I wanted to record all the productions in 2018 that had a profound impact on me, so here is the collection that will be with me for a long time.
Sometimes the right mix of things comes along in a play, at the right moment, and it’s just theatrically perfect in that moment. That doesn’t mean the play itself has to be perfect – what play is really – but what you’re looking for is that perfect blend of alchemy that makes it work for you in that moment.
Of course, there’s always something special about a play that connects so strongly with where you’re from in more ways than one. I’m a teenager of the 1990s. I’m firmly of the opinion that music and frankly the world peaked around 1995. I did those teenage years in East Cardiff, the rough bit, a stone’s throw from Llanederyn estate that Kevin Jones eloquently describes. I don’t want working-class tales that tell me how grim it is. And we can and should have characters on stage for whom that is true too; they are shaped by it and not defined by it, that every story isn’t about it.
And what the story is about is a particular kind of loss. There’s a certain kind of connection there that, if you know you know. There’s a particular kind of language or a lack of language for capturing that moment. For what you go through as a group. It’s almost inextricable certainly unexplainable but something in that final scene utterly perfectly and painfully expresses that. Sometimes a production just hits all those marks at once, in a very personal way. Cardiff Boy did that for me. And I was so grateful.
I hadn’t seen this in 10 years. Sometimes what a show means is all the things you associate it with. I had a short intense affair with Wicked. I have seen it five times over the first five years. And then I was done. Forever it is associated with that time in my life. The little-lost 23-year-old. And the people who were with me at the time.
The last time I saw Wicked was with my ex-girlfriend. We saw Idina’s last show. And forever, for better or worse that show was tied up with them, the friendship group we were in, and that period of my life. There was no sadness with that mostly, it just felt like a closed chapter. And that’s ok. But it’s funny how our theatrical memories are tied up with those we experience them with. And I can’t help but wonder how I’ll look back on Wicked again in that respect. But that’s not what it’s about. It’s about growing up with and seeing a musical anew.
The song that gets you as a ‘proper grown-up’ in Wicked is ‘For Good’ it’s that song of all the loves and friendships lost. And at 34 not 23, that’s so much more poignant. So much more water under the bridge.
‘I know I’m who I am today because I knew you’
That rings true of every person who passes through our lives.
‘It well may be, that we will never meet again, in this lifetime’
Rings harder for all those you didn’t really want to lose.
In spectacular timing, I saw Wicked a few short days after my closest friend of some 8 years decided we couldn’t be friends any more. People under estimate the impact losing a friend can have, especially as an adult. Seeing Wicked again at that moment hurt- but in the moment I chose to think of someone else. I chose to think of my dear friend Ryan who is the same age I was when I first loved Wicked and loves it like I did then. And who is a true and lovely friend I met through theatre. In that moment I chose to use Wicked to celebrate the ten or more years of friendships theatre has given me.
‘Who can say if I’ve been changed for the better, because I knew you I have been changed for good’
Like theatre itself, many of the friends I have made through it have come and gone. But I’ve been changed for the better, by them all.
Bat Out of Hell
Let’s get one thing clear. I know nothing about Meatloaf. My familiarity with the back catalogue comes from that one he sang with Celine Dion, and that one which Jeremy Jordan sings on Youtube. Meatloaf is not normally my jam, but I will always, always love this musical because it’s so special to a friend of mine. And whether I’d loved the show or not (I did!) that was enough.
Without sharing (or over-sharing) the details. My friend both fell in love with this musical, and it came to mean a great deal more to them this year. When they offered to take me as a Birthday present, in order to share this thing, they loved, that was really special to me. I know how hard it is to share a thing you love for fear someone else won’t love it like you do. But also, it’s so touching to be that person someone wants to share it with. I had a BRILLIANT time at Bat. I’ve still got no idea what happened, but that’s ok, it was a great time getting there. And forever that’ll be something special I shared with my friend, and knowing what this musical means to them, that’s really special to me.
My friend’s guest blog can be found hereFun Home
Original review here
There was a moment less than five minutes into Fun Home when I knew this was the perfect musical. That is the perfect musical for me. You get a sense after a few years of theatre going when something is going to click. And when Bruce pulled out the silver vase from the box of junk, something just clicked, and I was in it.
I had done the almost impossible with Fun Home and managed to know little or nothing about it. And it’s a rare gift to discover something new like that, and have it resonated so hard. It is for those of us who go to the theatre often, particularly those of us who do so professionally in some capacity, that we lose some of that magic through exposure. For me this year, Fun Home was a reminder of that magic. That thing that comes from nothing to hitting you over the head so fast you barely have time to register it’s coming. My only regret is that I only got to see it once. And yet, I would be forever chasing that initial high. I cried, pretty much from Ring of Keys until the end, and it was beautiful, and cathartic. And I felt seen.
‘I know you’
Those words, at the end of Ring of Keys, sent a ripple through the audience from every person in the audience who knew what she meant. Every Queer person in that room knew what she meant. Alison Bechtel gave all of those women that moment Little Alison was having: I have seen, and I feel seen. And I don’t feel alone.
I’m a firm believer that some pieces of work find you when you’re ready. I wasn’t drawn to Fun Home during its original run in New York, despite being there at the time. It wasn’t my time for it, not then. This time it was. I find it interesting that I have only been moved like that ‘in the room’ by two other pieces of theatre, one of which was Rent. I found Rent (or it found me) at the precise moment I needed it. And it’s stayed with me. While I don’t intend doing anything so ridiculous as writing a PhD on Fun Home, there are works you see and just know are going to form a part of your DNA from now on. Because you see them and feel like they needed to be there all along. Fun Home was one of those.
Original review here
Another case of a musical arriving at the right moment. For me, but for theatre too perhaps. It is of course discussed at length by myself and others how important this reimagining has been.
‘There’s knowing you’ll love a show. And there’s not knowing how much you needed a show’
That’s how I opened my review of Company, and that still for me sums it up. It’s a musical and a production that if I’m honest has been tarnished for me since. A friend of mine- one of my closest friends in fact- got so angry that I published an article on it, that she ended 8 years of friendship. As above, that hurts. It requires a kind of grieving we’re not equipped to express. But for me it makes Company equally resonant. When you’re not married, and over 30, people start leaving you out. They leave you out of events. They leave you out of conversations because you ‘wouldn’t understand.’ The most upsetting part of watching Company was sitting there thinking ‘they’re going to leave her’ not of the men, but of her friends. And ßso, you question, do I join them? Whether I want that, want ‘him’ or not? Just to not be alone? Or do I stick to who I am, and risk that, being alone. Not even risk just wake up one day and find its happened.
I had a conversation with Marianne Elliott, for research on my book, not long after I saw Company. And what we talked about in regard to Company is what stayed with me about the production, about why it meant so much. When a woman decides to be in a relationship it impacts everything. In a way that it doesn’t for a man. The knock-on effect through her life, her career, her friends, her body. Is seismic. Somehow without changing a word, Company captures that. I have found myself in that moment before, since Company in fact. That moment teetering on a cliff wondering if it’s worth the leap. And the truth is, like for Bobbie, most of the time it isn’t. And in a musical over 30 years old, Marianne Elliott gave us a way to say it, and see it.
And I am so thankful for that. For feeling the woman, front and centre on stage and for all those women in the audience I’m sharing it with. All it’s complexities. I don’t need a happy ending for that to be important. I just needed to feel like a story I’ve lived has been told. And it has. And I am so thankful.
And from a theatrical point of view. It was time, it was damn time, that a woman got to belt out Being Alive. For every theatre kid who grew up wanting the parts they were told they can’t have. Marianne Elliott and Rosalie Craig gave us that as well.
Angels in America
My longer goodbye to Angels is here
What can I say about this production that I haven’t already said, at length? It changed my life. I mean I’ve got little more than that. It has consumed these last two theatrical years of my life, in this incarnation.
Which brings me to, line that made me cry the hardest the final three times (London and New York) that I saw it. And it’s not one I ever expected. Not one I ever noticed before if I’m honest.
“You’ll find, my friend, what you love will take you places you never dreamed you’d go”
It’s Roy Cohn for God’s sake. You’re not supposed to align yourself with Roy Cohn in this play-or frankly anywhere in life. And as much as this blog isn’t to rehash these stories, I have to say without this play, without this production I don’t know where I’d be. This play really did take me places I never dreamed I’d go. I hope it will continue to do that. And I will forever be grateful to the doors it opened (or at least loosened enough for me to kick down). And even if it was the end, it really did take me some places.
‘Nothing’s lost forever’ after all, and we know ‘the world only spins forward’ but saying goodbye to this one was the hardest theatrical goodbye I’ve made. I do miss it. I am incredibly pragmatic- even dogmatic about theatrical productions existing for the time they should. And Angels did. But there are days when I just miss it being out there somewhere in the world. On that note however, sometimes you get to say the goodbye you need to in theatre. Those who don’t understand never will, but there’s sometimes, for something so special, that need to say goodbye. And I got the perfect goodbye.
And here is my last chance perhaps to say it, that everything about this production, this experience of it, was perfect. Even the elements that aren’t- because no production is- but those are discussions for the book, not for here. Here I just want to say, it was everything I could have wanted and needed it to be as a production. Some shows on this list, in life, fill you with exhilaration, extreme emotion, a high you can never quite recreate. I think of Angels and I get an overwhelming feeling of peace. Something I never got in previous production I’d seen. Sometimes the pieces just fall into place. And for me this production felt like coming home. I’ve mentioned a lot in this year’s review a sense of the right production at the right time. And this was mine. It took 14 years of loving this play to find my version, the version I’ll forever see when I read the play. Other Prior Walters will come and go. Some will be better some will be worse than Andrew Garfield. But forever it will be his face, his voice I see. My Louis, finally finding my Louis. My Mother Pitt. A variety of Joes. They’ll all stay, taking up residence in my head forever. And as I wrote that I smiled. Because what more really can you ask for?
It’s just a play. But it’s so much more than that. And that’s why it’s still my number one of this year, and probably this decade. Maybe a lifetime. For everything beyond the theatre it’s been. For every person who judged me for ‘wasting’ my time, my life on it. For every disparaging comment, there’s been a village of people around this play. From the people who came up to me at the theatre or arranged to meet because we were there at the same time. For the friends who hugged me hard and shared the day in London with me last summer. To the friends on Twitter who ceaselessly have cheered me on. To everyone who gets it. To everyone who reads these epic monologues of blog posts. For everyone waiting for the book, know it’s for all of you I keep writing it.
‘You are fabulous creatures each and every one.’
For the final time. For now, at least ‘I’m almost done’
But, as Prior says also, ‘It’s so inadequate, it’s so much not enough.’ But if nothing else I want to use this review of the year. The final real review that Angels will feature in to send my thanks into the universe to everyone who made it happen. Maybe you know what you did, what you were a part of maybe you don’t. But know you changed one person. Know that you gave someone something that will stay with them for a lifetime.
And of course, a lifetime of ‘thank you’ wouldn’t be enough for how Marianne Elliott’s work inspires and changes me every time. A director who gave me back the thing I loved, and the thing I didn’t know I needed.