BroadwayWorld UK Awards 2019: Anthony Walker-Cook's Recommendations
What a year for theatre 2019 has been! Remembering all of the amazing shows as part of the build-up to the BroadwayWorld UK Awards has been a complete joy, and it is my pleasure to present some thoughts about the shows that have left a distinct impression on my stagey mind.
After Follies 2.0 at the National Theatre shut, I was left with a musical-theatre-shaped hole in my heart. Two shows, however, managed to fill the gap. Come From Away is an astounding piece of theatre for its warmth and love. The meticulous chair choreography by Kelly Devine takes one's breath away in its apparent simplicity, but it is the ensemble performance that draws such power from an amazing story. I was fortunate enough to meet the real Newfoundlanders who inspired some of the show's characters and it remains one of the greatest honours of my theatre journalism career to date.
The other standout musical from this year was Blues in the Night at the Kiln Theatre. Seeing Sharon D Clarke, Gemma Sutton, Clive Rowe and Debbie Kurup at the absolute top of their game performing so many soulful songs was superb, and I'm still holding out for a cast recording.
Whilst I'm talking about the Kiln Theatre, the second show I reviewed for BroadwayWorld was Samuel Adamson's Wife, a bubbling contemplation of Henrik Ibsen's A Doll's House. Another adaptation of Ibsen's classic truly crackled: Tanika Gupta's version of the play at the Lyric Hammersmith was set in colonial India and completed re-emphasised the play's themes, whilst Anjana Vasan put in a brilliant performance as a steely and coy Niru.
This has been in general a rather good year for adaptations of classic plays. Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell's masterful if painful Death of the Salesman at the Young Vic rightly deserves its transfer to the Piccadilly Theatre this autumn (and what a year it has been for Sharon D Clarke!).
In terms of new plays, the best pieces for me have included Alexander Zeldin's Faith, Hope and Charity and Bruce Norris's Downstate. The connector between the two is Cecilia Noble, whose acting range seems to know no bounds.
Special mention must also go to Cheek by Jowl's Knight of the Burning Pestle, which played for three nights at the Barbican. Noises Off at the Lyric Hammersmith had shown audiences how farcical an actor's life behind the scenes can be, but Francis Beaumont's Renaissance play begins as a tragedy and ends a comedy. It's an unusual gem from the canon of English drama, but one it was a pleasure to see performed with such warmth and dedication.
The best event of this theatrical year was Alex Parker's concert of Rodgers and Hammerstein's Carousel. As someone who wasn't born when the National Theatre's award-winning production starring Janie Dee and Joanna Riding was performed, this was a treat from the overture to the end. It was, however, Hadley Frazer's rendition of "Soliloquy" that sticks vividly in my mind. Whatever Parker has next in mind to put in concert, I'll be there.
So that's that. 2019 has so far been such a good year and 2020 promises the same again with Sunday in the Park with Jake Gyllenhaal...oh wait, sorry, Sunday in the Park with George at the Savoy Theatre.
Writing down this celebration of the hard work put in by cast, creatives and crews reminds me of all the wonderful shows I've had the privilege of seeing. The UK theatre industry remains a stalwart amidst such politically bleak times. When sitting in the dark, before the curtain goes up, I'm always reminded of that line in Come From Away: "You are here, at the start of a moment, on the edge of the world". I hope 2020 will be as challenging, unnerving, exciting and enthralling.
Those are Anthony's contenders - what are yours? Vote for your favourites in the 2019 BroadwayWorld UK Awards here!