This year, as co-editor of ReviewsGate.com, I asked our team of reviewers to come up with one or two shows from 2012 that, for whatever reason, they thought was outstanding.
Below are the ReviewsGate Critics’ Choices for 2012.
Alexander Ray Edser: Wonderful Town, King John.
There was a great deal of high-quality theatre around last year . . . in general the quality seems to get higher and higher. It’s hard making the choice, but I’ve picked out one because I felt so good after watching it, and one because of its directing.
Wonderful Town, Leonard Bernstein; Joseph Fields, Jerome Chodorov, Betty Comden, Adolph Green. A terrific, feel-good evening. Connie Fisher was in marvellous singing, acting, dancing and comedic form as Ruth. Early Bernstein in great form too.
Then King John, Maria Aberg’s production of Shakespeare’s often rather dry play, was a revelation. By focusing on the women, she and her team lifted the play to the level of thrilling debate.
Al Geary: ‘Tis a Pity She’s a Whore, The King’s Speech.
The best shows I covered for ReviewsGate.com in 2012?
Cheek by Jowl’s touring production of ’Tis Pity She’s a Whore at the Theatre Royal, Nottingham had impeccable performances and slick and ironical song and dance. It was violent, degenerate and erotic – and beautifully done.
Also right up there was The King’s Speech, at the same venue. The two central performances – Charles Edwards’s Bertie, King George VI, and Jonathan Hyde’s Lionel Logue, the Australian speech therapist – were outstanding. You left the theatre feeling warm and positive – patriotic even.
Francis Grin: Lot and His God.
Lot and his God by Howard Barker. at The Print Room.
My personal favourite for this year was undoubtedly The Print Room’s production of Howard Barker’s Lot and His God. In this re-imagination of the Biblical tale of Sodom and Gomorrah, Barker sharply confronts us with a world where the borders of ‘filth’ and ‘purity’ are blurred, a world where ‘Sodom’ exists within us all. This production maintained all around excellence in its cast, direction and design – most notable was Hermione Guilliford’s immaculate performance of Lot’s wife and Robyn Winfield-Smith’s impressive direction which fully revived Barker’s poetic text.
Michael Paye: Silent
Silent by Pat Kinevane. (Dublin)
Pat Kinevane’s SILENT marks a new trend in Irish theatre along with Dylan Tighe’s RECORD and Stefanie Preissner’s SOLPADINE IS MY BOYFRIEND, of bringing issues of mental health in contemporary Irish society to the main stage. In this performance, Pat Kinevane plays Tino Mc Goldrig, a homeless man suffering from depression. He tells the audience about his life and his failure to protect his brother. If you were unfortunate enough to miss this performance, do not despair. Silent is coming to Smock Alley from the 10th to the 12th of January for 2013. The intimacy of the Peacock was one of the key ingredients to the success of this performance when I saw it back in June 2012, and the “Main Space 1662” stage of Smock Alley will represent new challenges to both audience and performer, bringing both closer together and lowering Kinevane below the spectators instead of above.
Timothy Ramsden: The Tear Thief, A Christmas Carol (New Vic, Newcastle Under Lyme), plus The Cherry Orchard and A Life.
The Tear Thief from the remarkable Little Angel Theatre in Islington, became the wonderful Christmas piece for the very young at the also wonderful Royal Exchange Studio in Manchester. Full of wonder, with Carol Ann Duffy’s words read by Juliet Stephenson as finely-created puppets in the hands of experienced puppeteers created a young person’s sense of magical possibilities, making all right in the end.
And for older young people and families – for anyone, really, the New Vic in Newcastle-under-Lyme, which under Artistic Director Theresa Heskins is developing a series of adaptations creating a cinematic style through fluidity of staging, made A CHRISTMAS CAROL a rare case justifying “stunning” or “knockout” as something other than hyperbole. Aided by Paul Greenwood’s psychologically comprehensible Scrooge, Heskins created images that could stop the breath midway in recalling Ebenezer’s early words through an associated image.
But that would only cover the current 2012/13 seasonal shows. So, unfairly missing many out – Théâtre du Soleil’s Les Naufragés du Fol Espoir (Aurores)
This was my first year seeing well-established Bristol company Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, in Shakespeare and Chekhov. Both were very good, but it was Andrew Hilton’s Cherry Orchard that lives on, as if a moment of personal and historical change were caught forever. Well-played, the scene where Varya and Lopakhin destroy their lives by lacking the nerve to declare their love always seems open to a different outcome. Dorothea Myer-Bennett and Simon Armstrong were so alive as these characters it was impossible to think someone had scripted the scene for them.
And finally, the Finborough. A small theatre in Earl’s Court with minimal facilities, no disabled access (how many keen theatregoers have lurched painfully up those stairs, to discover the toilets are two flights down again?) and alas, the best management of the hostelry below having gone into liquidation (what can you expect of a wine-bar – but it is much missed), the Finborough has the best right of any theatre in the land to be called a national theatre of the UK. Scots, Irish, Welsh and English dramas (this spring, a first – a Welsh language production) are produced, along with Canadian and Australian plays, new work and revivals of forgotten pieces.
There’s always been an element of fear about going to this theatre. Once it was there might be so few in the audience the show could be cancelled (though not if Artistic Director Neil McPherson was onsite); now it’s whether the run will be sold out in advance. But it’s always worth trying, especially given the Finborough’s admirable no booking fee policy – and a discount for online bookings. It is an amazing place.
And production qualities can belie the idea of ‘fringe’. Never more so than in the revival this autumn of Hugh Leonard’s cross-generation analysis of life-shaping decisions and consequences A Life, directed with detail by Eleanor Rhode, a young director whose work here is always outstanding, and performed with a lightness and depth that made each moment like watching lives go by.
William Russell: Steel Pier, Patience
London has some splendid fringe theatres. One of the best is The Union housed in a railway arch or two near Blackfriars Station which concentrates on musicals.
During the year it had two shows I enjoyed hugely – Kander and Ebb’s Steel Pier, a Broadway flop well worth reviving – and Gilbert and Sullivan’s Patience.
Steel Pier is not the Americans’ finest show – the plot is daft involving the ghost of an airman and a dancer in one of those Depression year marathons immortalised in They Shoot Horses Don’t They? – but the production was slick, the band was terrific, and the young cast gave it their all. It ran from 2 – 24 November.
Sasha Regan, The Union’s boss, directed an all male version of Patience which relocated the action from the Victorian greenery yallery era to the cardigans and silly ass world of the 1920s neatly enough. Poseurs are poseurs whatever the era. The singing was up to the challenge, the whole thing sparkled nicely.
Neither broke boundaries or anything like that – they were simply entertainment and cheap at the price.
Carole Woddis: Incident at the Border, Fear of Breathing, Vera, Vera, Vera
There were two fantastic plays side by side at Neil McPherson’s extraordinary Finborough Theatre in south west London in July. Both relating to the Middle East and the Arab spring. One was by Kieran Lynn, Incident at the Border, a clever, metaphorical three hander about borders, boundaries, and how things escalate. Surreal, funny, beautifully played especially by Tom Bennett, Florence Hall and a pop-eyed Marc Pickering.
Its companion piece, Fear of Breathing showed what Syria was like before the insurrection. Monitors relayed people playing happily. Then, inspired by the Arab spring, it breaks out. And people suffer. Some see it as a cultural revolution, others to overthrow a repressive regime. Scenes of torture. Acting incredibly committed.
Playwright Hayley Squires should go far. Vera, Vera, Vera, debut play at the Peckham Local, a Royal Court offshoot, played at the Bussey building in Peckham Rye. Simply stunning with impact of an Andrea Dunbar or Shelagh Delaney. Poetic and brutal, exposed in the language and relationships on the back of the death of brother killed in Afghanistan.
Echoes of Roy Williams Days of Significance in there as well. Nice design from Tom Piper.