1. Blues for an Alabama Sky
Lyttelton, London; October
It was an outstanding year at the National for big, consequential plays. Indhu Rubasingham’s production of The Father and the Assassin swept the stage with an utterly distinctive palette and movement, while Dominic Cooke beautifully, resoundingly re-engineered The Corn Is Green. Yet it was Lynette Linton’s flowing staging of Pearl Cleage’s Harlem renaissance drama that lingered longest: gloriously capturing an entire world, melancholy but bold with hope – and expressively costumed by Frankie Bradshaw.
2. The Burnt City
One Cartridge Place, London; April (booking until 16 April 2023)
Blazing back into London, Punchdrunk staged the siege of Troy in their new permanent Woolwich home – two former munitions factories – drawing on Aeschylus, Fritz Lang and Alexander McQueen. Here was ritual dance, lofty magnificence and exquisitely drilled detail (the beer barrel marked “Hades”): the company’s unique combination of the grand and the granular.
Young Vic, London; May
It was a year for reconsideration of the classics. Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein’s version of Rodgers and Hammerstein’s was a triumph: a band of tangy strings; the audience close enough to touch the performers; the action darkened but no less vibrant. (In comparison, Bartlett Sher’s much-heralded rethinkings of My Fair Lady and To Kill a Mockingbird were apologetic tinkerings.)
Bristol Old Vic; October
Directed by John Haidar, young actors Billy Howle, Mirren Mack and Isabel Adomakoh Young brimmed with urgency; Niamh Cusack and Finbar Lynch were tremendous as the regal duo. In an end of year darkened by drastic funding cuts, the renewal of Bristol Old Vic’s Arts Council money was a rare glimmer of light: in London the crucial Donmar and the Gate – theatres renowned for generating new talent – had their grants snatched away, as did Hampstead, whose artistic director, Roxana Silbert, resigned, saying the cuts meant the theatre could not continue as a stage for new writing.
Garrick, London; December (runs until 25 February 2023)
Lit up by the glorious flare of Emma Corrin; sharpened by the wit of Deborah Findlay.
6. Not Now
Finborough, London; November
David Ireland’s coruscating play ended a year of marvellous new work in small theatres. (Peter Gill’s Something in the Air brought troubled tenderness to Jermyn Street; at Soho, Blanche McIntyre’s production of Nathan Ellis’s Super High Resolution was white-hot.)
7. The Mozart Question
Barn, Cirencester; April
Jessica Daniels’s radiant production, adapted by Vicki Berwick from Michael Morpurgo’s novel, interwove speech and live music – klezmer, Vivaldi – to tell the vital story of Jewish musicians forced to perform in Nazi death camps.
8. I, Joan
Shakespeare’s Globe, London; September
There was “non-binary finery” in every aspect of Ilinca Radulian’s production, from a Saint Joan who can’t think of herself as a girl to Naomi Kuyck-Cohen’s design: the stage was bent into a wave.
Almeida, London; April
Danya Taymor’s trance-like production of Jeremy O Harris’s play had the shimmer and glare of a Hockney pool painting. The Almeida, which regularly puts on phenomenal new work, had its Arts Council grant cut by £100,000.
10. Celebrated Virgins
Theatr Clwyd, Mold; May
The extraordinary history of real 18th-century lovers, originally schoolmistress and pupil, who lived in a “Fairy Palace of the Vale” 20 miles from this theatre – passionate about snake-charmers and Aeolian harps; visited by the Duke of Wellington and Wordsworth. Eleri B Jones’s production was another feather in the cap of artistic director Tamara Harvey, who next year leaves Clwyd to head up the Royal Shakespeare Company with Daniel Evans.