Features Published 16 December 2019

2019 in Experimental Theatre Reviews on Exeunt

Exeunt’s writers cooked up a bumper batch of form-breaking reviews this year – from dialogues to letters to quizzes. Here are some of our favourites.

Exeunt Staff

‘Waitress’ at Adelphi Theatre. Photo: Johan Persson

Let’s get one thing crystal clear to start with. Exeunt didn’t invent experimental theatre reviews! The history of arts criticism full stop is full of writers who’ve broken out of the tight confines of a 250-word-critique-with-stars – whether it’s micro put-downs from Dorothy Parker, Peter Bradshaw writing a rhyming review of Top Cat, Megan Vaughan’s greatest hits, or the pixel-perfect verdicts of The Gif Review.

However, Exeunt is designed to be a place where writers can consistently hunt out new forms for responding to the theatre, dance and performance they see. Sometimes that means having the space and freedom to write a 1000 word+, hyperlink-strewn essay on a knotty play, where other outlets are necessarily constrained by wordcounts. And sometimes, that means breaking out of traditional structures altogether. Here’s a very-much-non-exhaustive sampling of some of the formbreaking reviews and responses we’ve published this year, compiled by Exeunt’s editors Hannah Greenstreet, Ben Kulvichit and Alice Saville – to read more, dive into our archives.

Hannah Greenstreet on Top Girls at National Theatre
“Rufus Norris is hosting a dinner party to celebrate the opening of Lyndsey Turner’s production of Top Girls. He has unfortunately forgotten to invite any women” – Hannah Greenstreet’s response to a feminist classic takes the form of a play that repurposes the structure of Caryl Churchill’s original.

Alice Saville on Bitter Wheat
“I didn’t like it. I was bored.” – David Mamet’s thinly-disguised Weinstein narrative play prompted every critic in London to sharpen their knives; but what if you just feel weary, not angry? This dialogue review with an (imaginary) editor finds out.

Ava Wong Davies on The Hunt at Almeida Theatre
“A big part of me wishes I could squish that feeling down, throw it away” – Ava Wong Davies’ response explores her discomfort with Rupert Goold’s adapted narrative of male innocence, clashing the ‘reviewer’ voice against her own internal monologue.

James Varney on Light Falls at Royal Exchange Manchester
“//the review starts here//” – James Varney plays with structure in his response to Simon Stephens’ play, recessing subclauses and expanding out his discussion to interrogate ideas of Northern-ness.

Maddy Costa on Anna, National Theatre
“You can’t build a country on wants” – Maddy Costa’s subjective, stream-of-consciousness response to Ella Hickson’s play shifts from physical discomfort to joy to interrogation of capitalism to disillusionment.

J. N. Benjamin on Dear Elizabeth at Gate Theatre
“Yes, sometimes letters bring sadness and pain, but, I love them. Their intimacy. The romance of them.” Sarah Ruhl’s play takes the form of an exchange of letters between two poets – so J N Benjamin wrote a letter back.

Naomi Obeng on Luca Rutherford’s Political Party at Curve Theatre Leicester
“I’m finding any way to escape politics at the moment” – Naomi Obeng’s two-part response includes both an audio recording and a written reflection on Luca Rutherford’s performance/party.

Ava Wong Davies on High Fidelity at The Turbine Theatre
“The plot has aged like milk” – Ava Wong Davies creates a written mixtape in response to a disconcerting musical version of Nick Hornby’s novel.

Ben Kulvichit on Footnotes and Phrases
“Am I overthinking this?” – Ben Kulvichit writes a densely footnoted response to Lewys Holt’s duo of performances.

Alice Saville and Hannah Greenstreet on The Worst Witch at Vaudeville Theatre
“We don’t need real owls or pyrotechnics to impress” – this imaginary dialogue between the headmistress of Cackle’s Academy for witches is undoubtedly the most whimsical thing to happen on Exeunt in 2019.

Brendan Macdonald on Sex Education at Summerhall, Edinburgh
“Dear Mum, It’s unlikely you’ll ever read this, and I’m not sure I’d want you to” – Brendan Macdonald’s letter imagines how he’d talk to a parent about a show that’s designed to provoke difficult conversations about sex.

Maddy Costa on Out of Sorts at Theatre503
[The line perpetually skated: between wanting to fit in and wanting to shatter convention.] – Maddy Costa’s wide-ranging response to Danusia Samal’s play digs into ideas of prejudice, ‘universality’, and the well-made play.

Francesca Peschier on Collapsible at Pleasance, Edinburgh
“What word best describes you?” – the protagonist of Margaret Perry’s play is obsessed with doing online quizzes to work out she is, so Francesca Peschier wrote a multiple-choice response to this narrative of loneliness and depersonalisation.

Emily Davis on seven methods of killing kylie jenner, at Royal Court
“the internet isn’t a choice anymore” – Emily Davis scatters her response to Jasmine Lee-Jones’ play with gifs.

Rosemary Waugh on The Claim, at Summerhall, Edinburgh
OH HIIIIIIIIIIIII. Howareyouwhathaveyoubeenseeingwasitgood?” – Rosemary Waugh imagines an awkward-post-show-chat after seeing Tim Cowbury’s performance.

Alice Saville on Waitress, at Adelphi Theatre
“THIS pie was SO perfect!” – Something sweet to finish with: Alice Saville responds to the hit musical using real TripAdvisor reviews of American diners.

This is just a taster of the experimental reviews Exeunt has run this year: for more, browse the reviews archive here

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Exeunt Staff is a contributor to Exeunt Magazine