List: Top ten theatre productions for January to June 2014

Lloyd Owen as Mike and Imelda Staunton as Margaret in Good People. Photo Johan Persson

Lloyd Owen as Mike and Imelda Staunton as Margaret in Good People. Photo Johan Persson

In a pattern frequently repeated in my life, I am about six weeks late in posting my top ten list from the first half of the year. I could have easily moved on, but 2014 is shaping into a vintage year, and I wanted to put a mark in the sand before the end of the year top ten becomes a hard and merciless business. In strict alphabetical order, the best – and favourite – productions of the first six months of 2014.

A View From The Bridge at the Young Vic (aka the Revival): it’s hard to describe how brilliant Arthur Miller’s A View from The Bridge was. Directed by Ivo Van Hove with Mark Strong as Eddie Carbone, text, acting and directorial decisions came together in a seamless union. The result was a beating heart at the palm of your hand, exhilarating and horrifying in equal measures. Eddie Carbone describing the smell of coffee will stay with me forever. What do we remember, heh?

Birdland at the Royal Court (aka the Rock descent into hell): Simon Stephens’ Birdland is not perfect. Yet it lodged under my skin more than other – more perfect (and yes, I know I shouldn’t be using a comparative construct) – productions. It had the blackest black and an aching at its bones. You can see home but you can never go back.

Blurred Lines at the Shed, National Theatre (aka the feminist rock concert): in a line of plays constructed like jazz music (pieces coming together and apart at will), Nick Payne’s and Carrie Cracknell’s Blurred Lines was incendiary, prickly and put the cat among the pigeons. And it was fun.

Fathers and Sons at the Donmar Warehouse (aka the adaptation): Brian Friel’s adaptation of Ivan Turgenev’s novel had a warm heart and a merciless gaze looking at the social changes that blindside and confound us all. The dripping sweat of the russian summer could have been anywhere, not least in our 21st century western society. The cast was flawless.

Good People at Hampstead theatre, and then at the Noel Coward’s (aka the best american play): as plays go, David Lindsay-Abaire’s Good People is perfect. Furthermore, it gives voice to social tensions few people want to acknowledge. Imelda Staunton as Margaret is one of the definitive performances of the year (or any year).

Much Ado About Nothing at the Royal Exchange Manchester (aka the Shakespeare): Again, Maria Aberg’s production was not perfect but it found the exquisite exhilaration of making a fool of one’s self in the name of love. Ellie Piercy as Beatrice and Paul Ready as Benedick crackled in acknowledged disdain and unacknowledged love (or is it the other way around?).

Orpheus by Little Bulb, at the Battersea Arts Centre (aka the return): I didn’t see the production when it played last year, and I am so grateful for Revstan’s intervention in catching up with it this year. What starts as a simple cabaret act transforms into an intoxicating journey, playful, irreverent and unexpectedly poignant.

 

Ellie Kendrick as Rolly and Sinead Matthews as Pink in Pests. Photo Jonathan Keenan

Ellie Kendrick as Rolly and Sinead Matthews as Pink in Pests. Photo Jonathan Keenan

The Pass at the Royal Court theatre (aka the play about the gay footballer): John Donnelly’s play has a conceit at its heart (“let me tell you about the gay footballer”) but it’s much more interesting than that. It’s about what we think we want and what we actually do. And it was sexy. Russell Tovey gave a barbed, scathing performance.

Pests by Vivienne Franzmann at the Royal Court (aka the best new play). Ellie Kendrick as Rolly and Sinéad Matthews as Pink felt like two souls hanging at the edge of the cliff, by turns scratching and clinging at each other. The poetry of the language welded itself onto the characters to reveal the intensity of their emotional lives, only for their humanity to be carved away due to opportunities and human rights denied.

Wolf Hall / Bring Up the Bodies, from the Royal Shakespeare Company (aka the double bill): Hilary Mantel’s world was brought to life with blinding sharpness and precision. Ben Miles as Cromwell gives a performance of mysterious impishness, never heartless, never knowable and utterly mesmerising.

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