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Carole Woddis selects a number of plays and gives a special mention to some venues.

2014 BUMPER YEAR?
On a programme over Christmas, in BBC2 documentary about an amateur company preparing their panto, an actor commented that he felt `theatre was a dying dinosaur’. Soon it would be no more.

Looking back through 2014, though, I’m reminded just how lucky we are in London.


Almost too much and too many choices to make in this year as in most years – though I’d have to note my frequent escapes down to West Sussex have shown another bumper year for Jonathan Church and his team in Chichester. Congratulations to them.

Out of London, government and local authority cuts are unquestionably biting deep. But in London, they just keep on coming: new venues, rediscovered gems and new generations of writers, directors and performers.

Amongst the evenings that put a smile on my face in 2014 was, once again, chez the Finborough. Presiding genius, Neil McPherson uncovered the remarkable Rachel by Angelina Weld Grimké, the first professionally produced play by an African-American woman, staged almost 100 years ago.

As much as the story it told, a consciousness-raising coming of age for the young female protagonist, the evening was made special for me by Ola Ince’s modest but perfectly attuned and cast production. Here was a worm’s eye view into what it felt like to be at the sharp end of racial prejudice in the early 20th century.

Just as impressive too, at the latter end of the year, in a wholly different mood was Guy Retallack’s staged `radio broadcast’ version of It’s a Wonderful Life, the inaugural production of his new in-house regime at London’s latest pub theatre, the Bridge House in deepest Penge. Again the quality of the small ensemble, six-strong, led by Gerard McCarthy in the Jimmy Stewart film role, made this outstanding, a memory to see one through the darkest of winter nights.

And beside the many, handsomely subsidised, sensitive and achieved productions from the NT (amongst them Howard Davies’ 3 Winters, Rufus Norris’ Behind the Beautiful Forevers), Rupert Goold’s Almeida ‘hits’ (1984, American Psycho, Charles III), Ed Hall’s Hampstead winners (Wonderland, Sunny Afternoon), or Phyllida Lloyd’s gorgeously rumbunctious, socially pertinent all female Henry IV at the Donmar (with one of the best Falstaffs I’ve ever enjoyed in Ashley McGuire) or the seemingly inexhaustible Howard Brenton’s Dr Scroggy’s War charting the extraordinary `father’ of plastic surgery, Harold Gillies, at Shakespeare’s Globe or Vicky Featherstone’s visionary futuristic helm at the Royal Court , I’d have to mark down Southwark Playhouse as my venue of the year, for its never-ending introduction to younger (and senior) generations. Thank you. I’ve loved (almost) every minute I’ve spent under your roof in 2014.

Carole Woddis
December 28, 2014
 
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