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Because what the Net really needs is another person sharing his uninformed views
2011: Theatre Hit List & Shit List 
31st-Dec-2011 01:42 pm
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So here we are with the main reason I’ve been holding back on launching my new theatre-only blog, Partially Obstructed View, until next week: My roundup of theatre in 2011, which I thought would look neater being on the same site as all the relevant reviews. Far from cutting down on last year’s nearly-200 shows, I’ve seen just under 250 this year, and those are just the ones I’m counting towards this year’s Top Ten – I’m not including the shows I saw while on holiday in New York this summer (my favourite there was Catch Me If You Can) or any return trips to productions I’d seen prior to 2011 (which is why Midsummer, Clybourne Park, Romeo and Juliet and Kafka’s Monkey won’t be showing up on my list.) But out of everything else I’ve seen in or around That London, here’s my list of The Good, The Bad, and The Whatever The Hell Pippin Was.

Let’s start with The Good and after the usual couple of weeks for the year to get warmed up, Jeremy Dyson followed up Ghost Stories with what I thought was a superior piece of outright fun, Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales. One of the first shows this year to display huge ambition on a tiny scale was a touring Caucasian Chalk Circle; while The Shape of Things signalled the start of a good year if you like Neil LaBute, also including a revival of The Mercy Seat and starry UK premieres of In a Forest, Dark and Deep and Reasons to be Pretty.

Much of the word of mouth for Enda Walsh’s Penelope suggested a real love/hate show, and just to be different both Andy and I agreed we did neither, but enjoyed it in parts – though the climactic quick-change cabaret has to be one of the most memorable moments of the year, if only for its incongruity. Honest was a little gem, whose author DC Moore provided the Double Feature season with its best play later in the year. Frankenstein which I saw in both Jonny Lee Monster and Benedict Cumberbeast configurations, was undoubtedly one of the “event” shows of the year, and while it was (quite rightly) derided for its script and one particularly misguided casting decision, what Danny Boyle’s production did well it did very well. Mogadishu impressed at the Lyric Hammersmith, and will be returning there in 2012. Mike Leigh’s revival of Ecstasy was a surprise smash hit, although the difference between the title and what it was actually like gave rise to the running gag that his new play, Grief, would by contrast be a tap-dancing musical extravaganza (it wasn’t.) The big hit of the Rattigan centenary was Flare Path, which was indeed very good, although I went against popular opinion by slightly preferring Cause Célèbre.

I enjoyed a Mamet double bill, Philip Ridley’s twisted love story Tender Napalm and a horror-movie take on Electra; a very different but still inventive approach to Greek Tragedy was seen in Antigone. And as we get to the summer and my trips to Stratford, let’s have a break from all the text with a look at the RSC’s resident totty for this year, Oliver Rix:


Back to business and The Four Stages of Cruelty took an interesting concept and brought it to life, Anthony Neilson was predictably unpredictable with Realism, and if a three-and-a-half hour Ibsen that had never been staged in the UK before sounded like a bad idea, Emperor and Galilean proved otherwise. Jude Law’s disco tits rather overshadowed everything else about Anna Christie but it was worth seeing for other reasons as well. There’s nothing surprising about me enjoying a show starring Kathryn Hunter and the rather lovely Tell Them That I Am Young And Beautiful was no exception. Phaedra’s Love is the Sarah Kane play I’ve best engaged with so far, The Belle’s Stratagem continued Jessica Swale's very fresh take on Restoration comedy and though not without flaws, Anthony Neilson’s revival of The Persecution and Assassination of Marat As Performed by the Inmates of the Asylum of Charenton Under the Direction of the Marquis de Sade was the RSC’s boldest and most memorable show of the season.

It was a solid rather than stellar year at the Royal Court but in October Jumpy was a deserved hit, as well as introducing theatre fans to our favourite new eye-candy, Michael Marcus –

who followed this by going straight into the Donmar’s Richard II. If I gave out Best Set Design awards there’d definitely be one on its way to Tom Scutt for 13, even if the play itself was disappointing. There was nothing disappointing about The Kitchen Sink though, an unpretentious, hilarious comedy that I’ve found staying with me a lot longer than I’d have expected. Yerma stayed with me as well, partly because it was very good and partly because I was coughing up red sand from the set for some while afterwards, Britannicus was another good use of Wilton’s unique space and The Ladykillers used its big budget well to provide laughs and a set with its own personality.

The Shakespearean theme this year was multiple productions of the same play (meaning – spoiler alert! – that this year my best and worst show of the year lists will both feature different productions of the same play,) often ones I hadn’t seen for a very long time. Like The Comedy of Errors which I hadn’t seen in over a decade but this year saw early on in a so-so visiting production here in Greenwich, more recently in a huge-scale National Theatre version, and between the two the funniest of the bunch (though slow to get going,) the all-male version from Propeller at Hampstead. The same Propeller company were also responsible for an outstanding Richard III which rather overshadowed the starrier Bridge Project version later in the summer. The Tempest was another one I saw three times, the best of which wasn’t even in English, the worst of which seemed like Trevor Nunn doing a spoof of himself. The director of my #1 show from 2010 had a relatively quiet year, much of it spent putting together Decade and directing the BBC’s Richard II for next year, but if not quite as exciting as his Romeo and Juliet Rupert Goold’s Merchant of Venice ingeniously got over some of the problems of setting that particular play in the modern day. I didn’t think this year’s Shakespeare’s Globe season lived up to its excellent 2010 run – the best of its new productions was a Much Ado which in my opinion beat its starry West End rival; the Globe version also, alongside a very flawed Mysteries, finally got a lot of the other theatre fans as excited about Philip Cumbus as I’ve been since 2008 \o/ And on a completely different note to all this there was a revival of The Complete Works (Abridged) that provided its own brand of silly fun.

Not a bad year for musicals – the Donmar’s Spelling Bee was loads of fun, but was soon followed by undoubtedly the most innovative and unusual musical of the year, London Road. Betty Blue Eyes deserved a longer run than it got, and Spring Awakening toured. In another mixed year for them, one of the Menier’s better decisions was premiering an obscure Sondheim, Road Show. Backbeat was surprisingly good for a jukebox musical but as far as original musicals went Matilda was always going to be the one to beat. And then, of course, there was the what-the-fuckery that was the Menier’s Pippin which I really enjoyed but not, I somehow suspect, for the intended reasons. A good year for musicals must be reflected in the soundtracks I bought, and this year I wanted to listen again to London Road, Matilda, Catch Me If You Can, The Craze (the band that accompanied One Man, Two Guvnors) and even some tracks from Frankenstein and the string quartet versions of pop songs that played in the Gate’s Wittenberg.

There was also the usual share of disappointing shows and if the Arcola’s first show at their new venue was a damp squib rather than an actual disaster, The Painter did introduce a new Studio 1 space whose awkward shape would continue to be a problem throughout the year. A few decent performances couldn’t hide the fact that Seduction was a horribly self-loathing type of gay play, while a great play and a great cast couldn’t do anything about the fact that Peter Hall was determined Twelfth Night should be a dry, sexless affair. Winterlong won awards, but not from me, while the written-by-committee Greenland was generally derided, and Sign of the Times made a woefully misjudged assault on the West End. The Umbrellas of Cherbourg also had to pack its bags early – some liked it, I definitely didn’t. Brontë proved that the lives of interesting writers don’t always make for interesting theatre, Moonlight revived a Pinter misfire, and a spectacular staging coup couldn’t make I Am The Wind anything other than a load of hot air. This was followed at the Young Vic by a show a number of people, including myself, left at the interval: Government Inspector.

An interesting concept from Deborah Warner didn’t work for The School for Scandal while Katie Mitchell seemed to be trying to prove her detractors right with A Woman Killed With Kindness, which might have been full of amazing ideas for all I know, if only any of it was visible or audible. I might have stayed away from a production of Hamlet at the Young Vic that I didn’t think I’d enjoy, but a smaller-scale local production in Greenwich provided not just some car-crash viewing but had a rather unexpected afterlife Right On This Here Blog Here, involving, among other things, my being physically threatened by the artistic director. A so-so year at the Globe had a real stinker in The God of Soho. After looking forward to the director’s next project for some time I was really disappointed when The Changeling was crippled by being almost entirely miscast, while no cast could have saved the misfiring Ex, which was followed into the same venue by a show that invited the Audience to react, despite having no idea how to respond if they actually did so.

Well that’s been a lot of text without any pictures, so although I’m mainly keeping my recap of the year UK-centric, it won’t hurt if we have a look at Charlie Williams, one of the more notable elements of H2$ and the only thing known to science that can make triomakesmehot look away from Daniel Radcliffe:


And now to business with my best and worst of the year. As ever, this is all entirely subjective, and the main criterion has been how much the show has stayed with me, for the right or wrong reasons. Once again I’ve found that shows that seemingly have no right to be any good but turn out to be outstanding always have the edge for me in that regard, which might explain the two National Theatre shows in the Top Ten list. It’s generally been a lacklustre year for them so it seems a surprise that they’ve ended up as Theatre of the Year on numbers alone, but when they do it right they really do it right. Last year’s joint winning venues missed out on the Top Ten - Jumpy nearly did it for the Royal Court but in the end I couldn’t be entirely sure that a naked Michael Marcus wasn’t swaying my judgement. The Young Vic on the other hand has gone right the other way, appearing twice in the Bottom Five - I Am The Wind’s failure to make any kind of connection with me in its attempts to portray depression just edging out Brontë (although Brontë does share, with Trevor Nunn’s Tempest, my dubious “Fram of the Year” Award for going out of their way to bore the living shit out of me.) Abuses To Shakespeare figure heavily in this year’s Shit List, as well.

THE HIT LIST: NICK'S TOP TEN OF 2011

10- Emperor and Galilean at the National Theatre's Olivier

9- The Caucasian Chalk Circle Blackeyed Theatre at Greenwich Theatre/on tour

8- Richard III Propeller at Hampstead Theatre/on tour

7- Tender Napalm at Southwark Playhouse

6- Realism at Soho Theatre

5- The Tempest Cheek by Jowl at the Barbican

4- Matilda RSC at the Cambridge Theatre

3- The Kitchen Sink at the Bush

2- Electra at the Gate


Remember when this was first announced and we all shuddered in dread but thought there might just be a tiny chance it was worth seeing? After 2009’s Our Class the Cottesloe gets my top spot again:

Show of the year: London Road at the National Theatre's Cottesloe


THE SHIT LIST: NICK'S FIVE WORST SHOWS OF 2011

5- I Am The Wind at the Young Vic

4- Twelfth Night at the National Theatre's Cottesloe

3- Hamlet at Greenwich Playhouse

2- The Tempest at Theatre Royal Haymarket


After last year’s car crash I’m afraid this time it’s a rather boring winner by default: I saw 247 new shows in and around That London in 2011, and I stayed to the end, sometimes against my own judgement, for 246 of them. By virtue of being the only show I couldn’t bring myself to stick with past the interval, here’s

Stinker of the year: Government Inspector at the Young Vic


So that’s the 247 reset to zero and we’re starting all over again for what’ll hopefully be an exciting 2012, when UK theatre will be trying to compete with the Olympics with a Shakespeare Festival, and in 12 months’ time we’ll no doubt all be obsessed with a couple of people we’ve never even heard of yet. See you in the new year, and on the new blog.
Comments 
3rd-Jan-2012 01:01 am (UTC)
Charlie Williams, one of the more notable elements of H2$ and the only thing known to science that can make triomakesmehot look away from Daniel Radcliffe

Well, he is a North Carolina boy after all, and soooooo pretty to look at. But don't tell Dan.
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