As part of my 26 before 26 bucket list last year, I set out on a mission to see at least 20 theatre productions in 2023. It was a pretty ambitious target, but one I was determined to reach and I’m so thrilled to say I not only met it, but totally smashed it, ending the year on 27 different shows.
As the final curtain falls for 2023, I’ve taken a look back over my year in theatre, reflecting on the best productions of 2023, my busiest show month, and some I might take a rain check on in the future.
My initial goal was going to be to see a show in the West End, but fearing I may not get the opportunity this year, I swapped it at the last minute – though there wouldn’t have been any need, since I ended up seeing not one, but two shows on the West End this year. At the very start of the year, I had the chance to see Life of Pi at London’s Wyndham Theatre with the team from The Lowry in Salford, where the show is currently on tour. Then, as part of a visit to London, Jake and I also went to see the stage adaptation of one of my all-time favourite films, Back To The Future. And if there’s one thing I’ve learned in 2023, it’s that a matinee is always a fantastic idea.
This year also saw me return to The Lowry for the first time in about a decade to see the incredible Sir Ian McKellen in Mother Goose, as well as new comedy, The Way Old Friends Do, which is a must for any ABBA fan. But the biggest show of 2023 was undoubtedly the opening night of Hamilton at Manchester’s Palace Theatre. Now that is a show where you want to be in the room where it happens – the buzz surrounding this production is so well-earned as it truly is an unforgettable experience.
The theatre I’ve been to most in 2023 was a tie between my two locals, Hanley’s Regent Theatre and New Vic Theatre in Newcastle-under-Lyme, visiting each of them 11 times throughout the year. Other theatres this year have been the aforementioned Lowry (twice), Palace (once), as well as a trip to Wyndham Theatre and the Adelphi.
My busiest theatre month of the year was in April, ticking off no fewer than six shows at four different theatres, while January saw a theatre drought entirely, with June, August and October seeing only one show each. But which were the best? I’ve taken a look at the 27 shows of the year and tried my hardest to pick a top five.
My top five theatre shows od 2023:
- Hamilton – Palace Theatre, Manchester – absolutely iconic, phenomenal cast, felt really monumentous – don’t throw away your shot to see it.
- Heathers – Regent Theatre, Hanley – Mean Girls meets You – dark, funny and fantastically executed – honey, what you waiting for?
- Back To The Future – Adelphi Theatre, West End, London – Great Scott if I had a DeLorean I’d go back to see this time and time again. Such a magical stage adaptation of a fantastic film.
- Astley’s Astounding Adventures – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme – Astounding is an understatement. Forget ‘The Greatest Showman’, because this is the greatest show.
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Regent Theatre, Hanley – Fan of Stranger Things or American Horror Story? You absolutely need to see this creepy and suspense-filled show.
There’s got to be a special mention though for the The Card, at the New Vic, bringing to life the novel from local legend Arnold Bennett, while Titanic the Musical also struck a chord with local audiences at the Regent Theatre, due to Captain Edward Smith’s links to the city, which made it all the more poignant to host.
When you get the opportunity to see so many shows in a year – and I do appreciate it’s a very privileged position to find myself in – some may not resonate quite as much as others for for me some of my least favourite shows included A Play For The Living In A Time of Extinction and Faith Healer both at New Vic Theatre. However, what I can appreciate is their commitment to variety and ensuring there is a show in the calendar for everyone. It’s also provided a valuable chance to catch a style of show I’d not yet been introduced to, and for that reason, it was still a worthwhile experience.
There’s been some fabulous famous faces among the casts too, including Birds of a Feather’s Lesley Joseph as Mother Superior in Sister Act, as well as EastEnder’s Charlie Brooks reviving a villainous role as she became Ursula in The Ocean at the End of the Lane. Ian McKellan (who I happened to meet) and John Bishop made a wonderful comedy duo in Mother Goose, while Coronation Street’s Jodie Prenger had me howling as Miss Hannigan in Annie. But the most touching one for me was hearing the voice of the late Paul O’Grady woven into The Way Old Friends Do, having lent his voice to the production just weeks before he passed.
Here’s the full list of shows I saw in 2023, in chronological order:
- Life of Pi – Wyndham Theatre, West End, London
- Ladies’ Day – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
- The Shawshank Redemption – Regent Theatre, Hanley
- The Bodyguard – Regent Theatre, Hanley
- Quality Street – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
- Bouncers – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
- The Mousetrap – Regent Theatre, Hanley
- Mother Goose – The Lowry, Salford
- Abigail’s Party – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
- Heathers – Regent Theatre, Hanley
- Back To The Future – Adelphi Theatre, West End, London
- Titanic The Musical – Regent Theatre, Hanley
- Annie – Regent Theatre, Hanley
- The Card – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
- The King and I – Regent Theatre, Hanley
- The Way Old Friends Do – The Lowry, Salford
- A Play For The Living In A Time of Extinction – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
- Dirty Dancing – Regent Theatre, Hanley
- Eric’s Italian Job – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
- Faith Healer – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
- The Ocean at the End of the Lane – Regent Theatre, Hanley
- Sister Act – Regent Theatre, Hanley
- Astley’s Astounding Adventures – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
- Constant Companions – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
- Hamilton – Palace Theatre, Manchester
- The Nutcracker – New Vic Theatre, Newcastle-under-Lyme
- Jack and the Beanstalk – Regent Theatre, Hanley