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Best of 2018: London theatre


IN ANOTHER year of political turmoil, London theatre certainly had something to say. At its best, it was responsive and highly vociferous on multiple fronts, ranging from #MeToo to inner-city social cleansing and much more besides.

Nicholas Hytner’s masterful production of Shakespeare’s Julius Caesar at the newly opened Bridge Theatre got the year off to a rip-roaring start.

Manipulating the audience both physically and mentally, Hytner employed a superb cast to inject the play with a raw immediacy that railed against power-hungry elites.

Josie Rourke’s Measure for Measure at the Donmar Warehouse was, like Hytner’s Caesar, a conceptual coup which shone new light onto one of Shakespeare’s “problem” plays in the wake of the #MeToo movement.

Aside from reworkings of Shakespeare, there was much new writing to be enamoured with and, unsurprisingly, it was another superb year for the Royal Court. Black Men Walking, Poet in da Corner and ear for eye were all shows with which the theatre is synonymous — genre-bending spectacles that openly challenge an audience.

In Black Men Walking, the Testament company’s lyrical exploration of hundreds of years of black British history was a work of unassuming depth, while Debris Stevenson’s homage Boy in da Corner did theatrical justice to Dizzee Rascal’s seminal grime album — no easy feat.

While debbie tucker-green’s ear for eye lacked consistency, its first act deliberations on activism and race made for some of the most compelling drama of the year.

Hot on the Royal Court’s heels was the Bush Theatre. Reviving Winsome Pinnock’s Leave Taking was an inspired move. Its illumination of the struggles of Caribbean immigrants proved that 2018 was just one episode in a series of Windrush scandals.

Although 30 years old, it felt every bit as relevant as the exhilarating Misty at the same venue. Arinze Kene’s one-man show, though it ultimately ran rings around itself, deserves a mention for its no-holds barred approach to attacking the hollow centre of gentrification, while Jellyfish, Ben Weatherill’s exploration of the stigmas surrounding disability, completed a trio of authentic explorations of marginalised working-class communities.

At the Old Vic, Ben Chaplin was at his very meanest in Joe Penhall’s Mood Music, a menacingly convincing investigation of the music industry, while Hayley Squires and John Macmillan shone in The Lover, part of the ongoing and blossoming Pinter season at the Harold Pinter theatre, while The Brothers Size at the Young Vic will live long in the memory.

Last, but by no means least, the Arcola deserves huge credit for bringing a high-quality global flavour to 2018 with Baba Segi’s Wives, Forgotten and The Fishermen.

A pretty exciting year.



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