Glenn Meads' productions of the year
West Side Story at the Victoria Warehouse/Palace Theatre
Two contrasting productions. But both were faithful to the original text. The National Youth Music Theatre produced a stunning production that left you breathless on a hot Summer night in August. and for a change – the cast were the right age. Nikolai Foster's direction was dynamic, as was Drew McOnie's dazzling choreography. The current Palace Theatre hit is just as good due to the brilliant cast who act, sing and dance their socks off. Louis Maskell gives a stunning turn as Tony. This show will never die and these two amazing productions prove why. Powerful, rich and relevant.
Singin' in the Rain at the Opera House, Manchester
Wow! A Touring production that is as good as it's West End original. Rare but when it happens – it's magical. Katherine Kingsley might have been missed but Faye Tozer's Lina Lamont is a comedic surprise. It's apt that the tour opened here as we are used to the rain. But this production makes you joyous about the wet stuff. If you missed it, catch it on tour, as it's well worth it. Sit in the wet zone for an immersive experience.
The Kite Runner at the Liverpool Playhouse
When I first heard this was going to be a play, my heart sank. The movie was a tad slow and I wondered how well this would translate to the stage. I needn't have worried. This gripping play is filled with emotion and the cast do not come up for air until the closing moments. It is a brilliant celebration of the human spirit. I hope it comes back to the regions for Ben Tuner's blistering performance, alone.
Macbeth – MIF
Like many I was a little sceptical when I first heard that Manchester International Festival was staging Macbeth, because it didn’t obviously fit with its remit of commissioning bold, new work. However, this was the Scottish play as never seen before. The return of Kenneth Branagh to both Shakespeare and the stage was a huge draw and rightly so. Staged in St Peter’s Church in Ancoats, with muddy battle scenes taking place just feet from each audience member, it was an incredible production which brought Shakespeare alive in a real and raw way that is rarely achieved. It was triumph on every level.
War Horse at The Lowry
The National Theatre’s War Horse at The Lowry, was another eagerly awaited show and again another where the hype was well justified. It is a family show, with a strong, heart-warming story and a magical element created through the puppetry. You’d have to be made of steel not to fall in love with Joey the horse. If I could have taken him home, I would.
Chicago at the Oldham Coliseum
A production which took the musical back to its Vaudevillian roots with the use of actor musicians. This, coupled with the intimacy of the venue, drew the audience in from the start and kept them hooked. I still smile when I think about that production because it was so full of joy and talent. It was brilliant entertainment and I loved it.
Macbeth – MIF
This was a production that, for once, lived up to the hype. Kenneth Branagh performing in a Shakespeare play for the first time in years has appeal for most theatregoers. But the transformation of an atmospheric venue into a muddy battlefield and such a brutal, bloody and tremendously exciting show would hold the attention of anyone with a pulse.
To Kill a Mockingbird at The Royal Exchange, Manchester
Always approach adaptations of favourite books with caution but this was a rarity in which the integrity of the source material was retained. Outstanding performances from Nigel Cooke and Shannon Tarbet made it possible to get so caught up in the production that at times you wanted to cheer the cast on.
Peter Grimes – Opera North at The Lowry
This dark opera has a horrible appeal to anyone with an obsessive nature. Director Phyllida Lloyd gave an unflinching look at hypocrisy in society and the staging was amazing including the unforgettable image of the distraught Grimes holding aloft the shattered body of his apprentice.
Sweeney Todd at the Royal Exchange
Whilst not without its faults this exciting, fresh and vibrant production of the classic musical was staged and performed with such skill that it turned out to be one of the most memorable versions of this show that I had ever seen. Chilling, gripping and bold.
The Full Monty at the Lowry
To bring a classic film like this to the stage and keep all the pieces in tact, as well as find its own identity is hard to do. But that’s exactly what the recent production of The Full Monty did. With strong leads, a fantastic stage design and electrifying direction, the Sheffield lads lit up the stage and went on to enjoy a very successful UK tour and forthcoming West End transfer.
How to Succeed in Business Without Really Trying at the Lowry
They might be teens and young adults but The Company certainly know how to put on a show, I was blown away by a production of Parade from this talented team a few years ago. And they pulled it off yet again with this classic musical. The company seem to be able to find the brightest young talent around and I am excited to see what they give us next (which I believe is the fun Broadway musical The Wedding Singer.) Bring it on!
The Kite Runner at the Liverpool Playhouse
With a fabulous adaptation by Matthew Spangler and directed by Giles Croft this production took you on a emotional rollercoaster with compelling performances from Ben Turner (Amir) and Nicholas Karimi (Assef).
Phantom of the Opera at the Liverpool Empire
This production ticked many boxes in terms of value for money and family entertainment. Alongside the stunning performances from John Owen-Jones (Phantom) and Katie Hall (Christine), set designer Paul Brown wowed audiences with his incredible moving set and the iconic chandelier.
The Day In The Death of Joe Egg at the Liverpool Playhouse
Tackling sensitive issues such as raising a handicapped child, Peter Nichols's script is timeless. Jessica Bastick-Vines performance as Joe was totally convincing and led to a totally believable but at times uncomfortable viewing, alongside Ralph Little and Rebecca Johnson this production made you laugh one minute and cry the next.
Spring Awakening by Assembled Junk at the Kings Arms, Salford
I was blown away by the energy, passion and talent of the performers and James Baker's masterful and attentive direction. They succeeded in re-imagining the intimate space of The Kings Arms – this production set new highs for the Manchester fringe theatre scene. Assembled Junk are definitely ones to watch in 2014.
West Side Story – NYMT
Watching so many young people working towards such a grand and vibrant production was totally inspiring for me – their experience, talent and passion exceeding their years. And the Victoria Warehouse proved to be an amazing venue – suited to portray 1950's New York. The NYMT has to be celebrated for giving these talented young people an amazing platform to showcase their skills.
Hitchhiker’s Guide To The Galaxy: The Live Radio Show at the Opera House, Manchester
What’s not to love – Vogon Poetry, Pan Galactic Gargleblasters and the ultimate question of life, the universe and everything. Great fun from one of the world’s best loved writers, and in the show I saw, Danny John-Jules as the voice of the book. I haven’t enjoyed a play this much in years. Such a shame that the tour was pulled early.
The Mikado (Opera De La Luna) at the Lowry
A scaled down and down-right hilarious production of the Gilbert and Sullivan classic. A few minor updates to bring it up to date and it isn’t afraid to make fun of itself and as an opera does not take itself seriously. It’s definitely on my list to see again if it returns.
Singin' in the Rain at the Manchester Opera House
Fantastic choreography, fabulous cast and a great adaptation of the original screen version (Which I love). But mostly because the finale was amazing!
Tony and Mike at the Lowry
Far and above the best young children's play I have ever seen.
The Lion King at the Palace Theatre
Another fantastic adaptation with amazing costume design.
What were your favourites? Leave your comments here.