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. Continue reading

Review: Much Ado About Nothing at the Royal Exchange Manchester

Ellie Piercy as Beatrice, Paul Ready as Benedick. Photo Jonathan Keenan

Ellie Piercy as Beatrice, Paul Ready as Benedick. Photo Jonathan Keenan

Maria Aberg’s As You Like It, performed in Stratford for the Royal Shakespeare Company last summer, was as beautiful and joyous as a Shakespearean production (or any theatre) can be. Her current production of Much Ado About Nothing for the Royal Exchange Manchester almost scales the same heights – indeed it does in most aspects but for minor reservations.

This is the second Much Ado in recent months set in the second world war. It captures a time of common purpose but also uncertainty, exhilaration and scarcity of means. Away from the battlefields, the men are weary and out of place, the women are in charge in a way previously unthinkable. With the character of Leonato changing sex – and played beautifully by Marty Cruickshank – there is a clear vision of women taking control and changing the world. In that sense, the lies targeted at Hero aren’t a random conspiracy but an ugly throwback threatening a better future.

The spectre of war is subtly present, no more so than when Benedick reasons “When I said I would die a bachelor, I did not think I should live till I were married”. Continue reading