Theatre Highlights of 2018

Since 2018 is coming to an end, it is only natural to look back over the year and reminisce over its highlights.

This year was special for me as it was when I started blogging about theatre. Previously, I wrote mini reviews in my diary but then I made the decision to move online. As a result of this blog, I was selected to take part in the Greater Manchester Critics Scheme. The scheme helped me hone my writing skills and also allowed me to access shows that I wouldn’t usually watch. From spoken-word to opera, I was introduced to new genres that I previously thought weren’t my cup of tea.

I also visited theatres that I had never been to before, like the fantastic Hope Mill Theatre in Ancoats, which was festively decked out for Christmas when I saw The Forest of Forgotten Discos. I discovered the vibrant Z-Arts centre in Hulme, whose cafe has the best Victoria Sponge cake. I also found Sale Waterside Arts, which I never knew existed, despite doing 6 months of driving lessons in Sale!

Here are the 5 best shows that I watched in 2018.

5 – OPERA NORTH’S TOSCA (Lowry Theatre, Salford)

Opera North’s Tosca, at The Lowry Theatre. Photo credit: Richard H. Smith

It sounds like a cliché, but Opera North’s Tosca had a transformative effect on me. Before I watched this, I had many preconceptions about opera. I thought that it would be hard to understand because it is performed in Italian. I worried that it would be difficult to keep up with the captions. I believed that all opera fans were upper-class. Most stupidly, I thought that I would never enjoy watching an opera.

With stunning stage design and sublime performances, Tosca proved me completely wrong. Even a novice can appreciate Puccini’s incredible musical score and gripping narrative. Read my review to see how Opera North’s Tosca converted me into an opera fan.

I can’t wait to watch The Magic Flute in March.

 

4 – FIRST TIME (Sale Waterside Arts, Trafford)

 

‘There is no blame and no shame in contracting a virus’. Nathaniel Hall’s First Time at Sale Waterside Arts.

First Time was the most important show I watched this year, as it raised my awareness to HIV.

Nathaniel Hall contracted HIV the first time he had sex, aged 16. In his remarkable one-man show, Hall dramatises the events of his life, showing how he coped after his diagnosis and how it took him fourteen years to open up to his family. First Time explains how being HIV+ is no longer a death sentence. Most importantly, it proves that you can remain upbeat and resilient no matter what life throws at you.

Deeply personal and surprisingly funny, First Time made me laugh and cry. It also made me admire how insanely talented and inspirational Nathaniel Hall is. Here is my review.

I am thrilled that Hall has since received funding to tour this show. His story is one that should be told up and down the country to break the stigma surrounding HIV.

 

3 – THREE SISTERS BY RASH DASH (Royal Exchange Theatre’s Studio, Manchester)

Helen Goalen, Abbi Greenland and Becky Wilkie as Chekhov’s Three Sisters. Photo credit: Richard Davenport.

This is the play that caught me most by surprise in 2018. Having studied and watched Chekhov’s plays, I have to admit to finding them incredibly boring. I expected Rash Dash’s Three Sisters to be a period drama with lots of dull monologuing. Instead, I was blown away by Rash Dash’s radical feminist revival that drags Chekhov’s play, kicking and screaming, into the 21st century.

Posing the question, why are all the best lines in the play assigned to the male characters? Rash Dash answer by cutting the men out of the play. It is a bold move that (rightly) allows the three sisters to take centre stage.

Three Sisters built the feeling of being at a live music gig, as Chekhov’s heavy moral philosophising was cleverly turned into songs. These were juxtaposed with expressive dance, visual art and conventional narrative to create a mind-blowing play that defied my expectations. I loved it so much, I watched it twice. Here is my review 

 

2 – KING LEAR (Duke of York’s Theatre, London)

Lloyd Hutchinson (the fool) and Sir Ian McKellen (King Lear). Photo credit: Johan Persson.

According to Sir Ian McKellen, his reprisal of King Lear was the last time he would perform Shakespeare on stage. Revisiting the theatre in which he made his West End debut, there was a special poignancy that made it an opportunity not to be missed.

Being in the presence of such a great acting legend was something amazing to behold. He was mesmerising as Lear. Captivating and spellbinding, the audience were so entranced by his acting, they forgot their drinks. Perfectly capturing the frailty of the king as he slides slowly into mental turmoil, McKellen’s performance broke my heart into a thousand pieces. It was utterly devastating to see him physically and mentally weak. His was the best acting I have seen on stage, let alone 2018. It was a real honour to watch.

The high level of acting was carried throughout the production, particularly Kirsty Bushell’s hauntingly sadistic Regan. Her howls of delight during THAT scene still haunt me. James Corrigan was also deliciously villainous as Edmund.

Read my review to see how excellent acting, also matched clever staging that symbolised Lear’s mentality, growing sparser and bleaker as the play continued.

 

1 – THE PRODUCERS (Royal Exchange Theatre, Manchester)

‘Keep it sassy. Keep it classy. Keep it gay!’. The Producers at the Royal Exchange. Photo credit: Johan Persson.

Insulting and offensive, yet absolutely brilliant, The Producers is the Royal Exchange’s Christmas show. What better way to end a year than with sparkling, tap-dancing Nazis?

Deliberately controversial, this musical sees Max Bialystock and Leo Bloom stage the worst production ever made, Springtime for Hitler. An overtly camp, singing, tap-dancing Führer definitely pushes the boundaries of taste. However, it is genuinely the funniest thing I have ever seen on stage. I roared with laughter and my cheeks hurt.

Choreographed to perfection, making full use of the intimate in-the-round stage, The Producers is so good that I am seeing it a third time on Friday.

Read my full review to see how The Producers is a sure-fire hit. In the words of Max Bialystock, ‘wow, wow, wow, wow, wowee!’.

 

Finally – Thank you to the readers of my blog. I hope you have a happy new year!

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