My top 15 shows of 2023

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I can hardly believe that we are at the end of 2023: a year that saw me review over 50 shows and attend 60+ performances. From covering the Edinburgh Fringe in a press capacity to reviewing at over 10 new venues, I have really worked on expanding the theatre side of my website. For the first time I will be sharing my top shows of the year, featuring a mixture of musicals, plays and dance productions. It has been so difficult to narrow this list down to just fifteen, but in doing so, I hope it highlights my favourites in London, Kent and Edinburgh. The list is in no particular order, so let’s get started with my top 15 shows of 2023.

Operation Mincemeat

The Fortune Theatre, London

When I think of musical theatre, my mind goes straight to Operation Mincemeat: a wartime musical by comedy masterminds SpitLip, which happens to be one of the best pieces of theatre I have seen in years. It is based on the top secret MI6 mission of the same name that convinced the Nazis that the allies were planning to invade Sardinia over Sicily. I haven’t reviewed the show in full yet, but the creativity of the soundtrack, the witty writing and the fact that the entire musical is performed by five people in multiple roles was enough to convince me to visit twice in a two month period. Look out for my full thoughts on Operation Mincemeat in the new year, but in my opinion it is an absolute must-see.

Full review of Operation Mincemeat

Operation Mincemeat programme outside The Fortune Theatre, London

Fisherman’s Friends

UK tour performance at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Sea shanties are the theme for Fisherman’s Friends, which toured regional theatres throughout the UK in 2023. I was fortunate enough to be invited to review the show when it spent a week at The Marlowe Theatre and the refreshing musical was a highlight of the year for me. The actor musicians gave me goosebumps on numerous occasions in their musical tribute to the group of Port Isaac singing fishermen, who are known for their performances on the local ‘platt’. I really hope this musical gets a more permanent home in London soon, with its unique sound and heartwarming book.

Full review of Fisherman’s Friends

The curtain for Fisherman's Friends the Musical at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Guys & Dolls

The Bridge Theatre, London

With the success of Cabaret at the Kit Kat Klub and other immersive shows, in recent years London has seen a huge uptick in the amount of atmospheric and interactive theatre. Guys & Dolls is no exception, transforming The Bridge Theatre on the Southbank into 1920s New York, with neon lights, moving staging and incredible period costumes. The choreography is what makes the show so special in my opinion. Arlene Phillips has managed to take a musical classic and update it for new audiences, through polished dance sequences.

Guys & Dolls programme outside The Bridge Theatre, London

Johannes Radebe: Freedom Unleashed

UK tour performance at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

I’ve always been a fan of Johannes Radebe on Strictly, but nothing could have quite prepared me for how much I would enjoy his live show Freedom Unleashed. The dance production offers a unique perspective, as the dancer reflects on his childhood in South Africa, the growth of his dance career and his time on Strictly Come Dancing. An explosion of vibrant colours and captivating dance styles, Freedom Unleashed is a beautiful celebration of Radebe’s heritage and life influences so far.

Full review of Johannes Radebe: Freedom Unleashed

Johannes Radebe: Freedom Unleashed programme outside The Marlowe Theatre in Canterbury, Kent

Police Cops: The Musical

Southwark Playhouse Borough, London

The funniest show of 2023 has to be Police Cops: The Musical at Southwark Playhouse Borough. After a successful run at the Edinburgh Fringe, I had the opportunity to review the musical in London and I don’t think I’ve ever laughed so much watching a show. It’s a musical that recreates the craziness of 80s police cop movies and the parody comedy style lands tremendously well. I can’t wait to see what the Police Cops company come up with next. They are comedy geniuses!

Full review of Police Cops: The Musical

My ticket for Police Cops: The Musical at Southwark Playhouse Borough

Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

UK tour performance at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Matthew Bourne’s New Adventures are known for their world-class dance theatre productions and Sleeping Beauty was no exception. Packed full of elegant choreography, Tchaikovsky’s impactful score and mesmerising sets, I particularly enjoyed seeing the representation of good and evil through the costumes and dance steps.

Full review of Matthew Bourne’s Sleeping Beauty

Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty programme in The Marlowe Theatre auditorium, Canterbury

The Choir of Man

The Arts Theatre, London

Technically I saw this for the first time in late 2022, but didn’t review it until a further visit in January 2023. The Jungle for me is quickly becoming my happy place in the West End. There is something about this show that makes me forget every niggling worry or concern in my life and just sit back and enjoy the music. The magic comes from its power to speak to audiences on a relatable level, the talent of the company and the incredible musical arrangements. Long may the show extend its run at The Arts Theatre, as The Choir of Man is an absolute joy of a production.

Full review of The Choir of Man

The Choir of Man programme in front of the The Arts Theatre stage, London

Beats on Pointe

Masters of Choreography at Edinburgh Fringe

Masters of Choreography were a highlight of the Edinburgh Fringe for me, with their ballet and street dance fusion show ‘Beats on Pointe’. Possibly the easiest 5 stars I have given this year, the dance company performed an electric 60-minute set complete with energetic music, slick choreography and dazzling costumes. I only wish that I’d had the opportunity to see them perform years ago, as I’m sure I’d have stuck with ballet classes a little longer. Fingers crossed the company returns to the Edinburgh Fringe in 2024.

Full review of Beats on Pointe

Beats on Pointe leaflet in George Square, Edinburgh Fringe

The Ocean at the End of the Lane

UK tour performance at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

The National Theatre’s exhilarating production of Neil Gaiman’s novel toured the UK from 2022 – 2023 and it featured everything I adore about theatre. With intense moments of drama, sensational special effects and mind boggling illusions, The Ocean at the End of the Lane was one of the best productions to come to Canterbury this year. Not for the faint-hearted, Charlie Brooks was utterly terrifying in her role as Ursula, helping to create a chilling atmosphere on stage. Brooks is just one of many standout performers that made the show such a triumph.

Full review of The Ocean at the End of the Lane

The Ocean at the End of the Lane programme outside The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Life of Pi

UK and Ireland tour performance at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

In the first of two puppetry mentions, I finally had the chance to see and review the critically acclaimed Life of Pi when it came to Canterbury in October. The intricacy of the puppets and the fluid set design established this thought-provoking play as a visual masterpiece. Imaginations can run wild watching the show as the lines blur between the real and imagined, making for a truly exciting piece of theatre.

Full review of Life of Pi

Life of Pi programme in front of The Marlowe Theatre's stage

Flowers for Mrs Harris

Riverside Studios, London

The London premiere of Rachel Wagstaff and Richard Taylor’s musical ran at the Riverside Studios for 10 weeks in the Autumn. Starring Jenna Russell as Aida Harris, this production captured my heart through its captivating costume design, strong musical performances and underlying themes of friendship. Russell was absolutely marvellous in the principal role, bringing so much spirit to the production. It made me cry happy tears like no other show in 2023, with its emotional and relatable story about a hardworking individual who dares to dream.

Full review of Flowers for Mrs Harris

Flowers For Mrs Harris ticket and programme at Riverside Studios, London

Home, I’m Darling

UK tour performance at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Laura Wade’s Olivier Award-winning comedy Home, I’m Darling recently toured the country, centering on a couple that follow 1950s family values in the modern day. It takes on the form of a social experiment, with audiences getting to see the results of the marital decisions live on stage. The play is really unique, looking at the historical role of the housewife across two acts. It also has some spectacular set design in the fifties-themed house, with detailed interiors and appliances from the era. This, combined with the period outfits made for a really intriguing show.

Full review of Home, I’m Darling

Home, I'm Darling programme in front of the set at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

On Your Bike

Chordstruck Theatre at Edinburgh Fringe

A firm favourite from the Fringe was On Your Bike by Chordstruck Theatre. Focusing on a pair of delivery riders and their quest to take on employer ‘Eatsaroo’, watching this intimate production made me so excited for the future of British musical theatre. Featuring fun musical numbers, comedy segments and cleverly arranged choreography, Chordstruck deserved every success in Edinburgh and I am so looking forward to hearing what they create next.

Full review of On Your Bike

On Your Bike leaflet outside Gilded Balloon Patter Hoose, Edinburgh Fringe

Kinder (Smoking Apples Theatre)

UK tour performance at The Marlowe Theatre Studio in Canterbury

I frequently cover family shows on my website and none have stuck with me more this year than Smoking Apples Theatre’s emotional puppetry show Kinder. Covering the Kindertransport movement in World War II, Kinder tells the story of a Czech woman’s return visit to Prague with her grandson, many years after being evacuated. Told through a child’s perspective with puppets, this immersive piece of theatre uses language to cleverly highlight how alien the events were for the young children being evacuated. It is an absolutely beautiful show, covering distressing themes in a thoughtful and sensitive way.

Full review of Kinder

Kinder leaflet outside The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

Aladdin

The 2023 Marlowe Theatre and Evolution Pantomimes production

For me, no festive season is complete without a visit to The Marlowe Theatre’s pantomime. Each year the theatre and Evolution Productions come up with a hilarious and topical adaptation of a classic pantomime, with 2023 being no exception. Aladdin was my favourite Christmas themed show of the year, with creative musical theatre references, Kent-themed jokes and exceptional comedic talent. I can’t wait to see what Paul Hendy and team produce in 2024, when they take on Beauty and the Beast.

Full review of Aladdin

Curtain for Aladdin at The Marlowe Theatre, Canterbury

2023… a fantastic year of theatre!

It was so difficult to choose just fifteen shows, but hopefully this gives you an insight into the plays, musicals and dance productions that had the biggest impact on me this year. It has certainly been an amazing twelve months!

What were your top shows this year? I’d love to hear about your favourites.

Thanks for reading my blog today.

Love Kat xxxx

*Some of my tickets were in gifted in exchange for reviews.

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