This year is NEARLY over and we couldn’t be more delighted but it wasn’t all doom and gloom as we saw a lot of shows that moved, excited and challenged us. Here’s a very special roundup of our favourites from 2020.
Sam Nicholls: If any show deserves to be celebrated this year, it’s Southwark Playhouse’s The Last Five Years. First opening back in March, the original run managed around 10 performances before Covid swiftly shut it down (but not before it earned a 5* from me). However, not to be defeated, the show was one of the first to reopen in October, welcoming audiences back into its Covid-secure venue and nevertheless still delivering showstopping spectacle. If that wasn’t enough, the Playhouse even released a filmed version of the production over the second lockdown, finding a way to share its joy despite Covid craziness. In a year where the theatre industry has been dealt devastating blow after devastating blow, The Last Five Years has been a symbol of resilience: that the form can adapt and overcome and put on an utterly incredible show in the process.
Nina Cave: My favourite piece this year was Drip Drip Drip at Pleasance Theatre, which was a really beautiful depiction of the diversity within the NHS. Particularly in a year where our NHS has been so valuable, the stories of the people who work in one of our hospitals was so important to see. What was particularly clear, and is particularly true, is that our hospitals are diverse places in terms of their workforce and their patients. This play showed the battle of one doctor who was constantly queried on her decisions because she was a Muslim woman, and the difficulties she faced when working with a Nazi apologist. Intersecting with her story was one of two refugees – one of whom makes it across the English Channel and finds work in the hospital. A devastating but ultimately uplifting piece about the beauty of multiculturalism in the UK and in our NHS
Aimee Shields: Adventures with the Painted People at the Pitlochry Festival Theatre was a beautiful and intimate radio adaptation of a play by David Greig; produced, rehearsed and performed in isolation (back in June when this was still a new concept!). It really ignited my imagination and introduced me to fascinating characters like ‘Eithne-Witch of Kenmore’ played by Kirsty Stuart and Olivier Huband’s Roman soldier ‘Lucius’. The contrasts created by Greigs use of untamed wilderness and regimented order transported me to Pictish Caledonia and help helped me to consider the meaning of community in a disconnected year.
Orpheus in the Record Shop at the Leeds Playhouse (which I actually saw in the theatre) blew me away. Essentially a one man show with a backing orchestra, it was written as part of the Connecting Voices season written in response to the pandemic. Part stand-up, part concert and part motivational speech written and performed by the force-of-nature, Testament. It was equal parts comic and tragic and balanced contemporary with traditional, beat-boxing with opera and despair with hope. Look out for Testament in the future.
George Collins: Never did I think I would be watching a piece of theatre in pure Russian, yet Xameleon’s In a Nutshell utterly whisked me away. This adaptation of Chekov’s short stories totally engulfed me with exquisite physical comedy, fabulous performances and storytelling which was truly second-to-none. The actors were magical enough to convince me that there was snow pouring from the ceiling and a whole lake in the middle of the stage. It was so dazzlingly hilarious, I completely forgot the subtitles and fell headfirst into the 1890s.
Anna Perry: Maybe it’s the dark dramatisation of a domestic space that resonates extra deeply this year, or maybe it’s the neurosis that beats through a cyclical structure of tormenting not-quite repetition that reflects the patterns of life in lockdown. Whatever it is, Ninefold’s A Murder Story Retold stirs dark humour and modern classical music in a poisonous pot of organised operatic chaos. With their detailed stage design and intricately crafted choreography, Ninefold create a tight and tense on-screen world where every little mess matters in a bold yet shadowy way.
Olivia Kiely: This year, my standout show was The Nobodies, a play that was meant to be heading to Edinburgh to perform at the Pleasance Theatre after winning the common award 2020. After the events of this year, this transfer did not happen, but a show like this fills me with so much hope and excitement for the theatre that will be awaiting us in 2021 and beyond. I remember struggling to put into words how much I enjoyed this show; all I really wanted to say – or more to the point shout in the review was “Go and see it ASAP!” With a planned tour in the spring of 2021, I hope more people will get to see this incredible show – I’d definitely be tempted to revisit this marvellous play myself!
Nick Ferris: Dear Peter was incredibly special because it was the culmination for me of that brief, weird moment in the summer when it felt like things were sort of going back to normal again. It was the first show I attended after theatres reopened following the first lockdown. I went with my housemate, we shared a bottle of wine from the bar, and we were totally entranced by Evangeline Dickson’s incredible performance in the stunning outdoor space that is St Paul’s churchyard in Covent Garden. It was a heartfelt story from a powerhouse performer, about the complexities of growing up, and the sense that childhood never really leaves us even as we (on the outside) age. The story was framed through Dickson’s relationship with Peter Pan – and it held huge emotional resonance for me as someone in my early 20s, who was feeling as though I was not only losing my youth to the pandemic, but had also to some extent distorted my own personal development by going back to my parents’ house for three months during lockdown. Looking back at this time now, as we enter a third full lockdown in London and the South East, I realise it was a very special and fragile moment in the year. I will always remember the magic of Dickson’s emotionally charged lines echoing off the surrounding buildings as the sun set.
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