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
Many flocked to the Bridge’s promenade production of Midsummer Night’s Dream after Game of Thrones’ Gwendoline Christie was cast as Hippolyta. And while the show boasted strong performances, the staging itself proved the real star. The production team behind the Bridge’s Julius Caesar in 2018 reunited to create a riotous, giddy, carnival atmosphere as the action unfolded around and above (the fairies’ circus acrobatics were a highlight) those in the pit. Bunny Christie’s design was extraordinary.
Recreating the oppression and paranoia of East Berlin at the height of the Cold War, the National’s Anna used a masterstroke to pull audiences deep into the thriller. Playing out in a soundproof glass case, spectators wore headphones and could only hear Phoebe Fox’s lead character, who was wearing a wire, and everything she heard. The production was superbly slick, and the binaural sound design from Ben and Max Ringham added a unique layer of intimacy.
Tom Scutt’s impressive directorial debut was a richly sensory staging of Peter Strickland’s disorientating 2012 film about a foley artist making an Italian exploitation movie. Scutt and Anna Yates’ design combined with enveloping sound design by Ben and Max Ringham (again), and Tom Brooke’s haunted performance. The result was deeply atmospheric and Joel Horwood’s adaptation homed in on the way women are misused by the industry.
Faced with the daunting task of staging Yann Martel’s Booker-winning multimillion-selling novel about a boy stranded on a life-raft with a Bengal tiger, writer Lolita Chakrabarti and director Max Webster made a huge success of it. The stunning production fused video design with state-of-the-art puppetry to create a play of spectacle and emotional power. It picked up five-star reviews and a slew of awards, and transfers to the West End next year.
Relocating the Siula Grande mountain range to the West End is no mean feat. The stage adaptation of Joe Simpson’s memoir not only evoked the forbidding peaks but put the audience at the heart of the action. Ti Green’s design was an open climbing, kinetic structure that was constantly changing and Tom Morris’ production, first seen at Bristol Old Vic in 2018, used pure stagecraft to create what one review called “white-knuckle theatre”.
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