The best theatre of 2016 by Niall McDougall

Miss Hope Springs stood out this year as the talented songwriter and performer. Bringing to the stage her production Carnival, she delighted crowds of fans and newbies with her wit and lyrics, coupled with a live set playing the piano. Ty Jeffries, the man behind the drag performer, brought his American showbiz upbringing to this Vegas lounge singer performance (as a young boy he was taught by Fred Astaire to tap dance down Sunset Boulevard). The performance is bold, slick and funny for the most part, but Miss Hope Springs also brings pathos and sadness with some beautiful torch songs.

Shocking and deeply provocative, Kenny Morgan hit the stage at the Arcola theatre and spun the troubled and grim tale of unrequited love. The stage was a shadow of a room, threadbare and faded, and focused the audience on the story of Terence Rattigan (the famous playwright) and his secret boyfriend whom he no longer loved. Trapped within this loveless relationship, Kenny descends into suicide. Paul Keating delivered a strong performance under the superb direction of Lucy Bailey. Deeply emotive and grappling with the powerful forces of passion and untold levels of desperation, this outstanding play was truly spellbinding.

David Dillon wrote a magical play: Party, that came through the Above the Stag Theatre in Vauxhall. This counterbalance to some of the more sombre productions was a zippy effervescent delight of a play. A gang of friends muster monthly to play a different game each time: naked Twister etc, and this evening ‘Fact or Fantasy’ started the group off with a fairly benign game of divulging truths that are either true or false. This quickly descends into full nudity, however the play remains sweet rather than vulgar. Ben Kavanagh was wondrous and well timed as the caustic camp clergyman.

5 Guys Chillin’ stood out on the theatrical landscape this year. The King’s Head brought this powerful raw exploration of the chem sex scene, that drew from the stories of real life interviews of individuals who had been to chem sex parties, woven together into this play. These stories were shocking and highly perceptive. What belied the apparent frisson was a deep-seated yearning for love and acceptance. A broad encompassing range of topics were explored: racism and identity to relationships and STIs. The beauty of this play lay in the directness and honesty of the story: it’s provenance shone through.

Finally, bawdy brash production The Vaudevillians has to be mentioned. Jinkx Monsoon of RuPaul’s Drag Race fame and composer performer Major Scales exploded onto the Soho Theatre stage direct from New York. The vehicle for the show: two performers having been frozen in the 1920s return to modern day life only to find their ‘hits’ have been nicked by performers such as Madonna, Britney, and so the audience heard the originals on all their 20s glory. Britney’s Toxic is actually an homage to Marie Curie! Camp, brassy with a slug of bourbon; not for the faint hearted.

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