Manchester Theatre – Best of 2022

011 RET The Glass Menagerie -L-R Eloka Ivo(Jim),Rhiannon Clements(Laura)&Geraldine Somerville(Amanda)- Image Marc Brenner

After a break for the last two years, my ‘best of’ list is back!

As in previous years, I’ve only focused on productions that either premiered in Greater Manchester or could only be seen here. Which means I’ve not included any shows that were passing through on tour or that were revivals from elsewhere. 

It may seem an odd approach, but it’s one that makes sense to me. Due to financial pressures, theatre outside of London is becoming increasingly homogenous, with an over-reliance on co-productions between various theatres and the same touring shows popping up on both sides of the Pennines and beyond. So celebrating Manchester-made work and productions that start their journey in the city region feels more important than ever.

As a solo blogger I’m never going to get to see every show in Greater Manchester and there is bound to be an element of personal taste – but then I’m not claiming that these are anything other than my favourite Manchester theatre shows of 2022.

After aiming for a top ten, I ended up with a list of nine that just felt right. So, in no particular order, these are my top Manchester shows of 2022 – with a few additional mentions thrown in.

The Bread We Break (Contact, March 2022)

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Miray Sidhom’s show landed just as the cost-of living crisis started to deepen – and her insightful reflections on bread, political protest, and the history of Egypt couldn’t have been timelier. As subject matter for a piece of theatre it may all sound a bit niche, but Sidhom is an engaging performer – skillfully deploying music, movement, sampling, and video to draw you into her carefully considered layers of narrative. An assured and imaginative reframing of a personal journey of exploration into something more universal.

You can read my original review here.

Kes (Bolton Octagon, March 2022)

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Director Atri Banerjee’s revelatory production was full of bold and innovative choices – not least the addition of Nishla Smith who brought her musical voice to the mix but also served to represent Billy’s beloved kestrel. At a time when so much Greater Manchester theatre was playing safe, here was a show taking risks. Unashamedly theatrical in its delivery, it was thrilling to experience.

You can read my original review here.

Oh Mother (HOME, May 2022)

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New work from RashDash is always something to celebrate. Never mind NPO status (I despair of Arts Council England), they should be national treasures. ‘Oh Mother’  channelled the full-on and often messy experiences of early parenthood into a powerful piece of work. Thoughtful, and often funny, it also felt bravely and piercingly honest. As you’d expect with a RashDash show, the whole thing looked and sounded amazing.

The Welkin (Grosvenor East Theatre, February 2022)

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Since Manchester School of Theatre opened their new theatre space earlier this year, there’s been a steady stream of good quality shows to experience – including a very moving production of ‘The Accrington Pals’, and a recent strong run featuring ‘Emilia’, ‘Mary Stuart’, and ‘Oppenheimer’. However, the show I enjoyed most was ‘The Welkin’ back in February. Lucy Kirkwood’s twisty, dark, funny play is a joy in itself – but the fact it is full of wonderful female characters allowed the large cast to shine. Among the many well-judged performances, Claudia Whitby-Tillott excelled as the midwife battling to save another woman from the gallows.

Road (Oldham Coliseum, September 2022)

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Gitika Buttoo’s lively and robust revival of Road was a reminder that Jim Cartwright’s scabrous slice of 1980s Lancashire life still has the power to knock you sideways. Her production, which felt a lot more relevant than you might have expected, benefited from some exceptionally strong performances – especially from William Travis and Claire Storey (who was on astonishing form). 

You can read my original review here.

Let The Right One In (Royal Exchange, October 2022)

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With its impressive use of the in-the-round space, strong cast and super-cool design ‘Let The Right One In‘ was Artistic Director Bryony Shanahan’s most cohesive and impactful production to date at the Royal Exchange. There was blood, but Shanahan also bit down deep into the complex emotional connection at the core of the boy-meets-vampire cult tale. Despite the wintry chill on stage, your heart couldn’t fail to be warmed by Rhian Blundell and Pete MacHale’s beautiful performances.

You can read my original review here.

LOB (Contact, October 2022)

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After premiering LOB as an online film in 2021, Roma Havers finally got to perform her “tennis, poetry bonanza” about moving through sporting spaces as a queer body live on stage this autumn. It should be no surprise that poet Havers was capable of serving volley after volley of wondrous wordsmithery, but it was the pairing of that meticulous deployment of poetic licence with liberating (and delightfully offbeat) use of movement that took things to another level. Inspired and uplifting – I came out of it feeling pure joy!

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World (HOME, October 2022)

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When I originally went to see Javaad Alipoor’s new show, co-writer Chris Thorpe stepped in to cover for Alipoor due to illness. Not that I’m complaining, Thorpe is an engaging performer, and it gave me a perfect excuse to see it a second time with Alipoor at the helm. Intelligent, and articulately conveyed, it’s a dizzying and mind-blowing challenge to how narratives are commonly perceived. Cleverly designed, with a set that slid open to reveal new elements of storytelling, it also used technology to strong effect.

The Glass Menagerie (Royal Exchange, September 2022)

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Director Atri Banerjee and designer Rosanna Vize conjured up a bold and radical reinterpretation of Tennessee Williams’ heated and claustrophobic family drama in a dream-like space – cool, sparse, and stripped back. Vize’s huge, illuminated PARADISE sign was ever-present – dimly glowing or burning bright, but always out of reach. Artfully deployed music and lighting heightened the mood. The cast of four brought incredible clarity to Williams’ narrative, while also mining an unexpectedly rich seam of humour. An exquisite production, and my favourite show of 2022. 

You can read my original review here.

The following are a few other shows and performances that I really admired and enjoyed in Greater Manchester this year.

Will Dickie’s ‘White Sun‘ arrived at Contact in May. I loved the show when it was online, filmed in and around Dickie’s Liverpool home, but on stage it felt even more intense. A very considered (and gripping) excavation of inheritance and privilege, with an incredible use of movement and gesture, which managed to both mesmerise and unsettle.

Thanks to Oldham Coliseum and Headlong for bringing Tinuke Craig’s richly rewarding production of August Wilson’s ‘Jitney‘ to Greater Manchester in July. Packed with wonderful performances, stylishly designed, and imaginatively staged, it was my highlight of the summer.

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Over at Manchester College’s new theatre in October, TAP Arden’s third year students delivered one hell of a professional collaboration with In Bed With My Brother. ‘The Showcase’ was like a dystopian blend of talent show and Squid Game. A disturbing streak of brutality grew gradually more present within the show’s high energy, non-stop euphoric rush. A guilty pleasure.

Finally, I should also mention Saba Shiraz, who was stunning in Vinay Patel’s ‘An Adventure‘ at Bolton Octagon way back at the start of the year – it was hard to believe it was her professional debut.

Beyond the world of theatre, I was absolutely blown away by two shows that I saw at The Lowry this year.

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Orpheus‘ from Opera North and South Asian Arts at The Lowry in November was beautifully put together (Leslie Travers’ set was a work of art). Musically it was so rich, and at times incredibly moving – I can still get teary at the thought of it.

In May, Rambert brought three very different short pieces to The Lowry’s main stage. The dancers were superb (particularly Aishwarya Raut), and the programme really showed off their versatility – it was an exhilarating experience.

Anyway, that’s enough looking back. Here’s to 2023, and the Royal Exchange’s incredible looking new season, Oldham Coliseum flourishing despite Arts Council England’s (worst) efforts, Billie Collins’ Too Much World At Once‘ and Yusra Warsama’s ‘Of All The Beautiful Things In The World‘ (both at HOME), Atri Banerjee and Rosanna Vize reunited for the RSC’s ‘Julius Caesar‘ (coming to The Lowry in June) – and all the other theatre delights that the year has in store.

 

Images – [from top] The Glass Menagerie by Marc Brenner; The Bread We Break c/o Contact; Kes by Marc Brenner; Oh Mother by The Other Richard; The Welkin by Ellie Edwards;  Road by Chris Payne; Let The Right One In by Johan Persson; LOB by Clodagh Chapman/Ruth O’Sullivan; Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World by Chris Payne;  The Glass Menagerie by Marc Brenner; Jitney by Manuel Harlan; & Orpheus by Tristram Kenton.

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