Carole Woddis makes her choices from shows seen in London – a good year she says.
Two features stand out for me this year – the unsung work of ensembles and the quality and number of new plays in places as diverse as the Bussey Building in Peckham, Theatre 503 in Wandsworth or a community hall in Hackney.
The Royal Court brought David Greig’s National Theatre of Scotland’s delirious and delicious supernatural musical fantasy The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart to the Bussey, scene of so many memorable evenings this year.
Another supernatural airing turned up at Theatre 503 in the `new’ voice of Irish composer turned playwright, Ailís Ní Ríain’s Desolate Heaven, her extraordinary and imaginative twinning of mythological fantasy and care-in-the-community traumas. Beautifully realised by the ever wonderful Brid Brennan and two newcomers, Carla Langley and Evelyn Lockley.
Later, in their Hotbed new writing festival, they produced a fascinating trio of plays including How to Begin by the 2006 Man Booker nominee Hisham Matar, a latter day Ionesco, surreal, minimalist, puzzling and wholly refreshing as a break from the all pervasive deathly realism de nos jours.
The Royal Court, true to form, served up a dazzling array of new work with, at one end of town American Annie Baker’s Circle Mirror Transformation in north London with an all-star cast including Imelda Staunton and Danny Webb; at the other and the year’s end, finally, John Tiffany’s bleak, transfiguring National Theatre Scotland production of Let the Right One In by Swedish gothic novelist John Ajvide Lindqvist adapted by Jack Thorne.
In between, the Oval provided a stunning monologue by Matthew Baldwin in The Act reminding us of the tortuous journey to gay rights emancipation with the Wolfenden Report. At the Trafalgar Studios there was Alexi Kaye Campbell’s The Pride, a modern day comparison by a young writer of `then’ and now in terms of sexual identity and honesty.
At the National, Howard Davies produced another Russian stunner in Maxim Gorky’s Children of the Sun, Marianne Elliot broke more boundaries with her fabulous fairy story for adults The Lightning Child fusing adult puppets and Rosalie Craig performing singing miracles upside down. Melly Still proved Expressionism was not dead with George Kaiser’s From Morning to Midnight and Rupert Goold pulled out all the stops for his supercharged American Psycho, the musical – a feast heightened by the satirical edge of Lynne Page’s choreography and a marvellous ensemble without whom the production, Matt Smith’s presence notwithstanding, would have made far less impact. Ditto for the ensemble who brought Titanic at Southwark Playhouse and Candide at the Chocolate Factory to their stupendous finales.
Finally, the Unicorn’s 60 minute sand-pit Henry V provided one of the funniest, sharpest contemporary takes on the much rehearsed play I’ve ever seen; Little Angel’s puppet Macbeth brought a totally fresh ornithological beauty and horror to the tragedy and Fevered Sleep’s Above Me the Wide Blue Sky gently warned of environmental destruction whilst celebrating the richness of quiet contemplation and observation in the memories of ordinary people’s relationship to Nature recalled in a magnificent feat of memory by Laura Cubitt.
A good year, all in all, for women in theatre, Theatre for children, and not least, puppets.