I was very lucky to have seen plenty of fabulous theatre productions over the last 12 months – and, naturally, some less fabulous shows, too.
Being a theatre reviewer for this here blog, Broadway World UK and, more recently, WhatsOnStage, has opened up so many doors for me. I was in the audience for many performances with my critic’s hat on in 2019, but I’d also been to see a number of shows for pleasure too, which is a bit of a special treat.
I love writing about theatre, but sometimes it’s nice to just sit back and soak it all in!
After a quick ticket count (I keep them in a pile on a shelf in my bedroom) it turns out that I’ve been to around 36 shows in the last year, give or take. Not bad!
Reviewing shows means that you often have to give your opinion and reaction to the production almost immediately after leaving the theatre, but sometimes you need a little more time to work out which shows really stole your heart.
For me, if I’m still thinking about it months later, it’s a hit – which is why writing posts like this is so helpful, for both me and you!
This is a list of the shows that have really stuck with me right to the end of the year; the ones that still pop into my head when I think of 2019’s highlights; the ones I would urge you to see if you get the opportunity in 2020.
I’ve indicated where tickets have been gifted, for transparency; but the fact that tickets were given to me in exchange for a review by no means obligates me to share praise. Credit is given where credit is due.
And so, without further ado, in the spirit of end-of-year reviews, here are my favourite theatre productions for 2019.
On Tour at Southampton’s Mayflower Theatre, November 2019
This was not a review opportunity, but a theatre trip for pleasure. My Mum and I have always said we would go to see Les Miserables together one day, and when it was announced in Mayflower Theatre’s lineup for 2019 I knew we had to grab tickets.
We sat at the very back of the balcony, in the cheapest seats available, but the experience was no less incredible. This was by far one of the greatest shows I’ve ever seen, and it absolutely blew me away; the performance, the set, the score…everything was perfect.
This show has its reputation for a reason, and it was by far one of the biggest highlights of my year in theatre.
Dead Dog in a Suitcase (and other love songs) [Gifted tickets]
Nuffield Southampton Theatres, May 2019
I am still thinking about Kneehigh’s Dead Dog eight months after seeing it. This was a completely unsuspecting hit for me; I sat down not knowing what to expect and came out floored.
This is a modern re-telling of the Beggar’s Opera and was a tour de force of emotions and incredible visual effects.
I can’t see any touring dates for 2020, but I urge you to keep an eye out for this one. Cross your fingers that it comes back again!
Amélie The Musical [Gifted tickets]
Nuffield Southampton Theatres, September 2019
I very rarely see shows twice unless a) the opportunity arises or b) I’ve fallen in love with it and have concluded that I simply must watch it again. Both of these were the case with Amélie The Musical; I watched it once as a reviewer and went for a second time on a date. It was that good.
This is an endearing, heartfelt and delicately powerful show which is now, thankfully, available to watch in London, and I urge you all to see it if you can. It’s on until mid-February 2020 at The Other Palace; don’t miss it.
The Audience [Gifted tickets]
Nuffield Southampton Theatres, May 2019
We are very lucky in Southampton that we have a theatre like NST which concocts some marvellous new adaptations and shows. Their version of Peter Morgan’s The Audience was one of these.
Though I am often a little wary of political art, this was something special, which echoed the wit and class of The Crown.
I’m a sucker for impressions, too, and the small cast transforming into familiar faces from 10 Downing Street was a treat – as was the humorous dig at Theresa May.
The Comedy About a Bank Robbery [Gifted tickets]
Mayflower Theatre, April 2019
God, I love classic comedy. Stick me in front of some slapstick, and I’ll be in stitches. Having grown up with the likes of The Two Ronnies and Blackadder on my screens, and with regular festive trips to the panto, I find physical comedy and hapless characters almost irresistible.
Having loved The Play That Goes Wrong in 2018, I knew I’d love the crew’s follow-up, The Comedy About a Bank Robbery, and I was not wrong.
Don’t be robbed of the chance to see it; luckily for you, it’s on in the West End throughout 2020.
Showstopper! The Improvised Musical
The Other Palace, February 2019
I first saw the Showstoppers perform in 2016 at the Edinburgh Fringe and they cemented my love of all things improv. After a long wait, I took my Mum to see them in London in early 2019 so she could see what the fuss was about; and thankfully, she felt the same way!
If you get the chance to see Showstopper! the Improvised Musical, jump at it. The crew create an entire musical, complete with original songs, with just a few audience suggestions, and completely on the spot, It’s incredible to watch and great fun too.
They’re playing in London until April 2020 at the Lyric Theatre. Go, go, go!
Fledglings [Gifted tickets]
Nuffield Southampton Theatres, October 2019
This really was a hidden gem in Southampton this year. While it was only playing for three evenings, Fledglings has stayed with me since. It was funny, moving and intimate, and definitely one of my favourite productions of 2019.
It just goes to show that size doesn’t matter when it comes to great theatre, and I really hope the team are able to share the show with more people in the future.
Kinky Boots [Gifted tickets]
Mayflower Theatre, September 2019
This production was bright, bold and brilliant. Kinky Boots came to Southampton in September last year and we were so lucky to have it in our city. This wonderful story of acceptance, identity and accepting yourself for who you are is so feel-good and great fun.
If you haven’t seen it, I’d recommend making it your next musical mission; it’s a show full fo heart and sole.
Hans Zimmer vs John Williams
Mayflower Theatre, May 2019
In May, I took myself on a little solo date to watch some of the best film scores being performed live at the Mayflower Theatre. They played all of our favourites; from Pirates of the Caribbean and Jurrasic Park to Gladiator and ET.
Williams and Zimmer are two giants in the world of scores and it was a great experience to see and hear their greatest pieces being played live.
Luckily for us, the Mayflower is bringing the music of John Williams back for round two in May 2020. I think I might have to go again!
Fleabag [Gifted tickets]
National Theatre Live Encore, Nuffield Southampton Theatres, September 2019
Of course this is on my list. How could it not be?! How utterly predictable.
*rolls eyes at camera*
I watched smash-hit Fleabag from the comfort of my home city thanks to the National Theatre Live. Although this meant I was not in the immediate presence of Phoebe Waller Bridge herself, it did mean that I didn’t have to pay ridiculous amounts for my ticket, or fork out for an over-priced train ticket to London.
This show was every bit as raw, ridiculous and rude as I’d hoped. PWB is a master storyteller; not many people could captivate such a wide audience with a monologue, but there we have it. Fleabag is phenomenal.
And last, but not least…
There’s an honorary mention too for Felix Krull at Berliner Ensemble, which I saw in Berlin in October 2019. The show was entirely in German, and I had very little idea of what was going on, but I loved it, nonetheless.
A real spectacle, and a very special experience.
You could even say I’m into theatre on an international scale, now!
I can’t wait to see what 2020 brings to the stage.