From the best musicals and plays to spectacular productions from the worlds of circus, immersive theatre, opera and dance, The Stage’s critics choose the 50 shows that really stood out in 2019
This formally bold show about depression was astonishing and overwhelming. Written and performed by Olivier nominee Caroline Horton, her superb follow-up to 2013 hit show Mess explored the cyclical nature of depression, drawing on mythology to tell her story with results that were raw and roaring. It was impossible to look away. The show won the 2019 Mental Health Fringe Award and will be part of the Scottish Mental Health Arts Festival in May 2020.
Feted Swiss theatremaker Milo Rau brought his extraordinary piece of documentary theatre about the 2012 murder and torture of Ihsane Jarfi in Liège to the UK this summer. It was an unflinchingly powerful, artistically rigorous work that not only examined our darkest urges, but also examined theatre itself. As Michael Billington said, it was “exactly the kind of show that justifies an international festival”.
The standout show in the Manchester International Festival starred Maxine Peake as musician, actor, model and sometime Velvet Underground singer Nico. It was part concert, part haunting – Peake didn’t play the icon, she was possessed by her. Directed by Sarah Frankcom, the show felt like a deep dive into the darkness that an act of creation can require. Described as “anti-biographical”, it used songs from the album The Marble Index within its text to reclaim Nico.
After the anarchic brilliance of Dollywould, Rebecca Biscuit and Louise Mothersole – the pair behind Sh!t Theatre – returned to Edinburgh with their best show yet. After they were invited to make a show for Valetta European City of Culture, they put together a work that melded their own brand of performance, comedy, video, song and journalistic enquiry. What started light went on to explore dark themes from Daphne Caruana Galizia, the Maltese journalist murdered in 2017, to the country’s role in the migrant crisis. This was powerful political theatre at its most raucous.
Bertrand Lesca and Nasi Voutsas created a piece that was, by turns, playful and poignant and explored themes of endings: from the end of a friendship to the end of life and the end of the world. The moving piece – which they have said was the most personal and autobiographical they have done – follows, and is intimately connected to, the duo’s previous three works Eurohouse, Palmyra and One. It also explored the climate crisis, using projection to show the earth dying. It won the audience prize at this year’s BE Festival.
The Stage’s pick of the best shows of 2019 was compiled by Natasha Tripney and Tim Bano, with contributions from George Hall, Anna James, Neil Norman and Francesca Peschier