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: John Donnelly’s The Pass, at the Royal Court Theatre Upstairs

Russell Tovey as Jason, Gary Carr as Ade. Photo Manuel Harlan

Russell Tovey as Jason, Gary Carr as Ade. Photo Manuel Harlan

John Donnelly’s The Pass, currently playing at the Royal Court Upstairs, was pushed into the spotlight as the play about a gay footballer. This is a good media hook but it’s selling the play short. Without ignoring attitudes and issues around homosexuality and football, Donnelly delves deeper into his characters to find universal questions: What would you sacrifice for success? How do you form human attachments if the world around you doesn’t allow for weakness, mistakes, human frailty? Can you ever find your way back if you take the wrong turn?

Donnelly approaches these questions with a lightness of touch, where loss is poignant because happiness is within reach and present. This is probably the biggest achievement for play and production: the characters are mischievous, sexy, playful and the play has their youthfulness and banter at its heart. Continue reading