I thought it was going to be really tricky to choose this top five, but in actual fact, these theatre experiences were absolute no brainers. They’ve each contributed to specific markers in my life – I guess there can be many five star productions but the circumstances, or the timing, in which you see them can add that extra bit of sparkle. Oddly they were all relatively short lived productions, but there’s something incredible about the fleetingness of theatre, it’s what makes it special!
Anyway, here are five of my truly five-star theatre experiences … in chronological order because I can’t distinguish between them …
Spring Awakening (2009) – Novello Theatre
“Based on Frank Wedekind’s play of the same name, Spring Awakening depicts a dozen young people making their way through the thrilling, complicated and mysterious time of sexual awakening.” – (Playbill Vault)
The first time I travelled to London alone was to see Spring Awakening. I saw it alone from a reduced price centre of stalls seat and for the first time in my life had some sort of independence. The show absorbed me from start to finish. It’s an incredibly thought provoking, shocking, piece that deals with a wealth of issues: abortion, mental health, sexual orientation, abuse, education. It hit me hard. It taught me to question things, talk openly and rebel against things I don’t believe in.
The young cast, two of whom are now household names: Aneurin Barnard (The White Queen, Cilla) and Iwan Rheon (Misfits, Game of Thrones); delivered the piece with unity, energy, sorrow and an overriding sense of anarchism. It’s an experience that will stay with me for a long time to come.
Hair (2010) – Gielgud Theatre
“The musical that introduced rock ‘n’ roll to the theatrical stage, Hair examines a group of 60’s-era youth struggling for generational and personal identity, dealing with the Vietnam War, and exploring drugs and the sexual revolution” – (Playbill Vault)
With my new found love of going to the theatre alone (seriously, try it!), I went to see hair (twice). The Broadway ‘tribe’ I’d spent 2009 hearing so much about made their way across the pond and quite frankly blew my mind. They were an effervescent unit and I was brought to tears multiple times by the sheer power, energy, coming from the stage. The constant breaking of the fourth wall delivered an exhilarating experience and although it’s not a show with a particularly distinct plot, I left the theatre wanting to grasp life with both hands … my only regret – being too self-conscious to join in with the on stage dance party!
Into the Woods (2010) – Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre
“A childless baker and his wife endeavor to lift their family curse by journeying into the woods, where they encounter Rapunzel (and her witchly “mother”), Cinderella, Jack (of the Beanstalk fame), Little Red Riding Hood and other classic fairy tale characters, and they all must learn the responsibility that comes with getting what you want.” – (Playbill Vault)
Pretty much a year after making my first solo trip to the capital, I found myself working there for the summer. I was so excited about working in London because of all the theatre I would get to see – this trip epitomised that. It was also my first time at the Open Air Theatre (now a firm favourite!) and my first Sondheim. It turns out it was the perfect show for the theatre … we were literally in a clearing in the woods. The cast was incredible, delivering Sondheim’s life-affirming lyrics with wit and resonance. Sitting in the packed auditorium, with the summer breeze rustling through the trees was a truly magical experience.
Love Story (2010) – Duchess Theatre
“Two worlds collide when spirited Italian-American Jennifer Cavilleri and wealthy, privileged Harvard Alumni Oliver Barrett IV fall in love. The pair, whose backgrounds could not be more different, are united by love. It is a love that endured in the face of adversity, through family opposition to their marriage and devastating personal tragedy.” – (What’s On Stage)
Given that this musical opens at Jenny’s funeral I don’t feel like I’m letting too much out of the bag when I say that she contracts a terminal illness before the end of the show. I went to see Love Story with my dad and for obvious reasons, we both found it incredibly poignant. The simple, matter of fact nature of the plot, score and Jenny herself, made us cry a lot. But we were also left elated, with the sense that a life can be remembered as valuable, meaningful and worthwhile, no matter how short or seemingly insignificant it was.
Betty Blue Eyes (2010) – Novello Theatre
“It’s fair shares for all in Austerity Britain (1947-style) but humble chiropodist Gilbert Chilvers is still struggling to bring home the bacon. The only light on the horizon is a private function to celebrate the forthcoming marriage of Princess Elizabeth and Prince Philip.” – (Oxford Playhouse)
I saw this musical the evening before the 2011 royal wedding … perfect timing. London was buzzing with excitement and Betty Blue Eyes was the perfect way to indulge in that feeling. The cast was on fire, it was like one big massive celebration. My Grandmother had died, very suddenly, three days earlier. The post war era of the show had a very nostalgic feel – had my Gran not already been on my mind, this show would have reminded me of her!
I was sat next to a man who was finding the animatronic pig and Sarah Lancashire’s excellence too much to handle, he was getting very animated. Throughout the pig’s star number (titled Betty Blue Eyes) I found my self uncontrollably laughing, from the absolute pit of my stomach, in what felt like the first time in forever. It drew a line under the prior few days and made me realise that I was still allowed to be happy. It wasn’t just the circumstances, I think it’s a great all round musical to the extent that I went back for a second visit a few months later!