A Dramatic Year: My 2021 Theatre Round Up

A key goal of mine for the year 2021 was to simply watch some live theatre.

On revisiting the 2020 New Year’s letter I had written on the current situation, predictions, and aims for 2021, I was pleased to see that this dream has been well and truly realised. So, I give to you my most memorable theatre experiences of the past year and encourage you all to go and enjoy a play during 2022.


Woman in Black ****

This was the very first live, in-person performance I managed to attend on the reopening of theatres in the summer of 2021. A midweek matinee on a sweltering summer’s day that utterly transported me to the misty horrors of a desolate, haunted manor, and sent me out anxiously checking around my shoulder all evening.

Stephen Mallatratt’s adaptation of Susan Hill’s novel tells the story of a lawyer obsessed with a curse that he believes has been cast over his family by the spectre of a ‘Woman in Black’. He engages a young actor to help him tell his story and exorcise the fear that grips his soul. What begins innocently enough, soon gets entangled with an all-consuming world of eerie marshes, moaning winds, and dark secrets. The borders between make-believe and reality begin to blur and the flesh begins to creep.

While I usually have no appetite for anything of the horror genre, the startling effective use of flash lighting, partially lit screens, and an absorbing metatheatrical ghost story made this a play I would thoroughly recommend to anyone in want of a slick and spooky production.


The War of the Worlds ****

I saw this later in the same week as Woman in Black – I was fully making up lost time from the last few lockdown months. Sci-Fi is not a genre I would often go for, and being somewhat aware of the storyline from the 1897 novel by H G Wells, I was interested to see how the play would bring a vast alien invasion to the stage.

Four actors, smart use of film screens, minimal set and vivid characterisation initially evoke Orson Welles’ infamous 1938 radio broadcast, which induced hysterical panic of a real invasion from Mars. The comic mounting chaos of a small-town American family trying to act on what seems to be factual news of aliens, is tinged with poignant reflection as we realise that we too live in a world where the line between lies and truth has become increasingly blurred. The play jumps forward to a young media studies graduate producing an investigative journalism podcast on the town where the radio drama was set, unpeeling layers of mistruth in a world of Trump, Brexit, and frighteningly little control of what is published on the internet.

An impressive display of how seemingly fantastical fiction can be manipulated as justifiable news, the power of critical evaluation, and need to treat one another with open communication and care. This did leave me sceptical about the entire nature of reality, but I fully enjoyed it, intellectually and theatrically.



The anticipation to see this new musical was undeniable. A pop concert remake of the stories of each of Henry VIII’s wives, with whip sharp lyrics, dazzling historical outfits, and music that the entire audience was on their feet to. This was a theatre experience that moved past the boundary of play or musical, into a fully immersive concert, with the band on stage, ‘The Ladies in Waiting’, spectacular lighting and impressive dance routines, Toby Marlow and Lucy Moss’ creation is spot on. At 80 minutes, this production is short and sweet, a pleasure for lovers of great music, reclaiming female narratives, and Tudor history alike. With lines like “I look more rad than Lutheranism”, this had me listening to the soundtrack on repeat, and I can only encourage you to do the same.

Six is also coming to the Theatre Royal in Newcastle from Friday 14th– Sat 22nd January, I can’t recommend highly enough!



Measure for Measure ***

And so, to a play far older, although more recently watched. Despite being an English Literature student, I sheepishly had no knowledge whatsoever of the storyline of Shakespeare’s comedy Measure for Measure:

Vienna on the point of crisis, plagued by persistent political scandal and a total public disregard for laws of basic decency. The Duke of the city abandons the unravelling leniency to save the political strife of implementing harsher sanctions, leaving authoritarian Angelo, the deputy, in power. When he starts policing sexual freedom, Isabella is drawn from the safe space of her convent to rescue her brother from death under the new laws. Only his freedom comes at a price: her.

The play itself was well produced, if not particularly comedic or memorable, although the character of Isabella was entrancing through her torn loyalties between saving a brother or sticking firm to her morals. If I could give 5 stars for the venue alone I would. If you ever have the chance to go to the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, in London, do it. An intimate replica of the wooden, candlelit theatres of Shakespeare’s London; it might possibly be my favourite place on earth.


Spring Awakening *****

I really had very little idea of what to expect with this play, a final family trip at the end of this Christmas holiday. From reviews I had read I had a vague sense that this might be one for the Drama and English Lit students: angsty, expressive, dark and intense.

The best way I can describe this play is like watching a dark, rock musical version of Sex Education live on stage. German playwright Frank Wedekind’s expressionist 1891 play was put to music in 2006 (performed in Broadway by Lea Michele and Jonathan Groff), but the Almeida cast of this production was piercingly contemporary. A defiant mix of elegy and rebellion that thundered with dynamic energy while also lulling the audience into pitiful reflection on losing childhood. Absolutely beautiful, and I would watch again in a heartbeat.


Featured Image: By Otto Colwill – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0, https://commons.wikimedia.org/w/index.php?curid=108427122 

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