The best theatre of 2022 | Theatre

10. Prima Facie

Jodie Comer made a sensational West End debut in Suzie Miller’s hard-hitting play, which is destined for Broadway in the spring. Best known for her TV role in Killing Eve, Comer proved she could be just as charismatic and commanding on stage, playing a lawyer who ends up in the witness stand after a sexual assault. Read the full review

9. Two Palestinians Go Dogging

At London’s Royal Court, Sami Ibrahim’s drama captured the Palestinian-Israeli conflict through the prism of one family in a village east of Jerusalem. It started like a standup act and played out the brutality of the conflict with searing scenes set beside whimsy, then pulled back to land a sucker punch. Exactly what a new-writing theatre should be showcasing. Read the full review

8. Our Generation

Masterful … Our Generation by Alecky Blythe at the National Theatre, London. Photograph: Johan Persson

At almost four hours, Alecky Blythe’s drama about a dozen young people still left us wanting more. Energetically directed by Daniel Evans for a Chichester Festival theatre and National Theatre co-production, it spanned five years and captured their dreams and disappointments, migrant experiences, parental clashes, body issues, school grades and Snapchat banter. Verbatim theatre at its most vigorous. Read the full review

7. Crazy for You

It was not just the showstopping dance numbers that made this Chichester production so joyous, although Charlie Stemp’s sublimely agile performance was little short of perfection. The 1992 musical – directed by its original choreographer Susan Stroman – combined physical wit, zinging wisecracks and an irresistible score by George and Ira Gershwin. Those who missed it can catch it in London next summer. Read the full review

6. Oklahoma!

In a year that brought a glut of successful but safe revivals, this reworking of the Rodgers and Hammerstein musical at the Young Vic, London, showed us how a well-known, well-loved show can be remade and become new and freshly dangerous. Directed by Daniel Fish and Jordan Fein, it was sexy and unsettling with plenty of experimentalism and astounding singing. Read the full review

5. Who Killed My Father

Also at the Young Vic, director Ivo van Hove’s adaptation of Édouard Louis’s autobiographical novel was staged as an eviscerating monologue with Hans Kesting playing both estranged gay son and ailing, homophobic father. Devastating and tender, it channelled its story of straitjacketed masculinity and the grinding effects of poverty through empathy and love. A stupendous performance. Read the full review

4. Beautiful Evil Things

Deborah Pugh in Beautiful Evil Things at North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford.Intense … Deborah Pugh in Beautiful Evil Things at North Wall Arts Centre, Oxford. Photograph: Camilla Adams

This year was filled with retellings of ancient Greek tragedies. A touring production co-created by Ad Infinitum’s Deborah Pugh and George Mann, Beautiful Evil Things was electrifyingly left-field. Narrated by the decapitated head of Medusa and containing an epic quality despite being single-handedly enacted by Pugh, its story was delivered as much through movement and sound as script. Read the full review

3. The Doctor

This revival of Robert Icke’s drama about identity, faith and medical ethics felt like one of the most charged plays of our times. Taking on the culture wars with cerebral daring, it transferred from the Almeida to the West End with another glowing performance by Juliet Stevenson. It pushed us out of our comfort zones and made us question not only our certainly held beliefs but certainty itself. Read the full review

2. The Chairs

Eugène Ionesco’s 1952 absurdist drama about a pair of entertainers playing make-believe in their living room became the most virtuosic show of physical theatre in the hands of husband and wife duo Marcello Magni and Kathryn Hunter, in Omar Elerian’s production at the Almeida. Magni, who died later in the year, left us this magical parting gift. Read the full review

1. Iphigenia in Splott

Sophie Melville in Iphigenia in Splott at Lyric Hammersmith, London.Modern classic … Sophie Melville in Iphigenia in Splott at Lyric Hammersmith, London. Photograph: Jennifer McCord

An incandescent revival of Gary Owen’s monologue, directed by Rachel O’Riordan at Lyric Hammersmith seven years after she staged it at Cardiff’s Sherman theatre. It was ancient Greek tragedy and state-of-the-nation play in one. Sophie Melville was a tour de force as a working-class woman in a depleted corner of Wales that shows no signs of levelling up. She spoke in magnificently adrenalised demotic and owned every inch of the stage as she told her shattering tale of love, loss and quiet heroism. Powerful and urgent political drama, especially for those who thought theatre did not speak to – or for – them. Read the full review Arifa Akbar

‘Thrilling, heartbreaking, mind-stretching’: critics’ picks


Standing at the foot of a catwalk, the audience became a chorus witnessing the fatal rivalry of Medea and Kreon. Using the rich and rugged version by Liz Lochhead, Michael Boyd’s National Theatre of Scotland production at the Edinburgh international festival fielded an unyielding Adura Onashile as a wronged wife who was every bit the match for Robert Jack’s suave Jason. Intense and larger than life. Mark Fisher

Brên. Calon. Fi

A monologue with songs, Brên. Calon. Fi (Brain. Heart. Me) by Bethan Marlow felt far more significant than its brief running time. Performed by Lowri Izzard and directed by Izzy Rabey during the National Eisteddfod in Tregaron, it was a witty, uninhibited and beguilingly sweet expression – in Welsh, finally – of lesbian desire and the first flourishes of love. Gareth Llŷr Evans

Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World

Raam Emami and Me-Lee Hay in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World.A theatrical revelation … Raam Emami and Me-Lee Hay in Things Hidden Since the Foundation of the World. Photograph: Chris Payne

At Home in Manchester, Javaad Alipoor’s new show was the most mind-stretching piece of theatre I’ve seen all year. It takes things you might think you know – the internet, pop music, murder mystery podcasts – and turns them inside out. The very idea of instant knowledge as promised by sites like Wikipedia is deconstructed in this performance, which managed to be dazzlingly clever and gloriously theatrical. Catherine Love

Sing Yer Heart Out for the Lads

It is a tragedy that Roy Williams’ 2002 play is as chilling today as it was 20 years ago. But this drama unpicking the venomous racism of a group of England supporters in a south London boozer feels as if it could have been written ready for this year’s tournament. Magnificently harrowing, in Nicole Charles’s production at Chichester’s Minerva, its insidiousness stayed with you far beyond the final score. Anya Ryan

The Homecoming

Every element in Jamie Glover’s touring revival, which starred Keith Allen, Mathew Horne and Shanaya Rafaat, captured the sleazy horror and savage comedy of Harold Pinter’s 1965 masterpiece. None more so than Liz Ascroft’s set, which made it seem as if the play’s bleakly wallpapered north London living room, a kind of petri dish for misogyny, were taller than a giant’s beanstalk. Ryan Gilbey

A Gig for Ghosts

Rori Hawthorn, Hanora Kamen and Liz Kitchen in A Gig for Ghosts.A whole room weeping … Rori Hawthorn, Hanora Kamen and Liz Kitchen in A Gig for Ghosts. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

No show has made my heart feel as full this year as Fran Bushe’s queer folk musical. Hanora Kamen and Rori Hawthorn were perfect as imperfect lovers, their sweet, funny story underscored by silly jokes and beautiful harmonies. Performed in the intimate space upstairs at Soho theatre, this tender story of grief and the love it stems from had the whole room weeping. Kate Wyver

Much Ado About Nothing

Director Robert Hastie found new jokes with a cast including deaf, disabled and neurodiverse actors at Sheffield Crucible in a co-production with Ramps on the Moon. If you’re a theatre critic, you see a lot of Much Ados. To watch Daneka Etchells as Beatrice play her lines like a maestro discovering new notes was astonishing. Hero was utterly heartbreaking when wrongly accused of infidelity in a production that also had an abundance of joy. Nick Ahad

Propaganda: A New Musical

At the Lyric in Belfast, Conor Mitchell’s thrilling musical theatre production stood out for the ambition and scale of its post-second world war canvas. Set in bombed-out Berlin during the 1948-49 Soviet blockade, its characters are desperately trying to survive. Punchy performances, bold design and a score blending jazz, big band numbers and operatic lyricism fuse, creating a multi-layered drama that pits art against populism, truth against fake news. Helen Meany

Wonder Boy

Raphel Famotibe and Ramesh Meyyappan in Wonder Boy.Audacious … Raphel Famotibe and Ramesh Meyyappan in Wonder Boy. Photograph: Steve Tanner

Pow! In Ross Willis’s high-school play, directed by Sally Cookson at Bristol Old Vic, superhero Captain Chatter assists a stammering student. Wham! Its design was irresistibly audacious, a comic book brought to life with accessibility inherent in each scene. Ka-boom! Making his debut, Raphel Famotibe led vivid performances. Bang! Its hilarious analysis of Hamlet even made a case for profanity as the soul of wit. Chris Wiegand

All of Us

There’s a compassion deficit in our politics, and often in our social media, too. Against this, Francesca Martinez’s play arrived at the National Theatre as a thrilling reboot of radical empathy. Exploring the vicious neglect of disabled experience, it was unashamedly emotive and argumentative. Refusing to feel hopeless, it unleashed what Martinez calls “wobbly rage”, a challenge to hearts and minds. David Jays

The Animal Kingdom

Ashna Rabheru, Martina Laird, Ragevan Vasan, Jonathan McGuinness and Paul Keating in The Animal Kingdom.Thrilling … Ashna Rabheru, Martina Laird, Ragevan Vasan, Jonathan McGuinness and Paul Keating in The Animal Kingdom. Photograph: Tristram Kenton/The Guardian

Sometimes it’s the small shows that reveal the full power of theatre. Ten months on, I remain haunted by Ruby Thomas’s play at Hampstead theatre, a portrait of a family circling around an unspeakable thing that has happened, in a series of therapy sessions. Were they for real? And who were we – a theatre audience, voyeurs or spectators at a zoo? It was all talk, but text, direction, design and performance converged to give words the force of body blows. Claire Armitstead

Walking With Ghosts

Monologues can be a cheap theatrical option but Gabriel Byrne’s Walking With Ghosts (in Dublin, Wexford, Edinburgh and London) was a solo show with the scale and impact of an epic play. Byrne spent the first half in childhood Ireland, the second in showbiz adulthood, the word pictures (a bald barber with a roster of toupees for different occasions) achieving an Irish Under Milk Wood, this lyricism making still more stinging the horrors (abuse, addiction, bereavement) when they come. Mark Lawson

Billy Elliot

Billy doesn’t exactly dance in director Nikolai Foster’s thrilling new production of the musical at Leicester’s Curve. He boxes. Kicks. Screams. Roars. Here was a stage show with all the heart of Stephen Daldry’s film but with extra grit, danger and depth. Lee Hall’s script felt that bit sharper and Elton John’s music, achingly tender but somehow more truthful. And the dancing? Electricity. Miriam Gillinson

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