Jodie Comer, a gen-Z Elle Woods and a giant swimming pool: the best theater of 2022, ranked

TThis was the first time in two years that the theater had emerged from a seemingly never-ending cycle of closures, delays and cancellations. Maybe that’s why 2022 felt pretty muted, with a lot of very good shows but not quite as many knockout shows. But in a year where we needed to hear fresh ideas and have a lot of fun, new lyrics and musical theater often won out. Our selection of the 15 best theater shows of the year, ranging from bold plays to exuberant musicals, reminded us that it’s always a great place to be in an audience and see something brilliant with lots of other people.

15. Hedwig and the Bad Inch – Leeds Playhouse and Home, Manchester

Divina de Campo in “Hedwig and the Bad Customs”

(The other Richard)

The first full revival of this rock musical about a genderqueer performer was a delight, giving drag queen Divina de Campo the starring role she deserved. Holly Williams, review for The Independentdescribed it as “a delicious treat,” adding that “it still feels remarkably fresh and original — a far cry from the predictable formulas of many musicals — and the soundtrack rocks with a wild, punky energy.”

14. That’s not me – Royal Court

I was amazed by the sheer boldness and boldness of this Russian doll of a royal court play. First heralded as the work of an unknown debut author named Dave Davidson, it later turned out to be in fact the delightfully mischievous work of chimera Playwright Lucy Kirkwood (who also wrote the viscerally powerful Maryland in response to the murders of several women shown on the BBC earlier this year). At the pace of a true crime podcast, it was a raunchy mystery about online conspiracy theories, indifferent governments, and the gaps in between. Jessie Thompson

13. Sorry you’re not a winner – Bristol Old Vic

Kyle Rowe and Eddie-Joe Robinson in Sorry You’re Not a Winner

(Steve Tanner)

Another Paines Plow production, Samuel Bailey’s latest play, followed working-class West Country boys Fletch (Kyle Rowe) and Liam (Eddie-Joe Robinson) on the eve of the rest of their lives. Liam is about to leave to study at Oxford while Fletch stays behind, the scratch card in his hand his only symbol of hope. Three years later, Liam’s accent is almost gone while his friend is fresh out of prison. A gritty, funny and powerful show that left me desperate for more winning performances from Rowe seething as Fletch, scowling with rage, inhibited by the stronghold of manhood. Isobel Lewis

12. Prima Facie – Harold Pinter Theater

Jodie Comer gave an acting master class in this 100-minute one-on-one show, playing a lawyer who defends men accused of sexual assault – until she herself is raped by a colleague. It was exhausting – and exciting – to watch kill Eve Star on stage as she slipped in and out of different accents and characters in an electrifying performance that never let up. JT

11. I, Joanna – Shakespeare’s Globe

(Helen Murray)

When the Globe Theater announced a new play about Joan of Arc, in which the French martyr would have she/she pronouns and be played by non-binary actress Isobel Thom, some critics suggested it was misogynistic to suggest Jeanne hers deprive of femininity. You needn’t have worried: Charlie Josephine’s screenplay is full of love for women while celebrating diversity in gender expression. With a refined ensemble cast and a light-hearted anchoring by Thom, I, Joan was as caring as she was radical. II

10. Hungry – Soho Theatre/Edinburgh Fringe

New writing theater group Paines Plow put on some exceptional shows this year, but the highlight has to be there Hungry. Written by Britain’s busiest playwright Chris Bush, this perceptive two-handed film focused on the relationship between ambitious Type A chef Lori (Eleanor Sutton) and Bex (Leah St. Luce), an effortlessly laid-back waitress. Their romance is evoked by grand metaphors that equate food with love, but problems lurk underneath: those of race, class, and cultural appropriation in the food industry and beyond. Nobody writes about love, anger and dinner like Bush. II

9. Tammy Faye – Almeida Theater

Andrew Rannells and Katie Brayben in Tammy Faye

(Marc Brenner)

wigs! eyeshadow! Elton John songs! Whoever decided to turn the story of larger-than-life televangelist Tammy Faye Bakker into a sparkling new musical was a genius. Okay, neither song was massively memorable – although Zubin Varla played full Javert – but there was no point trying to resist the sheer, lively exuberance of Rupert Goold’s production with a stormy performance from Katie Brayben as Tammy Faye. JT

8. Othello – National Theatre

Before Clint Dyer’s production, no black director had ever stood on the stage Othello at the National Theater. But his staging made history for another reason: it was an electric reading of the play that is likely to become an enduring contemporary reference point. It was here that the racial prejudices Othello faced were apparent – as was the toxic masculinity faced by the doomed women. Paul Hilton’s Oswald Mosley-esque Jago still makes me cringe. JT

7. The Darkest Part of the Night – Kiln Theatre

Karla Simone Spence and Yohanna Ephrem in House of Ife

(bush theater)

Zodwa Nyoni’s play, which jumps back and forth between the 1980s and Leeds today, tells the story of siblings Shirley (Nadia Williams) and Dwight (Lee Phillips) and their unbreakable relationship at key points in their lives. Phillip’s outstanding performance from teenage through adulthood of Dwight, who has autism, was truly something, while Williams shone as older Shirley in some scenes and as her mother Josephine in others. A tale of how love endures despite issues of mental health, racism, police brutality and grief, the play never felt bogged down by its heavy subject matter. Instead, I walked away hopeful and genuinely touched. Nicole Vasell

6. The Band’s Visit – Donmar Warehouse

In terms of pure charm, the big-hearted European premiere of the Donmar Warehouse The visit of the band was by far the leader of the pack. The premise was simple – a group of Egyptian musicians accidentally end up in a small Israeli town because they mispronounced their name – but the emotional impact was harrowing. Subtle, soulful and with a unique esprit, it honored how art can build bridges – and gave me a good portion of goosebumps in the process. JT

5. My Neighbor Totoro – Barbican Theater

The Cast of My Neighbor Totoro

(Manuel Harlan/RSC with Nippon TV)

Every once in a while a show comes along that seems impossible to stage. My neighbor Totoro is one of those shows. Bringing Hayao Miyazaki’s much-loved 1988 animated film to life is no easy task. After all, it’s a 7-foot-tall woodland creature with a potbelly and long whiskers. Oh, and also something called Catbus that looks exactly like the portmanteau suggests. The success of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s stage adaptation was as unlikely as it was amazing at the time. Between the childlike joy of the adult actors and the ever unfolding set designed by Tom Pye, My neighbor Totoro made his audience alternate between a Cheshire grin and slack awe. A tiring two and a half hours for your facial muscles, but worth every second. Annabel Nugent

4. Operation Mincemeat – Southwark Playhouse

At a time when London’s musical theater landscape is awash with film adaptations and Broadway imports, Operation Mincemeat is the rare thing: an original British musical. Based on the hard-to-believe but true World War II mission of the same name, Spitlip’s show has lyrics as intelligent and snarky as Hamilton and a book as silly as the greatest slapstick comedies. You say that a hallmark of a good new musical is that you hum the songs. A year later I still can’t get those melodies out of my head. And – hooray – he will be back in 2023. II

3. House of Ife – bush theater

Lee Phillips and Nadia Williams in The Darkest Part of the Night

(Tristram Kenton)

The Bush Theater has consistently pulled it out of the park this year when it comes to bringing exciting new voices to the stage. Never more than with Beru Tessema House Ife, directed by Bush’s artistic director Lynette Linton. After the death of their eldest son Ife, a British-Ethiopian family struggles to find a way forward – a struggle only complicated with the return of their estranged patriarch. The electrical chemistry of House IfeThe five-person cast immersed the audience fully in the character’s complex world, making the journey to the explosive ending all the more dazzling. It was an exciting and incisive exploration of how issues that are swept under the rug can tear families apart. NV

2. Naturally Blonde – Open air theater in Regent’s Park

Since it first opened on Broadway in 2007, Naturally Blonde: The Musical has retained a loyal fan base. It was no surprise, then, that Regents Park Open Air Theater’s summer revival – the first in the UK in a decade – drew a packed audience dressed in the show’s signature colour, pink, and ready to go rain or shine watching sunshine. Luckily they weren’t disappointed – it was just as fabulous as expected. Directed by Courtney Bowman’s Elle and directed by six Co-creator Lucy Moss, it was bursting with energy, laughter and groundbreaking performances – Nadine Higgin as dog-loving hairstylist Paulette stole the show. NV

1. Papa – Almeida Theater

(Marc Brenner)

Over in New York, Jeremy O Harris has cemented his status as the theater king’s most exciting new avant-garde. The long delayed production of Almeida dad allowed him here too. We’re watching a game of cat and mouse between rich white art collector Andre (Dracula‘s Claes Bang) and young black artist Franklin (Terique Jarrett). Harris’ play took both actors and audience to wild, unexpected places. There was frontal nudity. Pervert sex. fights. Drugs galore. A real working swimming pool. And an interpretation of a George Michael song. It was a dazed, disorienting epic delivered with laser-focused precision. II Jodie Comer, a gen-Z Elle Woods and a giant swimming pool: the best theater of 2022, ranked


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