Feature: AYT reviewer picks of 2016

Well here we are. 2017. And AYT’s reviewing team is looking forward to a brand new year of theatre.

With a momentous year behind us in terms of world events, there’s plenty for our theatre makers to digest, unpick and thread through – or turn their back on completely and cheer us all up.

The beginning of a new year is an exciting moment to pause, take stock and reflect, so let’s take a look back at the year the year that was, as some of AYT’s review team pick out their favourite moments from 2016, and remind us of some of the best theatre we saw last year.

From bold adaptations to new writing, dance, musicals and clever riffs on current themes and challenges, take a look through some of our writers’ top picks of the year.

Click the links to re-read our reviews.

Yerma, Young Vic

Lydia Lakemoore

“It was simply a fascinating re-write, astounding design and perfect casting. Every aspect of the production was just about as flawless as theatre can get. Never have I felt more the impact of theatre. Some plays effect you but a month later you can’t really remember the finer details, Yerma will stay with me forever.”

Swan Lake/ Loch na hEala, Sadler’s Wells

Emily May

“My pick of 2016 is undoubtedly Michael Keegan-Dolan’s Swan Lake/ Loch na hEala at Sadler’s Wells. Its effortless intertwining of Celtic myth, catatonic psychological concerns and unexpected humour was a welcome insertion of authentic emotion into the 2016 contemporary dance scene. Whilst we are all used being introduced to alternative cultures through theatrical performance, Keegan-Dolan’s exploration of

Irish concerns – which are often underrepresented – was a refreshing change from the current trend of Eastern inspired dance, which is thrilling and engaging, yet at times over-saturates UK modern dance.”

Half a Sixpence, Noel Coward Theatre

Jessica Handscomb

“After a somewhat tumultuous year, 2016 needed Half a Sixpence – or I certainly did. First staged in 1965, this revival of a brilliant and well-loved show put a smile on my face and a spring in my step. The story of Arthur Kipps, the simple boy who struck lucky, is sure to warm the coldest of hearts. With gorgeous costumes, stunning choreography by Andrew Wright, shiny new music I’m yet to stop humming, and a fantastic cast led by out and out showman Charlie Stemp – Half a Sixpence is a good old-fashioned song and dance, at times a proper Cockney knees-up, and absolutely golden from start to finish.”

She Loves Me, Menier Chocolate Factory

Tal Fox

“It was such an honour to be sat in the same room as lyricist, Sheldon Harnick when he deemed this performance the best version of the show he had ever seen and although this is the first time I had seen it I couldn’t agree more. It was witty, loveable and charming and had a wonderful cast bringing the show to its fullest potential. The difference between a good show and a great show is down to how you feel when you leave the theatre and if you leave feeling elated then for me, that’s a five star performance.”

Thorn, Brighton Fringe Festival, Sweet Dukebox

Daniel Perks

“There is so much that is comfortable about Thorn – tugging at the heartstrings, lulling the listener into a false sense of security, a painkiller that numbs and comforts. Writer and actor Thom Jordan comes across as a humble, unintimidating and talented orator. Both writer and character have a natural ability to tell a story, to apply metre and dynamic in just the right places and keep the audience engaged throughout. But the ending forcefully removes the thorn, leaving the wound open, raw and in pain. Jordan’s writing is almost sadistic in its brilliance.”

The Mountaintop, Young Vic

Rob Ellis

“The Young Vic had a pretty stunning year, but the Magnum Opus had to be Roy Alexander Weise’s sublime rendition of Katori Hall’s The Mountaintop. Only seven years since it’s first run, this somewhat supernatural retelling of Martin Luther King’s final days was an unapologetically fist-shaking reaction to the events of 2016. Simply told but beautifully realised. Anchored by terrific performances from Gbolahan Obisesan and Ronke Adekoluejo, and superbly directed by Weise, The Mountaintop was as funny and fresh as it was sobbingly painful. You’d be hard pressed to name a more sobering production this year.”

The Island Nation, The Arcola Theatre

Dani Kolanis

“This year has been a pretty big one both in terms of world events. This has definitely informed the art that is being produced and it is very hard to pick a favourite, mostly because each form is very different. In terms of work that is needed right now, I would have to say that The Island Nation at the Arcola Theatre produced by iceandfire was a highlight. This play was poignant, powerful and illustrated the world’s negligent complicity in this human rights atrocity. Iceandfire Theatre Company used this opportunity to demonstrate the forgotten history of Sri Lanka and the government’s oppression of the Tamil people. It seemed to serve as a warning and a wakeup call to ensure this never happens again.”

The Emperor, Young Vic

Fred Maynard

“In a year when the established political order seemed to collapse beneath our feet, there could be no more bracing a lesson for theatre to give us than a reminder that power is nothing more than an a story we agree on – a theatrical sleight of hand, if you will. Kathryn Hunter’s magisterial performance as the entire court of deposed Emperor Haile Selassie will be the theatrical marker of 2016 for those who saw it: the one-woman embodiment of a society realising (and refusing to realise) that all its certainties were nothing more than shadows and ghosts.”

Little Shop of Horrors, New Wimbledon Theatre

Katie Walsh

“For me it was quite a nostalgic visit to the theatre as I had been in that show at school. It was a fantastic production and a couple of days after I went again with my family. It was a stand out production for me.”

Fool for Love, Found111

Annie Starkey

“I loved Fool for Love because it took me totally by surprise – I had my own preconceptions about what the play would probably be like, but what I saw was completely unexpected. The whole production screamed innovation and challenged ideas about what ‘theatre’ should entail: the set and stage area was unlike anything I’d seen before, but it seemed to work. As well, though, the acting was excellent and the writing was great – a clever script by Sam Shepherd and such visceral energy from the cast worked perfectly in tandem to engender a profoundly affective experience and a play I just wanted to watch again and again.”

Image: Manuel Harlan