William Russell’s Top 3 from 2015. CLARION, IN THE HEIGHTS, XANADU.
The play I enjoyed most was Clarion by Mark Jagasia staged at the Arcola theatre in Dalston. It was put on twice – the first run being so successful. About a day in the life of a Fleet Street tabloid as well as being very funny it raised all sorts of questions about journalistic ethics.
The splendid performances by Claire Higgins as a battle scarred columnist and Greg Hicks as her no holds barred editor rang true to life.
Clarion is the kind of play one always says deserved a wider audience, but I suspect – like much that opens on the fringe – it would die in the West End. Maybe its next home should be on television as a one off drama.
Otherwise of the musicals, of which I have seen a lot, I liked In the Heights at the London Theatre behind Kings Cross. It is a vibrant slice of mainly Hispanic life in a New York suburb about the fate of a small grocery, a kind of West Side Story for our times. While the story line was no great shakes the music was thrilling and the dancing – it is basically a dance show – breathtaking. It made some of the hyped West End musicals which opened during the year look very tame indeed.
Also on the fringe Southwark Playhouse offered up several musicals worth seeing, but they had their flaws – I have never admired Grand Hotel, for instance, and in spite of a first rate staging it just did not work for me. In any case the students at Guildhall had done it better earlier in the year. The one that gave me most pleasure there was Xanadu. Flimsy stuff about a goddess coming to earth and falling in love with a human; a famously bad movie musical was turned into a joyful and silly evening in the theatre by director Paul Warwick Griffin and an energetic cast. Duncton Wood at the Union, a superbly set fantasy musical, a sort of Game of Thrones tale set among a population of moles, had a superb score by Mark Carroll. It was also very well staged and performed and also deserved a wider audience.