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The best London theatre shows of 2017

The Time Out theatre team's ten best theatre shows of the year

By Andrzej Lukowski
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Okay, okay we haven’t seen ‘Hamilton’ yet. But a deadline’s a deadline, so here are Andrzej Lukowski and Alice Saville top shows of the year (‘Hamilton’ not included)

Network, National Theatre, Bryan Cranston
Network, National Theatre, Bryan Cranston
© Jan Versweyveld

10. Network

© Jan Versweyveld

National Theatre

‘Consent’; ‘Mosquitoes'; 'Beginning'; ‘Angels in America’; there are some dolts who say the NT had a bad year just because there were a few duds in the Olivier, but no theatre in London put on more great shows in 2017. Those are just a few we didn't have room for: just pipping them is Ivo Van Hove’s teched-up take on ’70s media satire ‘Network’ – it’s raw, wild and electrifying, with a barnstormer of a lead performance from Bryan Cranston.

This Beautiful Future, Yard Theatre
This Beautiful Future, Yard Theatre
© Richard Lakos

9. This Beautiful Future

© Richard Lakos

Yard Theatre

It was a big year for the Yard, as the ramshackle Hackney Wick London theatre gained Arts Council funding. And it had a hit to go with it: Rita Kalnejais’s vivid, hyper-inventive drama about a pair of star crossed teens – one French, one in the German army – at the height of the Second World War.

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Romantics Anonymous, Shakespeare's Globe
Romantics Anonymous, Shakespeare's Globe
Photograph: Steve Tanner

8. Romantics Anonymous

© Steve Tanner

Shakespeare's Globe, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse

An unexpected and lovely parting gift from outgoing AD Emma Rice, the best Shakespeare’s Globe’s show of 2017 was, of all things, a musical. ‘Romantics Anonymous’ is a heartwarming, quirky, gently ironic love story-cum-celebration of the magic of being shy.
Its awkward lovers Angélique and Jean-René are with us until January and thoroughly deserve a transfer.

Girl from the North Country, Old Vic
Girl from the North Country, Old Vic
© Manuel Harlan

7. Girl from the North Country

© Manuel Harlan

Old Vic, West End 2018

Bob Dylan musical doesn’t sound like a brilliant idea, and Conor McPherson’s brooding ‘play with songs’ shies away from that title, somewhat. It’s a chokingly bleak but desperately romantic account of a group of lost souls washed up in a Dustbowl inn at the height of the Great Depression. And it’s held together by a staggering performance from Shirley Henderson as the innkeeper’s dementia-suffering, shamanic wife Elizabeth. The songs are pretty good too. Expect its limited West End run to sell out sharpish.

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Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre
Barber Shop Chronicles, National Theatre
© Marc Brenner

6. Barber Shop Chronicles

© Marc Brenner

National Theatre

Poet and performer Inua Ellams turned his hand to ensemble writing and hit the jackpot, big time, with this fond, angry, funny, poignant and perceptive drama about African barbershops and black masculinity. It also has as banging a soundtrack as anything the NT’s ever hosted.

Anatomy of a Suicide, Alice Birch, Royal Court
Anatomy of a Suicide, Alice Birch, Royal Court
© Stephen Cummiskey

5. Anatomy of a Suicide

© Stephen Cummiskey

Royal Court

Directed by the great Katie Mitchell, rising star Alice Birch’s Royal Court main house debut was an audacious, devastating piece of stagecraft and storytelling. It depicted three generations of the same family – all at the same time, effectively three plays happening at once – as we watch the effects of a suicide rip mercilessly through the decades. Harrowing, but also jaw-dropping in its technical virtuosity.

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FOLLIES
FOLLIES
Johan Persson

4. Follies

© Johan Persson

National Theatre

The NT’s huge Olivier Theatre hosted a few flops in 2017. But perhaps they were just balancing out Dominic Cooke’s staggering Sondheim revival. Powered by great performances from Imelda Staunton and Janie Dee, Stephen’s story about a group of friends looking backwards in regret was operatic and elemental, with a remarkable final sequence.

An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre
An Octoroon, Orange Tree Theatre
© The Other Richard

3. An Octoroon

© The Other Richard

Orange Tree Theatre

In 2017 London finally got a proper run of a play by the celebrated US writer Branden Jacobs-Jenkins… and we liked what we saw. ‘An Octoroon’ is a dizzyingly clever meta-theatrical race satire in which a black playwright named BJJ loses his mind adapting Dion Boucicault’s un-PC Victorian melodrama ‘The Octoroon’. If you missed it, don’t despair: it transfers to the National Theatre in 2018 (dates tbc).

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THE FERRYMAN
THE FERRYMAN
JOHAN PERSSON

2. The Ferryman

© Johan Persson

Royal Court and West End

The most successful play of 2017 was Jez Butterworth’s shattering domestic tragedy, set in rural Northern Ireland at the height of the Troubles. The fact that ‘The Ferryman’ has been camped out on Shaftesbury Avenue since the summer – January will see its third cast – shouldn’t detract from the fact that it is a monumental achievement, a sprawlingly ambitious three-and-a-half hours with as shocking a final scene as anything you’ll ever see in any medium.

1. Hamlet

© Manuel Harlan

Almeida and West End

It’s a massive cliché to heap praise on a production of ‘Hamlet’. Shakespeare’s existential tragedy basically exists so famous male actors can show off. But this was something very special. Robert Icke’s dreamy, emotional, morally ambiguous take on the Bard’s greatest play was heartstopping and tear-jerking, boasting an outstandingly raw performance from Andrew Scott as the doubting prince.

Find cheap theatre tickets in London

Cheap and last minute theatre tickets in London

Theatre

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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