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2016: Review Of The Year

So at the end of my third year of discovering theatre, my world continues to evolve and life itself becomes absorbed more into the theatrical world.

I increased on my 2015 record this year, sitting down in many varied locations over 150 times to watch an array of theatrical experiences. These included plays, musicals, storytelling, music, magic, dance and variety nights. So in my now tradition of (one) previous time, let me present in reverse order, my top 15 trips of 2016.

At Number 15...

The Same Faces at The Black Prince, Northampton

It took me a long time to finally see The Same Faces. It was my lose, as each of the three nights I have so far had the privilege to see have offered an endless feast of brilliant improv. It may crash and burn at moments, however that is improv for you and the flame of brilliance is really never far away and you soon have tears running down your face once again.

At Number 14...

Love Letters performed by White Cobra Productions at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

There is no question that this play came as one of the greatest surprises for 2016 for me. A vague title, an unknown writer to myself at the time, and a play performed by a cast simply reading from the sheets in front of them. It shouldn't work, but it truly did. Gorgeously performed on the night, and some of the most beautiful writing I have heard from any play. The dust floating in The Playhouse that evening really was misbehaving.

At Number 13...

The Shakespeare Story Trail by Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Written by Erica Martin and performed by mostly amateur performers, this "trail" across the town of Northampton was certainly the best value of the year, one of the best theatre "experiences" ever, and the perfect introduction for a cavalcade of children to experience live theatre for the first time. There was dressing up, dancing, tours around town and even the Bard was nothing but entertaining for me for over two hours.

At Number 12...

Shaxpeare's Box by Masque Theatre at St Peter and St Paul Church, Northampton

Maintaining the subject of Mr Shakespeare, Masque Theatre and writer Brian Wright created a hugely topical feast of funny material and performances in their first production of 2016. For anyone following our local political intrigues, like myself, it was manna from heaven and was so, so good, I happily returned to watch it again. Quite brilliant entertainment.

At Number 11...

Broken by Motionhouse at The Castle Theatre, Wellingborough

Contemporary dance might not always be every ones idea of an evening of entertainment, however Motionhouse do it pretty special. Creating a world and story through dance with split second timing to vivid projections. It is as much a technical feast on the eyes as much as the outstanding skill of the performers. Simply astounding on so many levels.

At Number 10...

The Shakespeare Revue by White Cobra at The Playhouse Theatre, Northampton

I am either going soft or I am growing to love Mr Shakespeare with all these appearances. However this will be the last you see of him in this line-up and like the other two contributions, this is far from traditional Bard entertainment. The Shakespeare Revue is a vast collection of skits and songs influenced by the man himself and is simply a brilliant evening of fun. White Cobra presented it superbly and honoured its late director Ursula Wright on this charity night performance wonderfully.

At Number 9...

Oliver! by the Youth Theatre at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

The first musical on this years list is the stunning Oliver! Packed to the very rafters with classic songs and presented here by the ultra talented Youth Company. There was an ensemble of epic skill and an interchangeable cast (but not in skill). Luke Nunn was the standout performance as Fagin, and both Lauren Moody and Esme Joy Allen brought their own personality and skills to their Nancy. I saw it three times, I would have happily watched it more.

At Number 8...

Soul by Made In Northampton at the Royal & Derngate, Northampton

Made In Northampton was consistently entertaining, but never quite as endlessly thrilling for me as it had been in 2015. For me, while The Herbal Bed achieved the deserved nominations and prizes, I personally preferred the family turbulence told through Roy Williams' play.

At Number 7...

The James Plays at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

The James Plays take their place here based very much on the first of the trilogy. They all work well together as a shear spectacle of theatre, sampling them all in one day or liberally spread over the weekend. However the first play is perhaps the only one that would truly sit on its own as a standalone piece, and an exceptional one at that. Perhaps more than a little because of a superb central performance from Steven Miller.

At Number 6...

Priscilla, Queen Of The Desert at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

If I hadn't found a willing companion to accompany me to Priscilla, I would never have been brave enough to have gone. I am more than a little grateful to that plus one of the evening, because Priscilla turned out to be a riot of a night. Fabulous jukebox music, an extremely funny book and an exceptional array of colour and costumes. Unlike many touring shows that don't get a mention on this list, Priscilla did everything that the paying audience deserved and then some. Look and learn, you know who you all are.

At Number 5...

Blue Stockings by the University Of Northampton BA Actors, Northampton

The Royal shows for the third year BA Actors are always entertaining, and amazingly performed. Days Of Significance was full of talent but a hideously horrible play, Welcome To Thebes was vivid with some exceptional stage craft on display, Blue Stockings was a little more than all that. An evocative play, with a beautiful performance from Sophie-Rose Darby, an eminently punchable one from Stuart Warren, and a true star turn from Lucy Kitson. I went to see it a second time, and when that happens, you know it is pretty good.

At Number 4...

She Echoes by the University of Northampton BA Actors, Northampton

I went to see She Echoes for a second time as well. The second of this years third year devised shows provided a masterclass of doing everything that an actor now requires. You have drama, character building, precision timing, working as a closely knit team, dancing, singing, stage fighting, comedy, instrument playing and perhaps a few other things. She Echoes challenged everything and provided everyone with their own challenge, as a learning piece should be. However unlike some devised shows, which are for the students more than a potential audience, She Echoes offered so much to the audience as well. Emotion was high at times, as humour and some of that pesky dust did its work again as well. An exceptional seventy minutes of theatre.

At Number 3...

The Boy With Tape On His Face at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

What doesn't look like it should work on paper, manages to bring traditional magical variety style theatre to the stage. Tape Face is an exceptional talent already heading to big things in the West End next year, via no less that an encampment in Las Vegas. One of the very best shows that I have seen, and I suggest if you ever get the chances to sample the delights, you do so.

At Number 2...

Market Boy by The Actors Company at Royal & Derngate, Northampton

There are many wrongs perhaps about giving second place to an amateur show. However there are times when amateurs truly do bring the magic together like no other. It helps if you gel with a show like I did with Market Boy. It was rude, crude and not entirely granny friendly, however it was never cruel with it. It had my kind of music right to its core as well, so personally the clues were there for magic. However what then stirred this to a different world was the amazing commitment from all the performers. Gaining nothing but the buzz and love of performing, they created the very, very best amateur show I have ever seen, and perhaps ever will. One of those five star plus moments.

At Number 1...

Hair at The Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester

My longest ever trip to a theatre came relatively out of the blue with two days warning, and after 140 miles it needed to be something pretty good. Fortunately Hair was a little more than good, perhaps one of the best ever in fact. Certainly of 2016 in any case. Sitting in an audience of just a hundred people, being treated to talent simply dripping from the stage that you are pretty much sitting on, is quite something. There has never perhaps been so much talent working so hard for so few.
It has rightfully received exceptional plaudits from each and every direction and will remain long in the memory, as will that soundtrack. Simply bliss in every department.

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