Another year has passed and in the worlds of all my favourite artistic mediums, it was a mighty good one. Not only has this been one of my favourite years ever as a theatregoer, but it’s also been the year that I finally fully embraced the cinema, allowed myself to indulge in the live music scene, and a year where I watched more telly than I ever have done before. So today, I present you with my annual roundup of culture for 2018.
While I’m proud of the amount of media that I consumed in 2018, I’m also mightily terrified by it — it’s been a lot, significantly more than I ever have done before. Not only did I manage to catch 100 stage shows this year (performances of my own shows not included), but I also managed to watch 100 films, 50 seasons of television, listen to over 100 albums of music and read tens of thousands of pages of books. When you consume as much media as I do (and meticulously track it), spending hours (11 in total) curating and writing a list like this is actually incredibly gratifying; the pleasure I get from reflecting upon the fantastic stories I’ve been a part of this year is almost overwhelming. From the London stage return of my all-time favourite musical Company and the landmark Pinter at the Pinter season, to Lady Gaga tearing up the screen in Bradley Cooper’s remake of A Star Is Born, to my latest obsession The Marvellous Mrs. Maisel and more, compiling this list has not been easy. Below, please find my ranking of the top 15 London stage shows, film releases, and seasons of television, plus the top 10 books I read and songs that were released, in 2018.
The Top 15 Best London Stage Shows of 2018
In all previous years, I have done a top 10 ranking of the best shows of the year, but this year I simply couldn’t. To say that I am overwhelmed by how much incredible theatre I saw in 2018 would be the understatement of the century; to think that I even considered the London theatre scene to be drying up a bit earlier this year is blasphemous upon reflection. There are some obvious omissions from this list like The Rink, Julius Caesar at the Bridge, Tina: The Musical, The Wild Duck at the Almeida and Hadestown at the National Theatre, none of which I particularly fell in love with, but all in all, I managed to see (very, very almost) every single show in London’s West End, at the National Theatre, at the Young Vic, at the Hampstead Theatre – and a few theatres beyond – this year, which is pretty good going indeed.
Special mentions go to the likes of Caroline or Change at the Hampstead and then the Playhouse Theatre, the revival of Absolute Hell at the National Theatre, Heathers at both The Other Palace and Theatre Royal Haymarket, The King and I at the London Palladium, Taylor Mac’s A 24 Decade History of Popular Music: Part 1 at the Barbican, The Lieutenant of Inishmore at the Noel Coward, and Misty at Trafalgar Studios. All are shows I liked a lot but had to be creamed off the top for the sake of this list!
An actual, official pre-list special mention goes to the entire Pinter at the Pinter season at the Harold Pinter Theatre though, produced by Jamie Lloyd and his company, which gets a certified gold star from me. I have never been a very big fan of anything by Harold Pinter, but when this epic season was first announced, I was intrigued. After seeing Pinter Two, I became hooked and am now (almost) a total convert. I can’t say that I’ve liked absolutely everything from the season so far, but I do know that I am slowly becoming obsessed with the man and his work. I have Jamie Lloyd and his incredible bravery when it comes to staging a season of short plays as epic as this one to thank for that.
15 – Twelfth Night at the Young Vic
There aren’t many musicals that managed to make it onto the list this year, but this one really piqued my interest when it was announced. A remounting of a production that was staged by the Public Theatre in New York over the Summer, this musical adaptation of Shakespeare’s classic play featured music by the incredible Shaina Taub. While the musical was far from perfect, I found it so infectiously joyful, I couldn’t not fall in love with it. And additionally, the show was a public works performance, meaning that the majority of the ensemble was made up of local, ‘normal’ people. I adored it.
14 – Fun Home at the Young Vic
It might be surprising that this show is so far down on my list, especially considering it’s one of my favourite musicals. But the original Broadway production (which I saw in 2015) was decidedly better in my opinion and while this British mounting did a good job of demonstrating what the show has to offer, it slightly paled in comparison. That doesn’t negate how fantastic this show is though, hence its placement on the list.
13 – The Lehman Trilogy at the National Theatre
This play really took me by surprise. Despite the fact that critics adored it, I was really worried I wouldn’t. Charting the lineage of the Lehman family, this true story was epic, especially considering its modest cast size (of three) and set design. I was enthralled from beginning to end and was in awe of the craftsmanship that clearly went in to make something as deeply theatrical as this. It returns to London for a run at the West End’s Piccadilly Theatre later this year and I cannot wait to go again. While it’s most definitely not the most commercial show around, it’s vital that we have more work like this on the main stem.
12 – Six at the Edinburgh Fringe (and Arts Theatre in London)
This is a musical that needs no introduction. I saw the show three times with different friends over my stay in Edinburgh this Summer and fell head over heels for it. It remains as the soundtrack to that trip in my heart and always will, hence why I refuse to see it during any of its London runs. But if you haven’t seen it, you need to go. You’ll love it too.
11 – John at the National Theatre
Annie Baker is one of my all-time favourite playwrights and this play from the start of the year kept that passion alive. Telling the story of a young couple who go to stay with a strange old lady in the middle of their road trip, it has all of the inner workings of a classic Annie Baker play: the ever-so-slightly peculiar, lots of intelligent dialogue, and a real emphasis on naturalism. If you missed this one, you really missed out.
10 – Company at the Gielgud Theatre
Company is my favourite musical of all-time, but when I heard about this re-imagined production directed by Marianne Elliot, I was very dubious. While I can’t say that I am totally sold on this new production, I most definitely appreciate what’s been done here and can still see the show I fell in love with within it. I’m also over the moon that so many more audiences are coming to love my favourite show. I can’t wait to see it again and continue exploring it soon.
9 – I and You at the Hampstead Theatre
Lauren Gunderson, the author of this play, was the most produced playwright in America in 2017 (after Shakespeare). I and You at the Hampstead Theatre was her London stage debut and what a debut it was. It tells the story of a young boy and girl who meet in the girl’s bedroom to complete a homework task. Over the course of the play, Gunderson explores a wide range of ideas and musings, while also charting the beautiful growth of a young relationship. I went and re-read the playtext the other day and it reminded me of just how good this production was. It’s a play that I still think of to this day.
8 – Sweat at the Donmar Warehouse
Lynn Nottage won the Pulitzer Prize for this play in 2017 and you can see why in this thriving re-staging of the play at the Donmar Warehouse. Primarily investigating the working class people of America, Sweat is a story that feels current and geographically-specific, while also feeling totally universal. Nottage has crafted something very special in this play and the wonderful production currently playing at the Donmar, directed by Lynette Linton and starring Martha Plimpton, does it incredible justice.
7 – Nine Night at the National Theatre
This is a play that is about an experience so far from mine, yet I somehow managed to see myself in it. Not too unlike Sweat, playwright Natasha Gordon has managed to craft a very personal story about a specific group of people, make it authentic to them, but also make it universal. The passion that leapt from the stage in this production rendered me speechless when the lights faded to black. It’s back on again now at Trafalgar Studios with playwright Natasha Gordan actually joining the cast. It’s well worth it if you haven’t seen it already.
6 – The Wolves at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East
The voting committee for the 2017 Pulitzer Prize for Drama clearly knew what was up because the winner and the two shortlisted are referenced in this list (The Wolves and Taylor Mac’s show at the Barbican being the runners up, and Sweat being the winner). Sarah DeLappe’s powerful play about a young women’s football team is a testament to the power of great dialogue: there isn’t very much plot, but the ideas explored are so well realised and articulated that you feel like you’re being carried on a journey nonetheless. This play was one of a few I saw this year that seriously made me re-evaluate the kind of power that theatre can wield. I hope it returns so that more people get to see it, too.
5 – The Inheritance at the Young Vic/Noel Coward Theatre
Both this entry and my pick for number four are ones that I feel need very little explaining. I saw Matthew Lopez’s epic new gay drama The Inheritance at both the Young Vic and then in its West End incarnation at the Noel Coward Theatre. One of the pull quotes used in the marketing describes it as being “the play of this year, last year and next year too” and I think that summarises it pretty well. Told in two parts over the course of six and a half hours, The Inheritance is the post-AIDs gay drama that I’ve been waiting for and while I don’t think it’s perfect (part two is, for me, overlong and somewhat unnecessary), I welcome it with open arms. It’s very similar in scope and in concept to several other pieces, but it somehow manages to stand its own amongst them with great pride. That, I believe, is the makings of a landmark play that will go down in history.
4 – The Jungle at the Playhouse Theatre
Everyone loved this play this year so there’s no surprise that it’s so high up on my list too. Powerfully retelling the story of Calais refugees, The Jungle taught a lot of us about the influence that live performance can have. So frequently now do I feel like we get politically “relevant” plays that end up coming across as light propaganda, filtered heavily through the voice of the playwright. But The Jungle doesn’t do that at all. Instead, it feels overwhelmingly real and poignant; it plays out like you’re watching real life happen right before your eyes. All political theatre in years to follow will be sized up against this. It’s a juggernaut, and rightly so.
3 – An Octoroon at the National Theatre
This play really was something else. Brandon Jacobs-Jenkins took a play from the late 1850s and adapted it here – using the same characters, plot and, at times, dialogue – to critique its portrayal of race by using Brechtian techniques. A commentary on the power of theatre, genre and identity, the sheer existence of this piece again made me re-evaluate what can be done in the theatre. It was, for me, truly life-changing and is the kind of work that I will re-read and keep thinking about for many years to come.
2 – The Humans at the Hampstead Theatre
Speaking of the Pulitzer Prize, The Humans was shortlisted the year that Hamilton won and in 2018, it finally made its London debut – with the original production and cast in tact – at the Hampstead Theatre. I’d been anticipating this play since its debut in New York, so it’s no surprise that I loved it. Its naturalism is inspiring, but much like an Annie Baker play, it toys with it in small, intricate ways to confuse you ever so slightly. The Humans zooms in on how different generations and perspectives react to current topics, while also highlighting the inner-workings and bumps in the road that you face in family dynamics. It was sublime and reads just as beautifully.
1 – Underground Railroad Game at the Traverse Theatre/Soho Theatre
I knew from the moment I saw Underground Railroad Game that it was going to be my play of the year, because it might be the best theatre piece I’ve seen in my entire life. After first catching it at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre on the back of incredible word of mouth from New York, I saw it again at London’s Soho Theatre and loved it even more. The New York Times called it one of the very best American plays written in the past 25 years and I had no difficulty in seeing why. While on the surface it tells the story of a white male and a black female elementary school teaching duo and their burgeoning relationship, in the background, it explores the significance and history of interracial relationships and how the dynamic has changed over time. But if that sounds bleak, it isn’t just that: the play also manages to be incredibly funny, especially in the moments where it satirises everything the cast and the production have to offer. It’s a play that I actually find hard to explain in words (the best way to understand it is to watch a performance of it) but this transfer of the original production – with the playwrights/developers playing the two lead characters – was unforgettable and will live with me forever.
The Top 15 Best Films of 2018
2018 was the year that I bit the bullet and signed up to Odeon Limitless and I’d seriously argue that it was the most life-changing decision that I made this year. Dedicating myself to the subscription scheme, I have gone to the cinema over 50 times, which would’ve been astronomically expensive otherwise. Not only does my Limitless subscription save me money on movies I would’ve paid full price to have seen anyway, it also allows me to see films more than once (which I rarely could afford to do), and makes me more inclined to go and see films that I’m not all too fussed about, because I know it won’t cost me any extra. I promise I’m not sponsored (lol), but I seriously recommend it.
Obvious omissions from this list might include the likes of A Wrinkle In Time, Solo, First Man and Mary Poppins Returns – none of which I liked very much – as well as films I really did enjoy like Incredibles 2, Lady Bird and Isle of Dogs.
It’s probably also important for me to note that all films listed opened as a wide-release in the UK in 2018, even though some may be thought of as late-2017 films. That also means that some films that people might think are out in the UK, aren’t yet. A good example of that might be The Favourite, which came out 01/01/19 and is already maybe my film of the year, even though we’re only a week in.
15 – Leave No Trace, dir. by Debra Granik
I watched this film as the year was coming to a close because I saw it cropping up on several different end-of-year lists and I’m so glad that I did. The film tells the story of a father and daughter who live in the woods and, when caught for trespassing, are slowly forced into living a “normal” life, much to the father’s dismay… Filmed in a way that feels borderline like a documentary, it captivated and moved me in ways that I didn’t think it would.
14 – Searching, dir. by Aneesh Chaganty
This film either worked for you or didn’t. Or at least, that’s the impression that I got from the reviews I’ve read. Told entirely through the desktop interface of a Mac computer, Searching tells the story of a man trying to find his missing daughter. The gimmick of the computer screen never seemed to wear off for me and I found it edge-of-my-seat exciting from start to finish. Really surprising.
13 – Widows, dir. by Steve McQueen
A Steve McQueen film with Viola Davis and Brian Tyree Henry in the driving seat? Of course it’s a recipe for success. I don’t have much to say about this one other than you need to see it.
12 – Coco, dir. by Lee Unkrich
Pixar have become part of the nasty Hollywood sequels game in recent years, so when this moving, fresh and poignant new semi-musical movie hit cinemas, I instantaneously fell in love. Not only is the film an honest portrayal of grief, but it also shows the importance of family love. It’s a film that I’m proud I could take my sister to see and one that has never gotten boring no matter how many times I’ve rewatched it.
11 – Molly’s Game, dir. by Aaron Sorkin
Is it cliche to say that Aaron Sorkin is one of my favourite screenwriters, especially considering he’s one of the most famous? I don’t care either way. Sorkin is so popular for good reason and Molly’s Game – also his directorial debut – is a testament to that. Gripping and pacy, the film is a crime thriller-come-heist movie-come-drama. L-O-V-E.
10 – The Shape of Water, dir. by Guillermo del Toro
This year’s Academy Award-winner for Best Picture had to fit in here somewhere, didn’t it? The Shape of Water is way too wacky for some people I know, but its the absurdity and genre-blending of the story that captured me in the first place. Not only do I find it beautifully poetic and artistic, but I also find it unforgettable. I probably stop to think about this film almost once a day.
9 – Finding Your Feet, dir. by Richard Loncraine
This is a film that I’m sure flew under a lot of peoples’ radars, but it certainly didn’t in my household. My Grandma and I went to see this film as soon as it came out and I can only describe the experience as being “a music-less Mamma Mia!” You know that kind of infectious, irresistible joy that some Brit-movies can make you feel, no matter how dark they can get at times? That. It’s feel good crazy and I recommend it to everyone.
8 – Three Billboards Outside Ebbing, Missouri, dir. by Martin McDonagh
I feel like I’ve spoken so much about this film over the past year that I’m starting to run out of things to say. Martin McDonagh (the film’s writer/director) is one of my favourite playwrights, so naturally, it worked very well for me and I could see what he was trying to achieve. And while it may have faced some controversy from people when it hit the mainstream, it still remains a firm favourite in my heart.
7 – Been So Long, dir. by Tinge Krishnan
Now this one was a real surprise. A Netflix original movie, that also happens to be a musical, starring Michaela Coel and Arinze Kene sounds half bad half amazing… but upon first viewing, I can confirm that this film is all amazing. For somebody who loves musical theatre so much, I have a real problem with a vast majority of musical movies, but this one does everything right in my eyes. It’s intimate, pacy, and it doesn’t waste a second of screentime. I think I feel for this what others felt for La La Land. Watch it.
6 – BlackKklansman, dir. by Spike Lee
When I remember films on a day-to-day basis, I remember so many different elements, but for Spike Lee’s BlackKklansman, I cannot forget Lee’s iconic tone that the film is draped in from start to finish. While the film does have a few slower moments, I would go as far as to argue that this is a near-perfect movie and was most definitely one of my favourite cinematic experiences of the year.
5 – Love Simon, dir. by Greg Berlanti
A gay rom com? For teens? Ummmm, what did we expect?! I don’t want to say all too much in fear of drowning in my own tears, but know that I saw it three times in as many days and cried like a baby each and every time.
4 – Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again, dir. by Ole Parker
Look… I know that a vast majority of placeholders on this list are films that come with great artistic integrity; I’m not even going to try and argue that Mamma Mia! Here We Go Again carries any of that. But I am going to say that it is a movie that makes me feel so unbelievably happy and smiley, it’s easily one of the most emotionally-impactful films I’ve ever seen. And that… is all I’ll say on the matter!
3 – The Post, dir. by Steven Spielberg
I feel like this is a semi-controversial film to be in my top three considering I know a lot of people who found it derivative or boring. I don’t know if it’s because five of my favourite things ever are newsroom dramas, Spielberg, Meryl Streep, Tom Hanks and Sarah Paulson, but I loved everything about this film. Unlike a lot of comments I’ve heard or read, I found it to be gripping from start to finish and would happily have sat through something even longer. Seriously. I could not get enough. Up there for me with one of my all-time favourite movies, Spotlight.
2 – A Star Is Born, dir. by Bradley Cooper
Where the hell do I start when it comes to Lady Gaga and Bradley Cooper in A Star Is Born? I feel like I have been waiting for this remake to be released since the dawn of time and as release day drew nearer, I was so concerned that it was going to fall short of the mark for me… but this film is absolutely sensational. For me, it is by far the best incarnation of the film we have ever had and Gaga really does give the performance of a lifetime. She offers up vulnerability and honesty that only she could, creating what I’d consider to be the most layered film performance in years. Sorry haters!
1 – I, Tonya, dir. by Craig Gillespie
I was excited for this film at the start of the year, but I did not expect to be as impacted by it as I was. Everything about this film is perfect in my eyes. The screenplay is probably the most immediately obviously brilliant thing for me. The idea of telling the story as a sort of mockumentary, but then going one step further and blurring the lines between the real and the fake? It worked brilliantly. Then there’s Craig Gillespie’s incredible direction of such a wide scope of scenes, ranging from small kitchen sink drama moments, to vast recreations of iconic ice skating performances. And speaking of performances, Margot Robbie, Allison Janney and the whole cast… wow. I cannot believe that Margot Robbie didn’t get more attention for this role. For me, she was the Best Actress Oscar winner this year over Frances McDormand. What a legend.
The Top 15 Best Seasons of Television in 2018
Obviously I do, but wow do I love telly and this year has been one to celebrate my feelings for that. Not only have there been some incredible new shows coming on the air this year, but the latest seasons of some of my old favourites have blown me away as well. Some notable omissions from this list include the latest seasons of The Good Place, American Horror Story and Insecure, all of which I liked fine, but wasn’t blown away by.
15 – GLOW (Season 2) from Netflix
Not too much to say about this one other than the fact that GLOW season one was amazing and season two continued to be so.
14 – Wanderlust (Series 1) from BBC/Netflix
Playwright Nick Payne crafted this brilliant mini-series starring Toni Colette. While it definitely got a bit slow by the end of the series, the craftsmanship when it came to every element of the production wowed me constantly. Definitely one for those who are fans of good writing and good directing in particular. And also, if you want to get really nerdy, it’s also smashing for those who love colour correcting and set design because it’s bloody gorgeous to look at, too.
13 – Homecoming (Season 1) from Amazon Prime Video
Homecoming is probably the most bizarre show I watched this year and I still can’t work out if I found it incredibly impressive or pretty underwhelming. I’m going to err on the side of impressive, bolstered by the fact that its storytelling was so unique and its central performances by Julia Roberts and Bobby Cannavalle were so good. Also, gold star for making a 10-episode show with episodes that are half an hour in length.
12 – Doctor Who (Series 11) from BBC
I have some major mixed feelings about this latest season of Doctor Who: a good selection of the episodes were written so poorly that they bordered on unwatchable, but I also loved some of them a lot and especially fell in love with Jodie Whitaker’s Doctor and the new companions. After the previous few seasons that I found so uninspiring, I stopped watching the show for the first time since I was six years old, this season at least breathed some fresh air into the show and made it a franchise I’m a fan of once again.
11 – 9-1-1 (Seasons 1 & 2) from FOX
I will watch anything produced by Ryan Murphy (and I do) so when his latest offering hit Sky Witness — a procedural drama about people working in the American public services — I gave it a try. It’s probably the most accessible of Ryan Murphy’s shows considering it’s very easy watching, but there’s no denying that it’s made with a sinister Murphy streak. Definitely one to consider watching if you like shows like Grey’s Anatomy.
10 – Press (Series 1) from BBC
A newsroom drama on the BBC! Need I say any more? I love Mike Bartlett’s plays and I especially loved his show Doctor Foster, so Press was of course going to be one of my favourite shows of the year, too. My only wish is that it was longer than five episodes. I can definitely see it returning for another season and I really hope it does.
9 – Atlanta (Season 2: Robbin’ Season) from FX
Atlanta is undoubtedly one of the best TV shows around and I’m forever in awe of how well crafted and creative it is. The second season was a step up from the first season for me with a standout episode being Teddy Perkins. It’s a bottle episode that I think should be required viewing for almost anyone. Bring on season three.
8 – American Crime Story (Season 2: The Assassination of Gianni Versace) from FX
The first season of American Crime Story is one of the best seasons of television ever made in my eyes and while season two – focusing on the life of Andrew Cunanan – isn’t as good, it comes pretty goddamn close. The story being told out of sequence might not have helped a wider audience fall in love with it, and I think the show definitely suffered by naming itself after the Versace murder when it was about so much more than that, but it is still worthy your time if you haven’t seen it already.
7 – Bodyguard (Series 1) from BBC
This show swept the nation so it’s no wonder than it’s on my list. While I found the ending to be a little bit offensive and it definitely let itself down with that, that isn’t to say that the rest of the show wasn’t fantastic edge-of-your-seat drama. The opening twenty minutes of the first episode are enough to put it on this list alone.
6 – This Country (Series 1 & 2) from BBC
I caught both seasons of this show in 2018 and my life was changed for the better. BBC consistently make such unique and irreverent comedy that always manages to hit the mark and This Country is no exception. Its 2018 BAFTA is proof enough of that.
5 – Search Party (Seasons 1 & 2) from TBS/Channel 4
Now this is a bit of a cheating entry considering the second season ended in December 2017, but I discovered this show this year so I’m going for it anyway. Made by TBS in the States and distributed by Channel 4 here, Search Party tells the story of a motley crew of friends going on the hunt for a missing friend from Uni called Chantel. It manages to balance laugh-out-loud comedy with nail-biting thrill perfectly and is one of the most impressive and unique shows I’ve ever seen. I doubt many people have seen it because it’s buried rather deep into 4OD, but seriously give it a go if you haven’t already. It’s fab.
4 – Queer Eye (Seasons 1 & 2) from Netflix
I didn’t think I’d care for this show whatsoever when I first heard about it and considering I hadn’t seen a single episode of the show’s original run, I had nothing to base my judgement off of. But after a friend told me to give it a try, I managed to watch both seasons one and two in a single sitting. I’ve never seen a reality show that is as captivating, pacy and moving as this one. I’ve cried at almost every single episode and I think I Google “Queer Eye season three release date” on the daily. Give it a shot if you haven’t done already because I really think it might surprise you.
3 – Killing Eve (Season 1) from BBC America
Phoebe Waller-Bridge was at the helm of this BBC America drama starring Jodie Comer (Doctor Foster legend) and Sandra Oh (Grey’s Anatomy legend). I feel like I waited for a million trillion years for it to happen and then even longer for it to land on BBC iPlayer, but I’m sure that everyone can attest to the fact that it is well worth the wait. Like all good shows, I cannot contain myself and I binge them in a single sitting just like I did this one. It is so incredibly good and multi-faceted and is a show that I think we will be talking about for a very long time to come.
2 – A Very English Scandal (Limited Series) from BBC
Talking of shows that I watched in one sitting… A Very English Scandal is a three-part limited series about the MP Jeremy Thorpe and his gay love affair in the 70s. Starring Hugh Grant and Ben Whishaw and written by one of my all-time favourites Russell T. Davies, for me, it is one of the best things ever made for television. Not only is it (unsurprisingly) well written, but it’s also incredibly well acted and beautifully realised. I loved every single second of this beauty.
1 – The Marvellous Mrs Maisel (Seasons 1 & 2) from Amazon Prime Video
I was so late on watching the first season of this show and for that, I am sorry to myself. The Marvellous Mrs Maisel feels like a show that was made for me. Not only is it gorgeous, kitsch and silly, but it’s dark, funny and moving too. The world-building especially is something I cannot get out of my head; the characters seem to float ever so slightly in a show that I can only describe as being “a musical without the singing”. I forcibly paced myself through the show because I didn’t want it to end, but my God is it good. It’s worthy of all the praise it’s getting and more. To me, it’s perfect.
The Top 10 Books I Read in 2018
Trying to make a ranked listing of my favourite books of 2018 that were published in 2018 is a very difficult feat. Unlike other forms of media, books don’t ever seem to age and a publication date is not in any way important when I pick one up to read it. In fact, unless I bought it new, I don’t ever really remember the date a book was published. As a result, unlike other lists in this post, the ranking of my favourite books of the year is based upon books I read irregardless of their publication date.
10 – Where’d Ya Go, Bernadette? by Maria Semple
Because this book was so unbelievably hyped in 2017, I turned to it as soon as I could in 2018. It’s definitely not the best book ever written and I’d even say it left me feeling dissatisfied, but I can appreciate what it was trying to do and I’m super excited for the Cate Blanchett-led film adaptation later this year.
9 – Talking Theatre by Richard Eyre
I’m a big fan of ex-NT Artistic Director Richard Eyre and this book that I was gifted for my birthday was a brilliant look inside his mind. A curation of many different interviews that Eyre conducted over his career, a majority of them interested and inspired me greatly. A must-read for theatre nerds I’d say.
8 – Ready Player One by Ernest Cline
I’m years and years behind on this book because I remember people at school reading it when I was much younger, but I finally got around to reading it before the new film and I loved it very much, even more so than the film.
7 – Simon vs. the Homosapiens Agenda by Becky Albertalli
Exactly the same as above!
6 – The Assassination of Margaret Thatcher & Other Stories by Hillary Mantel
It might be sinful to say but I have never read a Hillary Mantel novel, so before I tackle that beast in 2019, I thought I’d try this incredible short story collection of hers. It’s rare that I read a collection where all of the stories impress me, but this one did. And I also find Mantel’s writing style intelligent yet totally accessible, which is lovely.
5 – Unmasked: A Memoir by Andrew Lloyd Webber
I became a bit obsessed with ALW when this book was released and I devoured it at great speed. He most definitely isn’t the greatest writer of prose and I know that many would argue he isn’t the greatest writer of musicals either, but no matter what you think of his work, this memoir shows how truly remarkable of a talent he is.
4 – Mainly on Directing by Arthur Laurents
Another theatre education book! This book by Arthur Laurents (most famous perhaps for the book to Gypsy and for directing West Side Story), is part-education manual, part-memoir. I found it quite refreshing as a result and I’m most definitely a sucker for a theatre book equivalent to a diss track — Laurents is so shady!
3 – Little Fires Everywhere by Celeste Ng
Despite this book coming out in Autumn 2017, I feel like the real hype for it started this past year and I jumped on to it as soon as I could. Not only is it bitchy and eerie in the same way that Big Little Lies is, but I’d actually argue that it has the same kind of scope in regards to vastness of story as The Goldfinch. And while I wouldn’t say it’s anywhere near the standard of the latter, it definitely feels like it’s going to usher in this new era of respected “chick lit” novels.
2 – Razzle Dazzle: The Battle for Broadway by Michael Riedel
When it comes to theatre books that captivated me in 2018, this one is the ultimate. Written by oft-loathed New York theatre columnist Michael Riedel, this tome about the history of Broadway was told in an informative way that still managed to make it feel like a massive story. It immediately became my favourite book about theatre ever and is something that I can see myself re-reading annually for many more years to come.
1 – Becoming by Michelle Obama
I mean, what else could be the book of the year? Michelle Obama has always been an inspiration for so many different reasons, but this memoir taught me that she is even more inspiring than what first meets the eye. I don’t want to say too much because I think it’s the kind of book that just needs to speak for itself, but it’s definitely something that should be required reading for many. I can imagine that the audiobook is pretty good, too.
The Top 10 Best Songs of 2018
In 2018, music was the artistic medium that I wanted to focus on the most, so I made a promise to myself to see at least five concerts (which I did) and to listen to at least 100 albums start to finish (which I also did). Continuing into 2019, I’m going to try and double both of those targets and spend more time basking in what the form has to offer; I’ve always been a huge music fan, but in recent years, my ability to indulge in my other artistic passions so heavily has pushed music to the sidelines. Below, find my top 10 ranking of the songs that kept me afloat last year.
10 – The Way I Am by Charlie Puth
This might feel like a rogue choice to be on the list, but since I started looking in to Puth’s style and passion for music, I’ve started to respect him so much more. His passion for mixing sounds and working with synths makes his music feel so much less generic than I initially thought it was. This song is incredibly catchy and his vocal sounds so good, too.
9 – Family Plan by Shaina Taub
My friend Jake introduced me to Shaina Taub in preparation for seeing her musical adaptation of Twelfth Night in London. Her musical style feels like the professional embodiment of YouTubers with ukeleles, but so much more moving than that; there’s something nostalgic about it despite the fact that I’ve never listened to it before. Her whole album Die Happy is brilliant, but this song in particular is standout.
8 – Playboy Style by Clean Bandit ft. Charli XCX and Bhad Bhabie
I love Clean Bandit so much, but their first album isn’t all that great in my eyes. So when they finally released their second offering a few months ago packed to the brim with hit singles they’ve released over the past few years and new songs alike, I was ecstatic. I’ve loved Charli since her very early days and she’s only gotten better since. I’m so glad that she’s found her own place in the mainstream so a slammer like this one can exist.
7 – Nothing Breaks Like A Heart by Mark Ronson & Miley Cyrus
When I first listened to this song on the back of Ariana’s thank u, next video, I found it to be incredibly boring and monotonous. But a week later, I revisited it and became instantly obsessed. There’s something about the melody and the synth strings that make it entrancing and the video it’s paired with is brilliant, too. Also, like most songs sung by Miley, it seems to work even better when performed live. Shoutout here to a man I love, Mark Ronson, who also knocked out Shallow for A Star Is Born in 2018 as well.
6 – Don’t Let The Sun Go Down on Me by Miley Cyrus
Another Miley song, but a cover this time! Elton John is my favourite artist of all time and his new album Revamp, featuring a lot of his hits from over the years being covered by stars of today, was one of my most listened-to things this year. But if any track has to stand out on the album for me, it’s this one. I don’t know if I’m feeling brave enough to say that I prefer this cover by Miley to the original, but it most definitely comes close.
5 – thank u, next by Ariana Grande
I don’t even think this one needs an explanation. So bloody catchy and that video!
4 – 1999 by Charli XCX ft. Troye Sivan
Again, another catchy slammer and by none other than HRH Charli XCX. The ultimate dance tune of the year for me and it’s constantly ringing around my head.
3 – Dirty Computer by Janelle Monae (The Entire Album)
Is it cheating to have an entire album on here? I hope not, because I’m about to do it twice in this top three. This latest album by my Queen Janelle Monae is start-to-finish perfect; it doesn’t have a single bad second on it for me. I probably listened to the whole thing beginning to end almost 100 times in 2018 and even saw it performed live by her in Manchester back in September. It doesn’t get old and I’m so glad that it’s been nominated for the Grammy, so well deserved.
2 – Baby by Clean Bandit ft. Marina and the Diamonds and Luis Fonsi
I think my number one song of all-time is Symphony by Clean Bandit, a song that I have genuinely listened to at least 5 times a week since it was released almost two years ago now. But Baby, Clean Bandit’s latest hit single featuring one of my all-time favourites Marina, is definitely going to follow up close behind. I’m just… obsessed. And the acoustic version is even better than the original.
1 – Staying At Tamara’s by George Ezra (The Entire Album)
By this point, you will have read over 7K words in this blog post, but I promise you that I am saving the best until last with this one. I fell in love with George after the release of his first album Wanted on Voyage in 2014, but as much as I loved half of the album, the latter part didn’t work for me. So I sat and waited, desperately wanting to go all-out obsessive fangirl on this boy and his music. Then came 2018 and the release of the perfect album Staying at Tamara’s and ladies and gents… it has begun. I am not going to detail my adoration for the album/music/podcast/existence of this man, but yes, it is most definitely the best music of the year for me. Receipts to prove this include my solo trip to see him live the other month, and my solo trip to see him live again in March. Obsessed!