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The best London theatre shows of 2016

The ten best theatre shows seen in London this year

By Andrzej Lukowski

It was a terrible year for the world, but a bloody great year for London theatre. Here Time Out theatre editor Andrzej Lukowski offers up his ten favourite shows of the year/nine favourite shows and one outrageous cop-out. 

RECOMMENDED: Find more plays and musicals in London 

10. Boy

© Kwame Lestrade

Almeida Theatre

Writer Leo Butler and director Sacha Wares's ultra-high concept production had the most memorable set of the year, an endlessly clanking travelator conveying the grinding rhythms of the London that its heart-breaking inarticulate hero Liam found himself wandering at random.
© Claire Haigh

9. Letters to Windsor House

© Claire Haigh

Camden People’s Theatre

This Withnailian comedy about the London housing crisis was certainly the funniest show I saw all year – the endearingly dysfunctional Sh!t Theatre will be bringing it back for a longer run at Soho Theatre in January.

8. Yerma

Young Vic

There were definitely ‘problems’ with hotshot Aussie director Simon Stone’s adaptation of the Lorca classic, but Billie Piper’s paint-stripper intense performance in the title role was not one of them. She’s pretty much a shoo-in for the best actress Olivier next year.

'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' guide
'Harry Potter and the Cursed Child' guide
© Manuel Harlan

7. Harry Potter and the Cursed Child

© Manuel Harlan

Palace Theatre

The biggest show of 2016 was also one of the best, thanks to John Tiffany’s spectacular production and an absolutely world-class cast of actors. Never before or again will the world of Harry Potter feel so absolutely real.

6. The Encounter

© Robbie Jack


Finally hitting London this year after stunning the Edinburgh International Festival in 2015, Simon McBurney’s hallucinatory audio-visual odyssey in the heart of the Amazon felt like it was ripping the fabric of space and time apart.

5. National Theatre in 2016

Theatre Public and national theatres South Bank

If no single NT show quite hit my top five, then show-for-show it was clearly the best theatre in the city, probably the country, probably the English-speaking world this year. 'Iphigenia in Splott'; 'Ma Rainey's Black Bottom'; 'Cleansed'; 'The Deep Blue Sea'; 'Amadeus'; 'The Red Barn'; 'Hedda Gabler'; 'Love' – this is a theatre in truly staggering form.


4. X

© Manuel Harlan 

Royal Court
Alistair McDowall built on the promise of his HP Lovecraft-influenced ‘Pomona’ with this brain-meltingly clever sci-fi horror about the stranded British crew of a Pluto space station.
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Emma Rise, Shakespeare's Globe, 2016
A Midsummer Night's Dream, Emma Rise, Shakespeare's Globe, 2016
© Steve Tanner

3. A Midsummer Night’s Dream

© Steve Tanner

Shakespeare’s Globe

Sigh. There is nothing left to say about Emma Rice’s shock departure from the Globe – or at least not until she breaks her own silence. But it is a big big shame: her rampaging, irreverent ‘A Midsummer Night’s Dream’ reinvigorated Shakespeare’s weariest warhorse and turned the Globe into a conflagration of light, sound and mischief.

2. Mary Stuart

Theatre Drama

© Miles Aldridge

Almeida Theatre

This is the first time in four years the Almeida's not topped my end of year list, but it's come near as damn in the dying breaths of the year. 'Mary Stuart' reviews are still under embargo but one can probably extrapolate the fact I liked it from its placing here.


1. Escaped Alone

© Johann Persson

Royal Court

Caryl Churchill confirmed herself as our greatest living playwright with this hallucinatory clash of domesticity and apocalypse, a show about four old ladies having a nice chat… where exactly? If you missed it the first time around, it’s back for a fresh run at the Court in January 2017.

Find cheap theatre tickets in London

Cheap and last minute theatre tickets in London


Terrified at the prices of theatre tickets in London? Worried that you can't get tickets to a sold out play or musical? Or just a fan of a good discount? The top prices in the West End can be daunting, but cheap theatre tickets abound in London… if you know how to get them. Here are Time Out’s tips on where to find them, as well as the best ways to score last minute tickets to sold out shows. 


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