Top 10 London theatre openings of 2023, from Paul Mescal to amazing football show

Our top 10 West End shows of the year, from football shows to ruminations on the future of AI

Dec 21, 2023 - 21:16
Top 10 London theatre openings of 2023, from Paul Mescal to amazing football show

The top 10 West End shows of 2023

This has been a strange year for London theatre, lacking the absolutely nailed-on end of year list-toppers we enjoyed in 2022, which included Jodie Comer in Prima Facie, Mark Rylance in Jerusalem and Elton John musical Tammy Faye.

But what 2023 lacked in blockbusters it made up for in simmering, slowburn plays that have stayed with us long after the curtain fell. Here are our favourites of the year.

DEAR ENGLAND, National Theatre

This play written by James Graham follows Gareth Southgate and his team from the moment the role was thrust upon him up until their glorious defeat by France in the Qatar World Cup quarter final. And boy does it all hit you right in the feels. It’s a magnificent achievement, from the balletic choreography of the players to the staging that recalls the vastness of a football stadium to the excellent use of canned sound and projections. Graham isn’t able to give us an England victory at the end but he delivers virtually everything else you could hope for.


The Almeida’s production of Tennessee Williams’ steamy southern gothic A Streetcar Named Desire was one of the most hotly anticipated plays of 2022, with Normal People star Paul Mescal lending some zeitgeist-capturing sex appeal to this sad tale of fantasy, identity and mental illness. It’s an inspired take on this most wonderful of plays, not quite a version for the ages but certainly a welcome reminder that a smart director and talented cast can make even a text as well trodden as this feel brand new.

PHAEDRA, National Theatre

The latest play from the director of Yerma, Phaedra is not quite as straightforwardly brilliant but nonetheless is brimming with ideas; even the ones that don’t quite work are glorious failures. And when it does work, it’s electric. It also looks incredible: Chloe Lamford’s set is not dissimilar to that of The Lehman Trilogy (a National Theatre production that’s just transferred to the West End), and when the scene changes from the pristine apartment to a Theresa May-style field of wheat, and later to a snowy vista, it’s so impressive it elicits a sharp intake of breath.

DEATH NOTE, Palladium

Rapturous applause before the show had even begun suggested the touring musical Death Note is preaching to the choir – but this show never feels like a cynical cash-in. Indeed, a solid – if extremely strange – musical emerges through the veil of hype. The song and dance numbers vary from traditional musical theatre fare to rocky numbers, John Carpenter- esque synth tunes, and even some unusual choral pieces. It’s a bizarre production, a mad confluence of styles and influences that shouldn’t work together but somehow coagulate into something quite brilliant.

A MIRROR, Almeida

There are times when the Almeida’s production of A Mirror feels a little like – whisper it – immersive theatre. It’s a slick satire, a genuinely, laugh- out-loud send-up of totalitarianism, filled with brilliant performances, not least from the ever-charismatic Jonny Lee Miller. The text, always extremely pleased with itself, doesn’t bear much scrutiny, but we can’t remember when we last enjoyed ourselves this much at the theatre.


It’s been a bright year for Soho Place, the first new West End theatre in 50 years. Sophie Okonedo was mesmeric in an adaptation of Medea, and this uplifting new musical about the life of a teenager left wheelchair-bound after a horrific accident became a cult hit. It resonated particularly with the disabled community, but the bold new songs meant its message of inclusivity and hope resonated way beyond that.

OLD FRIENDS, Garrick Theatre

Stephen Sondheim passed away aged 91 in 2021 after writing some of the most lauded musical scores of the modern age, including Sweeney Todd, Follies and Gypsy. To celebrate his life, Peters is joined by a who’s who of London theatre’s campy theatrical talent for this joyously nostalgic romp down memory lane. Having just the songs without the burden of the storyline gives everyone what they want and Sondheim’s genius shines throughout. There’s never been a better excuse to get properly acquainted with his work.

LA CAGE AUX FOLLES, Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre

Regent’s Park Open Air Theatre’s production of La Cage aux Folles is a blistering hit, two-and-a-half hours of raucous cabaret that conveys the punkish energy of the artform while also feeling utterly polished. Tim Sheader’s production is prestigious from the get-go, with a seamless introduction that doesn’t pause for breath – literally – for 15 minutes. This was the London theatre hit of the summer: we’d never seen so many colours and attitudes on one stage in one go.

MRS DOUBTFIRE, Shaftesbury Theatre

Doing a version of Mrs Doubtfire for the stage sounds like a terrible idea. On top of the gut feeling – do we really need this – there are criticisms levelled by some in the trans community, arguing that the last thing we need is another man dressing up as a woman for laughs. But, it turns out, this adaptation is wildly entertaining, and it doesn’t feel at all problematic. There are some absolutely cracking songs, including one called Bam! You’re Rocking Now that half the bar was singing in the interval. It feels refreshingly 2023, which surprised us as much as it does you.

MARJORIE PRIME, Menier Chocolate Factory

We weren’t sure what to make of Jordan Harrison’s memory play, Marjorie Prime, at first. It’s almost oppressively sad and, at times, feels like it lacks a story. But it has lingered in our mind longer than anything else we’ve seen on London theatre stages this year. Dominic Dromgoole creates magic with Harrison’s text, showing how the codes, patterns and movements of human behaviour might be interpreted by machines. Fleeshman is particularly good at being dead and charming at once, moving his head so softly you could be convinced it was algorithmically controlled. Majorie Prime is an astonishingly contemporary memory play: we’re not sure whether AI can make theatre, but this theatre about AI has found new urgency.