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Nothing to see here, just another list of top shows in 2022

2022 has possibly been one of the busiest years to date for me, thanks in part to the sheer amount of shows I wanted to see, and some enthusiastic press representatives for shows that were flexible enough to permit me to see their shows as late as ten days after their official press night – the demand has been phenomenal on occasion. When I found myself facing a backlog of sixteen reviews during my time at the Edinburgh Fringe this year, one or two theatre companies took that, somehow, as an appropriate moment to invite me to their show, as if I had no intention of actually writing those sixteen reviews and should simply go out again and see their production and review that instead.

I’m being overly cynical, perhaps, and I’ve heard of stories of producers in tears in the press offices of major Fringe operators for the lack of critics coming to see their shows. There were fewer of us than there were before you-know-what, and I fear there will be fewer still in 2023 with the cost of living crisis and a recession continuing to bite. But there were also fewer punters at Edinburgh Fringe 2022 – for the first time I was able to sit down every single time I interrupted myself to grab a bite to eat from somewhere. No scoffing a hot dog whilst standing up leaning against a brick wall for me.

I tried ranking the best of the best shows I saw over the last year (I managed to do it for the ones I reviewed). But I couldn’t decide what was number one, two, three (and so on) across the board, so here they all are, in no particular order.

It won’t have gone unnoticed by many that I started the year with my twenty-eighth visit to Jim Steinman’s Bat Out of Hell the Musical, in my hometown of Wimbledon no less, and by December, when the show had a cast change and kicked off ‘round two’ of the touring production, in Swansea, it was my fiftieth. Then there was the West End Understudies Twitter account, which I found useful whenever I had a free evening, which isn’t often. Thanks to their updates, I saw Marcus Harman play the title role in Dear Evan Hansen, as well as Danny Colligan as Marius and Will Richardson as Enjolras in Les Misérables.

I had also pre-arranged a visit with some friends to see Bonnie and Clyde, but on the night we had booked, Jordan Luke Gage was indisposed, as was Frances Mayli McCann. Their respective alternates, Barney Wilkinson and Lauren Jones, are nothing short of phenomenal. During the limited run I made several visits to that show, and got to know some of the superfans, or ‘Hellraisers’ as they are apparently collectively known. Their Twitter account was famed for (over)use of googly eyes, though it eventually led to the announcement of the show’s return in 2023.

I had two visits to ABBA Voyage, in the ABBA Arena, a temporary structure opposite Pudding Mill Lane Docklands Light Railway station in east London. It’s a bit of a bitch to get to, frankly, and consequently a bit of a bitch to get home from, but the production quality is phenomenal, even if the Swedish pop group appears as avatars. There is, however, a live band, and it’s all put together in a way that blows you away. Ticket prices, like so many productions these days, are very high, but in this case it’s justified – just about. Then there was ABBA Symphonic, an outdoor event: the one I went to was at Campbell Park in Milton Keynes, and I plumped for a VIP package and therefore sat on a chair rather than on the grass with creepy crawlies around me. Sharon Sexton, Rob Fowler, Jodie Steele and Joel Harper-Jackson were the soloists, accompanied by a full symphony orchestra, with support from a Bedford-based singer-songwriter, Joe Bygraves, as well as a local chapter of the Rock Choir.

Clybourne Park returned to the London stage, this time at the Park Theatre, which was as perceptive then as it was when it played at the Wyndham’s Theatre in 2011. Play of the year, for me, however, was Prima Facie, in which Jodie Comer put in an utter tour de force performance as an up-and-coming lawyer who took pride in defending her clients against rape and domestic violence accusations, until one night, a crime against the person was committed against her. When her assailant was found not guilty, she already knew the reasons why, and concluded the criminal justice system needs significant reform. It’s a compelling argument, and although it’s one of those shows without an interval, it was a thoroughly engaging and thoughtful piece of theatre.

Operation Mincemeat – the musical production, that is – was an excellent night out, briskly paced with five actors performing multiple roles. I’m pleased it’s getting a West End run in 2023. Curve’s production of Billy Elliot the Musical was the first non-replica professional production, and the team in Leicester did a great job in making stamping their own identity on the show. Standing at the Sky’s Edge, set in Sheffield, is a show I first saw at the Crucible pre-pandemic, and in its slightly revised form it’s even better – do catch it at the National Theatre in early 2023 if you can. There’s a bit of a wait to see Come From Away on tour, as it doesn’t kick off until February 2024: it was lovely to be able to go to their 1000th West End performance, which had five covers on.

Yes, there are a lot of shows in London that have posted closing notices, but that also means there’s a lot of new shows coming in (and even more waiting for a suitable venue to become available). So here’s to 2023.

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