ReviewsGate’s Midland’s reviewer, Alan Geary picks out his most memorably moments from 2014.
The shows that have had the biggest personal impact in 2014? Difficult; it’s been a great year in Nottingham. And after years of play-going I still take a delight in the same things as ever – fine acting, inventive sets, compelling texts, laughs, elevating ideas; and all right, (non-gratuitous) sex and violence.
Aside from amateur productions reviewed elsewhere, three shows in particular linger on the mind, refusing to go away: Nottingham Playhouse’s Arcadia; and A Midsummer Night’s Dream and Regeneration, both at the Theatre Royal.
It ought to be universally acknowledged that Tom Stoppard is our finest living playwright and Arcadia his greatest work. This production did it justice. Set in a stately home, the play operated in two distinct time periods. The same huge, realistic room was used for both, which helped make explicit multiple parallels and ironies.
The text was alive with wit and beauty. But it was the interaction of ideas that generated the play’s dazzling intellectuality. As well, it fused laugh out loud, bed-hopping romantic comedy with profound tragedy.
Acting across the board was first-class.
So too in Dream, from all-male company, Propeller. This was beautifully-timed and choreographed, balletic, ensemble theatre, with an extraordinary musical element.
All the time, in complementary contrast to the comedy, the play’s dark and nightmarish underside was emphasised. Not just the lovers’ mix-ups, but upsets in the natural world in general were caused by supernatural skulduggery. In an astonishing start, Puck got out of a box feet first for immediate duty. Thereafter he was on stage for most of the evening, dancing, bounding about with mischievous wickedness as he presided over the mayhem.
It was mayhem of a different sort with Regeneration, set during the Great War. This combined fact with fiction. And since it was mostly concerned with the classically-educated officer class, and many of the principals were poets, the text was mordantly witty.
There were the themes of class, and the contradictions between patriotism and the morality of war. And other tensions: between the Rivers brand of psychoanalysis and that of Freud for instance. The homo-erotic bond between Rivers, Sassoon and Owen and its complex relationship with the comradeship of the trenches was explored, implicitly and explicitly.
It was an austere institutional set almost throughout. Only after the Armistice did it open out to become the Chelsea Physic Garden where Rivers and Sassoon, in an intensely moving episode, sat on a bench trying to make sense of what they’d been through.
All memorable stuff.