Continuing our ‘Best Of’ roundups, we look back on 12 months of theatre and exhibitions and pick out the highlights that made 2017 such a strong and memorable year for art.
Angels in America @ the Lyttleton
The National Theatre’s headline show was, quite simply, a masterpiece. Tony Kushner’s two-part epic about AIDS in 1980s/90s New York is a challenging, sprawling show; with a cast including Andrew Garfield, Russell Tovey and Denise Gough and an intricate, interwoven set, Marianne Elliott’s production was as vibrant as it was moving. The show was broadcast live to cinemas around the country (expect encores) and is set to transfer to Broadway for an 18-week run in 2018. Read our full review here.
Everybody’s Talking About Jamie @ Sheffield Crucible/Apollo Theatre
This new musical premiered in Sheffield in February and transferred to the West End in November. Based on a BBC Three documentary about Jamie New, a boy who wanted to go to his prom in drag, it features music by Dan Gillespie Sells (from The Feeling) and book and lyrics by Tom MacRae. It has received rave reviews – “a burst of joy” – and has been described as “Billy Elliot for today’s generation.” It is playing until April 2018, with tickets from £20.
Queer Theatre: Readings @ the National Theatre
To mark the fiftieth anniversary of the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales and to coincide with Pride Week, the National Theatre also did a series of rehearsed readings of seminal queer plays, including Martin Sherman’s Bent – about the persecution of homosexuals in Nazi Germany – and Oscar-winner Tarell Alvin McCraney’s Wig Out. Each of these readings deserved a whole production: hopefuly, given their success, this might happen.
Queers @ The Old Vic
Also scheduled to coincide with fifty years since decriminalisation – and also starring Russel Tovey – was Mark Gatiss’ Queers, a series of monologues exploring queer life in Britain over the past 100 years. From World War I to AIDS, through to marriage equality, the eight performances were subtle yet engaging, celebrating diversity and spanning a wide range of British society. They were also recorded for the BBC and broadcast on BBC Four, starring Alan Cumming and Rebecca Front.
Queer British Art @ Tate Britain
Tate’s landmark exhibition explored the lives and works of queer artists, writers and designers from 1861 (when the death penalty was withdrawn for homosexual offences) to 1967 (the partial decriminalisation of homosexuality in England and Wales). Featuring major artists, like Francis Bacon and Duncan Grant, and introducing lesser-known figures, such as Gluck, it was a remarkable show that demonstrated a huge amount of research. While somewhat lacking in diversity – many of the figures features were white men – there were some thoughtful touches, such as the juxtaposition of a portrait of Oscar Wilde with the door to his prison cell. Read our full review here.
Coming Out: Sexuality, Gender & Identity @ Walker Art Gallery, Liverpool/Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery
Coming Out picks up where the Tate exhibition left off, exhibiting the works of key artists from 1967 to the present day. Diversity is definitely one of this exhibition’s strengths, with plenty of space given to non-white, female and non-gender conforming artists, as well as local photographers whose work has been rarely exhibited. “Free from the jargon of queer theory and mostly devoid of pretentiousness, it doesn’t require a degree in Art History for its connections and nuances to reveal themselves,” wrote our reviewer. The exhibition is open at the Birmingham Museum & Art Gallery until April 2018.
Gillian Wearing and Claude Cahun @ NPG
Claude Cahun was a radical photographer and performer, working initially in Paris in the 1920s as part of the Surrealist circle and, later, on the Nazi-occupied Channel Islands. She and her partner, Marcel Moore, created art that explored identity and masquerade (she was heavily influenced by early-feminist writer Joan Riviere, whose work she translated). The National Portrait Gallery juxtaposed her work with that of contemporary artist Gillian Wearing, who has worked extensively with masks and made work that responds directly to pieces by Cahun. A thought-provoking exhibition filled with wonderful and fascinating artworks.
David Hockney @ Tate Britain
The most comprehensive exhibition of the veteran British artist’s work ever – put together to celebrate the artist’s 80th birthday – the Tate drew together iconic paintings, photomontages, lesser-known drawings and experiments. Giving you everything you might expect – and more – the show demonstrated Hockney’s versatility and virtuosity, particularly in his overtly sexual and abstracted early paintings from when he was still studying at the Royal College of Art. Having since transferred to Paris and now New York, this exhibition was tremendous fun and a perfect celebration of one of Britain’s most celebrated contemporary artists.
Basquiat: Boom for Real @ Barbican
The first major exhibition in Britain dedicated to the life and art of Jean-Michel Basquiat, the Barbican’s show is a remarkable deconstruction of a complex and fascinating artist, who sadly died in 1988 aged just 27. His art is often angry, exploring difference and prejudice; he started off as a graffiti artist, lamenting the decaying areas of New York City. He quickly became a key figure in the New York art scene and produced work with his friend and mentor, Andy Warhol. This exhibition is a must see and runs until 28th January. Read our full review here.