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
Parabolic Theatre’s witty, intelligent immersive theatre-meets-live action board game piece was a true highlight of the year. Inviting audience members to become advisers to the Labour government in the lead-up to the 1979 no-confidence vote, it was an extraordinarily clever piece of theatre that seamlessly evolved to reflect audience’s decisions. It managed to raise interesting, knotty questions about politics while also being hugely enjoyable. A company to watch out for.
In its sophomore show, Shotgun Carousel continues to find a welcome balance between the increased audience desire for a good night out with the ability to tell smart, progressive stories. Taking inspiration from fairytales and Edgar Allan Poe’s The Masque of the Red Death, Red Palace combined great fun and delicious food with a playful, sexy script and impressive performances. A show, and a company, that subverts binary identities and has a lot of fun doing it.
Taking immersive theatre to a disconcertingly intimate place, Souvenir, by company Any One Thing, happens in real people’s homes across London. Audiences are part of a small group attending Anna’s 30th birthday party, and the show mines the audience’s social media so the characters act like their friends. The performances are startlingly good, and up close and personal in a way you rarely experience. Utterly unique, daring and thoroughly unsettling in the best possible way, it’s like being in an episode of Black Mirror.
Secret Cinema has run two excellent large-scale productions this year, but Stranger Things is especially interesting as it marks a slight change in direction for the company. As always, the set is remarkable with great attention to detail, and the pre-visit world building and cast are particularly impressive in this show. But it also marks the first TV show Secret Cinema has worked with, and a move towards creating its own unique and original screening experiences.
Gatsby is the longest-running immersive theatre show in the UK, but late this year it had a revamp that has paid dividends. The tweaks to the script and format, and the swanky new venue elevate what was already a strong show. There’s plenty of fun for the fancy-dress night-out crowd but also opportunities for exploration, and more intimate moments. The current cast is impressive, and the updates have added a welcome freshness and glamour.
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