(Gardner’s article appeared in the Guardian, 12/15.)

  1. Real Magic(Inbetween Time festival, Bristol)

Forced Entertainment were on top form with a fiendishly clever and sometimes unbearable-to-watch three-hander about people trying to guess the answer to an impossible question posed in a TV-style game show. One of Forced Entertainment’s most potent political statements, it was made in the shadow of the Brexit vote and examined our inability to learn from the past – and to see answers when they are staring us in the face.

  1. Everybody’s Talking About Jamie(Apollo, London)

This brilliant British musical, created by the Feeling’s frontman Dan Gillespie Sells and Tom MacRae, first surfaced in Sheffield at the start of the year. It tells the story of Jamie New, a gay outcast at school, who is determined to become a drag queen. This is feelgood, fairytale stuff, a working-class Cinderella story in which Jamie does get to go to the ball. But it also confronts the hard realities of economic poverty – and the poverty of a culture that is afraid of difference.

  1. Hamlet(Harold Pinter theatre, London)

Just when you thought that we’d had quite enough Hamlets along came Robert Icke’s strikingly modern revival boasting the sweetest and most mercurial of princes in Andrew Scott. I paid to see it in the West End, and even from the balcony it felt like watching the play in close-up thanks to the delicacy of characterisation and Icke’s attention to detail. Almost every line seemed fresh-minted.

  1. Barber Shop Chronicles(Dorfman, London)

Stuffed full of heroes and villains, philosophers and poseurs, Inua Ellams’s exuberant show, a co-production with Fuel and West Yorkshire Playhouse, considered African masculinity and the responsibilities of fatherhood through the prism of a barbershop chair in six countries around the world. It comes braided with patois, jokes, shaggy dog stories and music, bringing a secret world into sharp focus.

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