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Irene Sankoff and David Hein’s Come From Away at Mirvish Royal Alexandra Theatre is a complex and original, yet undeniably accessible and feel-good step forward for Canadian commercial theatre.

Matthew Murphy

As the year comes to a close, it's easy to feel bullish about Canadian theatre with shows made in this country popping up on best-of-2016 lists internationally.

Victoria-born musical Ride the Cyclone made The New York Times list of best theatre of 2016, while Crystal Pite and Jonathon Young's exquisite dance-theatre piece Betroffenheit topped the Guardian's list of dance. Counting Sheep, a Toronto-born musical about unrest in Ukraine that played in Edinburgh and is gearing up for a larger tour, landed on influential critic Matt Trueman's list of best theatre in Britain, too.

Back at home, meanwhile, I found this was one of those years where it was hard to whittle my favourite shows down to a top 10. (Other years, I've had to stretch to reach that number.)

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Here's what I came up with, in no particular order, from what I saw this year in Toronto and at the Stratford Festival and Shaw Festival – the part of the country I cover most comprehensively.

1. Come from Away, Royal Alexandra Theatre

Complex and original, yet undeniably accessible and feel-good, this Broadway-bound musical is a significant step forward for Canadian commercial theatre. Irene Sankoff and David Hein's 9/11 show selling out the Royal Alexandra in Toronto was a milestone – as very few Canadian musicals had even played in this 1907 theatre before.

Attending an emotional, sold-out, special performance of Come from Away at a hockey arena in Gander, Nfld. – where the show is set – would land on the top-10 theatrical experiences of my life, however.

Read the review.

2. The James Plays, Luminato

The National Theatre of Scotland's latest visit to Toronto was with these three plays by Rona Munro about three Scottish kings in the 15th century – in which the playwright mimicked, subverted and overthrew the conventions of the history play.

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It was the conversation between the shows, the accumulation of details, the slow then startling shifts in tone that made a marathon viewing such a memorable experience – augmented, of course, by it taking place over 11 hours in a decommissioned generating station in Toronto's Port Lands area.

Read the review.

3. Father Comes Home from the Wars (Parts I, II and III), Soulpepper

Another great, three-part historical saga by an international playwright. Suzan-Lori Parks's drama about an enslaved man who must decide whether to fight for the system of slavery in order to achieve his personal freedom got a terrific Canadian premiere from director Weyni Mengesha at Soulpepper.

Read the review.

4. "Master Harold" … and the Boys, Shaw Festival/Obsidian Theatre

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Athol Fugard's three-hander about life in South Africa in the infancy of apartheid got a very unsettling, outraging production first in Niagara-on-the-Lake, Ont., then in Toronto. Director Philip Akin elicited excellent performances from Allan Louis and André Sills – and squeezed a reputation-making turn out of young James Daly as "Master Harold."

Read the review.

5. A Doll's House, Soulpepper

A classic made contemporary through performance rather than adaptation, director Daniel Brooks's production of this Ibsen chestnut felt particularly vital because of its tour-de-force central performance by an unchained Katherine Gauthier as a Nora more action figure than doll.

Read the review.

6. All My Sons, Stratford Festival / Incident at Vichy, Soulpepper

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I saw these two exceptional productions of Arthur Miller plays in quick succession, reviewed them together – and it's hard for me to separate them in my mind. Directors Martha Henry, in Stratford, and Alan Dilworth, at Soulpepper, found what was crucial and contemporary in them. All My Sons had the most immediate emotional impact, but I think about the chilling question at the centre of Incident at Vichy almost every day: How will we know when the thing we fear is actually happening?

Read the review.

7. Macbeth, Stratford Festival

I've always liked the Scottish play on the page, but had never seen a truly satisfying production on the stage until director Antoni Cimolino's at the Stratford Festival. The keys to its success: A furious pace, an ingeniously placed intermission and a focus on the larger world of the play rather than a star performance.

Read the review.

8. Mouthpiece, Quote Unquote Collective

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Norah Sadava and Amy Nostbakken wowed me with this funny, physical, political (and tuneful, too!) two-hander about how to talk about women and how women talk. Calgary and Vancouver, it's headed your way – check it out at the High Performance Rodeo and the PuSh Festival, respectively, in early 2017.

Read the review.

9. The Watershed, Porte Parole/Crow's Theatre

I missed Annabel Soutar's documentary play about the so-called war on science in the Harper era when it premiered in 2015, but caught up with it this year. Sprawling, funny, smart – its themes about political polarization endure. It's still on tour and you can catch it in Winnipeg, Calgary and Richmond, B.C., in 2017.

Read Martin Morrow's original 2015 review.

10. Salt-Water Moon, Factory Theatre

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I bought tickets so I could go back and see director Ravi Jain's sensuous, stripped-down production of this 1984 David French play. I loved it the second time, too. It was the highlight of a revelatory "naked season" of Canadian classics at Factory Theatre, revivified by artistic director Nina Lee Aquino.

In a list that went to 11, the "naked" revival of A Line in the Sand would also squeak in – and one that stretched to 12 would include another show directed by Jain, The Adventures of the Black Girl in Her Search for God by Lisa Codrington.

Read the review.

Flops of the year

Alice in Wonderland, Shaw Festival

A mind-numbing mainstage misfire from director Peter Hinton. I shudder to think how many young theatregoers attending as part of school groups have now been put off live theatre forever.

Read the review.

Paramour, Cirque du Soleil

Quebec's circus company tried to break into Broadway musical theatre – but somehow thought it could get away without hiring a writer. Memorably bad, at least.

Read the review.

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