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Looking Back at 2011

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2011 was a great year for theatre in the North West and here we look back at the year and ask our busy reviewers what they will remember long after they have finished eating their turkey sandwiches. See if you agree with our choices.

Glenn Meads' Productions of 2011
You Can't Take It With You at the Royal Exchange, Manchester
This wild and wacky comedy is not just for Christmas - it's expertly staged, incredibly funny and performed with vigour and athleticism by a perfect cast. One of the best plays of the year.

The Ladykillers at the Liverpool Playhouse
Another fine comedy - this time an adaptation of the famous film. But so much more than a re-tread, as the set alone is worth the admission. But like You Can't Take With You, this piece leaves you in hysterics. Peter Capaldi and Ben Miller are on the money and this evergreen classic will leave you forgetting about the recession.

Macbeth at the Everyman, Liverpool
This one was always going to be historic and memorable as the Everyman closed with this. But who knew it would be as stunning as this? David Morrissey is the stoic lead and the rest of the cast aren't half bad either in this mesmerising production. 

Michael Hunt's Productions of 2011
Macbeth at the Everyman, Liverpool
There was plenty of pressure on the shoulders of those involved and all can be proud of achieving the overall objective of creating a memorable show. The production was a last hurrah for the old Everyman before it was demolished to make way for a new theatre and, for me, David Morrissey – an actor who doesn’t do a great deal of theatre work - returned to his home city to give a powerful performance in the title role. Even in the build-up, drama was created with Jemma Redgrave pulling out of the show before being replaced at the final hour by Cheshire actress Julia Ford. It was also the first time that the theatre’s artistic director, Gemma Bodinetz, was directing a Shakespeare play in Liverpool. So the fact it attracted over 15,000 theatre goers speaks volumes.

The Ladykillers at the Liverpool Playhouse
The press gig was in the capable hands of another Whatsonstage reviewer, but I was fortunate to buy a ticket to this sold-out show in November. Never have I seen a set outshine the talents of the actors within a show as much as I did in this production. However, the brilliant all-star cast entertained from the moment they arrived on stage and had me stiches with Graham Linehan’s script beautifully delivered to create a joyful evening at the theatre.

Twisted Tales at the  Liverpool Playhouse
Jeremy Dyson, who co-wrote Ghost Stories with Andy Nyman, adapted five of Roald Dahl’s tales for the older audience earlier this year. Under the direction of Polly Findlay the production achieved a sense of the suspense across an hour and twenty minutes through multiple performances from a cast of six and clever use of revolving sets.

Craig Hepworth
Ghost The Musical at the Manchester Opera House
To say I was getting a bit fed up with the UK's latest musical offerings was an understatement, but after catching the 2nd preview of Ghost, I was hooked. Some eye popping staging, great music and an exciting cast......all that and you get to have a good cry as well.  A true musical blockbuster.
Beautiful Thing at the Royal Exchange, Manchester
I have always loved this play by the wonderful Jonathan Harvey and I knew the Exchange would do an impressive production and boy did they. A great representation of positive gay theatre and a play that is still as relevant and exciting as the day it was written. Plus Claire-Louise Cordwell as Sandra gave one of my favourite performance of the year.....a real treat.
Deathtrap at the Oldham Coliseum
Another play that I have always loved, this twisted and campy thriller never disappoints when done well and the production at the Oldham Coliseum was right up there with some of the best productions I’ve seen. With a superb set design and a talented cast it never missed a beat, one of the great stage thrillers got one hell of a stage production.......and it was funny watching the unsuspecting audience jump out of their seats.

Rebecca Cohen
Ghost The Musical at the Manchester Opera House
I cannot get enough of this production. Having seen it twice this year (once at the Manchester preview and once in London) it comes as no surprise to hear that the delightful Caissie Levy and gorgeous Richard Fleeshman have been selected to play the iconic roles of Molly and Sam in Broadway. This is a new adaptation that is unsurprisingly taking the world by storm. From its technical brilliance, to its beautiful storytelling, this is, without even having to think about it, my theatrical highlight of the year. 

Sister Act
at the Manchester Opera House
As an avid musical-theatre goer it seems strange that this was a production that didn't quite attract my attention. Whilst I found myself desperate to see Legally Blonde and Dirty Dancing, this was a show that, for a reason unbeknown to me, remained low down on my list of priority viewings. Maybe it's not had quite the same amount of hype, maybe the idea of dancing nuns made me a little confused. Whatever it was, I hold my hands high and admit defeat. This was a show bursting with energy, fun and sheer escapism and an unforgettable performance from Cynthia Erivo.

Journey's End at the Lowry
RC. Sheriff's play was brought to life at the Lowry in November. It's no easy task translating the reality of the First World War to the realms of the stage and yet this production did it powerfully and beautifully. The staging was simple, allowing for the raw dialogue to take precedence, the ending was particularly poignant and the characterisations of the male cast, were some of the strongest I have seen this year. Definitely one not to miss.

Richard Woodward

Madama Butterfly Opera  North at the Lowry
This was sublime. For two hours plus transported to  a magical realm.
The Deep Blue Sea at the West Yorkshire Playhouse
A bit of  a cheat as I didn't review this for Whatsonstage officially. It was my 'trial review' for acceptance, but it remains one of the highlights of my theatregoing year. A play I have seen many times but never better. A superb production and a brilliant performance from Maxine Peake.
Love, Love, Love on tour at the Liverpool Playhouse
A clever and funny play that made me laugh out loud with a couple of excellent performances.

Dave Cunningham
King Lear at the Lowry
 To be honest there’s been so many Shakespeare productions in the North West in 2011 that it would be possible to select a top three just from those shows. I was tempted to pick the National Theatre’s Hamlet. It’s the best play ever written after all and Nicholas Hytner’s production was vivid and powerful. Decided on King Lear because Derek Jacobi’s stunning performance was not only dramatically compelling it answered so many questions about Lear’s motivation – he behaves in such a bizarre and contrary manner because he is so very human
One Man, Two Guvnors at the Lowry 
We’ve needed a laugh or two this year and there were plenty in Nicholas Hytner’s (him again) production of One Man, Two Guvnors. Hynter added sheen to Richard Bean’s already very funny script but the show was dominated by a superb central performance from James Corden. To date his success as a writer has over-shadowed his reputation as an actor but this show must surely correct the balance.
 Das Rhinegold (Opera North) at the Lowry
 I’m never really sure if I like opera as a genre or just enjoy the opulent sets and lavish productions. Peter Mumford’s audacious staging of Das Rhinegold was stripped of all such distractions. The opera was performed in a concert setting with just the cast and a whacking great orchestra; which compelled the audience to concentrate on the music. Fortunately conductor Richard Farnes brought surprising lyricism to Wagner’s occasionally bombastic score so that the event became very moving.

Carmel Thomason
Hard Times by The Library Theatre at Murray's Mills
No-one could accuse The Library Theatre of taking a back seat while waiting for its new home. Its production of Hard Times in Murrays' Mills, Ancoats was undoubtedly one of the highlights of this year's theatrical calendar. It was a hugely ambitious project, but the vision paid off to remarkable success. It was atmospheric, imaginative and one that I will remember for a long time.

Ghost at The Manchester Opera House
There was a lot of hype around this musical and rightly so. It was an extravaganza of a show with incredible special effects. It opened in Manchester ahead of its West End run, starring Cheshire based, Richard Fleeshman in the Patrick Swayze role, and because of this felt homegrown, creating a real buzz in the city. It was blockbuster theatre which scored at every level.

Hamlet - The National Theatre on tour at The Lowry
It is difficult to make fresh a play with which we are so familiar, however good that play may be. However, Nicholas Hytner managed to modernise Hamlet in a such a way that made the drama, tension and tragedy feel real and involving. You felt it was how Shakespeare would have wanted it. This was in no small part due to an astonishing lead turn from Rory Kinnear, who was supported by an excellent cast. It was three hours of compelling theatre and didn't feel a minute too long.

Sara Cocker
One Man, Two Guvnors at the Lowry
Slick, joyful and made the audience belly-laugh. A brilliant and hard-working ensemble cast. Deserved of the hype and Broadway transfer. This proves that there's still a place for old fashioned genres/techniques within the current theatre scene.

Carlos Acosta Premiers Plus at the Lowry
Accessible, engaging and an astounding display of stamina, strength and dynamism.

Bryony Kimmings' Sex Idiot at Contact, Manchester
Honest, daring and hilarious. I laughed to the point of hysteria. An original 21st century clown.

Ruth Lovett
Spamalot at Manchester Palace Theatre
Was very sorry to miss this in the West End but really enjoyed it in Manchester earlier this year. It's silly, doesn't take itself too seriously but most importantly is entertaining. A real highlight of the year.
The Crypt Project St Stephens Church
I loved being down in the crypt at St Phillips with St Stephen's Church Salford and moving around to meet the characters in each scene.  A thought provoking piece that showed talent and understanding of the subject matter. 
Ramin Karimloo at the Bridgewater Hall
I have to say this was one of the best concerts I have been to. A superb venue filled with the vocals of one of the finest Musical Theatre singers. A really enjoyable evening with some wonderful songs and beautiful music.

Debbie Parkinson
Alice Through the Winter Gardens - Blackpool
This was a very exciting piece of theatre a wonderful change from the normal 'sit down look at a stage' show, whilst walking around and following the actors there was so much to look at and to take in. Very unique and memorable.

Snow White and the Seven Dwarfs at the Blackpool Grand
This was a wonderful evening full of festive fun.With current songs and a strong cast and a scarily good Vicky Entwistle - formerly of Corrie.

Harriet Chandler
Calendar Girls at the Palace Theatre, Manchester
Heartbreakingly funny and beautifully moving - this one never seems to run out of steam.
Last Orders at the Replay Festival
This all-too-believable almost-love story is told with humour and sincerity by a great theatre company - Monkeywood.

Miss Nightingale at the Lowry
A small-scale musical but a hugely captivating love story which was very moving and well performed.

Do you agree? What were your highlights of 2011? Leave your comments below.


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