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A New Year’s Resolution: 12 Plays in 12 Months

Ok ok, I know this blog is supposed to be about food. And travel (when food is involved). So you might be wondering why on earth I’m writing about theatre? I can assure you that Got To Be Gourmet isn’t going to turn into a lifestyle blog, but on this one occasion I really wanted to share something I’ve been doing this year to hopefully inspire some of you to take action in January.

Because in January of this year, I set myself a New Year’s Resolution of going to see a play or musical every month for the rest of the year. Why? I know it’s not the most typical of New Year’s Resolutions. I could have gone on some diet (which would have lasted a month I’m sure!) given up chocolate, or something along those lines. It all came about when I went to see King Lear at the Old Vic at the start of the year, when my friend Ceri invited me along. It reminded me how happy going to the theatre makes me feel – I really can’t beat that feeling. The whirling of emotions and awe at the incredible acting, scripts, design and music stays with me for weeks. I also happen to be fortunate to live in a place where people travel from all over the world to see its shows. So I decided to stop taking it for granted and make the most of the incredible theatre available on my doorstep. And I’m pleased to say I kept it up all year! Here’s what I went to see:

January: King Lear at The Old Vic

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I actually have a feeling this may have been in December, but either way as I mentioned above, this was the play that kick started the resolution for me. It was excellent and getting to see Glenda Jackson perform as King Lear was a real treat.

February: The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Nighttime at the Gielgud Theatre

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This has come to an end in the UK now (although it’s still touring around parts of Europe, I believe) – we’d got vouchers to see it and hadn’t got round to going, and just managed to catch it in time. It really is spectacular with some of the best set design and use of light and sound I’ve seen in the theatre. I loved the book and the play absolutely did it justice.

March: Secret Cinema presents Moulin Rouge

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A slightly different type of theatre for March – an immersive one in the form of Secret Cinema’s Moulin Rouge. For those of you who haven’t been to a Secret Cinema event before – YOU MUST! I’ve done this one and 28 Days Later, and both were some of the best things I’ve ever done in London. I don’t want to give too much away because that’s part of the beauty of it, but you really do enter the world of the film, you have your own character, outfit and backstory, and you become truly ingrained in the theatre and spectacle, before sitting down to enjoy the original film on a big screen. Perfection!

April: The Glass Menagerie at Duke of York’s Theatre

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I have to admit, I was mildly disappointed by this one. It’s one of my favourite plays – I originally studied it at school (either GCSE or A-Level, I can’t quite remember) and so it had a lot of fond memories for me. But it was just a little bit flat on stage. Laura is supposed to be physically and mentally fragile but she was just too feeble for my liking – I didn’t see that spark that I imagined so vividly in the written play. And while Amanda Wingfield was excellently portrayed, the performance did become a little overbearing at times.

May: Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf at the Harold Pinter theatre

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I think this may have been one of my very favourites of the year. I loved every little thing about it. Prior to this year of theatre I hadn’t seen a huge number of plays set in the potential claustrophobia of a one set room, so this was quite novel for me. The acting was just incredible from all four actors (Imelda Staunton and Luke Treadaway were superb) and the one set room became like a fourth character in the story. I felt like an emotional wreck by the end of it (there is a LOT of drinking and arguing!) but it was so worth it.

June: The Philanthropist at Trafalgar Studios

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This was my first visit to Trafalgar Studios, a venue that I really fell in love with. The play was entertaining with a great cast, but I was expecting a bit more of a story. Also I was expecting more Matt Berry, because you can never get enough of that booming voice.

July: Hamlet at the Harold Pinter theatre

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This really blew me away with a modern and very clever adaptation of one of Shakespeare’s best, in a similar way that Baz Luhrmann did with Romeo and Juliet. Andrew Scott really is something to behold. It’s a long play but at no point was I bored – it’s the sort of play you wish they’d release on DVD so you can watch it again and again.

August: The Ferryman at the Gielgud Theatre

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This was a bit of a wild card for me. And admittedly a bit of a panic purchase. But one that massively paid off. It was approaching the end of August and I realised I hadn’t been to the theatre yet and I was running out of days when I was free to go. I’d seen some London Underground advertising for The Ferryman which had some great accolades on it. It really is a feat of storytelling and an excellent depiction of a family drama. This play taught me what it really means to be on the edge of your seat – in the final scene I was practically clinging on to the safety rail!

September: Jane Eyre at The National

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I couldn’t believe that this was my first trip to the National. After over 8 years of living in London, what a travesty! Now, I have a little confession to make. I’ve never read Jane Eyre. Despite studying English literature throughout school and my degree, it never came up on the syllabus and it somehow passed me by. I did study Wide Sargasso Sea by Jean Rhys, the ‘prequel’ to Jane Eyre, which at the time I felt taught me what I needed to know about the Brontë novel. It’s also my Mum’s favourite book and so I knew a lot of the plot from what she’d told me about it over the years. The interpretation at The National Theatre was modern, clever and quirky. I wasn’t sure how it would incorporate dance and movement into the book but it was brilliantly done with inspired moments. ‘Bertha’ singing ‘Crazy’ by Gnarls Barkley was perfect (it might sound weird but if you know the story of Jane Eyre, look up the lyrics and you’ll see what I mean).

October: The Woman in Black at Fortune Theatre

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What else could I see in October other than The Woman in Black on Halloween? I loved the book and thoroughly enjoyed the Daniel Radcliffe film a few years ago. It was one of those that lingered with me for weeks afterwards every time I was alone in the house in the dark. I type this as I sit alone in the dark. What have I done? At least I have the cat on my lap for company (Dexter, please don’t leave!). This is a play that has been performed on the London stage for many, many years and it really has been perfected. It builds up suspense superbly and the brilliant acting draws you in to this frightening ghost story!

November: A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic

Melissa Allan (Little Fan) and Rhys Ifans (Ebenezer Scrooge) in A Christmas Carol at The Old Vic. Photos by Manuel Harlan

For November I returned to the Old Vic for the opening preview night of A Christmas Carol starring Rhys Ifans as Ebenezer Scrooge. A Christmas Carol is one of my favourite Christmas stories and films of all time (I love all versions, particularly The Muppets – if you don’t like that film, I seriously question your spirit of Christmas). Rhy Ifans was brilliant as Scrooge, easily the most frantic, sweaty and spitty Scrooge I’ve ever seen. It’s also the most uplifting play I’ve seen this year – I was blubbing both happy and sad tears through large parts of it and the lady sitting opposite me (the seating goes around the stage which centres the theatre like a catwalk) was in tears for the duration! I don’t want to give too much away because it’s still running, but it’s a play that really gets the audience drawn in to its enthusiasm and you can’t help but leave the theatre with a huge smile on your face!

December: The Grinning Man at Trafalgar Studios

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This was another play that I didn’t know much about and it was a last minute purchase, but again one of the best plays I saw this year. I really don’t know how best to describe it because there are so many wonderful elements. Based on a Victor Hugo novel, it’s dark, gothic, witty, hilarious and romantic. And it has puppetry from the team behind War Horse. Oh and it’s a musical! With beautiful heart-wrenching songs that have stuck in my head for the past few weeks. Louis Maskell who plays the lead character (a man whose mouth was scarred as a child, which supposedly inspired ‘The Joker’ character in the Batman comics), has the most divine singing voice you’ve ever heard. All while he’s wearing prosthetics over his mouth. It’s quite an achievement!

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I’m SO glad I did it. Every single play was very good with few disappointments – I expected there to be at least one turkey during the year but that wasn’t the case. It was also brilliant to discover theatres I hadn’t visited before.

It did however, cost a lot of money. Rather eye-watering when I actually calculate it for the full year. Sometimes Tim came with me, but most of the time I went by myself – I found you could get some great seats at the last minute for sell out shows if you were just one little person willing to be in the midst of other groups (for The Glass Menagerie I somehow ended up smack in the centre of a group of South African schoolchildren and their teachers on a school trip, which was quite amusing!). That said, those seats still weren’t cheap. But part of my decision with this resolution was that I would pay for decent seats and get the best experience, rather than being stuck up in the roof with a view of a pillar. If I was going to do this, I was going to do it right! I often got an uber home after the play (some of them finished pretty late and being by myself, I thought it was better to be safe than sorry!) and most trips I treated myself to a G&T or two, and sometimes an ice cream in the interval.

I would love to do it again next year but I’m slightly fearful for my bank balance. Sure, it could certainly be done more cheaply, but this was my little treat to myself – I spend very little on things like clothes, make up and nights out, so this was my indulgence for 2017. Next year I’m going to keep a close eye on the theatre websites and newsletters to look out for plays I really want to go and see. But I’ve already booked to see James Norton and Imogen Poots in Belleville at the Donmar Warehouse the first week in January. And I’d love to go back and see The Grinning Man again. I think this might have become an addiction.

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