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: Arthur Miller’s A View From the Bridge (starring Mark Strong), at the Young Vic Theatre

We are in early April and I might as well pack and go home now. Because I won’t see anything like the Young Vic production of A View From The Bridge for the rest of the year. At this point this feels exhilarating and a little bit depressing, but the production is performed until beginning of June, and I will definitely see it again. With this public service announcement out of the way – I will say it once, book a ticket – we will proceed.

Mark Strong (Eddie), Nicola Walker (Beatrice), Phoebe Fox (Catherine) and Luke Norris (Rodolpho). Photo by Jan Versweyveld

Mark Strong (Eddie), Nicola Walker (Beatrice), Phoebe Fox (Catherine) and Luke Norris (Rodolpho). Photo by Jan Versweyveld

People will describe the production as stylised and stripped back, but the result is the opposite of absence. On a bare stage – part courtyard, part shipyard (at the start of the play), part prison with walls not fully erected – emotions expand to fill the space in a pressing, almost unbearable way. The production exists in a place where a whole layer of skin is missing. I was hyperaware of all sensations: the movement of actors on stage appeared intuitive but the images were iconic. The music was heartbeat, full of blood and dread. None of these things were distracting, they opened up the senses for the real event, Arthur Miller’s play, one of the masterpieces of the twentieth century. The raw quality of first and last scenes bookended the production magnificently, with sex and death and desperation hanging in the air.

Mark Strong, twelve years off the stage (and if we wait another twelve years, it will be a crime), is a devastating presence. Continue reading