As the nights draw in and the idea of schlepping down to the West End for an overpriced seat in an underheated auditorium begins to lose its appeal, it is time to join the Evening Standard in casting an eye over the years productions in order to bestow upon one the arbitrary title of Best Night Out. It is of course unfortunate that ‘Best Night Out’ is indelibly linked in my mind to provincial towns and phrases like ‘Mega-Bingo’ and ‘introducing Top Radio 1 DJ Tim Westwood’, but we all have our crosses to bear.
So without further ado, the shortlist:
BATMAN LIVE (The O2 Arena, SE10)
Really, REALLY. It is hard to imagine the shortlist getting off to a more inauspicious start. I am not sure which marketing consultant drew a venn diagram between regular theatre goers and fans of Batman films. It is perfectly possible there are many. However they probably didn’t also consider whether all of these fans would rather rent The Dark Knight for a £3.99 than fork out extorniate prices to see Batman battle against a trio of his most deadly enemies: plot, character and action. Like all wars, there were no victors
CHICAGO (Garrick Theatre, WC2)
Yep, still here. After 14 years. As we move from Ute Lemper to Ruthie Henshall to Claire Sweeney to someone from Ugly Betty, one can only presume it is just as good now as it was then. If you are the last remaining person in London not to have seen it, rent the DVD. Its not great but at least its got Queen Latifah in it.
CRAZY FOR YOU (Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre, NW1 and Novello Theatre, WC2)
Ok, I actually like this. Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre are building a bit of a reputation for themselves carving out interesting musicals. Last years Into The Woods was revelatory and whilst Crazy For You doesn’t reach those exceptionally high standards, it is great to see a traditional Chorus Line musical hit London, and is comfortable the best musical of its type since the last major revival of Anything Goes.
JERUSALEM (Apollo Theatre, W1)
Still excellent. Still the best play of the 21st century. Still one of the best performances of the 21st century. If you haven’t seen it yet then beg, borrow or steal tickets for its latest London run. The staggering tour-de-force that is Rylance’s performance as Johnny ‘Rooster’ Byron makes it hard to imagine it being revived with any other actor in the role.
LA SOIREE (Magic Mirrors, SE1 and Roundhouse, NW1)
Saw La Clique. Sure its much the same. Seen one burlesque show seen them all. Law of diminishing returnsprobably applies. At least it’s not Cirque de Effin Soleil.
LES MISERABLES (Queens Theatre, W1)
Do you hear the people sing? Not if I can help it.
OFFICE PARTY (Pleasance Theatre, N7)
Oh god, by its own admission its interactive. Please, please, please will companies stop making us poor audiences become part of the action I am paying you to act, not me. If I could act I would be up there to begin with. Probably best for stag nights and hen parties of people who feel a little bit above Spearmint Rhino.
ONE MAN, TWO GUVNORS (National’s Lyttelton, SE1 and Adelphi Theatre, WC2)
Far better than anyone expected. It is fair to describe this as the breakthrough hit of the summer and a reminder to everyone that James Corden is far more than ‘James Cordon star of Lesbian Vampire Killers’. A fine actor, a fine translation and an absolute comic treat that more than deserves its West End transfer.
THE PITMEN PAINTERS (Duchess Theatre, WC2)
Haven’t seen it. By all accounts it is very good and deserves its West End transfer for taking a wonderful story that is made even stronger by its veracity. Before deciding to book tickets it should be noted that it was created by Lee Hall; a man also responsible for Billy Elliot. My understanding is there is less dancing in this.
THE RAILWAY CHILDREN (Waterloo Station, SE1)
I really, really wish that I had managed to see this. By all accounts a lovely idea exceedingly well executed. In hindsight it makes perfect sense to stage this with a vintage steam train but actually using the former Eurostar platforms at Waterloo was a magical touch and all those who have seen it have managed a smile while stoically dabbing their eyes with hankies.
SHREK THE MUSICAL (Theatre Royal Drury Lane, WC2)
So here is a great idea – we have a much loved character that has been slowly eroded by sequels that don’t quite live up to the imaginative reinvention of fairytale stereotypes of the first. Now how can we rejuvenate the brand? There must still be some money that can be squeezed from the pockets of parents somehow. How about a musical that strips all the magic from a fantasy land by spending an extorniate amount on a set, props and make-up that has 1/100th of the charm of the original film? C’mon people you might as well send a cheque straight to Stephen Spielberg.
WICKED (Apollo Victoria Theatre, SW1)
Actually better than you might imagine. And now with Matt Willis from Busted. Hmm bad news for both the musical and Matt Willis’ solo career then.
If you actually want to vote in this thing (admittedly its not quite X Factor but its always nice to have a say) then you can do so here: http://www.thisislondon.co.uk/bestnightout.do
Let the best play win (and please please please don’t be Batman Live).