Of course we are wary of the arbitrary nature of these things, the artificiality of seasons, the ordering of experiences into peaks, the hierarchal maps they reproduce, the dangers of placing Fabulous ones next to Those who have just broken a vase. However at some point you have to be practical. Our critics have valiantly seen a metric stage-tonne of theatre this year, so what better to relive with sufficient context their most notable moments? And from here it looks like they have produced a list unrivalled for its scope, depth and surprises. So without further ado-ing, and in no particular order…
this is where we got to when you came in
Bush Theatre, London
Although Edinburgh brought the great pleasure of discovering the work of a number of exciting emerging companies – Analogue, FellSwoop and ONEOHONE being just some of my highlights – it was non zero one’s The Time Out at Forest Fringe that really made a lasting impression, and their farewell to the old Bush Theatre was equally mesmerising. It’s not often that a box of old documents proves more compelling than the voices of theatre’s great and good, but in letting bricks and mortar tell the stories of the Bush, through good times and bad, the piece captured the spirit of what makes theatre so special. Like so many people, I’m now grateful to always feel a connection with that unassuming door on the corner of Shepherd’s Bush Green.
One Man Two Guvnors
I first delighted in One Man Two Guvnors while sat watching the NT Live broadcast on a big screen under a summer’s evening on the South Bank. The expansion of NT Live continues to prove a huge asset to British audiences, and I shall be eternally grateful to this broadcast in particular for sparking discussion between my eighty year old grandmother (who had watched simultaneously from her hometown cinema) and I about how funny that charming James Corden is – not a conversation I ever expected to have, it must be said. Having survived a second viewing, the play is a constant, classic joy which reminds you how good it feels to laugh, how theatre can be at its best by not taking itself too seriously, and frankly, how most things are improved with a song.
Young Vic and by Schaubühne Berlin at the Barbican
Ian Rickson’s Hamlet messed with everything you thought you knew about Shakespeare’s play; then came Ostermeier’s version at the Barbican, and the Young Vic staging seemed positively classical in comparison. Madness was the name of both games and Michael Sheen’s mental fragility was powerfully portrayed, but where the concept occasionally jarred at the Young Vic, the text was all but violated by Ostermeier, trodden upon by a petulant Lars Eidinger and flung headfirst into the mire to see what sticks. Both thrilled in their own mildly sacrilegious ways, and as we embark on a year where the Bard’s work will be paraded in front of the world in all its finery, it’s nice to see it fucked (or played, if we’re being polite) with once in a while.
Ustinov Theatre, Bath
You’d be hard-pressed to find some of Pinter’s bleakest hours done better than in this in-house Ustinov production directed by Chris Goode. Clive Mendus, Maggie Henderson and George Irving excelled in registering the huge, roiling personal tragedies lurking behind these seemingly random narrative fragments about feeding ducks in the park, going down the pub or waiting at a railway station. Theatre made out of almost nothing (and all the more beautiful and terrifying as a result), these were small masterpieces of fertile ambiguity and quiet devastation.
Bristol Old Vic Studio
Sound & Fury – they of the doubly immersive Kursk and in-the-dark outings Watery Part of the World and War Music – ventured into the cosmos with a crepuscular tale of a planetarium guide (played with subtle humanity by Jon McKay), whose physical debility echoes our growing knowledge/ignorance of seriously big questions about our place in the universe and the nature of reality. At the start, perhaps, there was a threat that it was going to turn into one of those hideous sitcoms about precocious kids – but then, no, it didn’t go anywhere near such territory at all.
The Guild of Cheesemakers
The Church of St Thomas The Martyr, Bristol
If the storyline turned out to be … well, a bit cheesy, the setting and staging of the Stand and Stare Collective’s contribution to this year’s Mayfest elevated a slice of sci-fi melodrama into something wholly unique. It’s not every day that theatre comes combined with a bona fide cheese, wine and bread tasting led by locally sourced experts, or that a gourmet event in grandiose ecclesiastical surroundings dissolves into an antic tale of betrayal and immortality. Mayfest offered a goodly crop of such boundary-querying pieces this year: Foster and Déchery’s Epic, Guy Dartnell’s Something or Nothing and Little Bulb’s Operation Greenfield were among other highlights.