This year needs no introduction. Some may say the sooner we see the back of it, the better but before that happens, we need to take a moment to acknowledge just how resilient, powerful and robust the theatre industry actually is.
It’s a creative industry and as such it is adaptable, amenable and dynamic. Rolling with the punches has meant acquiring new skills which has seen many projects move from stage to screen or radio.
With those changes in mind, here are my picks of how 2020 in theatre has continued to do what it does best: transporting us by engaging the heart, mind and soul.
RICHARD III – Sam Wanamaker Playhouse, London
My 2020 kicked off in absurd, bloody, vengeful style with Ilinca Radulian and Sean Holmes’ staggeringly brilliant Richard III. An ensemble headed up by Sophie Russell’s extraordinary Richard took us through the carnage at breakneck speed without missing a beat or ever sacrificing substance over style, all the while injecting humour into the most unexpected of places. Live Shakespeare, live theatre at its very best.
BLUEBEARD – Sadler’s Wells, London
Every year, a theatrical highlight for me has always been Tanztheater Wuppertal’s visit to Sadler’s Wells with a Pina Bausch classic. 2020 was no exception with a revisit to one of her earlier pieces, Bluebeard. This, yet again, proved Bausch’s sublime expertise in weaving magic realism into domesticity with powerful, heartbreaking success. Exploring the intricacies of relationships alongside a thumping soundtrack by Bela Bartók. Glorious.
BETTER IN PERSON – Burn Bright, Online
Burn Bright. Two words and a company that stand shoulder to shoulder with the very best of this year’s work with the promise of greater things to come in 2021. I have said a fair bit about them this year and it started with their online, Zoom bespoke event Better in Person. Between their performances, events, support network and resources, Burn Bright have proven themselves to be a bold, daring, innovative and fiercely progressive force of nature on the theatrical landscape. Get on board. They’re here to stay and our industry is immeasurably better off because of them.
THE POLTERGEIST – By Philip Ridley, Southwark Playhouse, London
If ever there was a play to capture the zeitgeist of 2020, I would put good money on Ridley’s latest to comfortably walk away with the prize. My original review can be found here and there is very little to add except for the fact that Joseph Potter’s remarkable performance stays with you long after the screen has gone dark. Phrases like ‘tour de force’ were created for pieces like this. If you missed its limited run, the great news is that there will be a return season in the new year. Full details can be found here.
ADVENTURES WITH THE PAINTED PEOPLE by David Greig, Pitlochry Theatre/BBC Radio 3
Early in the year, one of the first pieces of theatre to make a transformation from one medium to another was Greig’s wonderful Adventures With The Painted People. The shift from stage to radio was an inspired choice and made even more intimate thanks to director Elizabeth Newman’s wonderfully light touch. Described by Greig as “Educating Rita set in AD85″, this is a beautifully executed story about two people from very different backgrounds navigating each other’s culture, language and outlook.
My original review can be found here.
I guess this isn’t a top five because there are three other events that I simply must mention and have paid multiple visits to since I first experienced them this year.
The first is from the brilliant RashDash. Don’t Go Back To Sleep: The Lockdown Album is described as a ‘verbatim concept album’. In essence, it is a number of transcribed interviews, woven into songs to, ‘shine a light on the personal and political, the anxieties, realisations, and moments of joy when we find ourselves confined to our own homes’. Moving, inspiring and big heartedly beautiful, this is something to experience whole and then return to multiple times.
Matthew Bourne’s The Red Shoes is a tried, tested and celebrated piece of theatre. In light of the pandemic, the company produced a ‘From Home’ version that very well may have topped their internationally renowned stage version. Remarkably simple yet so majestically cratfed.
Enjoy it here (and I dare you not to go back for repeat viewings).
At the beginning of the pandemic, writer Brian Coyle tackled the issue of isolation head on by writing twelve monologues that were self taped by his actors with wonderfully insightful and engaging results. As stand alone pieces or springboards for future projects, We Will Not Be Silenced paid dividends.
Regardless of where and how you have seen your theatre, there are countless examples of how individuals, companies and buildings have risen to the challenge and brought what they do best to an audience wherever they may be. Not the ideal year, but one that showcased how robust and transformative theatre can be.