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The best plays and theatre of 2014

All across the UK, there are an abundance of theatres which afford the opportunity to see a wide variety of plays, musicals and dance, ranging from the West End blockbusters and the national tours through to the quirky little pieces steeped in biting social commentary or theatre which is just plain fun. Theatre is an opportunity for political comment, pushing boundaries and provoking thoughts or just for pure, joyous escapism. So here is the roundup (in alphabetical order) of the best theatre productions in 2014, as handpicked by our writers, Chris Bridges, Graham Davies, Alex Da Silva, Jake Hook, Greg Mitchell and Paul Szabo.

Anything Goes – Sheffield Crucible Theatre and National Tour.

It’s high camp on the high seas as mistaken identity, love, hapless fops, gangster’s molls, bad disguises, superb songs and a crew of tap dancing sailors come together in this welcome and uplifting revival of Cole Porter’s classic comedy musical. Award Winning director, Daniel Evans provides a bold, brash, sassy and foot tapping, tap dancing spectacular. Great old fashioned entertainment, genuine laughs and breath-taking set pieces led Paul Szabo to say that “the number of people singing, tap dancing and laughing as they left the theatre is the most accurate measure of the success of the show.”

Billy Elliot – Victoria Palace; London

Based on the film and with music by Elton John, Billy Elliot tells the story of a young northern boy who follows his dreams to become a ballet dancer, much to the disproval of his father, who adheres to his old fashioned views and values. Having run in the West End for 10 years, the show continues to impress audience members with its emotion and energy. Graham Davies said that “Director Stephen Daldry has sewn the two lives [of Billy and his Father] together to make at times a comedic and bitterly honest stage experience”.

Blood Brothers – Birmingham Hippodrome and National Tour

Willy Russell’s enduring stage show seems to have lost no momentum 29 years after its debut and continues to garner standing ovations whilst on national tour. Telling the story of twin brothers, separated at birth and brought up on opposite sides of the tracks and featuring classic songs including “Bright New Day” and “Tell Me it’s Not True”, this production impressed with a stellar performance from Maureen Nolan, which led writer Alex Da Silva to describe the show as “sensational, tear-jerking and nostalgic”

Dogfight – Southwark Playhouse, London

A bunch of marines on their final night of shore leave before heading off to fight in Vietnam play a cruel and misogynistic game, pooling their money and picking up the plainest girls that they can find. Once in the pool, the boys compete for who can pull the worst girl of the bunch to gain the prize money. This musical had a Sondheim-like quality to it, which Chris bridges described as “a perfect bend of humour, pathos and warmth”

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Fleabag – Soho Theatre, London.

Fleabag addresses with the audience how we manage to live in a world where sex is ever present; and that sometimes, the only way to meaningfully connect to someone is thorough sex which may not always be satisfying. This Oliver Award nominated play enjoyed a short run in Soho and thrilled Chris Bridges, who commented “it’s great to see taboo subjects like female masturbation, pornography viewing and casual hook ups portrayed in a non-judgemental and achingly funny play”.

The Great Gatsby – Northern Ballet; Nottingham Theatre Royal and National Tour.

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Themes of regret, lost love and lavish excess in the 1930’s are explored in The Great Gatsby. Based on the classic novel, the excellent Northern Ballet provided rich characterisations and accessible narrative in a production which had an almost cinematic quality. With a superb performance by Kenneth Tindall, the production was not only beautifully choreographed but was lifted by effective touches and a built to a beautifully poignant ending. Paul Szabo said “the show was not only utterly absorbing but was very difficult to fault”

John – DV8; The Lyttleton Theatre, London

In this stunning piece of dance, DV8 not only focus on the central character, John, and his reasons for having sex with men, but also unflinchingly examines why men may or may not take risks with their sexual health, telling their stories without judgement or prejudice. Greg Mitchell was impressed by the choreography, saying that “one of the joys of this production is seeing the way bodies fuse together, meld into one and then just as easily drift apart” and that the piece as a whole was “endlessly fascinating, but ultimately incredibly moving”.

My Night with Reg – Donmar Warehouse. London

Unrequited love, betrayal, anxiety and loneliness are all heavily featured in Kevin Elyot’s witty, warm and poignant play about six gay men in 1980s London, all of whom are connected by their night (or nights) with Reg. The characters are portrayed as well rounded and three-dimensional which is quite some feat in a play that has such comedic power. Chris Bridges advised theatre goers “Sadly, Elyot died before he could see this magnificent revival of a play that deserves not to be forgotten. Tickets are selling out very quickly so clamour online, queue for day returns, beg and scramble for one. This is a performance not to be missed”.

My Perfect Mind – Told By An Idiot; The Rep; Birmingham

This astonishing play is an account of the actor Edward Petherbridge suffering from a stroke and his recovery, with help of a friend, Paul Hunter who does everything in his power to accommodate Edward’s imagination and fantasy. Alex Da Silva said that the production “stuns the door of The Birmingham Rep, with its simplistic yet meaningful set and with its mastermind-like quality of acting”.

Othello – Frantic Assembly; Birmingham REP

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Based on the Shakespeare play, but updated to a contemporary setting, Othello looks at the raw emotion of jealously and proves to be an outstanding piece of theatre. Alex Di Silva loved the piece, saying “Under the electric and elegant direction and choreography of Scott Graham and Steven Hoggett with Eddie Kay, “Othello” simmers in to a beautiful crescendo of emotions and physical energy”.

Sandel – Above The Stags, London.

Sandel explores the relationship between a 13 year old choirboy and a 19 year old undergraduate and adapts the controversial book upon which the show is based with sensitivity, whilst never shying away from the difficult subject matter. Greg Mitchell felt that this show lingered in the memory and was “the stand out play from the last season”. Excellent performances from the lead actors and the superb adaptation made this a challenging piece of theatre.

Urinetown – Apollo Theatre; London.

This dark, adult humoured musical is set in an unspecified dystopia where water shortages lead to people only being able to pee in designated facilities, and a battle begins between the poor peasants, who can ill afford the tax on their morning ablutions, as they rise up against an evil corporation. Jake Hook commented that this show was sure to be a West End hit and that “the comedy is almost midnight it’s so dark, but brilliantly observed and the show is a master of breaking the fourth wall”.

White Christmas – West Yorkshire Playhouse, Leeds

Two ex-army pals-turned-showmen, find themselves in a hotel in Vermont, praying for snow, putting on a song and dance spectacular to help out their old General and falling in love. Written by Irving Berlin and featuring the classic songs, “Sisters”, “I’ve got my Love to Keep Me Warm” and, of course, “White Christmas”, this production was an absolute joy to watch and was the equivalent of theatrical comfort food. Oliver Tompsett demonstrated exactly what a triple threat actor he really is, whilst the remainder of the cast were universally solid. In a faultless, large scale production, writer Paul Szabo commented that this was “certainly one of the theatrical highlights of the year”

Compiled and written by Paul Szabo

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