REVUE OF REVIEWS: Theatre highlights 2023

We’re hurtling towards the end of January, which makes it time for our annual round-up of the shows we saw last year. (Yes, we know everyone else did theirs somewhere in December but we are not those people!)

Please note that if we refer to having reviewed a show (either on this website or for Broadway World UK), or attended as an Offies assessor, we received complimentary press tickets to that show. If we do not refer to a review or Offies assessment, we paid for the tickets with our own money.

Non-nerdy types might want to skip ahead to the highlights! But read on if you’re interested in our personal stagey stats of 2023…..

Stagey stats 2023

Due to 2023 being a rather busy year for us outside of theatre (including two job changes, two school moves and an as of yet unsuccessful attempt to move house) our show tally wasn’t quite as high as 2022, but we still ended the year on a respectable 68ish shows (67 if you take into account the fact that one of those was a second trip to Operation Mincemeat but 69 if we count Crotchet going on a school trip to see Back to the Future).

In total (including Crotchet’s school trip), we made 79 separate trips to the theatre, with Mummy and Mrs Mummy taking it in turns to see a show separately on nine occasions (- three times as many as they saw as a pair). We saw 11 shows as a family of four, Mummy saw nine with Quaver, three with Crotchet, four with both munchkins and one in a rare trio with Mrs Mummy and Crotchet. Mummy also saw another 27 shows on her own, and one with Auntie Poppins.

Our top two most visited venues were the same as last year, but this time it was Polka Theatre at the top with nine shows, and Southwark Playhouse with six shows (evenly split between their Borough and Elephant venues). We also saw five shows each at Little Angel Theatre and VAULT Festival and four at Greenwich Theatre. And we seemed to spend a lot of time in 2023 on or around the Southbank with three shows each at the National Theatre, the Southbank Centre and the Old Vic.

With those stats, it’s no surprise that the bulk of the shows we saw in 2023 were reviews (35 reviewed here and another five for BroadwayWorld). Mummy also joined the Offies team towards the end of 2023, racking up another five shows as an Offies assessor. Our busiest month was March with 10 shows, closely followed by November on nine, while October was unusually quiet with just the one show.

Highlights of 2023

Goodbye to Come From Away

We kicked off 2023 with the emotional closing night of Come From Away (a rare occasion where Mummy and Mrs Mummy went to a show as a pair), making this Mummy’s fifth and Mrs Mummy’s third time seeing this spectacular show. It’s out on tour in 2024, so there’s every chance it will feature in our next annual round-up too!

Hello again to some recent favourites

As one of our favourite shows left the West End, another moved in, with Operation Mincemeat taking up residence at the Fortune Theatre. Mummy and Mrs Mummy went to see this one together in April, and then returned in August with the munchkins, who are very enthusiastic mini mincefluencers. We also sent Grandma and Grandpa to see it while they were cat-sitting for us in April, and the cast recording has been pretty much constantly playing in our house since it was released.

And that was just one of our favourite shows that returned bigger and better in 2023, with a revised version of The Curious Case of Benjamin Button back at Southwark Playhouse (this time in their shiny new venue). It was brilliant to revisit this emotional, folk musical (and look back at our old review of the previous version), this time with the munchkins. We also made another family trip to Southwark Playhouse to see the latest version of the brilliant Ride, which Mummy first reviewed at VAULT Festival in 2020. Mummy and Mrs Mummy were also very excited to revisit Groundhog Day at The Old Vic, which is another cast recording that gets played over and over again in our house.

It’s not a comeback – It’s a return

2023 was a great year for revivals of classic musicals, particularly if (like us) you are big fans of tap dancing. We enjoyed the touring production of 42nd Street, even though it didn’t quite live up to the West End production from a few years back, but the munchkins didn’t have that comparison and absolutely loved it. Crazy For You was another highlight of our year, and it’s sad to see it close prematurely as it was an absolutely fantastic production.

Mummy also very much enjoyed the touring production of Oh What a Lovely War which she reviewed on its stop at Southwark Playhouse. It’s a fantastic satirical piece which has deservedly nabbed an Offies finalist place for Ensemble Performance.

Oh What a Lovely War, UK tour. Image credit: Alex Harvey-Brown

Mummy and Mrs Mummy also took advantage of the munchkins going on a playdate together to get standing tickets to the immersive Guys and Dolls at the Bridge Theatre (which only allows standing for ages 12+). We even nabbed a table seat at the interval, meaning we got to be serenaded by Cedric Neal in the interval and became part of the action for Marisha Wallace’s Act 2 opener.

But just when you thought that Guys and Dolls was the unequivocal revival of the year, enter Jamie Lloyd’s Sunset Boulevard. When we saw the excellent Glenn Close production back in 2016, we left the Coliseum knowing exactly who we wanted to see as Norma Desmond in the future; and no, it wasn’t Nicole Scherzinger that sprang to mind (although we have heard excellent things about her performance).

As regular readers may know, we are massive Rachel Tucker fans (of the sort who have camped outside the Apollo Victoria for cast change tickets and flown to New York twice to see her on Broadway). So, of course, we went for Monday night performances of Sunset Boulevard and it’s fair to say that this edgy adaptation more than lived up to our expectations, with stunning performances all around.

The future is bright if you could just write a musical

We also caught some brilliant new musicals in 2023. Alex Young makes an appearance in our theatrical highlights for a second year in a row, with her performance in Standing at the Sky’s Edge. We enjoyed the show overall although didn’t find that it quite lived up to the hype. We thought similarly of The Little Big Things, which is a brilliantly boundary-pushing piece of theatre in terms of access and inclusion, but we felt that it could probably do with further development. Another big show that we did really rate was Sylvia at the Old Vic, which we thought was fantastic and very unlucky to have had such strong competition at the Olivier awards last year.

Unsurprisingly, Southwark Playhouse features here too with the ridiculous 80s musical, Police Cops. This is the sort of bonkers show we love to see at Southwark, and it’s great to see it returning in 2024. We also finished off the year with a family trip to see the new musical adaptation of The Witches, which we all loved. The National Theatre had a cracking year for new musicals and we suspect that this will follow Standing at the Sky’s Edge into the West End in the near future.

Children will listen

Of course, we also saw plenty of theatre for young audiences in 2023. As the munchkins are starting to grow out some children’s shows, Mummy ended up seeing a lot of toddler shows on her own. Quaver still accompanies her to shows for slightly older children, and occasionally we find something suitable for Crotchet too, but there is a real gap here, with very few shows aimed at tweens – although lots of children’s productions have an upper age recommendation of 12, they’re unlikely to appeal to children in year 6 (let alone year 7 or 8), and shows for teenagers are generally unsuitable.

That being said, when you do find a rare production that’s genuinely aimed at this age range, you are probably onto something special. We were cursing ourselves for missing the Offie-winning Kinder in 2022 so we were delighted that it returned to Little Angel Theatre in 2023. This is truly an exceptional piece of theatre, and one of the best plays we have ever seen (for any age, not just children). Read our full review here to find out why.

As regular readers will know, the production that we hold up as our gold standard for children’s theatre is Tangled Feet’s Need a Little Help. So we were excited to discover that Tangled Feet were touring a new production in 2023, especially as it focused on life in foster care, which has personal resonance for our family. As expected, Belongings was another exceptional piece of theatre, which has earned itself an Offies finalist spot for TYA Production. Read our review of Belongings here. (We received two complimentary press tickets but also bought another two so the whole family could see this show.)

Belongings. Photo credit: Greta Zabulyte

Another Offies finalist also makes our 2023 highlights list, but this time one for older children. We love Half Moon Theatre because, unlike some other theatre companies, their programming for young audiences includes productions aimed at teenagers and young adults. Following on from the success of Daytime Deewane, their 2023 touring production for teenagers was an immersive two-hander. Although there is still some scope for development in this show, Hot Orange was a really impressive debut from a new writing team. Read our review to find out more.

Hot Orange. Image credit: Stephen Russell

Best of the rest

Another huge highlight of 2023 was the return of VAULT Festival, marking a return to theatrical normality after it closed prematurely in 2020. This was swiftly followed by the devastating news that VAULT was losing its Waterloo home, putting the future of the festival in doubt, but we now know that a shiny new venue has been secured. Our favourite show of VAULT Festival 2023 was the hilarious QuenchRead our review to discover why Mummy will never look at a vending machine in the same way again!

Although we tend to favour musical theatre, we did review a fair few plays in 2023, with the highlight being the incredibly moving In Other Words at Arcola Theatre. Read our review here.

2023 also saw our first ever trip to the Palladium Panto, which was quite the smutty spectacle. We weren’t up for paying silly prices though, so waited until January and bought discounted on the day tickets, which just so happened to be right behind the ridiculously large inflatable beanstalk that went all the way up into the Palladium ceiling.

We also made our first foray into ballet in 2023, with a trip to Sadler’s Wells to see Matthew Bourne’s Edward Scissorhands. Despite the munchkins spending a lot of their time at ballet classes, we have never been sure whether we are ballet people. We’re still not sure if we’re traditional ballet people but are pretty sure that we are Matthew Bourne people, and strongly recommend Edward Scissorhands to anyone who is similarly uncertain.

We also returned to Chiswick House & Gardens for the 2023 Giffords Circus production, Les Enfants du Paradis. We love a good circus and can safely say that Giffords is the best in the business, combining super circus skills with old school theatricality (plus, of course, our good friend Tweedy the Clown).

A child wearing a Tweedy the Clown mask at Giffords Circus
Quaver in her Tweedy the Clown mask at Giffords Circus

Finally, if ever a show was squarely aimed at us it would be Buffy Revamped; a hilarious one-man romp through every season of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, as seen through Spike’s eyes. An absolute must see for Buffy fans and the first time we have ever left a show with a set of complimentary chopsticks (emergency stakes)!

All the shows we saw in 2023

Overall, 2023 was another great year of show going. Like last year, Mummy attempted to keep a running Twitter (yes, it is still Twitter and we won’t be told otherwise) thread of all the shows we saw in 2023. This was rather less successful than in 2022, and left Mummy repeatedly cursing Elon Musk for failing to provide us with an edit button, but here is the thread in all its chaotic glory: