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  • Writer's pictureNeill Kovacic-Clarke

REVIEW OF THE YEAR 2023 - PLAYS

I have seen more plays than I ever have before in 2023 and it’s been a great year for the genre. I’ve seen some fantastic plays in the West End which didn’t make my list including Noises Off, The Crucible and Brokeback Mountain


On tour there has also been some incredible offerings such as Jesus, Jane, Mother & Me and 2:22 A Ghost Story. I also saw a local production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream which I would describe as the best amateur production I have ever seen.


This was such a strong category and it has taken me a little while to narrow my list down to 5! My top 2 however were never in doubt - and I saw them both right at the start of the year!


This category also holds my picks for Writer, Director and Composer of the Year.


So here we go - my top 5 plays and performers in a play of 2023 are listed below.




PLAY OF THE YEAR 2023



1) THE OCEAN AT THE END OF THE LANE

Theatre Royal Plymouth / Noël Coward Theatre, London


One of the few plays I watched more than once this year, I was simply blown away by The Ocean At The End Of The Lane.


Based on a fantastic story and wonderfully adapted for the stage, this production is mesmerising from the opening moments right up to its subdued ending. I’ve never been so captivated by anything in the theatre.


It was such a visual spectacle and was filled with many ‘wow’ moments. The staging was incredible and the score perfectly complemented the piece. It was almost like watching an epic movie.




2) WRECKAGE

Turbine Theatre, London


Wreckage was a beautifully sentimental exploration of grief and coping mechanisms which was expertly written and sublimely acted.


Cleverly switching between the present day, past memories and the future the play was stunning in its simplicity. 


I am someone who doesn’t often show emotion in public but I was floored by this production. Tears were rolling down my face by the end and I actually felt sick with emotion. This is a real testament to the writing, direction and acting on display.


I saw this play in January of this year and am genuinely surprised that this superb play hasn’t been given a run in one of the smaller West End theatres.




3) A CHRISTMAS CAROL

Old Vic Theatre, London


A Christmas Carol at the Old Vic is undoubtedly the best adaptation of this classic story that I have ever seen. I love how it doesn’t shy away from how dark the story really is, and at times it’s actually rather shocking.


Every aspect of the production deserves to be applauded, and you can really tell how much work has gone into putting this together. Topped off with a phenomenal cast, it’s easy to understand why this annual production has become a permanent fixture in the theatrical calendar.



4) ACCIDENTAL DEATH OF AN ANARCHIST

Theatre Royal Haymarket, London


This play was an absolute smash this year. Adapted for the modern day it takes a real swipe at the police force in a hugely comical yet deeply meaningful way. It was high energy from the start and very cleverly put together. The fast-paced production never lost its audience, but instead kept them wanting more.


I can’t remember being more eager for the interval to finish so that the play could recommence because I was enjoying it so very much.




5) THE EMPEROR’S NEW CLOTHES

Canal Cafe Theatre, London


Folklore favourite The Emperor’s New Clothes was given a modern twist this year as part of the Camden Fringe Festival.


The over the top and egotistical fashion designer The Emperor was an exceedingly strong central character, and the excellent cast complimented him wonderfully. The cast were also the creatives of the piece and their passion shone through as they delivered one of the funniest shows of the year.


This was just a really fun show which was playing above a London pub and I’m excited to see what is next from this small company, 





PERFORMER OF THE YEAR IN A PLAY 2023



1) TOM RATCLIFFE 

Sam

Wreckage


Tom Ratcliffe was an absolute sensation as Sam in Wreckage this year. Even though this was one of the very first plays I saw this year his performance has stayed with me ever since.


My heart was constantly breaking for him as he unapologetically displayed raw emotion in what can only be described as a true acting masterclass.



2) CALLUM SCOTT HOWELLS 

Romeo

Romeo & Julie


Callum Scott Howells was absolutely captivating in his role as Romeo this year and I felt every word and emotion he displayed. He unashamedly gave his utter being to the part and at times I felt sick with emotion as his feelings transferred to me. 


You could really feel his love for those around him as he delivered one of the most outstanding performances of the year.



3) DANIEL RIGBY 

The Maniac

Accidental Death Of An Anarchist


Daniel Rigby was flawless as the central character of this magnificent piece. He really embodied the role and threw himself head first into it! 


His energy was outstanding and he is now a performer that will make me want to book a ticket for any show he’s appearing in. In fact I recently saw him in the National Theatre production of The Witches and his performance in that solidified this for me.



4) CHARLIE BROOKS

Ursula / Skarthach 

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane


When an actor is so loved and well-known for playing one character it can sometimes be difficult to accept them in another role. This statement could not be further from the truth when talking about Charlie Brooks in The Ocean At The End Of The Lane.


Even though technically the villain of the piece, there was something very likeable about her. I enjoyed trying to work her out as an audience member and I was completely transfixed by her glorious performance. It was as if the role had been written especially for her.



5) CHRISTOPHER ECCLESTON 

Ebenezer Scrooge 

A Christmas Carol


Christopher Eccleston was everything you could ever want from the iconic character Ebenezer Scrooge and more. He completely embodied the character, so much so that at first I wasn’t sure it was actually him on the stage! This is a real testament to the incredible acting skills he displayed.


He gave, for me, the definitive version of Scrooge. Many have come before him, but no-one has quite done what he was able to do with the character.



I have been overjoyed to witness so many incredible plays this year and there have genuinely been so many wonderful performers that I have seen so would like to give notable mentions (in alphabetical order) to:

Nathaniel Curtis - Sam - 2:22 A Ghost Story

Mike Faist - Jack Twist - Brokeback Mountain

Millie Hikasa - Lettie Hempstock - The Ocean At The End Of The lane

Jack Stokes - Daniel - Jesus, Jane, Mother & Me




WRITER OF THE YEAR 2023


TOM RATCLIFFE 

Wreckage


With this play featuring highly in both top 5’s above, it’s no surprise that Tom Ratcliffe is my pick for Writer of the Year. 


He laid everything bare in this breathtaking piece of theatre which ripped my heart out from the very start. An absolutely powerful play which was aptly named because I was personally a wreck by the end of the performance.


I am very much looking forward to seeing future works from this highly accomplished theatre writer.




DIRECTOR OF THE YEAR 2023



KATY RUDD 

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane


Directed with an element of trickery and a complete understanding of the text, Katy Rudd delivered a masterclass of direction with her work on The Ocean At The End Of The Lane which was an honour to witness. 


I have seen previous works of hers and have always been impressed, but she really achieved something special with her work on this piece.




COMPOSER OF THE YEAR 2023



JHEREK BISCHOFF 

The Ocean At The End Of The Lane


I can't help but mention this play one final time because the score of The Ocean At The End Of The Lane by Jherek Bischoff played a huge part in the success of the production. It perfectly accompanied the on-stage action and was truly outstanding. I have never had an emotional response to the music in a play before, but this was absolutely incredible and was the icing on the cake of this epic production.




So there we have it! My round-up of plays in 2023. Let me know what your favourites were of this year. Do you agree with my picks? I can’t wait to see what 2024 holds for this genre of theatre.


Neill Kovacic-Clarke


Disclaimer: All views are my own and I pride myself on being honest and free from influence. Some of the shows and people mentioned above were from productions which I had received invites to see, meaning my ticket was gifted, but this has not played a part in their inclusions here.

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