Feature | Top Ten Shows of 2017

After 250 or so shows across London and Edinburgh, these are 2017’s top ten (and a few runners up) from The Play’s the Thing UK’s founding editor. Remarkable storytelling, socio-political relevance and innovative form combine to make all of these productions stand out.

10. Wish List, Royal Court
The Bruntwood Prize winner is a scathing political critique with fantastic performances and design. Moving vulnerability in the face of Tory cuts makes for an eye-opening, state of the nation play.

9. Bubble Schmeisis, Battersea Arts Centre
Ritual, family and religion collide in an intergenerational solo performance by Nick Cassenbaum on finding your place in the world.

8. Seanmhair, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Three women tell the epic love story of Jenny and Tommy, a couple who fell in love on Edinburgh’s cobblestone streets.

7. salt., Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Selina Thompson’s powerful narrative of her cargo ship journey retracing slave routes is a vital confrontation of the West’s success at the cost of black lives.

6. The Long Trick, VAULT Festival
A compelling Cornish story of one family’s poverty and river life is a polished affair with poetry, music and a fantastic script.

5. Translunar Paradise and Odyssey, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Perhaps it’s cheating to put two shows together, but these classic productions from Theatre Ad Infinitum are a fitting tribute to the company’s decade of groundbreaking physical theatre.

4. Palmyra, Edinburgh Festival Fringe
Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas latest show was Summerhall’s hottest ticket at the Fringe. The aggressive political show forced the audience to make a difficult decision and face their accountability for the world’s wrongs.

3. The Nassim Plays, Bush Theatre
With Nassim debuting in Edinburgh, the Bush Theatre staged a retrospective of the Iranian writer’s work. The four plays make for an engaging look at a distinct style.

2. The Ferryman, Royal Court
British naturalism is shown at its best in Jed Butterworth’s family drama set in rural N. Ireland during the Troubles.

1. Girl from the North Country, Old Vic
Bob Dylan and Conor McPherson capture the essence of America’s Great Depression in the microcosmic world of a midwestern boarding house. Despair, hope and clinging onto the American Dream is complimented by stunning interpretations of Dylan classics.

Runners Up:
In no particular order, All We Ever Wanted Was Everything, (I Could Go on Singing) Over the Rainbow, I Know You of Old, Killology and Thebes Land didn’t quite make the top 10, but all left powerful impressions in a year of theatregoing. Innovation, emotional engagement and solid dramaturgy are upheld consistently in these shows.

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A Christmas Carol, Middle Temple Hall

By guest critic Laura Vivio

It’s hard to think of a more appropriate show to watch on a cold December day in London, but perhaps impossible if that day happened to be nothing short of the most magical day of the year: seeing this play on Christmas Eve was a real treat, and added another dimension to an experience that would have been jolly to begin with. One of Dicken’s masterpieces, A Christmas Carol is a natural classic for this time of the year, and contributed to creating the very notion of Christmas as we have known it for the past 174 years. 
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Hamilton, Victoria Palace Theatre


Let’s get this out of the way first – does Hamilton live up to the hype? Yes. It’s very good. Though the revolution in the plot doesn’t influence the dramaturgy, that doesn’t mean it’s not a fantastic show that musically updates the genre and skillfully triggers a spectrum of emotions. It’s simultaneously epic and intimate, staged surprisingly simply with striking, sculptural choreography and utterly engaging throughout.

But this pro-immigration, hip-hop reinvention of the all-American musical about a country gaining independence from a distant, tyrannical overlord resonates rather differently in Brexit Britain than it does in America. Forget the NHS bus – could Hamilton be the new symbol of the Leave campaign?

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FCUK’D, The Bunker

Will Mytum in FCUK'D. Photo: Andreas Lambis

A young man waits impatiently for his little brother Matty to finish school. Alone on a football pitch amongst piles of dead leaves, he frets over his alcoholic mum, the state of their home and the letter from social services informing them that Matty will be taken away.

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Feature | Addiction and the Audience in People, Places & Things


by guest critic Steven Strauss

Heaps of deserved praise has been showered on Jeremy Herrin’s production of Duncan Macmillan’s People, Places & Things, with much directed at Denise Gough’s thrillingly committed performance of a struggling actor in rehab. Yet after seeing it at Wyndham’s Theatre in mid-2016 then its New York City run this year, it’s easy to see there’s more to it than Gough. A second, transatlantic viewing proves just how thoroughly the production theatricalises addicts’ experiences in order to generate audience empathy with the struggle to overcome addiction.

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The Tin Soldier, Festival Theatre Edinburgh


by guest critic Liam Rees

Birds of Paradise Theatre Company’s The Tin Soldier is a charming and inclusive alternative to the traditional pantomime. As a company specialising in making work with disabled people, it makes sense for the company to have chosen to adapt Hans Christian Andersen’s story as it’s one of the few children’s stories to feature a disabled protagonist.

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Expat Underground, Tristan Bates Theatre


by guest critic Kudzanayi Chiwawa

Expat Underground tells the story of a modern day Italian migrant, who having ventured to London, the “Shiny Eldorado”, finds herself struggling with the metamorphosis from Italian to British, whilst still remaining Italian – a familiar journey for many who find themselves new in London.

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How to Disappear, Traverse Theatre


by guest critic Liam Rees

Initially How to Disappear seems to be a new addition to the classic, British State-of- the-Nation plays in its searing critique of the government’s welfare policy. But Morna Pearson has great fun in turning the genre on its head with a twist that is so central to the play that I can’t avoid including spoilers.

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The Acid Test, Cockpit Theatre


Jess, Dana and Ruth are living it up in a London flatshare. Fresh out of uni, they’re drinking and partying like it’s their job and generally loving life. But their blissful bubble is burst when Jess comes home with her dad in tow after her mum kicked him out of the house. As the night wears on and Jim joins in with his daughter and her flatmates’ antics, ugly truths are revealed in each of the four characters and there’s no going back.

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