2013 Pick of the Year – Timothy Ramsden

ReviewsGate co-editor, Timothy Ramsden makes his top choices from around the UK.

It was the year of the curious incident in the night-time, which brought the house down rather than raising the roof. The year a monarch of the stage left the theatre for the streets to berate an alternative source of entertainment. Had it been Elizabeth I Helen Mirren was playing the street entertainers might have found themselves in the Tower with heads due imminent chop-off time.

Fortunately it was her namesake descendent, who went for peaceful co-existence expressed by the message on her T-shirt (or the equivalent in off-duty royal regalia. With crumbling masonry and noisy neighbours, was this the year the West End revealed itself as the slums of Shaftesbury Avenue?

Most intriguing now the dust has settled, fortunately without fatalities, is that when the roof part-collapsed at the Apollo audience members took it for part of the show (interesting to know what was happening on stage at the time). And that it was members of the acting company, normally doing their best to make their stage world believable, who broke the illusion.

It is, in part, a sign of how far theatre technology has come that audiences assumed it was intended (and a warning to those who decry health and safety).

Of which places like Battersea Arts Centre are very aware as they experiment with spaces not made for performance. Battersea’s Christmas show The Good Neighbour with its Hidden adult variant ended the year with a match of experiment and family entertainment.

An award for inspiration (again) and resilience should go to Earl’s Court’s Finborough Theatre, a pub theatre which has continued to set ever-higher expectations despite being deprived of its pub. Another strong year for Neil McPherson’s management began with London Wall, a forgotten 1931 play by John van Druten, mainly remembered for being the playwright through whom Christopher Isherwood’s Berlin stories became Cabaret.

In Tricia Thorns’ exemplary realistic production it was revealed as a picture of office life and the way that, working in business but without money, it is only physical attraction with which women can trade. Alix Dunmore gave a memorable performance as the desperate aging woman who sees the horror of a lonely older age. Don’t bring back the good old days.

Once and future Finborough director Kate Wasserburg made a treasure from a lesser Brian Friel play Aristocrats. Without the sympathetic centres or flow of his best work, the play was directed in Mold at Clwyd Theatr Cymru’s smaller Emlyn Williams space with a fine cast, making the most of its static nature on Mike Britton’s composite garden and decayed mansion set.

Autumn also brought Daniel Matthew’s Scrappers to Liverpool Playhouse Studio. It was apt to see this in a tucked-away, little-used (by the public) though once fertile, ground for new plays. Matthew’s play fitted the mood better than it would have the gleaming new Everyman about to opening its doors this spring in Hope Street.

Jed McKenna’s scrap-merchant, hanging on to his trade in a desolate part of Fleetwood as regeneration moves ever nearer, led a fine quartet of performances, while director Matthew Xia, whose Young Vic production of Sizwe Bansi Is Dead returns to the Young Vic in February, ensured the larger issues never overwhelmed the reality of characters who, whatever their limitations, had individual hopes and dignity.

All these seared themselves, in some way, further inro the mind than most. But none more so than Quiz Time at Edinburgh’s Traverse Theatre in April. I only hope Hamish Pirie’s production will be revived, preferably with the original cast, and certainly with Eileen Walsh’s Sandra – a performance that started by seeming overdone. By the end, not only had it become calmer but the reason for the opening manner was devastatingly apparent.

As for Rob Drummond’s script, it’s as tightly constructed, and packed with clues as the best mystery drama (better, probably, than most so labelled).while it also analyses the human impact of a story which continues to unfold. If you see the script please resist the temptation to read it. Or spoiler reviews. There’s only one way to experience the revelations in this play, and that’s the way its author intended and its first production so magnificently achieved.

2014-01-01 12:12:28

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