BroadwayWorld UK Awards 2018: Gary Naylor's Recommendations
It's usually a tricky task to sieve so varied a catalogue of plays, musicals, operas etc. into the best and the er... not so best, but this year, it's been easy. I saw Hamilton in March and it was fabulous and I saw it again in September and it was fabulouser. But everyone knows that, so, betting without the GOAT, what has impressed me over the past 12 months?
It was a flat year for musicals, with few standouts. I enjoyed the attention to detail in Thom Southerland's The Woman in White, continuing his strong work at the Charing Cross Theatre. Eugenius! at The Other Palace was commercial and fun and, if all a little predictable, no less entertaining for that.
The Rink at Southwark Playhouse was the best musical I reviewed, Caroline O'Connor and Gemma Sutton in super form in one of Kander and Ebb's less well known works. Six wasn't far behind, but needs to be expanded beyond an extended gig if it is to reach its (considerable) potential.
Musical theatre's elder, posher sister, Opera, enjoyed a much stronger 12 months - the art form becoming more accessible and affordable with each passing year.
There was a Christmas in Dalston vibe to Becca Marriott's tearjerking La Bohème - bang up to date and in English, but with that same glorious music and superb operatic voices. From the same stable, OperaUpClose's sunny, Sixties take on Eugene Onegin at the Arcola brought the best of Russian culture to new audiences - in a year when the country needed a good press.
Way back in November, the bleak, post-industrial Bussey Building provided the perfect backdrop for a bloody awesome Macbeth, Devil You Know paring back Shakespeare's Scottish play to foreground the verse and the storytelling. The same play was delivered through dance in a spectacular show at Wilton's Music Hall, the Mark Bruce Company's storytelling melding clarity, beauty and menace in a heady mix.
The RSC's Julius Caesar at the Barbican was a much more traditional take on Shakey, but had plenty of messages for today's age of political hubris. So too did the RSC's Tamburlaine at Stratford-upon-Avon, Jude Owusu announcing himself as a major presence on the British stage.
As Brexit's barminess crawled over the country like a malevolent fog, theatre hit back with some very strong productions by European writers.
Few are better than the great Federico Garcia Lorca, and few venues are more suited to his work than the Cervantes Theatre in Southwark. Their The House of Bernarda Alba was terrifying and compelling in equal measures, an all-female and bilingual cast brilliantly directed by Jorge de Juan.
At the Omnibus Theatre, a more innovative, but just as rich, Blood Wedding brought another Lorca tour-de-force to a surprisingly young audience. Both The Swallow and The Little Pony made a case for the rude health of contemporary Spanish theatre and for the Cervantes Theatre's continuing commitment to it.
Chekhov's dark, dark comedies are always relevant, and you're never far away from one in London - but they're seldom delivered in the great man's mother tongue. But that was the delight of the Maly Drama Theatre of Saint Petersburg's Uncle Vanya at the Theatre Royal Haymarket, undoubtedly a test of stamina, but a privilege to see an authentic Russian take on that country's greatest playwright's greatest play.
Based on a Chekhov short story, The Lady With A Dog was a perfect little piece for the Tabard Theatre, illuminated by a wonderful performance by Beth Burrows. Arrows and Traps' Three Sisters also provided a nice contrast from the full-on Russian experience, freely adapting Chekhov, but retaining that signature barbed wit and ferocious stare right through the soul of man.
Also at the always interesting Jack Studio Theatre, The Golden F**king Years was an outlier in many ways - a comedy of the kind one might have seen written by Jack Rosenthal for Play For Today in the Seventies, and a production unapologetically focused on older characters. The laugh quotient was high and there were plenty of moments that rang horribly true to this fiftysomething!
The best play I saw was Summer and Smoke at the Almeida, Tennessee Williams' inexplicably neglected sticky Southern drama given wings by Rebecca Frecknall's vision and a magnificent performance by Patsy Ferran, whose tiny frame filled the yawning space - and then some.
The best event - it was a play, it was a musical and it was so, so much more - was the National Theatre's Pericles, an extraordinary vindication of the NT's investment in community theatre, of London's rich multiculturality, and of the capacity of this ancient art form to reinvent itself for new times.
In the strictly reductive terms, it was a reimagining of one of Shakespeare's lesser works, but it was also a carnivalesque cavalcade of humanity, a rollercoaster ride that made you happy to be alive.
And if that's not a testimonial to the power of theatre, I don't know what is!
Those are Gary's contenders - what are yours? Nominate your favourites in the 2018 BroadwayWorld UK Awards here
Photo credit: James Bellorini