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 →
Kirsty Bushell as Vittoria and David Sturzaker as Bracciano. Photo Tristram Kenton
For better or worse, I rarely research plays before I see them. Some plays, I know better than others, but when unfamiliar I don’t seek information out. Part of it it’s being otherwise busy, part of it it’s a belief the production will and should deliver in its own terms.
This is a long-winded way of saying I knew nothing of The White Devil as I sat on my seat to see Maria Aberg’s production. I knew it was John Webster, which meant the mysteries of life would be explored through the prism of grizzly deaths. I knew there would be sexual references because it was written on a sign as we were entering the auditorium. I couldn’t help but think “sexual references” felt much too tame for what I had in mind. In the end, this proved correct. My impression of the production was it felt tame and kept the audience at arm’s length. Continue reading →
Shannon Tarbet as Frankie and Tom Rhys Harries as Ralph. Photo Kwame Lestrade
Some people object to Polly Stenham’s plays because she often keeps a narrow focus on familial – if not always familiar – dynamics. I am not one of those people. Her characters – insolent, poetic, unapologetically confused – don’t give in. But you give into them.
Nevertheless her new play Hotel breaks new thematic territory. This isn’t always obvious and it’s not always smooth. Contradictory themes don’t so much blend but crash into each other with considerable force. I hesitate to expand for fear of spoilers but let’s say betrayal, accountability, consequences, violence and international aid all come into focus. Much of the play is not what it seems. Much of life is not what it seems.
With a running time of 80 minutes, the story gallops at a breathless pace. Maria Aberg’s direction keeps it on track, quite an achievement as often the play feels like a stampede. I admire Stenham’s lack of restraint and bold moral approach but she doesn’t go deep enough on any of her themes. She opens doors but lets them flapping in the wind. I would have been happy to hear any of her stories. When the adrenaline buzz settled, I could hear none.
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 →
As You Like It. Pippan Nixon and Alex Waldmann. Photo Alastair Muir
These are the 2013 productions that stuck in my dreams and didn’t want to shift. In strict alphabetical order, because selecting ten for the list was hard enough.
American Psycho, Almeida theatre: the energy and clarity of the production juxtaposed with Patrick Bateman’s nihilism made for an unforgettable experience. Hell in pastel colours and blood splatters. And eighties pop songs. Matt Smith plays the absence of a soul magnificently.
As You Like It, Royal Shakespeare Company: Discovery of love and freedom played out with such openness in Maria Aberg’s production that in the end I wanted to cry with joy. Pippa Nixon was luminous (and as Ganymede she looked like a young K.D. Lang – that can only be a plus) and Alex Waldmann matched her soulful playfulness every step of the way. Continue reading →