Back when I spontaneously decided that 2017 would be a Year Of The Theatre, I was completely unaware of just how much of a game-changer this decision would turn out to be. If it hadn’t been for a horrible night of insomnia that had me creating a blog just for something to distract myself with, there isn’t a single aspect of my life right now that would be the same. From my first review that’s so hideously bad that I can’t even bring myself to link it, to my most recent review of the Hairspray UK Tour, I’ve loved every single moment of becoming a theatre blogger.
So fast forward three months into 2017: there I was, obliviously writing ‘reviews’ of shows I’d seen that were, quite frankly, terrible. They were long streams of incoherent fangirling, with a couple of badly edited photos wedged in-between. Therefore, nobody was more surprised than me when an opportunity at the renowned Broadway World UK presented itself back in April. I am so grateful to Marianka, the UK editor, for taking a chance on me and giving me the feedback that massively changed and improved my writing style, and for being so understanding of my poorly-person situation. It’s thanks to the Broadway World team that my reviews today are *hopefully* much more legitimate, and that I’ve been able to visibly see the improvement in my writing over these last twelve months. I attended my first show as an Actual Theatre Reviewer back in May, and I was absolutely buzzing when my first review, of The Curious Incident Of the Dog In The Night Time, was published on BWW.
Thinking back, I’d actually say that it was attending the above show, Curious Incident, that planted the first seed of an idea in my mind: chronic illness-friendly reviews. Accessible theatre is thankfully becoming more and more acknowledged in the industry, but as far as I could see, those with chronic illnesses never seemed to be included in the conversation. From then on, I started ranking the regional and touring shows I saw on a ‘chronic illness-friendly’ scale, describing any aspects of the content, special effects and location of the production that could potentially be problematic for those with conditions similar to my own. And to find out not only that people actually read the reviews, but that they now take my thoughts on board and use it to decide if shows are suitable for them? I have no words for how awesome that feels.
As the whole chronic illness-friendly foshizzle is something that nobody else appears to be doing, I’m definitely still working on getting things just right. I take every chance I get to learn more about accessible theatre, and whilst I know that not every show is going to be suitable for every poorly person, I’m doing my best to make sure that us chronically ill folk in particular aren’t being forgotten. It feels like a promising time to be talking about inclusivity in the theatre world, and I really hope that the next few years continue to bring about some tangible change, for as many patient groups as possible.
You know those thoughts and ideas you have that are far too unlikely to even entertain the idea of, but that pop into your head every now and then regardless? Throughout this process, I had this absolute dream hypothetical blogger opportunity in my head, the kind I could only hope would become a reality in the future, yet never really expecting it to. When that very email came into my inbox in October this year, I was absolutely floored. The 4th November 2017 is a day I’ll never forget: the day I got to collaborate with one of my all-time favourite West End shows, Matilda the Musical, on a chronic illness-friendly review. I can only hope for more opportunities like this in the future, provided I don’t die of actual inclusivity-oriented glee before then.
From the get-go, 2017 and my Year of The Theatre was always regarded by me as a one-time thing (like, just imagine if I’d picked a cheaper hobby instead…), however the opportunities I continue to pursue mean that best of all, regular theatre trips are going to be sustainable for the future too. And I cannot even begin to tell you how much that means to me. I love the theatre, and I love writing about it just as much. I’ve developed a real and genuine interest in accessible and inclusive theatre, and I cannot wait to see what the future holds for me and my little blog. To anybody who’s ever read, commented, shared or passed on positive feedback about one of my reviews, you’ll never know how grateful I am. Thank you, from the bottom of my heart.
Right then. Shall we get to the fun bit?
LIFE OF PIPPA THEATRE WRAP-UP 2017
This year, I saw 18 shows. Now, I follow other theatre bloggers, and I’m sure that number may not seem great to some: I know bloggers who have seen their favourite show alone more times than that in the last 12 months. But for me, with a debilitating health condition, 2346783 other life commitments and if we’re being honest, quite a desolate bank account, 18 seems like a heck of a lot to me. It’s considered a borderline miracle if I can get to London once a year, so the fact that 3 of those productions were West End shows is genuinely mind-boggling. I mean technically, it’s actually 3.5: if you follow me on social media, you’ll have heard all about our School of Rock fiasco, and I’m sure it’ll come as no surprise that I’m still not over it and need to try again as a matter of urgency. That is all.
I saw the aforementioned shows over 11 different venues. The most accessible venue was arguably London’s Cambridge Theatre, and the least accessible was definitely Sheffield Montgomery Theatre, a small location with a grand total of zero accessibility measures in place. Holy steps.
The most chronic illness-friendly productions I saw were the Hairspray UK Tour and Sheffield Crucible’s What We Wished For. The least chronic illness-friendly production I saw was, and it pains me to say this, The Addams Family, but it was so bloody awesome that to be honest, I’m willing to let it slide this time.
My favourite production of the year is impossible to pick, so have a top three: Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes (Bradford Alhambra), The Addams Family UK Tour (Sheffield Lyceum), and Hairspray UK Tour (Bradford Alhambra). My least favourite production of the year, and the only show I didn’t enjoy, was a touring dance production called Bring On The Bollywood (York Theatre Royal). I couldn’t even bring myself to review it on my own blog, but my Broadway World review of it will live on.
My favourite blog review to date is probably Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, and my favourite Broadway World Review to date is Everything Is Possible: The York Suffragettes. If you want to see my least favourite blog review, you’ll have to trawl right back to my first ever blog post and let’s be honest, there are much better things you can be doing with your time. Like, I dunno, reading my recent stagey posts instead…
The best thing about running my theatre blog, if I had to pick just one thing, has been the positive feedback I’ve been getting from cast, crews, venues and professionals about my chronic illness-friendly chats, and the encouragement to keep doing what I’m doing. Getting to attend shows as press, along with my best pal Izzy, has been pretty special too. We don’t half get excited when we have an evening of prosecco and theatre ahead of us…
The not-so-great thing about running my theatre blog is how disappointed I’ve been at having to turn down some really incredible opportunities because of my health/financial situation. I’d be lying if I said there hadn’t been real upset over some of them, but fingers crossed for more similar chances in the future, eh?
A huge bucket-list item ticked off my list this year was seeing a Cirque du Soleil production, Varekai, at Sheffield Arena. I’ve been besotted to the point of obsession with Cirque since I was a tiny person, and the performance completely fulfilled my expectations and literally left me breathless at one point. If there’s any way I can manage to see Cirque’s Ovo show on tour next year, that’s sure as hell happening. In addition, finally seeing Hairspray on stage after literally a decade of waiting was a huge deal for me too, especially as it was everything I hoped that it would be.
Productions I wish I’d managed to see this year include Legally Blonde (for a third time, because the ‘is he gay or European?’ debate GIVES ME LIFE), Nativity the Musical UK Tour, An American in Paris which I’m gutted that I won’t be able to see before it finishes its West End run, and of course, Hamilton. I really, really hope Hamilton is on the cards for next year.
A show I expected to love but didn’t was… oh God, I’m probably going to upset a lot of people here. The RENT UK 20th Anniversary tour. I’M SORRY, OKAY? I don’t know whether it was because so many people had told me how much I’d love it before I went, or if I saw it on an off-day, or what. I genuinely really enjoyed it and completely got why everybody adores it so much, but I didn’t feel the magic myself. I held off reviewing it this year, and hope to give it another go in the future before I form a concrete judgement.
A show I expected not to like but absolutely loved was without a doubt The Addams Family: this is genuinely the third time my best pal Izzy has picked a show which I’ve initially not been hugely fussed about seeing, where I’ve come out of the theatre absolutely adoring it. Gal did good.
My favourite performers of the year were Layton Williams as Seaweed in Hairspray, Cameron Blakeley as Gomez in The Addams Family, Clare Halse as Peggy Sawyer in 42nd Street, and of COURSE Gina Beck as Miss Honey in Matilda. My favourite understudies of the year were Kirsty Ingram as Wednesday and Scott Paige as Fester in The Addams Family, and Rosie O’Hare as Tracy Turnblad in Hairspray.
My best choreography picks were undoubtably Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes, and Randy Skinner’s 42nd Street. If you’re a dance fan, you definitely need to get yourself to these two productions in the near future.
My top theatre moments of the year were Edna and Wilbur’s improvised moments during You’re Timeless To Me in Hairspray, Grandma Addams’ killer one-liner in Full Disclosure (and the Full Disclosure number in general, oh my life) from The Addams Family, and the tumultuous ending to The Red Shoes that left the entire audience in silence as the curtain fell, before the standing ovations began. That was a real magical theatre moment for me that I don’t think I’ll ever forget.
All that’s left to say is that, if you haven’t guessed already, I’ve had the BEST year. Theatre and blogging, and everybody who’s supported me in this new endeavour, are to thank for a huge proportion of it, and I cannot wait to continue these stagey adventures next year. So, what now? At the time of writing, I have absolutely zilch tickets booked for the new year, but I guarantee that won’t be the same for long. 2018, I am so ready. Let’s do this.
Tell me about your year of theatre! What was your favourite production of 2017, and what do you hope to see in 2018? Let me know in the comments below or on my social media, and I will 100% fangirl with you…
To celebrate the redesign of my blog, I’m delighted to be giving away a copy of the Kinky Boots Original West End Cast Recording (the most glorious soundtrack in existence, in my humble opinion), some gorgeously theatrical book goodies in collaboration with fabulous press team at Oberon Books, and a Grow Your Own Unicorn because… well, I like unicorns. To enter, just follow the Rafflecopter instructions below the image, and a winner will be announced on Saturday 23rd December. Best of luck!