The best theatre of 2022
10. A Doll’s House Part 2
Lucas Hnath’s canny, smart, moving sequel to Ibsen’s A Doll’s House saw Nora returning to the family she abandoned 15 years earlier, to face the music and demand a divorce from Torvald. It could have been woefully contrived, but it blazed with an Ibsenite intensity of its own, with Noma Dumezweni terrific as the still-resolute but quietly pained Nora. Direction by James Macdonald.
9. The Chairs
The actorly husband and wife team of Marcello Magni (who sadly died in September) and Kathryn Hunter proved a pitch-perfect double-act, absurdly funny and pitifully vulnerable as Ionesco’s stranded old couple, filling the air with prattle and the stage with chairs, as they contended with a deluge of imaginary guests in Omar Elerian’s meta-theatrically clever revival.
8. Walking with Ghosts
King’s, Edinburgh/Apollo, London
A spellbinding turn from Gabriel Byrne, 72, rewinding across his life to his early boyhood days in a vanished Dublin, and weaving in stand-out moments from his career, including drinking sessions with Richard Burton – who told Byrne that fame was like being trapped inside a box, with people hammering on it day and night; a coffin of celebrity. Achingly lovely.
7. Our Generation
Alecky Blythe’s epic verbatim project, spanning five years in the lives of a dozen teenagers from across the UK, ran to three hours 40 minutes but proved a thoughtful, funny and stirring dispatch from the frontline of those perennially difficult years, which bumped into the added deficit of Covid, and lockdown. Directed (and staged at Chichester too) by Daniel Evans, newly appointed to co-run the RSC from next year.
Hampstead Theatre (downstairs)
An astutely crafted gem from Nell Leyshon, winging us to her native Somerset, circa 1903, and the moment that Cecil Sharp began his invaluable mission to preserve English folk-songs for posterity. She made this quest fraught with vexed questions about Sharp's own use of them, and his inter-related idea of “England”, fertile resistance arising among the well-versed female rustics he roves among. The beautifully acted and nuanced staging was the handiwork of Roxana Silbert, now sadly departing Hampstead as its artistic director, after it (outrageously) lost its ACE funding.
5. Arms and the Man
Orange Tree Theatre, Richmond
An exemplary revival of Shaw’s vintage 1894 comedy of wartime romantic intrigue and punctured idealism, directed by the 20th century giant’s leading interpreter, Paul Miller (also the Orange Tree’s departing artistic director). Catch it while you still can.
4. Feeling Afraid…(as if Something Terrible is Going to Happen)
Marcelo Dos Santos’s whiplash sharp solo, performed with camp, serrated and springy elan by Samuel Barnett, about a stand-up whose American boy-friend could – drop that mic - die of laughter. The only lasting fear is that this superb show, directed by Matthew Xia, doesn’t get a long and happy further life.
3. Age is a Feeling
Adam Brace directed Canadian performer Hayley McGee’s calm, wry, wise solo, which walked us through a life-cycle, from the mid-twenties to the last gasp. “You’ll find that you’ve designed a life that is one part what you want, and one part a prison of duties and obligation and playing a version of yourself that you’ve twice outgrown but can’t outrun.” Rare to find such truth so well distilled.
2. Prima Facie
Harold Pinter, London
A shape-shifting tour de force from Jodie Comer as a criminal barrister encountering the legal system’s handling of sexual offences from the victim’s side. Suzie Miller’s judiciously imported Australian hit resulted in the NT Live screening achieving the highest-grossing event cinema release to-date, outstripping even Fleabag. Hats off too, surely, to director Justin Martin.
1. The Southbury Child
Chichester Theatre/ Bridge, London
Stephen Beresford’s humane comedy turned a Devon parish spat, spiralling out of control, into a timely portrait of spiritually adrift England. Nick Hytner directed, with Alex Jennings sublime as the anguished vicar resolved, in the teeth of local opposition and familial implosion, to keep a child’s funeral piously balloons-free. ““I am pleading for nothing less than an experience which is worthy of God. And if that doesn’t matter… then nothing matters.”