideally to two plays in a day.
I have Christopher Luscombe’s Much Ado and Love’s Labour’s Lost to look forward to and I would strongly advise you to see those too.
There is a huge amount of slightly confusing celebrity casting ahead and most of them are pretty good on the boards as well as on film or tv.
David Tennant, the 10th doctor is in Don Juan of Soho (Moliere adapted – probably too adult for me but has he ever been bad in anything?), Harry Potter– Daniel Radcliffe– in Rosencratz and Guildernstern and Moriarty– Andrew Scott– as Hamlet are also in my smaller than normal ticket stash.
What else to book? I am not sure I am going to manage to repeat this year’s 45 theatre trips but like everyone else in London, I am aiming for Hamilton.
I need to see Imelda Staunton — Dolores Umbridge — in Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf — and some actual Moliere, plus the bonus of Griff Rhys Jones, with The Miser.
I am promising myself a trip to Dead Funny and back to see the brilliant This House and An Inspector Calls as a reminder of what the National can do when it tries.
If I could have a three theatre wishes:
Revive Lettice and Lovage, preferably with Juliet Stevenson and Lia Williams
Troilus and Cressida in a traditional setting with Rufus Sewell, Roger Allam and SRB
The Globe and RSC to be run by a team of Christopher Luscombe, Lucy Bailey and Roxana Silbert.
A Happy Theatrical New Year to all!
Plays/Ballet seen this year in order of personal preference and in order of how much I’d like to see them again
Numbers in brackets indicate multiple viewings. Below a 6, I wish I hadn’t gone!
Numbers won’t align. Sigh!
10=Unforgettable 0=I’d rather have stuck pins in my eyes -3,590= in need of counselling
Art Old Vic 10 Rufus Sewell (x2)
Mr Foote’s other Leg Theatre Royal, Haymarket 10 SRB/Kirwan (x3)
Red Shoes Sadlers Wells 10
How the other Half loves Theatre Royal, Haymarket 10 Prevost
Nell Gwynn Apollo 10 Gemma Arterton (x2)
Queen Anne RSC 10
Mary Stuart Almeida 10 Juliet Stevenson (x2)
The Cursed Child Palace 10
Pericles Wanamaker 10
Cymbeline Wanamaker 10
Hedda Gabler National 10
Good Canary Rose Kingston 10
Woman in Black Fortune 10 (x2)
The Entertainer Garrick 9 Branagh
Don Quixote RSC Stratford 9 Threlfall/Hound
Peter Pan Goes Wrong Gielgud 9
As You Like It National 9
Railway Children Kings Cross 9
Young Chekhov National 9
Kinky Boots Adelphi 9
Operation Crucible Arts depot 9
Anastasia Royal Opera House 8
Iphigenia Quartet Gate 8
Linda Royal Court 8
Wild Honey Hampstead 7
The Inn at Lydda Wanamaker 7
King John Rose Kingston 7
Winter’s Tale Wanamaker 7
Master Builder Old Vic 7
Richard II RSC Barbican 7 Tennant/Ford-Davies
Tempest Wanamaker 7
Macbeth Globe 7 Fitzgerald/Fearon
Henry V RSC Barbican 6 Sher
The Alchemist RSC Barbican 6
Richard III Almeida 6 Ralph Fiennes
The Deep Blue Sea National 6 McCrory/Burke
The Red Barn National 6 Mark Strong
Our Ladies of Perpetual National 5
Taming of the Shrew Globe 5
Henry IV I RSC Barbican 5 Sher
Henry IV II RSC Barbican 5 Sher
King Lear Old Vic 3 Glenda Jackson
Match Girl Globe 1
Cymbeline RSC Stratford 0
Phaedras Odéon-Théâtre -3,590
de l’Europe Isabel Huppert