This feels like a moment; I haven’t been able to do a best of theatre list since 2019 because of ‘you know what’. It’s been huge fun revisiting the plays I’ve seen – nearly 50. And while that total is down on pre-pandemic levels, it was still tricky to narrow down my choices, but here goes.
A year on, and after a partly recast tour, Anything Goes’ SS America drops anchor back in the Barbican and in style. Actually feels even better than before. Aboard are Cole Porter’s champagne rhymes, Kathleen Marshall’s grand direction and peerlessly witty comic choreography, moments of 1930s romantic elegance for those with a tender nature and PG Wodehouse’s high-absurd plot for the rest of us. Last year it loomed out of the grey Covid fog like a sunburst, and had us on our feet. Same again.
In Anything Goes at the Barbican there are celebrity gangsters and torch-singers, big stock-exchange money and big energy, jazzy lapdancers and a touching belief that poor old England is best represented by a silly-ass in tweeds who doesn’t understand words like smooch.
The coronavirus pandemic and lockdown has thrown a whole new light on certain plays, the ones about isolation, loneliness and surreal landscapes.
Not to let a decade of theatre bloggery go by without marking the occasion, to kick things off, I’ve compiled a list of my favourite play for each year I’ve been blogging. It has been fun revisiting my best-of lists but absolute agony narrowing each list down to just one.
Here is a snapshot of my favourite theatre from the past 10 years, the plays that stand out most in my memory, the ones I talk about if people ask.
The Taming of the Shrew remains an undoubtedly stimulating evening and well worth a visit, if only to witness the script re-imagined and reinterpreted – a pleasing rarity.
Director Kimberley Sykes embraces the playful text of As You Like It with a diverse and tuneful cast so at ease with the text that off-the-cuff moments and audience interaction are plentiful.
Don’t go to Rooms if you want an easy, escapist 75 minutes, but do go for language, atmosphere, the darkest corners of your own psyches touched with raw beauty.
Cillian Murphy and writer Enda Walsh’s collaborations on stage tend to lean towards the surreal and avant-garde and Grief Is The Thing With Feathers is no exception.
Grief on stage and in popular culture is rarely considered as a psychological state of its own but as a means or driver for other behaviour.
Starting off 2019 with plenty of theatre in the diary, these are the nine plays Rev Stan is particularly looking forward to seeing.
Returning to the RSC and the Barbican for The Merry Wives of Windsor after his triumph in Titus Andronicus last year is David Troughton as the drunken and self-proclaimed womaniser, Falstaff, his caricaturesque performance mirroring the cartoony nature of the plot, characters, script and direction.
This is a Macbeth that emphasises the psychological horror of the story. It is a brutal and murderous play, but priority is given to the effects of the violence rather than the violence itself.
So what can be done to make Shakespeare less boring, or prove that Shakespeare isn’t boring (depending on how you look at it)? It does feel to me that we’re in the middle of a golden age of Shakespeare productions.
This Macbeth should be an absolute blinder with such a strong and perfectly brooding lead… but unfortunately, the production falls a little flat in pivotal places.
Is it ironic that the most emotionally powerful scene of the RSC’s Macbeth at the Barbican comes in a rare moment of silence and stillness, a scene when the Macbeths are nowhere to be seen?
In contrast to Rufus Norris’ Macbeth at the National, with Rory Kinnear and Anne-Marie Duff, the RSC’s current production is focused and direct. This ensures that it is more of a success, but also proves its weakness. Polly Findlay’s production is certainly the more coherent and features strong leads.
This time round Ryan Penny’s bringing back the evening of new writing, On The Night, in a slightly different format, split over two Mondays this month, and heading straight down to Plymouth after the second show to debut Simon Godfrey’s new play Beyond The Grave at their fringe festival.
For what Donnellan accomplishes with classical text, here so often revered and dogmatically adhered to, still makes Pericles worthy of praise.
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