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Monday 26 February 2018

Created by Bryan Fuller, Alex Kurtzman
Network CBS, Netflix
Starring Sonequa Martin-Green, Doug Jones, Jason Isaacs, Michelle Yeoh, Shazad Latif
Genre Science Fiction
Running Time Varies

star trek discovery bad terrible flop cbs netflix

After several years in the wilderness, the Star Trek franchise has returned to TV. Brought back from pop-culture purgatory by the success of JJ Abrams' 2009 big-screen reboot and its sequels, a TV comeback was inevitable and had been discussed in various forms over the past ten years. Initially, it had been reported that the franchise heads were considering a radical departure into an anthology-style series, as is the trend these days, but this was ultimately turned down. CBS studio heads ultimately settled on Discovery.

With Star Trek and TV veteran Bryan Fuller signed on, and the franchise flying high from its recent big-screen adventures, everything seemed set for a triumphant return. Then Fuller quit part way through production, and Discovery was hit by delay after delay. Such production troubles rarely bode well.

The success of this 2009 reboot posed a dilemma in its conception. Would the new show follow the canon of the original franchise, or the new reboot with which many of today's fans would have been more familiar? Discovery resolves this issue by avoiding it entirely, taking the form of a prequel set before both the original series and the cinema reboot. This brings its own set of pitfalls, limiting the scope of the series to the confines of its sequels. You can't very well introduce some new form of technology or make major modifications to the existing characters that we know not to exist in the future. Or so you would think.

For better or for worse Star Trek Discovery shows itself to be largely unconcerned by such conflicts. Much of the first season's narrative focuses on a new technology known as the spore drive, a form of propulsion based on some pseudo-scientific nonsense which has the capability to take the ship anywhere in the galaxy in an instant... despite the fact that they clearly don't have anything so advanced in the sequels. More controversially, the writers have also implemented a radical redesign of the Klingon species, a mainstay of the Star Trek franchise, and a source for many of the series' most beloved characters. The new Klingons are less characters than monsters, hairless, grotesque, by-the-numbers baddies with more prosthetic makeup than complexity. Fans of classic Trek characters like Worf and Torres will find it hard to reconcile the two interpretations.

But it's not just these nitpicky little backstory inconsistencies or creative adjustments that differ. From its philosophy, to its artistic direction and storytelling style, Star Trek Discovery is near unrecognisable from what came before. For all the spaceships and phasers, Star Trek was always really about two things: intelligent, thought-provoking stories, and likeable, well developed characters. Star Trek was always considered a thinking man's sci-fi. Violence was a rarely invoked last resort, and most dilemmas were solved instead by the moral character of the crew. Star Trek was known for its optimistic, enlightened view of the world, and its message-based storytelling.

Discovery, by contrast is a much darker, grimier setting. Episodes almost always involve action, violence and big spectacle sequences. The first season's serialised storytelling focuses almost relentlessly on war, with seemingly no time for any of the provocative short stories, nor the idealistic moralising of its forebears. Discovery also makes the somewhat bold choice to focus on a single main character, played by a very bland and ham-fisted Sonequa Martin-Green, rather than a rich ensemble cast as with previous series of Star Trek.

Of course, changes in artistic vision and canon inconsistencies don't inherently make a TV series bad. We've ascertained that Discovery is nothing like Star Trek, so what is it exactly?

Star Trek Discovery is essentially Game of Thrones in space. It's action and melodramatic twists. The antagonists are all gruesome monsters. Everything from the writing and visual direction is all sexed up, glamourised and intensified. The truth is that Discovery isn't trying to be Star Trek, it's trying to be a breathless, high-octane action-fest in space for today's fans of addictive binge-TV.

So if you happen to love Game of Thrones, and couldn't care less about Star Trek's ideals or high-minded storytelling, then Discovery might be just what you're looking for. It's a visually striking series with excellent effects, atmospheric set design and a good looking cast. The pace never lets up, and the twists come at a breakneck pace. On the other hand, if you are looking for measured, thought-provoking concepts, or complex character-driven stories, you won't get that here.

Unfortunately, in just about every other regard Star Trek Discovery rarely rises above mediocrity. The dialogue is just bad, even by Star Trek standards, and in some scenes is truly cringe-worthy. The focus on a single character means the supporting cast are only superficially explored, and engaging character relationships are practically non-existent. Plots are often muddled and poorly thought out and characters act in completely irrational, non-sensical ways. If you can get past much of the stupidity, then Discovery is certainly a passable show, but it rarely feels like anything other than a time-filler.

Ultimately Star Trek Discovery does not succeed as a new Star Trek series, and is only really above average at best on its own merits. The relentless, mindless action may win over the binge-TV fans of Game of Thrones, but lacks any real quality in its writing or acting to elevate itself to anything greater. It's watchable, some episodes are even good, but overall this is a massive disappointment.

Sunday 25 February 2018

Directed by Duncan Jones
Written by Duncan Jones
Produced by Stuart Fenegan
Starring Alexander Skarsgard, Paul Rudd, Justin Theroux
Studio Netflix
Running time 126 minutes

mute duncan jones alexander skarsgard paul rudd justin theroux netflix 2018

Duncan Jones became Hollywood's new golden boy almost overnight. His first two films, Source Code and Moon were critically acclaimed and commercial sleeper hits. Many in the industry had quickly declared him as the next big thing, a saviour for intelligent science fiction.

Both films were quite different, but equally impressive demonstrations of how good filmmaking can surpass the sum of its parts. Source Code in particular is my go-to example for how a seemingly daft story can be elevated into something great by a talented storyteller. A brief detour into mindless commercial blockbusters with Warcraft proved to be ill suited to Jones’ talents, and so with his latest film Mute ostensibly representing a return to his roots, many had hoped that it might also mark a return to greatness.

This film represents a big moment for Netflix too, whose ventures into original film production have so far failed to match the excellent standard by their television team, or indeed the more celebrated cinematic efforts of their peers at Amazon. With some 100 original films produced over the past few years, only Okja, The Meyerowitz Stories, and Beasts of No Nation received anything like critical praise, and even then very little mainstream attention. Conversely with prominent recent flops Bright and The Cloverfield Paradox fresh in the mind, there is an awful lot of expectation riding on Mute; a much hyped comeback from an acclaimed director that had been seen as something of a coup for Netflix when announced as an exclusive.

Unfortunately Mute will neither reinvigorate Jones’ career, nor do much to raise the profile of Netflix’s film division.

The premise of Mute is bizarre to try and type out. Alexander Skarsgard plays Leo, a mute Amish man living in a grimy, futuristic Berlin. He goes searching for his missing girlfriend, a mission that finds him becoming intertwined with Paul Rudd’s Cactus Bill and Justin Theroux’s Duck Teddington, two American surgeons gone AWOL, both fairly unpleasant low-life type characters. It’s essentially a sci-fi neo-noir film, which takes a very generous amount of inspiration from the likes of Blade Runner, as well as the dystopic fantasyscapes of Jones’ father, David Bowie.

These influences provide a rich source of material from which to draw inspiration, yet Mute falls far short of that level. It’s clear early on what the problem is: Mute has a very bad screenplay. The dialogue is atrocious, the pacing is a mess. There's little attempt to consider in any detail the premises put forward, such as the difficulties of an amish person living in such technologically dependent times. There's far too little time spent developing the character moments and relationships that underpin the whole movie. The protagonist is uninteresting and underdeveloped, the worldbuilding half-baked and unoriginal, and quite frankly there's not enough here to make the viewer care about what's happening.

For some inexplicable reason a significant portion of the film is spent following the two aforementiond shady surgeons, who are tonally all over the place. The film has a particularly weird subplot involving Duck’s paedophilic tendencies, which adds absolutely nothing to the story, and somehow is often played for incredibly poor-taste laughs. That's not to say that sketchy, unpleasant characters can't make for an interesting movie focus, or even generate some very black comedy. Films like Fargo have pulled off a similar trick with aplomb. It requires a deft touch and well-balanced tone, but unfortunately Jones' script doesn't come even close to what better writers like the Coen Brothers have managed.

To its credit, the film is visually very striking, and occasional directorial flourishes in key scenes remind us of the storytelling of which Jones is capable. The cast is strong and they make a go of the poorly written characters they have been given. None of that comes close to making up for the film’s flaws.  

Unfortunately, Mute will go down as another Netflix flop, and a setback for what used to be among the most promising careers in Hollywood. There's a clear pattern developing here. Jones did not write Moon or Source Code, both were critically acclaimed. He wrote Warcraft and Mute, both have been panned. Mr Jones, please stop writing your own scripts.

Friday 23 February 2018

Directed by Ivo van Hove
Written by Adapted by Lee Hall from the Paddy Chayefsky film
Starring Bryan Cranston, Michelle Dockery, Douglas Henshall
Theatre National

network national theatre peter finch bryan cranston chayefsky trump obama fox news

It has been forty years since Paddy Chayefsky’s Network first appeared in cinemas, and yet its themes are still as relevant as ever. The original film version is considered a cinematic classic; a parable of the power of television, and the danger of putting our blind faith in the things we see and hear in its content.

Howard Beale is a longtime news anchor fired from his job due to the declining ratings of his show and the news division at large. During his last broadcast, something snaps in Beale and he announces that he will kill himself, live on TV. The resulting ratings boost convinces the news network to cynically keep him on the air, and Beale begins a journey that will see his sanity continue to decline as he becomes the voice of populist rage for the nation.

Network depicts a world where entertainment masquerades as news for the sake of profit, where information is disseminated by shadowy and corrupt interests, less to educate than to manipulate and control. A world where there is no objective truth and all facts are subjective. In the decades since, we have seen the rise of fake news, of Rush Limbaugh and Glenn Beck (essentially the original film’s “mad prophet” brought to life), and of Fox News, a news network that openly defends its content by declaring itself to be “entertainment” rather than actual news. The conceit of Network was a terrifying idea back in the 1970s, but today it’s not a stretch to say that much of it has indeed come to pass.

The National Theatre’s adaptation adds a modern spin to the story, with allusions to fake news and social media. Beale’s reinvention as the mad prophet of the airwaves is brought to life through a decidedly more modern, Jerry Springer-esque manifestation than Chayefsky could ever have foreseen at the time of writing. In one magnificent sequence, we see one of Beale’s rants going viral, through the replication of hundreds of social media posts and vines of people reciting his most famous motto: “I’m mad as hell, and I’m not going to take it anymore.”

This is all presented through the brilliant staging and set design, which combines a stage, studio, makeup room, and restaurant in one efficiently laid out space, and a backdrop which features a cacophony of TV screens in various sizes. One gigantic screen in particular takes centre-stage, alternating between a close-up view of the various events playing out on stage, and a melange of thematically complementary videos and effects. When it’s not being used as a live camera, it flickers endlessly with clips of old commercials and news events. It’s a distracting presence, but no doubt that is very much the point: there are actual people, real people on stage, and yet the audience is drawn almost hypnotically to that all-powerful TV.

And then there’s the acting. No one was ever going to be able to touch Peter Finch’s Oscar winning depiction in the original, but Breaking Bad star Bryan Cranston leaves his own mark on the role with an indelible performance. This is no mere imitation, rather he counterpoints Finch’s powerful rage with a much sadder and more fearful energy, that is nevertheless every bit as powerful.

The production closes with a video reel of every President from the movie's release onward, reciting the oath of office at their inauguration. It begins with Ford, climaxes with a massive cheer from the audience for Obama, and jeers for Donald Trump. The message is clear. This is a man elected to an office for which he is wholly incapable and unsuited, purely because of the awesome force of TV propaganda, at the behest of corrupt interests that hide in the shadows. Donald Trump is essentially the pure manifestation of everything Network predicted. At its original launch, the message of Network was terrifying and bold, but in hindsight it’s downright prophetic.

Monday 12 February 2018

Hello and welcome back to 2018's final post from the Hot List. So far we have covered the biggest news in televisionvideogames, music, and theatre. This week we will be looking at the most exciting new movies set to hit the big screen in 2018 from February onwards, after the cutoff point for this year's awards season.

ephemeric hot list most best hottest anticipated new movies films 2018 exciting

The Ephemeric finds itself the victim of its own success after some very strong 2017 predictions, featuring a top 4 which included The Darkest Hour, Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri, and Dunkirk, and a top 15 which included many of the other big awards season players. Who said the film industry wasn't predictable?

Of course this means the pressure is on for this year's Hot List, anything less than a lineup of Oscar winners and box office smashes will be a step back. Fortunately 2018 is looking like a very strong year for films once again, from summer blockbusters, to prestige biopics, and work of a more experimental nature. But with all the strong contenders, there are 15 that stand out among the pack.

So enjoy, the key films to keep an eye on in the coming year (trailers linked in the title where available), starting with number 15:

15. The Old Man and the Gun

hot list best films movies 2018 old man and the gun robert redford casey affleck david lowery danny gloverLet's start with the new crime thriller from the up and coming David Lowery, who is both writer and director on The Old Man and the Gun.

This is based on the real-life story of criminal and escape artist Forrest Tucker, and stars a formidable ensemble cast which includes Robert Redford, Casey Affleck, Sissy Spacek, Danny Glover, Tom Waits, and Elisabeth Moss.

There was initial buzz that the film would drop at this year's festival circuit, but that has not yet materialised. A full release is expected for the latter half of the year when the awards season starts to heat up.

Release Date: Late 2018

14. Ready Player One

ready for player one spielberg best movies films 2018 tye sheridan tj miller mark rylanceReady Player One, has been a long time coming. This adaptation of Ernest Cline's novel of the same name was originally slated for release as far back as 2016, then switched to Christmas 2017, and finally pushed to spring 2018.

The latest from director and Hollywood legend Stephen Spielberg, Ready Player One is effectively a mystery/treasure hunt set in a futuristic virtual world. The fully stocked cast includes Tye Sheridan, Olivia Cooke, Ben Mendelsohn, TJ Miller, Mark Rylance, and Simon Pegg.

What's been taking so long in its production, you might wonder? Spielberg describes this as the most difficult film he's done since Saving Private Ryan. Set in a visually ambitious futurescape where physically anything can happen, he allegedly had to attend three hour meetings every week during it's prolonged production in order to make sure the FX work is up to scratch.

The release is almost finally upon us. This looks like the first bona fide blockbuster of the year.

Release Date: 29 March, 2018

13. Mary Queen of Scots

mary queen of scots saoirse ronan josie rourke margot robbie david tennant best films movies 2018Saoirse Ronan stars in this historical drama film as the titular Mary Queen of Scots. This project is based on the biography by British historian John Guy, and features a strong cast that includes Margot RobbieDavid Tennant, and Guy Pearce.

We all love a good costume drama, and the cast on this one is very impressive. Still, in this post-Game of Thrones era, there's always a worry whenever a studio starts talking about doing a "historical drama" - see the mess that is Britannia. Straight-faced historical storytelling seems to be out of fashion at the moment, and cinema is the worse for it.

Still, the hype is strong, and the industry expects big things from this project come next year's awards season. I for one will be hoping this is more The Queen than The Snow Queen.

Release Date: 2 November, 2018

12. Under the Silver Lake

david robert mitchell under the silver lake andrew garfield it follows best films movies 2018Under the Silver Lake is the follow up film from It Follows writer/director David Robert Mitchell. A mystery dramedy set in an anachronistic middle America, starring Andrew Garfield as unwitting would-be detective Sam.

For those who haven't seen the film that made Mitchell's name, It Follows is probably the best horror movie to have been released in many years. Between that film and his equally well-received debut The Myth of the American Sleepover, Mitchell is establishing himself as one of America's most exciting new directors. His latest looks to be following in the taut, highly stylised footsteps of his earlier work.

Under the Silver Lake releases in June, and we're very excited to see what he's got up his sleeve.

Release Date: 22 June, 2018

11. Creed II

creed 2 ii sylvester stallone michael b jordan ryan coogler best films movies 2018What's this? A sequel on the Hot List, and a franchise movie no less? Creed II is of course the sequel to Creed, the seventh movie of the Rocky Balboa franchise of boxing movies.

If that doesn't interest you then you must not have seen Creed, which was easily the best movie in the franchise since the Oscar winning original. Shifting the focus from Stallone's Rocky to Michael B Jordan's Adonis Creed was a game changer, and leaving directorial duties to Ryan Coogler a master stroke. Creed has reinvigorated the franchise potentially for years to come.

Sadly, Coogler has not returned, with the untested Steven Caple Jr in the hotseat, but otherwise the two main stars return, along with old favourite Dolph Lundgren. Creed was an excellent movie, if this is half as good then it will be worth your time.

Release Date: Q4 2018

10. Widows

widows steve mcqueen viola davis colin farrell andre holland best films movies 2017 peter dinklageWidows is the latest from acclaimed director Steve McQueen, best known for 12 Years a Slave, but also directed the well received Hunger and Shame.

Widows is essentially an old fashioned heist movie, where four robbers are killed attempting a break-in, and their widows team up to complete the job. It features a strong core cast of Viola DavisMichelle RodriguezElizabeth Debicki and Colin Farrell.

Release date is set for November. Possible awards contender? Doesn't seem like it from the genre, but with this talent involved who knows.

Release Date: 16 November, 2018

9. Beautiful Boy

beautiful boy timothee chalamet steve carrell amy ryan best films movies 2018One of 2017's biggest breakout stars, Timothée Chalamet has no shortage of offers in Hollywood right now. 2018 will see him star in the new Woody Allen movie, but I'm more excited by Beautiful Boy, the new film from writer/director Felix Van Groeningen.

Not light viewing, a hard wrought story of drug addiction and recovery that will see Chalamet star alongside Steve Carell, himself enjoying a great run of serious roles of late, and Amy Ryan.

This will be the latest from Amazon's increasingly well regarded film production studio which has already produced the critically acclaimed likes of The Neon Demon, Manchester by Sea, and The Big Sick. Release is expected in the latter half of the year.

Release Date: TBA 2018

8. The Front Runner

the front runner hugh jackman jason reitman vera farmiga jk simmons best films movies 2018The Front Runner is a very exciting prospect indeed. A biographical political dark comedy that tells the true story of former US Senator Gary Hart's doomed Presidential bid in 1988, which was derailed by scandal and extra-marital affairs.

Movies about political scandal appear to be very much in vogue right now, possibly due to current events, or maybe out of a sense of nostalgia for when something as simple as an extra-marital affair was enough to stop someone becoming President.

What makes this one particularly exciting is the presence of director Jason Reitman, best known for Juno and Up in the Air, and a cast which includes Hugh JackmanVera Farmiga, and JK Simmons.

Expected to release in time for awards season towards the end of 2018.

Release Date: Q4 2018

7. If Beale Street Could Talk

if beale street could talk barry jenkins moonlight best films movies 2018Director Barry Jenkins is one of the hottest talents in Hollywood following breakout hit Moonlight, an excellent film in its own right but perhaps most notable for derailing what seemed to be a La La Land inevitability at the Oscars two years ago.

So Jenkins is now the man that everyone wants to work with, and everyone wants to see what he comes up with next. If Beale Street Could Talk is an adaptation of the novel by James Baldwin, a story of love, racism and courtroom battles. Jenkins has gone with a fairly low-key cast which includes Kiki LayneStephan JamesDave Franco, and Ed Skrein.

This film is due for release sometime late in 2018, and big things are expected.

Release Date: TBA 2018

6. Roma

roma alfonso cuaron gravity best films movies 2018The last time we saw Alfonso Cuaron, he was waltzing his way to the Academy Award for best director for Gravity. It's been five long years, but Cuaron is back and he's returned to his roots, filming small-scale projects in his native Mexico. His newest project Roma is a family drama set in 1970s Mexico City, and featuring a cast of unknowns.

One of the "three amigos" of acclaimed Mexican filmmakers that includes Cuaron, Gonzalez Inarritu and Guillermo Del Toro. All three have won Oscars in the last few years, but Cuaron was the first to find success, and considered by many to be the best of the bunch. He is best known for Gravity, but this was only the latest chapter in a very promising career that has included the excellent Children of Men.

Taking a step back from big budget Hollywood success to make something on a smaller scale is an unusual move. Just ask Christopher Nolan if he's ever going to make a film like Memento again. Nevertheless the thought of a new Cuaron movie is an exciting prospect, and we can't wait to see what he comes up with.

Release Date: TBA 2018

5. Annihilation

annihilation alex garland natalie portman oscar isaac best films movies 2018This is the latest film of acclaimed writer/director Alex Garland, and the follow up to his brilliant directorial debut Ex Machina. Beyond this last film, many of you will know Garland for his work with director Danny Boyle on 28 Days Later and Sunshine, as well as his novels The Beach and The Tesseract.

Annihilation is an adaptation of the first of a series of novels by Jeff VanderMeer, which sees a group of four scientists set out into a remote and mysterious Area X, a place in which all previous expeditions have met with unfortunate fates. He is joined by the Academy Award winning Natalie Portman, Academy Award nominated Jennifer Jason Leigh, and following up their collaboration on Ex Machina, the up and coming Oscar Isaac.

Garland has a penchant for complex, thought-provoking sci-fi, and early reactions suggest that this is no different. Annihilation will see a cinematic release in the US, Canada and China at the end of February, and the rest of the world on Netflix. This is undoubtedly one of the most exciting releases of 2018.

Release Date: 23 February, 2018

4. Where'd You Go Bernadette

where'd you go bernadette richard linklater cate blanchett kristen wiig billy crudup best films movies 2018This is a new collaboration between director Richard Linklater, director of Boyhood, and Annapurna Studios, titled Where'd You Go Bernadette.

Based on the novel of the same name, Bernadette is the story of an agoraphobic architect who leaves home to try and figure out what happened to her missing mother. The cast includes Cate BlanchettBilly CrudupKristen WiigJudy Greer, and Laurence Fishburne.

Originally slated for a summer release, Annapurna ultimately decided to push back to the awards season in October. Great talent involved and a studio with an eye for a good film, this is one to watch.

Release Date: 19 October, 2018

3. Mute

mute alexander skarsgard paul rudd justin theroux best film movie 2018 netflix duncan jonesMute is the latest film from director and screenwriter Duncan Jones. Sure, that's David Bowie's son, but more importantly he's the director of the critically acclaimed Moon and Source Code, both of which were pretty brilliant. The cast includes Alexander SkarsgardJustin Theroux, and intriguingly Paul Rudd.

Mute is essentially a neo-noir mystery film, set in a futuristic Berlin. The aesthetic direction Jones has taken is earning the film comparisons with the likes of Blade Runner and other settings of a cyberpunk/retrowave persuasion. Jones himself has described this film as something of a tribute to his late father, hence the Berlin setting, the heavy 1980s influence and other retro references.

Billed as a spiritual sequel to Moon, Mute has been in production for years, held up only by Jones' brief foray into making mindless summer blockbusters. Adding to the film's intrigue is the fact that Netflix of all studios have ultimately picked up distribution rights, which presumably means an online premiere, and probably being ignored by the Hollywood establishment. Whatever the case, this is a big first for Netflix to release such a major film, it will be indicative to see just how that plays out. Release date is set for February, if Mute is half the film that Moon and Source Code were, it will be one of the highlights of the year.

Release Date: 23 February, 2018

2. Vice

backseat dick cheney bush iraq christian bale adam mckay big short amy adams steve carell vice sam rockwell best films movies 2018Christian Bale is known for his physical transformations, extreme displays of mass addition and weight loss so as to fully immerse himself in a role, whether it's to bulk up for Batman's muscular physique or emaciate himself for his Oscar winning performance in The Fighter. With Vice, Christian Bale's gut will face its sternest challenge yet, piling on the pasta to fit into Dick Cheney's size 70s.

Yes, Vice (Formerly known by its working title “Backseat”) is the story of Dick Cheney, the highly controversial Vice President under George W Bush's turbulent administration. It features a strong ensemble cast which includes Bale, Amy Adams, Sam Rockwell, and Steve Carell, but the real highlight is the involvement of writer/director Adam McKay, his first project since the award winning The Big Short took cinema by storm.

This is being brought to the screen by Annapurna, one of the best production companies in the business, and they are targeting an awards friendly December release date. This is going to be a contender.

Release Date: 14 December, 2018

1. First Man

best films movies 2018 first man damien chazelle ryan gosling neil armstrong moon claire foy corey stoll kyle chandlerAnd we finish with one of the most exciting productions that's come along in years, First Man.

This is the Neil Armstrong biopic directed by Damian Chazelle, one of Hollywood's hottest talents right now, and his first film since La La Land. Ryan Gosling will play the film's subject, and be joined by a supporting cast of The Crown's Claire Foy, Kyle Chandler, and Corey Stoll.

Prestige cast, prestige director, and prestige subject matter makes this a home run. But for all the hype about Chazelle currently, it's worth noting that he has never made a film like this before. Indeed it will be interesting to see how he copes with a more traditional, non-musical subject matter. Based on what we've seen so far of his talents, we have high hopes.

First Man releases in October.

Release Date: 12 October, 2018

So there you have it folks: The 2018 Hot List. Here's to a fantastic year, and the Hot List will return in 2019!

Saturday 10 February 2018

Welcome back to The Ephemeric's 2018 Hot List. This week we will be having a look at the most exciting theatrical productions coming to the stage in the coming year.

best anticipated new theatre theatrical production 2017 hot list
Rarely does a theatre have a year quite like the Almeida in 2017. New productions of Hamlet, Albion, and Ink earned rave reviews and dominated the end of year awards. Artistic director Rupert Goold is a man at the top of his game right now, and has truly brought the theatre back to the centre of London culture. Other highlights of the year included Jez Butterworth's Sam Mendes directed play The Ferryman, which made its switch to the West End, and Andrew Garfield's star turn in the National Theatre's blockbuster summer production of Angels in America.

2018 is looking like another promising year in the world's greatest theatre town. The arrival of Hamilton on these shores will of course be a major story, but the lineup is full of exciting prospects. Oscar frontrunner Martin McDonagh is back with not one, but two major productions, including the flagship offering from the brand new Bridge Theatre. James Graham continues his prolific run by bringing new play Quiz to London after a trial in Chichester. Elsewhere things take a turn for the weird and wonderful with an operatic adaptation of Coraline, and the Almeida's take on television classic The Twilight Zone. Here's our list of the top 15 theatrical productions to keep an eye on in 2018, starting with number 15:

15. "The York Realist" by Peter Gill, at the Donmar

london best theatre 2018 donmar york realistThis is Peter Gill's award winning play, The York Realist, returning to the London stage in 2018 courtesy of the DonmarRobert Hastie directs in a production starring regulars Ben Batt and Jonathan Bailey.

This is the story of two young men falling in love against the backdrop of 1960s York, in a tale that highlights our own class divides as much as it does our opposing values and expectations. A timely production in this time of social strife and political turbulence.

Running in February and March, this play is currently booking so get in while tickets remain.

14. "Dry Powder" by Sarah Burgess, at the Hampstead Theatre

london best theatre 2018 dry powder hampsteadDry Powder is billed as a razor sharp comedy about American financial markets in the mould of an Enron. This new production making the stage at the Hampstead Theatre marks the UK debut of playwright Sarah Burgess, in a story of capitalist moralism and naked ambition.

This production is directed by Hampstead regular Anna Ledwich, and features a cast including the headline name of Hayley Atwell, fresh from her Olivier nominated performance in The Pride.

This one runs until the spring, so if whip-smart workplace drama seems like your kind of thing, be sure to get tickets while you can.

13. "The Writer" by Ella Hickson, at the Almeida

london best theatre 2018 almeida the writerThe first of the Almeida's new season, The Writer is the latest of playwright Ella Hickson.

Said to tell a story of creative obsession, a writer in the furious throes of ambition. This will lead a new season of what appears to be mostly female playwrights at the theatre. Otherwise, little is known of this production.

Hickson's last production, Oil, was an awards' season favourite and suggests this will be a big one to watch. Almeida's confidence is such that The Writer has been tapped as the lead in an all-female summer lineup for 2018.

Previews start in April, and will then run over the summer.

12. "Absolute Hell" by Rodney Ackland, at the National Theatre

london best theatre 2018 absolute hell nationalA controversial play on first release, condemned as "libel on the British people" back in 1952. Rodney Ackland's Absolute Hell is getting a revival at the National Theatre in 2018.

This is not light viewing; a portrayal of wartime Britain with all its despair, longing and desperation. Far from the glorifying depictions one might typically see in media and on stage, particularly from a contemporary piece.

Joe Hill-Gibbons directs a cast that include the wonderful Kate Fleetwood. Shows begin at the end of April and will run over the summer, along with a series of accompanying lectures on post-war censorship for those seeking a bit of context.

11. "Quiz" by James Graham, at the Noel Coward Theatre

london best theatre 2018 quiz james graham noel cowardJames Graham continues his quest to become Britain's most prolific playwright, with three new shows last year, and a further two on the cards for 2018.

Quiz is one of his 2017 debutants, originally making the stage at the Chichester Festival Theatre, now making the switch to the West End in 2018. Quiz ostensibly re-visits the story of the "coughing major" Charles Ingram, who famously cheated his way to the top prize at Who Wants to be a Millionaire.

More to the point it digs at our obsession with celebrity, media narratives, and seeks to make us question our preconceptions about what happened. The play features mild audience interactivity to make its point - anyone who saw Graham's Donmar production of Privacy a few years back will know roughly what to expect. A bit gimmicky? Sure, but great fun and full recommended night out.

10. "Hamilton" by Lin Manuel Miranda, at the Victoria Palace Theatre

london best theatre 2018 hamilton lin manuel miranda victoria palaceThis one needs no introduction, Hamilton is a phenomenon and one of the biggest shows in the world. It's made Lin Manuel Miranda a household name and worldwide star, and now the show is coming to London. It will probably be a big ticket in 2018.

For those of you who have been living under a rock for the past few years, this is a rap musical based around the life of one of the founding fathers of the United States, Alexander Hamilton. Political history in the form of a rap musical? Yep, it's just as weird as it sounds, but through a combination of novelty, wit, and catchy songs, Hamilton has managed to pull it off somehow.

Currently booking through to December 2018, but I expect this show will stick around for a while.

9. "The Lieutenant of Inishmore" by Martin McDonagh, at the Noel Coward Theatre

london 2018 best theatre noel coward lieutenant inishmore aidan turner martin mcdonaghIn 2018 everyone wants a piece of Martin McDonagh on the back of his award winning Three Billboards Outside Ebbing Missouri. The Lieutenant of Inishmore marks the first of two of his theatrical productions hitting the London stage this year.

This revival of Inishmore stars Aidan Turner, star of TV show Poldark, as a terrorist deemed to dangerous to join the IRA. It's brought to life courtesy of the Donmar's legendary former artistic director Michael Grandage.

McDonagh's work, of course, includes the films In Bruges, Seven Psychopaths, Three Billboards, as well as the Oscar winning short film Six Shooter. His theatrical credits include Pillowman and Hangmen. Those familiar with his work will know what to expect: dark, violent and hilarious.

8. "Coraline" by Neil Gaiman, at the Barbican 

best theatre 2018 london coraline royal opera barbican neil gaimanI'm very partial to a bit of Neil Gaiman, the dark-fantasist behind such writings as The Sandman, Stardust, and American Gods, many of which you will likely have seen on film or television at some point.

You may also recall Coraline, the delightfully creepy animated movie from Henry Selick of Nightmare Before Christmas fame based on the Gaiman novella of the same name. Well in a moment of just-so-crazy-it-might-work magic, the Royal Opera Company has decided to adapt this story into a full blown opera, to debut this year at The Barbican.

Coraline will begin this spring.

7. "Girls & Boys" by Dennis Kelly, at the Royal Court Theatre

london best theatre 2018 girls and boys royal courtActress Cary Mulligan stars in the world premiere production of Girls & Boys, a new play from Dennis Kelly. Kelly's previous credits include Matilda, and the TV series Utopia, while Mulligan is an award winning household name, making her first appearance on stage since 2014.

Girls & Boys is a story of intense romance following a chance airport encounter, and a relationship that moves into deep and disturbing places.

Early previews have been met with a positive response, and the demand to see Mulligan on stage is such that they have already announced an extension into the spring. The Royal Court appears to be having a bit of a resurgent moment over the last year or so, and this looks set to continue the strong run.

6. "Company" by Stephen Sondheim, at the Gielgud Theatre

london 2018 best theatre company gielgud theatreGetting into the top six now is the revival of musical Company by Stephen Sondheim, courtesy of the Gielgud Theatre.

A witty and charming musical depicting love, life and ambition. Company tells the story of Bobby, a thirty-something man rebelling against the pressure to settle down from friends and society. Only this time there's a twist. This production changes Bobby to Bobbi, with a woman in the starring role for the first time.

Rosalie Craig takes the starring role, but it is the return to the stage of the legendary Patti LuPone for the first time in 25 years that has us most excited. Looking for a musical in 2018? Look no further.

5. "The Twilight Zone" by Anne Washburn, at the Almeida

london 2018 best theatre the twilight zone almeidaA baffling yet brilliant idea. Anne Washburn has written an adaptation of classic TV series The Twilight Zone for the Almeida Theatre.

Most people have at least heard of The Twilight Zone. This is the mid-20th Century anthology TV series, seen as the forerunner for series like The Outer Limits and Black Mirror. As is standard for anthology series, each episode of the Twilight Zone is an unrelated vignette, a short story in itself, typically in the fantasy, sci-fi, or thriller genre.

Washburn's production combines elements from some of the show's most famous episodes to create what can almost be described as a remix. Much like Washburn's previous show Mr. Burns, The Twilight Zone is really more of a treatise on the ubiquity of popular culture than a straight telling of the story, but it makes for an excellent evening of entertainment for long-time fans and newcomers alike.

4. "Antony and Cleopatra" by William Shakespeare at the National Theatre

best theatre 2018 london antony and cleopatra shakespeare ralph fiennes nationalOne of the big tickets of the year. Classic Shakespeare, brought to stage by The National Theatre, with a cast that includes the great Ralph Fiennes. This is unabashed prestige theatre, and the National will hope that this will be their tentpole for 2018.

This is of course the story of the original celebrity couple: the Egyptian queen Cleopatra and her Roman lover Marc Antony. Originally translated from the writings of Plutarch by Shakespeare. It's a story of empire and history, and has been a mainstay of Shakespeare's beloved theatre pantheon for generations.

This is expected to be with us towards the end of 2018, which should make it perfect for a bit of holiday season theatre-going.

3. "Network" by Lee Hall and Paddy Chayefsky at the National Theatre

london best theatre 2018 network bryan cranston nationalA carryforward from 2017, The National Theatre's adaptation of Network is still running, and is still a big deal.

Network is, of course, the theatrical adaptation of the classic multi-Academy award winning movie, commonly regarded as one of the great political and mass media satires of all time. Hugely relevant given everything that is going on in the world.

This adaptation is brought to the stage by the highly pedigreed Ivo Van Hove with bona fide star Bryan Cranston in the lead role, originally made famous by the late Peter Finch.

Network will run until the spring, go get tickets while you can.

2. "The Lehman Trilogy" by Stefano Massini and Ben Power at the National Theatre

lehman trilogy national sam mendes simon russell beale london best theatre 2018Sometimes a production just oozes quality from every part, The National Theatre's adaptation of The Lehman Trilogy is one such production.

This 5 hour epic tells the story of Lehman Brothers from their inception in 1844 until the financial market crash some 163 years later. It will be directed by the great Sam Mendes of American Beauty and Skyfall fame, and will star Simon Russell Beale, one of the best stage actors of his generation.

This is a story made all the more timely by recent events and the current state of market turmoil, where Trumpian excess appears to be bringing us back to the brink of collapse. As history begins to repeat itself, we would do well to heed the lessons of the past. This is looks to be an important and high quality production, and gets our highest recommendation.

1. "A Very Very Very Dark Matter" by Martin McDonagh at the Bridge Theatre

london best theatre 2018 very dark matter martin mcdonagh bridgeLastly our top pick for 2018, and it's another Martin McDonagh play.

A Very Very Very Dark Matter is a brand new production from one of the most sought after writers in the world  today, and will  be the headline act at the inaugural season of the new state of the art Bridge Theatre.

Oscar winning actor Jim Broadbent stars as a beloved author Hans Christian, a man known for writing fantastical tales of mermaids and monsters, but secretly holds in his attic a terrible secret: the woman who inspires his story and must be hidden away. No doubt darkly comedic hijinks ensue.

It's an unusually fantastical premise for a McDonagh play, but with the writer currently at the height of his powers, we're willing to give him the benefit of the doubt on anything. An undoubted highlight of 2018.

So there you have it folks: 2018 in theatre. Tune in next week for our final instalment of the Hot List, covering the essential new films coming up in 2018!

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