The best theatre of 2018

From ‘Chekhov’s First Play’ to ‘The Writer’, it’s our list of the very best plays and musicals to premiere in London in 2018
Best London theatre 2018
By Time Out Theatre |
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It’s been another cracking year on the London stage, but now it’s time to give our verdicts. Here’s the Time Out theatre team’s ranked list of 2018’s stand-out plays and musicals, as of December 14.

NB there is a week left on the theatre calendar, but a print deadline’s a print deadline.

If you’re wanting to focus on the future, why not check out our guide to the 19 theatre shows we’re looking forward to the most in 2019.

10
'Chekhov's First Play' at Battersea Arts Centre

Chekhov’s First Play

What’s the story? After burning down in 2015, Battersea Arts Centre’s Grand Hall reopened with the excellent Phoenix Season, of which this was the highlight.

Why’s it in our top 10? Creators Dead Centre are big in Germany and rarely seen here, but this was a wonderful taste of what we’ve been missing: a gleefully ambitious and cacklingly postmodern deconstruction of the baggage attached to Chekhov’s titular ‘Platonov’.

9
Notes from the Field: Doing Time in Education  2econd Stage Theatre
Joan Marcus

Notes from the Field

What’s the story? US playwright-actor Anna Deavere Smith’s takedown of the US criminal justice system was the highlight of the excellent 2018 LIFT programme.

Why’s it in our top 10? It was both a crushingly powerful theoretical work, and a virtuosic piece of storytelling in which Deavere Smith channelled over 250 interviewees in remarkable fashion.

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8
Nine Night, West End 2018
© Helen Murray

Nine Night

What’s the story? The first ever play written by a black British woman to run in the West End, Natasha Gordon’s ‘Nine Night’ was a portrait of a British-Jamaican family reeling after the death of their matriarch.

Why’s it in our top 10? A wonderfully crafted piece, it was achingly evocative, plus it boasted the comic performance of the year from Cecilia Noble as the self-important Aunt Maggie.

7
Ear For Eye - Royal Court Theatre, Jerwood Theatre Downstairs, O
© Stephen Cummiskey

ear for eye

What’s the story? Capital-letter-phobic debbie tucker green’s dissection of black oppression and white privilege in the Black Lives Matter era.

Why’s it in our top 10? Razor-sharp and formally inventive, it gave the Royal Court audience a mercilessly forensic examination of white society’s systematic othering of black people.

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6
Patsy Ferran, Summer and Smoke
© Marc Brenner

Summer and Smoke

What’s the story? ‘Summer and Smoke’ began the year as a half-forgotten, second-tier Tennessee Williams play and ended it as a West End smash.
Why’s it in our top 10? A phenomenal lead performance from Patsy Ferran, a reputation-making production from Rebecca Frecknall, and design of the year from Tom Scutt.

5
Company Marianne Elliott 2018
© Brinkhoff/Moegenburg

Company

What’s the story? Marianne Elliott scored a walloping great hit after she flipped the gender of the bachelor hero of Sondheim’s classic musical.

Why’s it in our top 10? The super-smart staging turned a 1970 classic into a 2018 classic. And the cast – led by Rosalie Craig and Patti LuPone – was to die for.

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4
Fun Home, Young Vic
© Marc Brenner

Fun Home

What’s the story? This musical adaptation of Alison Bechdel’s graphic novel was a bittersweet look back at the complicated life of her beloved late father Bruce, intertwined with her own coming-of-age/coming out story.

Why’s it in our top 10? Hilarious, goofy and desperately sad, it was raw life in musical form.

3
John, Annie Baker, National Theatre
© Stephen Cummiskey

John

What’s the story? America’s most lauded young playwright Annie Baker absolutely transfixed us with ‘John’, a three-hour-20-minute drama about a bickering couple staying at a Gettysburg B&B.

Why’s it in our top 10? It was an examination of the things that haunt us and it packed in more meaning – and feeling – than most dramatists manage in whole careers… despite almost nothing actually happening.

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2
Misty, Arinze Kene
© Helen Murray

Misty

What’s the story? Arinzé Kene’s thrillingly out-there West End hit – a transfer from the Bush Theatre – was a brilliantly subversive attempt to work through the pressure on black playwrights to write gritty urban dramas.

Why’s it in our top 10? ‘Misty’ was an elaborate and provocative shaggy-dog story that felt like the offspring of Stormzy, Laurence Sterne and Thomas Ostermeier, but with more balloons.

1
The Writer, Ella Hickson, Almeida
© Manuel Harlan

The Writer

What’s the story? A kamikaze attack on the entire Brit theatre establishment, Ella Hickson’s play was a completely singular work that attracted froth-mouthed adoration and visceral loathing in equal measure.

Why’s it in our top 10? Romola Garai was incandescent as the unnamed writer whose genius is leached away by needy men. It was cryptic, hilarious and self-indulgent, but its sheer DGAF fury is what lingered in the mind.

The best new theatre this month

Dance Nation, Almeida
© Marc Brenner
Theatre

Top 10 theatre openings this month

London's theatre calendars are flooded with acclaimed shows, big names and hotshot directors, and there's no way anyone can see them all. As a starting point, the Time Out theatre team have picked ten shows opening in London this June that you won't regret booking for.

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