Best of 2017

There is no question that there is now too much theatre in Manchester for one person to even start to cover.  Therefore, this list will always have omissions.  I like to think of this as my personal list.  Of course, I have the benefit of hindsight, which sometimes adds a new layer to a review done within a day of a show.  It is possible there are contradictions between this post and the individual reviews.  Maybe that’s life.

Some of the most fascinating and socially aware shows this year have been at Contact. I Told My Parents I Was Going On An RE Trip brilliantly addressed abortion.  Michael Essien, I Want To Play As You looked at the hidden side of African footballers coming to Europe.  Made in India was a gripping play about both the personal emotions and the wider political issues around surrogacy.  Man on the Moon dealt with an absent father and raised questions of identity and belief.  #JeSuis (part of Journey’s Festival) used movement to show how personal freedom is suppressed in Turkey.

Sticking with current issues, HOME’s Orbit Festival focused on identity and migration, with many excellent shows including Bravado investigating masculinity through Scottee’s own upbringing, and Palmyra asking the relative values of human life and ancient relics.

The Royal Exchange seems to be recovering its old spark under a new guise.  Main stage plays House of Bernarda Alba, the Suppliant Women and Our Town were impressive.  Parliament Square showed a possible future direction for new writing.  There were some interesting performances in the studio, but this space is disappointingly falling behind other venues now.  Cock and Bull was a highlight.

The Fringe scene is the one that I have sadly neglected most.  Of the limited shows that I managed to see, highlights were Angel of the House (Hope Mill), Contractions/North of Providence (53two), and Edward Gant (Hope Mill).  Hope Mill and 53two have been valuable additions to the Manchester theatre scene over the past two years.  I’m always impressed by the work of Cream Faced Loons, who performed Twelfth Night (Z-ARTS) and Hamlet (Castlefield outdoor).

Both Bolton Octagon and Oldham Coliseum have produced excellent programmes this year, with Winter Hill at Bolton and Gaslight and Hard Times at Oldham standing out for me.  But it was the touring production of The Weir at Oldham that held me spellbound.

MIF disappointed although there were individual moments of brilliance.  Returning to Reims was stunning, and I’m sad to have missed the Welcoming Party.  But Fatherland, Cotton Panic and Party Skills all fell short.  I’m still not sure what MIF is offering its audience; this will be a hard sell in 2019.

At the same time we had FLARE which seemed to go under most people’s radar, yet this was a festival that showcased an eclectic and high quality range of UK and European performance.  Grand Applause turned Contact into a living art gallery, Party was a unique personal experience in dancing, Moore Bacon was a stunning piece of live visual art on stage and Actresses Always Lie was quirky but cleverly put together.  Hopefully we’ll see this back in 2019.

HOME’s main stage offering continues to impress with highlights being the main production of Uncle Vanya and dance piece Charge.  In the studio ‘play with songs’ Narvik was beautifully written.   In January, the annual PUSH festival showcased the work of NW artists, with highlights being Who Wants to Live Forever and Betty.

Outdoor promenade theatre is hard to do well, but Midsummer Night’s Dream in Heaton Park was both well performed and used the environment effectively.  Remains (Octagon Reveal Festival) and Mobile (which I saw in Ramsbottom) were both intense and moving pieces of site specific theatre.  At the Central Library, Company Chamelion performed Illuminate through rooms that I often walk, expertly combining light and movement.  On the Bridgewater Canal in Worsley, Blast Theory presented interactive Take Me To the Bridgewater.

At the Whitworth Gallery, FK Alexander brought live vocals and a wall of noise to Over the Rainbow.  Under Glass came to the Lowry with dancers in glass vessels as part of Manchester Science Festival, a fascinating crossover between dance, theatre and science.

This year, eight shows stood out for me (in alphabetical order):

Grand Applause (FLARE/Contact)

Above all I admired the ambition and showmanship of putting on a ‘live art gallery’ show on stage.

I Told My Parents I Was Going On An RE Trip (Contact)

This is a play that was beautifully presented, intelligently acted and thought provoking, balanced in dealing with a topic that is insufficiently discussed.

Mobile (touring)

A deceptively simple show in a caravan, about social mobility, that relied on split second timing, clever visuals and convincing storytelling.

Over the Rainbow (Whitworth)

To be face to face with FK Alexander singing ‘Over the Rainbow’ was an intense experience.  But it was equally rewarding for those who chose just to watch, surrounded by Warhol art.

Remains (Bolton Octagon)

Set in a Bolton housing estate, compelling and moving theatre about families and missing children.

Returning to Reims (MIF/HOME)

Complex and highly political, well staged and with standout performances, this is the sort of intelligent theatre that I love when done this well.

Uncle Vanya (HOME)

Thoughtful, beautifully paced classical theatre done to perfection.

The Weir (Oldham Coliseum/ETT)

A show about five people in a rural Irish bar that touches on the most important aspects of what it is to be human, stunning performances.


Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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