top ten (ish) theatre of 2016

The full list:

The Winter’s Tale (Garrick)
Cymbeline (Globe)
Hangman (Wyndhams)
The Dazzle (Found111)
Guy & Dolls (Savoy)
Waste (NT)
Bend it Like Beckham (Phoenix)
Miss Saigon (Prince Edward)
Pericles (Globe)
Miss Atomic Bomb (St James)
Twelfth Night (Globe)
The Painkiller (Garrick)
Reasons to be Happy (Hampstead)
The Winter’s Tale (Globe)
The Caretaker  (Old Vic)
The Flick (NT)
Into the Hoods (peacock)
Romeo & Juliet (garrick)
Threepenny Opera (NT)
Taming of the Shrew (globe)
The Deep Blue Sea (NT)
Henry V (Regents Park)
Richard III (Almeida)
Henry V (Southwark)
A Midsummer Night’s Dream (Globe)
Queens of Syria (Young Vic)
Groundhog Day (Old Vic)
Macbeth (Globe)
The Entertainer (Garrick)
Imogen (Globe)
The Boys in the Band (Park Theatre)
No Man’s Land (Wyndhams)
Amadeus (NT)
Julius Caesar (Donmar/Kings Cross)
King Lear (Old Vic)
Red Barn (NT)
One Night in Miami (Donmar)
Little Matchgirl (Globe)
Once in a Lifetime (Young Vic)
Mary Stuart (Almeida)

Anyway, in no particular order, the top 10 were:

The Painkiller (Garrick) – two room hotel farce about an assassin and a suicidal divorced bloke with an adjoining door.  So much ridiculous physical comedy and perfect timing.
The Flick (NT) – strangely affecting, all silences stretched until the audience cracks up and passions and details of lives going nowhere while they eulogise a dying medium.
Into the Hoods (Peacock) – Fairytales mashed together in a council estate in glorious hip hop of wolves that dress up as Granny, a prince with a soundtrack of 90s slow jam sleaze, and it turns out Rapunzel is totally Nicki Minaj.
Henry V (Southwark Playhouse) – OMG.  if Merely Theatre come south again, SEE IT. tiny cast, french and english denoted by swapping football jerseys, lots of rushing offstage to swap outfits, crackles along brilliantly, actual new filthy shakespeare jokes, and it got interrupted during the second half due to the girl playing Montjoy fainting.
Julius Caesar (Donmar/Kings Cross) – 2nd of the Donmar female prison Shakespeares that I’ve seen.  And they get better.  New light cast on things, brilliant performances, heartbreaking, especially when prison stuff intruded on the play itself.
The Deep Blue Sea (NT) – sorry, Helen McCrory is being awesome and tragic and despairing in a London flat and I have no time for your concerns.
Macbeth (Globe) – I like a good Macbeth.  This was a good, well-staged, inspiring Macbeth with good use of the Macbeths’ child, great acting and spooky awesome music.
Groundhog Day (Old Vic) – perfect film is turned into perfect musical of AMAZING sets and genius nuttiness of repetition that gives different details each time, with fabulous tunes and lovely performances.  Also there’s a rodent and a car chase. Gimme cast recording.
Imogen (Globe)- Cymbeline refocused, set in East London with added dance and grime tunes.  East end accents work perfectly with shakespeare stylings and posturing, it was funny, some seriously ouchy violence, and the glory of the 27 endings and the Roman officer going ‘hello? over here?’ and when Imogen slammed her foot on Iachimo’s throat it was a thing of joy and beauty forever. And do the jig to Skepta’s ‘Shut Down’ to bring the house down.
Queens of Syria (Young Vic) – Syrian refugee women telling their stories in their own words and talking about the experience of talking to the media getting people to listen (the bit where they were going ‘apparently we can get the west to listen if we do it as theatre because they respect it? okay, worth a shot’ raised a lot of giggles), woven in with bits of the Trojan Women. heart in stomach stuff.

The worst (avoid like the plague)

The Caretaker (Old Vic)- theoretically good acting.  I was so BORED.  Unbelievably tedious, silences and unending whining that went nowhere.  Apparently this is a Pinter thing. Timothy Spall and George MacKay couldn’t save it.

The Entertainer (Garrick) – supposed to be about actor at dead end of the vaudeville scene and his family crushed down and wanting social change. Except it just showed that the dead end of vaudeville needed euthanising and everything else was just inarticulate.

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Common, National Theatre, Olivier Stage 31/05/17

I went into this on the strength of the poster, Anne-Marie Duff’s casting and the vague promise of the examination of a period of history and setting that we don’t normally get to see. I hadn’t even looked at the projected running time. Good lord that was a mistake.

It started with Anne-Marie Duff’s self-described rogue directly addressing the audience, promising tall tales and bawdy jokes that couldn’t be relied upon for veracity, for she always lies. Well, that prologue certainly lied about the rest of the play. Fairly soon, a funny, promising start of a woman going back home to confront her past in horrendously poor rural England at the time of the fencing off of common land (see title) settled into a general tangled, ill-thought out and badly expressed turgidity. The stage was covered in earth, with occasional holes dug in it to bury things or uncover graves, while people droned on in an attempt to talk about a plot of revenge and violence, attempted murder and lying about the past and old lovers. Sometimes we got a funny aside to the audience, but these were buried in the overwhelming oppressive weight of dank soil and a blasted heath of an echoing stage. Even the habitual appearances of burning torches and peasants in Wicker Man masks that I think were meant to add to the general atmosphere of rural deprivation and buried past sins you couldn’t escape from didn’t liven it up for more than a few minutes at a time, because the second they left the stage, we were back with the sweary incomprehensible droning. After what seemed a fairly final note of violence after an hour and a half, the lights went up and the audience blinked, looked around in confusion and then winced on realising that was only the first half. ‘How long does this thing go on for?’ echoed around.

In the second half, the plot went on, transferring most of the action to the local lord’s house, but nothing more was said. Nothing was added that cast any light or consequence to the mood and actions of the first half. You could see the audience looking around to notice that nearly a third of their peers had escaped at the interval, and really wishing they’d joined them, because it was just dragging on with no hope of a resolution or any sort of respite in sight.

I think the only members of the production that could really escape with any dignity were the production and lighting designers for so successfully conjuring up a barren oppressive heath of flickering shadows and torchlight. The actors did their best, but were clearly struggling with the script they’d been lumbered with, and I don’t understand how no-one noticed in rehearsals and development that the running time and script needed attacking with a scythe.

(ETA:  this was 2nd preview, apparently it got severely cut after)

Top Ten (ish) Theatre of 2015

The full list :

Knight of the Burning Pestle (globe)
Assassins (Menier)
The Hard Problem (NT)
The Ruling Class (Trafalgar Studios)
The Merchant of Venice (almeida)
Anything Goes (touring)
Othello (globe schools)
Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (NT)
Everyman (NT)
The Car Man (Bourne)
The Merchant of Venice (globe)
As You Like it (globe)
King John (globe)
The Beaux Stratagem (NT)
Richard II (globe)
Ballet de Trockadero de Monte Carlo
Nell Gwynn (Globe)
Three Days in the Country (NT)
In the Heights (KX)
Harlequinade (branagh company)
As You Like It (NT)
The Hairy Ape (old vic)
Macbeth (Young Vic)

Anyway, in date order, the top 10 were

Knight of the Burning Pestle (globe) – completely bonkers. 17th century panto, meta, backstage, then turn up the knobs until your audience hurts itself laughing and then KEEP GOING.  And add morris dancing, monsters dressed as barbershop poles, and princesses in towers who nearly fall out of them.
Assassins (Menier) – When Sondheim is touched by genius and produces obsessive black comedy.  And then has Catherine Tate and Aaron Tveit and Simon Lipkin AND Jamie Parker as the banjo-strumming narrator and the play ends with Jamie Parker pointing a gun in your face.
The Merchant of Venice (Almeida) – They set it in Las Vegas. Launcelot Gobbo is an Elvis impersonator. The caskets thing is a reality tv show that’s been going on so long it’s completely fucked up Portia. The ‘court’ is a mob justice dungeon out in the desert. And it turns out Elvis is the perfect soundtrack to Merchant of Venice. No-one ends up happy.
Anything Goes (touring) – fuck you, tap dancing, full on Cole Porter with a PG Wodehouse book. *jazz hands*
The Car Man (Bourne) – Bourne company, sex, violence, tension and jealousy. The audience will be in their bunk and needs an ice bath.
King John (globe) – Do not mess with the progeny of Eleanor of Aquitaine, ‘kay? Possibly the most politically relevant Shakespeare around.
Richard II (globe) – Charles Edwards, stop being so charming.
High Society (Old Vic) – Go away, you’re interrupting the party.  Duelling pianos.  Dancing on the pianos.  Drunk Tracy. True Love. Boring fiancés. Jamie Parker as a cynical journalist.  Surprising lean Rupert Young.
As You Like It (globe) – close scrape, this one, but the fools. oh my Bill, James Garnon as Jacques doing ‘All the world’s a Stage’, and then the tennis match-like sparring between the fools…
Harlequinade (Branagh) – If we are going to have 1940s backstage hapless players farce, then it will be perfectly timed comedy and having Branagh being an over the hill Romeo company manager, Zoe Wanamaker being a grande dame, enthusiastic promoted guardsmen, tea, and then a policeman will turn up 2/3rds of the way through, DAMMIT.

The WORST. Avoid if possible. In order of awfulness:

The Hairy Ape (old vic) – Completely incoherent.  Sound and fury signifying nothing sums this play up.  I couldn’t tell if the performances were any good because the play was so fecking awful.

The Hard Problem (NT) – Stoppard being Stoppard.  But completely over-egged and really quite boring.

Light Shining in Buckinghamshire (NT) – civil war and everyone trying to figure it out afterwards by squabbling and then squabbling as they meandered through the countryside.  needed to be cut in half.