Review of the Year, 2009
Raptors and Russian dolls deserve a lot of credit. Thanks to Enron, this was the year that I finally got my head around the slippery economic issue of sub-prime lending. For all of about an hour. Ask me for an explanation now and I’d have as much chance of making sense as a revival of Mark Ravenhill’s Over There with Jedward taking over from the Treadaway twins.
For me, the best theatre refuses to be shaken off once the curtain has fallen. I love it when theatre reverberates into the world at large, such that the journey home is transformed as something lingers on into life. The city you emerge into is not the same one that you left behind. Traces of the show appear at street corners and on public transport. It’s as if you’ve undergone a perception transplant without realising.
Waterloo station, for example, has never seemed more revolting than it did back in January after Theatre ex Machina’s Seeking Oedipus, which dripped with disgust at the animal human. After making it through the glutinous smell of Cornish pasty that somehow defines station forecourts, I spent a train journey home face to face with a large man gorging his way through a Burger King Whopper. It was all I could do to stave off being sick at each magnified sinew of spittle.
While we’re on disgust, Kim Noble deserves a passing mention. After an hour of bodily fluids and emotional bile, a snowy Soho in full festive flow was both the best and worst possible place to encounter: simultaneously vacuous, depressingly commercialised and yet strangely fun-filled.
Every stroll over the concrete monstrosities of the Barbican complex, meanwhile, takes on a different quality. There was the curious mixture of paranoia, shame and awe after Romeo Castellucci’s Inferno as part of another fantastic Spill Festival and the disorientation of stepping out into a fluid world that had retained the mirage-like quality of James Thiérée’s Raoul, during which the laws of nature seemed to have switched themselves off as he multiplied by mitosis and shape-shifted before us.
Edinburgh underwent several similar transformations for me during August, whether I was tipsily spaced-out after the spa session that was Melanie Wilson’s hypnotic Iris Brunette or seething with self-loathing having had my personality publically eviscerated as part of Ontoerend Goed’s Internal. Best of all, surely, was the sense of absolute camaraderie that followed Nic Green’s astounding Trilogy. Had I been allowed, I would have been belting out Jerusalem with the barest of them.
On which note, I enjoyed Jez Butterworth’s lament for England at the Royal Court, but was more affected by Simon Stephens’ Punk Rock at the Lyric, which left me shellshocked in the streets of Hammersmith and featured a debut performance to match Mark Rylance from the superb Tom Sturridge. It will be a real shame if he doesn’t pick up at least one Best Newcomer award in recognition.
So there you go, proof if ever it was needed that theatre can change the world.
Photograph: Tristram Kenton