Shows I Can’t Shake 2018

In addition to the usual ‘top 10’ theatre productions of the year which can be found here this year I had that many productions that had a profound impact on me, that I wanted to record that. So here, is the collection of 2018 productions that will be with me for a long time. 

 Cardiff Boy

Original Review Here 

Sometimes the right mix of things comes along in a play, at the right moment, and it’s just theatrically perfect in that moment. That doesn’t mean the play itself has to be perfect- what play is really- but what you’re looking for is that perfect blend of alchemy that makes it work for you in that moment.

Of course, there’s always something special about a play that connects so strongly with where you’re from in more ways than one. I’m a teenager of the 1990s. I’m firmly of the opinion that music and frankly the world peaked around 1995. I did those teenage years in East Cardiff, the rough bit, a stone’s throw from Llanederyn estate that Kevin Jones eloquently describes. I don’t want working class tales that tell me how grim it is. And we can and should have characters on stage for whom that is true too; they are shaped by it and not defined by it, that every story isn’t about it.
And what the story is about is a particular kind of loss. There’s a certain kind of connection there that, if you know you know.There’s a particular kind of language, or a lack of language for capturing that moment. For what you go through as a group. It’s almost inextricable certainly unexplainable but something in that final scene utterly perfectly and painfully expresses that. Sometimes a production just hits all those marks at once, in a very personal way. Cardiff Boy did that for me. And I was so grateful.


I hadn’t seen this in 10 years. Sometimes what a show means is all the things you associate it with. I had a short intense affair with Wicked. I saw it 5 times over the first 5 years. And then I was done. Forever it is associated with that time in my life. The little lost 23-year-old. And the people who were with me at the time.
The last time I saw Wicked was with my ex-girlfriend. We saw Idina’s last show. And forever, for better or worse that show was tied up with them, the friendship group we were in, and that period of my life. There was no sadness with that mostly, it just felt like a closed chapter. And that’s ok. But it’s funny how our theatrical memories are tied up with those we experience them with. And I can’t help but wonder how I’ll look back on Wicked again in that respect. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about growing up with, and seeing a musical anew.
The song that gets you as a ‘proper grown up’ in Wicked is ‘For Good’ it’s that song of all the loves and friendships lost. And at 34 not 23, that’s so much more poignant. So much more water under the bridge.
‘I know I’m who I am today because I knew you’
That rings true of every person who passes through our lives.
‘It well may be, that we will never meet again, in this lifetime’
Rings harder for all those you didn’t really want to lose.
In spectacular timing, I saw Wicked a few short days after my closest friend of some 8 years decided we couldn’t be friends any more. People under estimate the impact losing a friend can have, especially as an adult. Seeing Wicked again at that moment hurt- but in the moment I chose to think of someone else. I chose to think of my dear friend Ryan who is the same age I was when I first loved Wicked and loves it like I did then. And who is a true and lovely friend I met through theatre. In that moment I chose to use Wicked to celebrate the ten or more years of friendships theatre has given me.
‘Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, because I knew you I have been changed for good’
Like theatre itself, many of the friends I have made through it have come and gone. But I’ve been changed for the better, by them all.

Bat Out of Hell  

Let’s get one thing clear. I know nothing about Meatloaf. My familiarity with the back catalogue comes from that one he sang with Celine Dion, and that one which Jeremy Jordan sings on Youtube. Meatloaf is not normally my jam, but I will always, always love this musical because it’s so special to a friend of mine. And whether I’d loved the show or not (I did!) that was enough.
Without sharing (or over-sharing) the details. My friend both fell in love with this musical, and it came to mean a great deal more to them this year. When they offered to take me as a Birthday present, in order to share this thing, they loved, that was really special to me. I know how hard it is to share a thing you love for fear someone else won’t love it like you do. But also, it’s so touching to be that person someone wants to share it with. I had a BRILLIANT time at Bat. I’ve still got no idea what happened, but that’s ok, it was a great time getting there. And forever that’ll be something special I shared with my friend, and knowing what this musical means to them, that’s really special to me.
My friend’s guest blog can be found here

Fun Home

Original review here 

There was a moment less than five minutes into Fun Home when I knew this was the perfect musical. That is the perfect musical for me. You get a sense after a few years of theatre going when something is going to click. And when Bruce pulled out the silver vase from the box of junk, something just clicked, and I was in it.
I had done the almost impossible with Fun Home and managed to know little or nothing about it. And it’s a rare gift to discover something new like that, and have it resonated so hard. It is for those of us who go to the theatre often, particularly those of us who do so professionally in some capacity, that we lose some of that magic through exposure. For me this year, Fun Home was a reminder of that magic. That thing that comes from nothing to hitting you over the head so fast you barely have time to register it’s coming. My only regret is that I only got to see it once. And yet, I would be forever chasing that initial high. I cried, pretty much from Ring of Keys until the end, and it was beautiful, and cathartic. And I felt seen.
‘I know you’
Those words, at the end of Ring of Keys, sent a ripple through the audience from every person in the audience who knew what she meant. Every Queer person in that room knew what she meant. Alison Bechtel gave all of those women that moment Little Alison was having: I have seen, and I feel seen. And I don’t feel alone.
I’m a firm believer that some pieces of work find you when you’re ready. I wasn’t drawn to Fun Home during its original run in New York, despite being there at the time. It wasn’t my time for it, not then. This time it was. I find it interesting that I have only been moved like that ‘in the room’ by two other pieces of theatre, one of which was Rent. I found Rent (or it found me) at the precise moment I needed it. And it’s stayed with me. While I don’t intend doing anything so ridiculous as writing a PhD on Fun Home, there are works you see and just know are going to form a part of your DNA from now on. Because you see them and feel like they needed to be there all along. Fun Home was one of those.


Original review here 

Another case of a musical arriving at the right moment. For me, but for theatre too perhaps. It is of course discussed at length by myself and others how important this reimagining has been.

‘There’s knowing you’ll love a show. And there’s not knowing how much you needed a show’
That’s how I opened my review of Company, and that still for me sums it up. It’s a musical and a production that if I’m honest has been tarnished for me since. A friend of mine- one of my closest friends in fact- got so angry that I published an article on it, that she ended 8 years of friendship. As above, that hurts. It requires a kind of grieving we’re not equipped to express. But for me it makes Company equally resonant. When you’re not married, and over 30, people start leaving you out. They leave you out of events. They leave you out of conversations because you ‘wouldn’t understand.’ The most upsetting part of watching Company was sitting there thinking ‘they’re going to leave her’ not of the men, but of her friends. And ßso, you question, do I join them? Whether I want that, want ‘him’ or not? Just to not be alone? Or do I stick to who I am, and risk that, being alone. Not even risk just wake up one day and find its happened.
I had a conversation with Marianne Elliott, for research on my book, not long after I saw Company. And what we talked about in regard to Company is what stayed with me about the production, about why it meant so much. When a woman decides to be in a relationship it impacts everything. In a way that it doesn’t for a man. The knock-on effect through her life, her career, her friends, her body. Is seismic. Somehow without changing a word, Company captures that. I have found myself in that moment before, since Company in fact. That moment teetering on a cliff wondering if it’s worth the leap. And the truth is, like for Bobbie, most of the time it isn’t. And in a musical over 30 years old, Marianne Elliott gave us a way to say it, and see it.
And I am so thankful for that. For feeling the woman, front and centre on stage and for all those women in the audience I’m sharing it with. All it’s complexities. I don’t need a happy ending for that to be important. I just needed to feel like a story I’ve lived has been told. And it has. And I am so thankful.
And from a theatrical point of view. It was time, it was damn time, that a woman got to belt out Being Alive. For every theatre kid who grew up wanting the parts they were told they can’t have. Marianne Elliott and Rosalie Craig gave us that as well.

Angels in America

My longer goodbye to Angels is here 

What can I say about this production that I haven’t already said, at length? It changed my life. I mean I’ve got little more than that. It has consumed these last two theatrical years of my life, in this incarnation.
Which brings me to, line that made me cry the hardest the final three times (London and New York) that I saw it. And it’s not one I ever expected. Not one I ever noticed before if I’m honest.
“You’ll find, my friend, what you love will take you places you never dreamed you’d go”
It’s Roy Cohn for God’s sake. You’re not supposed to align yourself with Roy Cohn in this play-or frankly anywhere in life. And as much as this blog isn’t to rehash these stories, I have to say without this play, without this production I don’t know where I’d be. This play really did take me places I never dreamed I’d go. I hope it will continue to do that. And I will forever be grateful to the doors it opened (or at least loosened enough for me to kick down). And even if it was the end, it really did take me some places.
‘Nothing’s lost forever’ after all, and we know ‘the world only spins forward’ but saying goodbye to this one was the hardest theatrical goodbye I’ve made. I do miss it. I am incredibly pragmatic- even dogmatic about theatrical productions existing for the time they should. And Angels did. But there are days when I just miss it being out there somewhere in the world. On that note however, sometimes you get to say the goodbye you need to in theatre. Those who don’t understand never will, but there’s sometimes, for something so special, that need to say goodbye. And I got the perfect goodbye.
And here is my last chance perhaps to say it, that everything about this production, this experience of it, was perfect. Even the elements that aren’t- because no production is- but those are discussions for the book, not for here. Here I just want to say, it was everything I could have wanted and needed it to be as a production. Some shows on this list, in life, fill you with exhilaration, extreme emotion, a high you can never quite recreate. I think of Angels and I get an overwhelming feeling of peace. Something I never got in previous production I’d seen. Sometimes the pieces just fall into place. And for me this production felt like coming home. I’ve mentioned a lot in this year’s review a sense of the right production at the right time. And this was mine. It took 14 years of loving this play to find my version, the version I’ll forever see when I read the play. Other Prior Walters will come and go. Some will be better some will be worse than Andrew Garfield. But forever it will be his face, his voice I see. My Louis, finally finding my Louis. My Mother Pitt. A variety of Joes. They’ll all stay, taking up residence in my head forever. And as I wrote that I smiled. Because what more really can you ask for?
It’s just a play. But it’s so much more than that. And that’s why it’s still my number one of this year, and probably this decade. Maybe a lifetime. For everything beyond the theatre it’s been. For every person who judged me for ‘wasting’ my time, my life on it. For every disparaging comment, there’s been a village of people around this play. From the people who came up to me at the theatre or arranged to meet because we were there at the same time. For the friends who hugged me hard and shared the day in London with me last summer. To the friends on Twitter who ceaselessly have cheered me on. To everyone who gets it. To everyone who reads these epic monologues of blog posts.  For everyone waiting for the book, know it’s for all of you I keep writing it.
‘You are fabulous creatures each and every one.’
For the final time. For now, at least ‘I’m almost done’
But, as Prior says also, ‘It’s so inadequate, it’s so much not enough.’ But if nothing else I want to use this review of the year. The final real review that Angels will feature in to send my thanks into the universe to everyone who made it happen. Maybe you know what you did, what you were a part of maybe you don’t. But know you changed one person. Know that you gave someone something that will stay with them for a lifetime.
And of course, a lifetime of ‘thank you’ wouldn’t be enough for how Marianne Elliott’s work inspires and changes me every time. A director who gave me back the thing I loved, and the thing I didn’t know I needed.


2018 Top 10

10. Ten Plagues- Mark Ravenhill 
One that kind of snuck into consciousness and didn’t let go. Understandably given my research and theatrical passions this from Mark Ravenhill on parallels between the Black Death and AIDS struck a chord. More than that the sheer beauty of the production left a mark long after the event.

9. Lovecraft (Not the sex shop in Cardiff)- Carys Eleri 

Part theatre, part cabaret, part Professor Brian Cox lecture, if he sang a song about boobs. This from Carys Eleri was a delight from start to finish. It managed what few ‘normal’ plays do: delivered a warm engaging story while also giving your brain something to think about.
8. Tuck- Alun Saunders 
Original review here 
‘A hymn to Queer culture’ sums this play from Alun Saunders up perfectly. Yes, there was something still ‘rough around the edges’ in terms of the play itself, but the story, the ambition of it, and the voices it shared outweigh that in swathes of glitter. We need Queer stories from Queer voices on stage. And this offered an important blend of this. While being fun and fabulous.
7. The Inheritance – Matthew Lopez 

Despite a difficult personal relationship with this play, I cannot leave Matthew Lopez’s play out of this list. Like the play I list either side, for me, the very showcasing of Queer voices on a platform like this, is imperative.
For me, I am too close to the material intellectually that Lopez grapples with to fully appreciate the experience as some have done. I do appreciate how immersed he is in Queer theatre, theatre and writing on the AIDS epidemic, and how integrated into the work that is. Is it a perfect piece of theatre? Far from it in my opinion, and I mean that judgment in relation to the phenomenal achievement it already is. But it is an important and intelligent piece of work, and one of the finest of this year.
And for the ending of Part 1 alone, which is one of the singularly most emotional moments I have ever experienced in the theatre, it deserves to be on this list.
Also points for the extreme knitwear on display in this production. 
6. The Boys in the Band 

Original Review here 
This is a classic- maybe even seminal ‘gay play’. And such labels shouldn’t be important, but they are. And this play should perhaps be retired as a museum piece in terms of the themes, and elements it depicts. Except they are shockingly current still. The ideas of shame for gay men, homophobia, the conflict of trying to live in a heteronormative society. This didn’t feel like the 1970s, it felt like today. So, while the jokes may now fly in the face of what we’re comfortable with, the underlying themes resonate. The fact that Joe Mantello cast a cast of ‘out’ gay actors, also shouldn’t be noteworthy, and yet it was. So, this play remains important. And deserves its place in this list.

5. Cardiff Boy 
Original Review here
This from Kevin Jones hit all the right notes; 90s nostalgia, teenage troubles and a familiar setting. It’s a great snapshot of teenage life. About the incidental elements that impact so much in that period, and also the huge moments that take you by surprise when you aren’t quite an adult. It was an elegantly constructed production from a young company. And they served the writing, and audiences well in their approach.
What Cardiff Boy did well, alongside the funny, touching and very honest storytelling, was offer Working Class voices space on stage. Where class wasn’t the driving force, but an element in the boarder picture. It informed the story, but was never the focus. And that’s what broadening the stories we tell looks like.
Cardiff Boy was an utter gem of a production. That fine balance of laugh out loud moments, mixed with a through line of strong storytelling and an emotional punch. Theatrically it’s the simplest of devices- storytelling- and one that we often overlook. And as a package it was one worth celebrating.

4. Eugenius 
Original Review here
This fun filled sci fi musical hits all the right buttons. It’s an original British musical filled with perfectly crafted pop-musical songs. It cleverly blends homage to the sounds of the 80s, with contemporary pop. And it’s an original British musical. For the sheer joy this production brought it is rightly near the top of this list.
It’s also a perfectly pitched ‘geek’ story. It’s about geeks for geeks. It’s filled with fun references and in jokes without feeling exclusive. It’s the story of a geek getting the girl without being patronising. It’s romantic without being over the top. It’s funny without insulting anyone. It’s pitch perfect and I hope to Tough Man we get this Comic Book kind of love back again next year.
Top works of a year don’t have to be worthy, or intellectual always. The point of theatre is fun, is entertainment as much as it is to educate or be political. Eugenius was hands down the most fun I had in the theatre this year. So much that I went twice. Also a singular joy was watching the fans of the show who had been before dance and sing along at the finale. It felt like a celebration of what theatre should be.
3. Fun Home 
Original thoughts here 
The Fun Home finally came to London. And it was worth the wait. While the storyline may move some more than others, something that may be highly relative to personal experience, as a musical it is perfectly crafted. It is very difficult to come up with, or argue critique of how Fun Home is put together as a piece. It’s as musically intelligent as it is intellectual, but also incredibly accesible. 
The Young Vic production more than did the material justice, with the British cast more than matching their American counterparts from the original. As ever Jenna Russell was a standout in the production. Hear ‘Years and Years’ a quietly devastating show stopper. For some the Fun Home didn’t hit the emotional notes they wanted it to, but for those it resonated with, it resonated hard. And as with much of this year’s list, it’s about feeling seen on stage. Queer women telling their stories is a powerful thing, and few do it as well as Fun home. 
2. Company 
Original thoughts here and here and an article for American Theatre here 
‘Want something’ is the refrain that sticks in my head from Company. And this was the production of Company we not so much wanted but needed. It’s impossible to conceive a version of this musical for 2018 that doesn’t have a female lead. Or indeed, outside of being a museum piece, an often pointless exercise in theatre, how it can be again. 
It was an exercise in daring, re-writing Sondheim. And one that lesser directors could not have pulled off. The production is of course, stunning and slick and the cast radiating with talent. But that’s not really the point. Not really. The point is something a little bit harder and unrefined, that hard truth underneath it that the gender switch reveals. Something that is incredibly powerful, and incredibly necessary for our times. 

1. Angels in America 

There’s a hell of a lot I wrote on this. But these were my final two here and here 

Is it a cheat listing it two years in a row for the number 1 slot? maybe. Is it a cheat having the same director hold 1 and 2 …no. Because that is precisely the point. I can personally think of no director in living memory who has achieved this; two seminal productions in one years. Two reworking of classic texts so remarkable that they simply have to be singled out as the best of the year. 

Nobody really needs to hear any more of my thoughts on Angels (least of all Elliott herself as it happens). And this is not the place for the details  of why this production was so incredible. It is the act of taking it to Broadway itself, the act of pulling that production together two years in a row. The sheer strength of not only talent as a director, but the strength of character as a person- as a woman- to take that play, and put it back on Broadway. That is the greatest achievement in theatre of this year for me. 
To fly that Angel back home. And to do it not ‘better’ than others before (though I would argue yes, that too) but like Company, to deliver the version of this play, for this time. That is a rare skill. And a vital one. That’s what made both Company and Angels the best productions of the year. They offer the version of that, in this case, classic text, that theatre needs, that people need, for that moment. And that’s what theatre is about; capturing that moment. 
The beauty of Angels in America under Elliott’s hand will stay with me for years to come. The sweeping grandeur and the attention to detail. The alchemy of a director mixing that cast together into something that worked, that served the text. For wrangling that text, for making sense of that vast incomprehensible work. The sheer theatrical achievement of this production means it deserves this top spot two years in a row. 


Cheer- Big Loop Theatre- The Other Room

The Other Room have established themselves as the Channel 4 of Christmas in Cardiff, with their alternative Christmas show. And this year, up and coming company Big Loop are resident with Cheer.
It’s an entertaining enough piece of alternative Christmas, with just enough cynicism to feel like a grown-up alternative to the usual Christmas flair. The idea itself it’s that original- cooler reviewers would compare it to Black Mirror, all I could think was ‘Hunger Games with Christmas’. The premise being that the world is now a dystopian divided society where the rich have sectioned off districts where Christmas is permitted, and the poor have to buy black market Christmas decorations and rely on the artificial stimulate ‘Cheer’ in order to pretend they have what the rich do. What it does do is raise a multitude of questions about the rich/poor divide, commercialism, expectation, family, substance abuse, privilege, and a whole stocking full more. 
Kitty Hughes script itself however feels underdeveloped, and as a result in the latter half feel repetitive- rather then delving deeper into the character’s lives or reasoning, we are stuck in a bit of a loop of the emptiness of Christmas. That Todd wants to get Christmas for his family feels like the set up, but we never really get to the motivations why- why this Christmas (it’s hinted at but never explained), what drove him to desperation of selling Cheer and hunting down Joules now? Similarly, we never learn what pushed her to leave her life, the latter half of the script feels like it’s building to that, but never quite gets there. Their shared experiences of a Christmas that doesn’t quite measure up is a great set up and brings the two characters together in the middle of the script effectively, but it’s missing something of a second half development and conclusion that would have really made the script click. Alongside that, the working-class character feels a little too close to caricature to be comfortable. It’s a hard line to walk, especially given the set up, and with a little more character development that probably would have been avoided.
It is however immensely entertaining and engaging. There are some genuine laughs, and as the final scenes unravel, a real sense of care and engagement for Joules in particular. The characters themselves are likeable while having distinctly unlikable traits- the perfect Christmas combination. Cory Tucker plays Todd with an affable charm and makes him feel genuinely like the nice guy who just got a bit desperate. His cheeky-charm ways with Joules as well make him feel genuine and strays away from trying to make this working-class character seem too ‘street’ or over the top. Alice Downing gives a strong performance as Joules. She’s funny and forthright with exactly the right dry wit in her delivery for this script. But underneath that she manages to execute the slow unravelling of Joules. She’s an intensely watchable and interesting performer and she really holds the piece together.
The set is a delight. From the drab upstairs office of a pub (is that what the upstairs of Porters looks like?) opens up to a wondrously tacky Christmas Cupboard (not a euphemism). The kind that looks like your Aunt’s house circa 1989, all fluffy tinsel and baubles. Ceci Calf creates the perfect set for the script- the hidden Christmas, the over the top commercial feeling, the slightly tacky- and the dark depressing reality of the other side of things. It’s simple yet brilliantly effective.
Duncan Hallis directs with energy and a lot of honesty. While there might have been room for development in the script, Hallis brings out the best in it-which is a combination of the comedy, and the honesty lurking beneath it. The final segments have some powerful undertones, and Hallis knows when to pull back, and let those moments land with an audience. He also knows when to balance the absurdity of the comedy with enough humanity to keep the piece focused and engaged. Hallis’ direction wrangles both script and actors into an effective package that really helps to focus what feels like the heart of Kitty Hughes writing.
As much as Cheer perhaps misses a few opportunities, and doesn’t quite hit the marks it promises, there’s much to be applauded. Firstly, the chance to see any alternative Christmas show, and one that tries to tackle big issues while being entertaining is equally worthy of praise. As a company Big Loop are still developing, finding their feet and their voice, and Cheer is a departure from their previous devised work. And it works, it shows the potential of all involved.