My Favourite Shows of 2019
Updated: Jun 10
Christmas TV specials aren’t really my thing. Rehashed Christmas movie formulas (with some select exceptions) don’t do it for me either. At the time of writing, I’m not a big fan of pantos either, so even theatre cannot quench my thirst for entertainment. No. What I look forward to at this time of year is reading the top best and worst lists from critics. I get my kicks from watching hard work and creative brilliance be placed into a meaningless, numeric system and compete with each other. I joke of course, but I can’t pretend I don’t enjoy looking over the highlights and lowlights of a year in the arts. In truth they have their uses; they make us question what was most impactful, what was most offensive, and how much it matters. I have seen so many shows that have succeeded in their own way. Of those, these are my subjective, and entirely personal, favourites.
5. Ejaculation – Discussions about Female Sexuality. My first choice is one that shouldn’t count, which I warn readers will become a running theme in these lists. Essi Rossi’s documentary is one of the first shows I saw at this year’s Fringe, and alas the review was never published. Ironically, it may be for the same reason I loved it. The title affronts you. It forces you to react to something vulgar and taboo. Blending ethereal music, mixed live by Sarah Kivi, and interviews with sexual health experts, polyamorists, and dominatrices, it creates a space for open communication and removal of judgement. It is the kind of show that ought to be experienced by those most put off by its title.
4. Standard:Elite. When I queued up at the Bedlam Theatre, knowing that this was an interactive show, and looking around at my fellow audience members, I had some trepidation. There weren’t many of us, and many of us were alone. We were going to be a tough audience to entertain. How wrong I was. Hidden Track’s show blended fairy tales and class politics seamlessly together to communicate a sense of injustice. More importantly, it made a community of strangers. We participated in a mix of games that could boost audience members from cheap auditorium seats to powerful thrones on the stage, complete with crowns and the power to make decisions that would affect the course of events. It struck a balance between entertainment and inventive dramaturgy, which is to me the greatest thing that theatre can achieve.
3. Present Laughter. I was fortunate enough to get a ticket to this summer sensation in London but unfortunate enough that I didn’t find the time to review it. This adaptation of Noel Coward’s comedy at The Old Vic starred Andrew Scott as a whining, helpless, but charismatic stage actor who is burdened by the drama that he is embroiled with, and clings to it desperately. Scott, who has mostly gained attention for playing “the hot priest” in Fleabag, is truly unforgettable in the role, but the real genius comes from the direction and concept of the adaptation. A minor gender swap changes everything; in a play centred around partners cheating on each other, suddenly nearly every central character is made bisexual. Now not only are there men cheating on women and women with men, but anyone could be cheating on anyone with anyone. It’s a small change, and it highlights exactly how adaptations can bring out the best in the source material, and still be memorable in their own right.
2. Are we not drawn onward to new erA?. This palindromic Belgium piece from Ontroerend Goed stood out among the many, many environmentally pieces at the Fringe this year. Starting with Adam and Eve plucking an apple from a tree, the first half concludes with a large cast, a stage covered with trash and smoke, and a script seemingly entirely spoken in gibberish. We then watch a recording of the same performance in reverse; the smoke is sucked up, the bags removed, the tree restored, and the gibberish is translated. The unmatched ambition of this show is awe-inspiring, and the paradoxical sense of hope and hopelessness brought me to tears.
1. The Convert. And now, my ultimate cheat. Technically I saw this in 2018, mere days after I posted my favourite list from that year, filled with foolish certainty that nothing I would see in the remaining days of the year could top them. In fact, Danai Gurira’s play made me regret that decision almost immediately. She takes inspiration from the likes of Oscar Wilde in its language and wit, and Chinua Achebe in its themes of tradition vs progression, and how we view it through the lens of hindsight. There is so much to say about this play that I could never squeeze into a simple summary about why I loved it so much, but it strikes me as timeless. I look forward to seeing it again when it will gain the status it deserves.