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Because what the Net really needs is another person sharing his uninformed views
2010: Nick's Theatre Roundup 
31st-Dec-2010 02:35 pm
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This year was so overwhelmingly about theatre trips, even by my standards, that I’ll only be doing the theatre roundup this time around. It’d be nice to do a personal roundup so I guess in 2011 I’ll just have to remember to get a personal life. In the meantime it’s the more memorable shows of the year, for good reasons or bad (with just over 200 trips to the theatre I’m going to have to be selective) and at the end I’m going to make a list of my top shows of the year. For people who don't want to plough through my high and lowlights just don't click on the cut and skip straight to the top ten.

The good first, and Sweet Charity was the first big hit for the Menier Chocolate Factory in a generally successful year (but with a couple of major hiccups we’ll be coming to in due course.) Very early on in 2010 was one of the highlights, Midsummer. David Greig and Gordon McIntyre’s musical comedy had me (plus Ian and Andy and probably half the people who saw it) telling everyone they knew they should see it. Unfortunately the word of mouth was so good that by then it was too late and it had sold out. It’s returned to London though and in a couple of weeks Andy and I will be having a repeat trip and dragging no less than ten other people with us. Relocating Cat on a Hot Tin Roof to the 1980s just went to show how much Tennessee Williams is the theatrical equivalent of Dallas. The much-anticipated The Little Dog Laughed was well-performed and featured Harry Lloyd’s arse, even if it didn’t quite meet my expectations. The play, not the arse.

Next week I’ll be seeing the big West End production but it’ll have a hard job beating the small-scale The Rivals at the Southwark Playhouse, where Future Dame Celia Imrie was a fantastically understated Mrs Malaprop.

In February I used a cheap ticket scheme to finally see two of the West End’s longest-running shows, An Inspector Calls and The Woman In Black, pleasantly surprised by both. Ghost Stories was one of the hits of the year (the West End transfer continues to extend its booking period) and we didn’t find it scary but loved it anyway. The Royal Court Upstairs had a couple of underrated shows in Disconnect and The Empire, while Downstairs Posh was good, if not as good as everyone might have hoped. Not quite as highbrow but pretty unforgettable was a musical version of The Silence of the Lambs at The Stag. The National meanwhile had hits with both the serious (The White Guard ) and the not-so-serious (the sublimely ridiculous London Assurance.)

This year the Finborough seemed to alternate shows I loved with shows I was “meh” about but first in the hit list was Anders Lustgarten’s A Day at the Racists. The Young Vic’s Kursk is technically a show from 2009 but I didn’t see it until it was revived so it’s making my list this year – another show I recommended to people but was too late as it had already sold out. More Tennessee Williams as the National brought the obscure Spring Storm to London, the Royal and Derngate’s production making it seem as good as his better-known masterpieces. Meera Syal as Shirley Valentine managed not to be upstaged by some great-smelling chips and Beyond the Pale managed to take a similar setup as the awful Your Nation Loves You and turn it into something special.

My first theatre trip to Stratford upon Avon yielded Rupert Goold’s Romeo and Juliet, so good I saw it again when it came to London. Two Philip Ridley plays impressed me, his most recent, fairytale-like look at racist political parties Moonfleece ending its national tour here in Greenwich, and a criminally underattended revival of Vincent River at the Landor standing out as one of my shows of the year.

Phew! We’re only about halfway through! Better have some nice pictures to keep me going for a while. Here’s young Scottish actor Kevin Guthrie

And here’s how he looked at the Barbican for a dark and inventive Peter Pan:

*ahem* Okay, back to business.

With a revolving cast and a revolving script James Graham’s The Man should have been hampered by too many gimmicks but somehow came out all the better for them. I wasn’t disappointed seeing Beautiful Thing on stage for the first time, having loved the film adaptation for years, while Headlong and the Young Vic gave away all tickets free to an Elektra that people would have happily paid for. Headlong also produced Jamie Lloyd’s unsubtle but unforgettable take on Wilde’s Salome, turning the Middle East of the Bible into something out of Mad Max, while the Young Vic was also having a busy summer with an intense revival of Sus.

Summer meant The Globe and possibly the best productions of Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2 that I’ve seen. The Bush’s summer show, The Great British Country Fête was rather maligned in the press for being lightweight, but it was a memorably fun evening at the theatre. The Young Vic had another hit on their hands with the revival of black comedy The Beauty Queen of Leenane, Earthquakes in London at the Cottesloe was unmissable partly thanks to an audacious set design that reimagined traverse staging (despite it being a good year for set design, between this and Sucker Punch Miriam Buether really does have no competition for my designer of the year) and Anne Boleyn (returning next summer) gave the Globe another hit.

In Southwark, the cast and director of Fuente Ovejuna gave huge levels of commitment to a show that relied heavily on audience participation. Back at the Royal Court, Spur of the Moment was an impressive debut but the last play this year to make a splash with me Upstairs; the big hitters were Downstairs with Clybourne Park about to arrive in the West End, although I also highly rated its successor, Tribes.

More unashamed good fun in the West End with Deathtrap and on the South Bank with Accomplice: London. The long-anticipated Rory Kinnear Hamlet didn’t disappoint while the Menier had a small gem with a revival of A Number. Men Should Weep might have been bleak but it was also life-affirming and powerful. Both Tennessee Williams and the Young Vic have been mentioned a lot in this year’s faves and they’re together as we get to The Glass Menagerie, my favourite Williams production of the year. The Finborough reclaimed Quality Street from the chocolates that took its name and the National Theatre of Scotland brought their signature mix of theatre, movement, dance, song and scene-stealing entrances to London with two shows in the autumn, Beautiful Burnout and a revival of their original big hit Black Watch. Finally the Donmar's residency at Trafalgar 2 hit paydirt with its final production, Les Parents Terribles.

And while it’s not a 2010 show how can I not mention Avenue Q which finally bowed out of the West End after four-and-a-half years (roughly four more than they originally expected to run) at their third London home at Wyndham’s; next year the UK tour begins so don’t completely rule out another trip if it comes within reasonable distance (tours have a habit of turning up in Wimbledon for example – the small-scale Spring Awakening tour will be making its way right here to Greenwich.)

From the hits to the misses and while there were some so-so plays at the start of the year, the first real stinker for me came in February with the unbearably smug The Misanthrope at the Comedy. It kicked off a bit of a bad run as it was soon followed by the Donmar’s crushingly dull Serenading Louie plus a couple of shows so awful they’ve kept me and a couple of friends who also saw them laughing for months - Henry V and the erotic watering can extravaganza that was Your Nation Loves You.

From a couple of theatres in old railway tunnels to one of the country’s biggest theatre companies, the RSC served up the utterly incoherent The Gods Weep
at Hampstead, leading to everyone deciding that the gods weep because they’ve been made to sit through this play. I also was unimpressed by their collaboration with Filter on Twelfth Night and not just because I ended up on stage doing a tequila shot – the show seemed much more preoccupied with its own cleverness than with whether the audience were coming along for the ride. In a year when the Old Vic didn't do much that impressed me, The Real Thing was one of those shows that gets praised to the rafters by the critics but condemned by regular audiences, including myself, in this case for its insufferable smugness.

Gay theatre had a rough time of it in March with Lord Arthur’s Bed, Maurice and Rip Her To Shreds in quick succession, with Fresh Meat and Dangerous coming along in the summer just when I thought the horrors were over.

An inexplicably record-breaking hit in New York, the latest attempt to bring The Fantasticks to London was as disastrous as all the previous ones. None of the Old Vic Bridge Project shows so far have set my world alight but Sam Mendes’ take on As You Like It actually pissed me off in its determination to suck the fun out of the play. My award for worst show of the year is destined to go elsewhere but “Fram of the year,” for most aggressively boring show has to go to Danton’s Death at the Olivier (scene of the crime for Fram itself.) A close second in the tedium stakes has to be the Menier’s Paradise Found, a criminally misconceived musical.

Another painful night out at the stage adaptation of Flashdance (I had to promise my sister it’d be funny in retrospect some day) but fortunately that was the last of the real stinkers for this year; the last couple of months have had their fair share of disappointing shows but nothing completely awful.

I'm not sure I entirely believe in Top Tens because a year's a long time, 200's a lot of shows, more recent shows will stick in my mind more than older ones, the order would be different whenever I decided to do it etc, but let's give it a go shall we? Looking at some of the titles that narrowly edged others out of the top ten I think a good rule of thumb as to how I ended up with this list is shows that may not always have been perfect but which will be the ones I'm most likely to remember from this year, for the right reasons, be it performances, daring choices that actually worked and so on. With two picks each in the top ten and a couple more bubbling just under it, the Young Vic and Royal Court share the honours as my theatre of the year. Surprising even me, nothing from the National has made it, but shows like Men Should Weep, London Assurance and even the flawed but unforgettable Earthquakes in London are hovering somewhere in the top 20.

THE HIT LIST: NICK'S TOP TEN OF 2010

10- Fuente Ovejuna at Southwark Playhouse

9- The Man at Finborough Theatre

8- Kursk at the Young Vic

7- Tribes at the Royal Court

6- The Glass Menagerie at the Young Vic

5- Clybourne Park at the Royal Court

4- Henry IV Part 1 and Part 2 at Shakespeare's Globe

3- Vincent River at the Landor Theatre

2- Midsummer at Soho Theatre

My show of the year won't come as a big surprise; as with last year's choice, Our Class, the fact that it crafted an amazing night's theatre out of something unpromising is in its favour, in this case the fact that I've never before enjoyed this particular Shakespeare play. I may have been prejudiced in its favour of course, already being a fan of Rupert Goold's (even more so having met him, now he's turned out to be just as entertaining in person) but aka_kelly shared my dislike of the play beforehand and had to be convinced to come along with me; right up until the show started and she reacted in the same way as I did, she was giving me the side-eye over making her come and watch this:

1- Romeo and Juliet at the RSC/Courtyard & Roundhouse

As for the shows that'll be staying with me for the wrong reasons, here's a top five:

THE SHIT LIST: NICK'S FIVE WORST SHOWS OF 2010

5- The Gods Weep at the RSC/Hampstead Theatre

4- Your Nation Loves You at the Old Vic Tunnels

3- Danton’s Death at the Olivier

2- Paradise Found at the Menier Chocolate Factory

It almost feels unfair to put this at the bottom since Andy, Ian and I have had so much fun ripping the piss out of it ever since. But rest assured, no fun of any kind was to be had whilst actually watching it, and for the sheer ill-conceived mess of it all, the ludicrous publicity claims that were cheerfully disregarded in the show itself, the idea that writing someone's name on his shirt is the same thing as characterisation and the endless gimmicks that without exception hindered, rather than helping the storytelling it has to be:

Stinker of the year: Henry V at Southwark Playhouse

Thanks if you've contributed to my theatrical 2010 by helping put on a show I loved, hated or was indifferent about; if you came with me to a show, and/or chatted with me about one afterwards or in the interval; and if you read and hopefully enjoyed any of my reviews. Also thanks if you made your way through all of this year review. And well done. And really? Didn't you have anything better to do? Weird.

See you in 2011! (It's in a couple of hours. Or now, if you're in Australia.)
Comments 
31st-Dec-2010 06:11 pm (UTC)
Anonymous
Thanks for your year of reviews, Nick. They're always interesting and entertaining! Glad you've had a very theatrical 2010.
31st-Dec-2010 08:39 pm (UTC)
Thanks Anonymous, glad you enjoyed them!
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