Wednesday, 31 December 2014

2014 round-up - the relevant part

Congratulations if you made it through the previous post, and EVEN BIGGER congratulations to anyone who is still friends with me even after having to put up with me during that period! Your reward is my top ten theatre for the year, a handful of apologies, and a few honourable mentions (and my continued friendship for apparently FOREVER).

10. Hamlet - Royal Exchange, Manchester
I've recently become hyper-aware of the numerical differences between male and female performers on our stages, which has led to some productions being perhaps unfairly received by me just by being a complete sausage-fest. This production did away with that all together by casting 7 women and 7 men and just running with it. It varied as to whether the character had changed sex or if they were the same they always had been, just played by a woman, but every single instance of this cross-gender casting was brilliantly played and had some fascinating results, none more so than Polonius becoming Polonia. Before, Polonius had seemed contradictory and confused, but making no changes to the text other than him being a woman suddenly ironed out all the contradictions, brought the family emotionally closer together, and made a very real statement about how much harder a woman has to work to be accepted in a traditionally male sphere. Female Hamlet was obviously terrific as well, and female Rosencrantz was a great touch, but for me it was ALL ABOUT Gillian Bevan as Polonia. I never want to see a male Polonius again.

9. Medea - National Theatre
Just great, really. A brilliant cast, a haunting set, a timeless tale, fantastic use of movement and music, gorgeous costumes, and utterly devastating results. And, of course, a FINE array of women, mainly the divine Helen McCrory.

8. Urinetown - St James Theatre
It was a good year if you're the sort of person whose favourite musical genre is "Broadway musicals of several years ago" with several particularly beloved shows making a long-awaited appearance. One of the most marvellous was Urinetown, a score I hold in particularly high regard, given a delightfully surreal and exceptionally well-cast production by Jamie Lloyd. I would also like to take this moment to emphasise the stunning customer service skills displayed by every member of staff I have ever encountered at the St James Theatre. They are delightful people, every last one.

7. Antony and Cleopatra - Shakespeare's Globe
In all, I feel I enjoyed the 2013 Globe season too much. It was so terrific that no matter which production a person chose as their overall favourite, my response was always an enthusiastic nod and a "yeah, I can see that!". The 2014 season was therefore already at a bit of disadvantage when it started, but if it never made it to the overall 5* heights of 2013, it did nevertheless attain a highly respectable 4* average once it settled in. So I thought I'd choose just one of the major Shakespeare productions to represent the year as a whole, and I have gone for Antony and Cleopatra, as it was a simply marvellous production that magnificently overcame tricky beginnings and also fulfilled a personal casting fantasy of several years (Eve Best AND Clive Wood?! Thank you, casting Santa!).

6. A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts - Lyric Hammersmith
Sometimes a piece that has been largely devised by the cast is a terrifying idea. And sometimes, the piece is just a joy from start to finish. Although I'm a little weary now of the idea of booking for something and having it kept secret from you what it is until you arrive, the Secret Theatre ensemble have very much overcome their beginning and are now just what I like to see - an established ensemble who have attained a closeness with each other that you don't often get, doing lots of different things in a safe environment and seeing what the results are. I have enjoyed pretty much all the results, but none so much as this, where you do feel like the cast member who is chosen as the protagonist is being run through the mill and discovering new things about themselves every time. Surprisingly moving and very very joyous.

5. A View from the Bridge - Young Vic
If you saw it, I don't need to say anything else. If you didn't see it, you should go see it when it transfers to the West End. One thing I love is when a director takes a play and does something odd with it, but because the writing is so strong, the odd thing serves only to heighten the effectiveness of the text rather than diminishing anything or revealing any weaknesses. (Something the Secret Theatre ensemble have also highlighted, funnily enough.) This is about as pure and as strong as classic twentieth century drama comes and you should all be very grateful for the second chance coming our way.

4. King Charles III - Almeida
Oh come on, it's a modern version of a Shakespearean History play, of COURSE I was going to love it. Mike Bartlett really knows his stuff! I especially liked the bits where it felt like Charles was going a bit Henry VI, as this is an opinion I myself have held of Charles for some years now. It's terrifically clever and, thanks to the strength of the production, extremely enjoyable too. And who knew, when casting was announced, that Richard Goulding would make such a convincing Prince Harry?!

3. Translations - Rose Theatre, Kingston
This year I started chasing the English Touring Theatre around a bit. I went all the way to Cambridge for Eternal Love, which was brilliant, headed out to Kingston for this, which was also brilliant, and was relieved when the additionally brilliant Twelfth Night came to Watford so I was going to be able to get home at a sensible hour. Everything I have seen from this company has been utterly superb. So as opposed to leaving a six year gap between productions, I am from henceforth going to make efforts to see as much of what they do as possible, and I strongly recommend that everyone else does the same. This production in particular had me sobbing from start to finish, tears of joy, tears of sorrow, and all other flavours of tears in between. And you (probably) missed it. What an idiot you (probably) are.

2. In the Heights - Southwark Playhouse
In the Heights is one of my most favourite musicals ever. It's helped me through some emotionally trying times, and it's lifted the less strenuous times to even greater heights. I was over the moon to see it finally coming to London, and I couldn't have been happier that it was thoroughly worth the wait.

1. Spine - Soho Theatre
Show of the year somewhat unexpectedly goes to this one-hander from Clara Brennan, performed by Rosie Wyatt. For the first time in my life, I was seriously considering walking out of the theatre before the show finished, because if I didn't SEE it finish, then maybe JUST MAYBE it wouldn't HAVE to finish, and I could live in the exhilaration of the piece forever. The writing was tremendous, the characters were tremendous, the story was tremendous, the language was tremendous, the performance was tremendous, and for the first time since July, I could feel what it was to truly love a work of theatre again.

Apologies to:
The Wild Duck - Barbican
This is How We Die - Battersea Arts Centre
Pomona - Orange Tree Theatre
I booked you all after hearing how brilliant and devastating and life-changing you were. Previously when I've done that, I've been delighted to discover what all the hype is about and utterly relieved not to have missed such a great piece of theatre. But you all came post-Drowned Man, and I'm still trying to learn how to love again, so I'm very very sorry, I just did not feel that way about you. On the bright side, you might not have made my top ten, but you came EXCEEDINGLY highly recommended!

Honourable mentions to:
- Katherine Kingsley who single-handedly raised Dirty Rotten Scoundrels to dizzying heights whenever she was on stage.
- Imelda Staunton who was giddyingly good in Good People (and just life generally, probably. Damehood surely imminent!).
- Ashley Martin Davis, Peter Mumford, and Matt McKenzie who transformed the Hampstead Theatre into a breathtakingly realised mine for Wonderland.
- Jennifer Haley who created the most chilling line of dialogue I have ever heard in my life. "I did not build the crying function for this purpose!". If you can hear it without shivering, you clearly did not see The Nether.
- Sofie Gråbøl for a stunning performance that ensured James III: The True Mirror would be forever a part of the theatrical category I like to call "plays where the main character isn't actually the character that the play is named after".
- the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse for an extremely solid first season and a very exciting future.

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