Theatre Critic and Journalist

Seven Shows A Celebrating

Seven Shows A Celebrating

With the end of the year approaching, it feels important to register a few favourites. Not so much in the spirit of the end of year list, but because doing so clarifies what type of critic one is – both publicly and reflexively, to others and for oneself.

Yet, any such list only makes me realise quite how selective my theatregoing has been this year. To be precise it’s been both selective and selected-for-me. I saw 319 shows in total last year, 101 of them in Edinburgh. I’d guess just under half were shows I was sent to see by editors. So while I’ve seen more theatre than ever before, I’ve seen a lot less of my choosing than in previous years – not least in Edinburgh, where I spent my time going a little bit doolally in the depths and only caught up thanks to the Total Theatre Awards. On the plus side, I got out of London a lot more and had the pleasure of being surprised regularly.

That’s left a curious set of results. It’s meant I’ve missed an awful lot of what you might call ‘the newsworthy stuff.’ I’ve not stepped foot in the Donmar Warehouse or the Old Vic in 2013, for example. I stopped going to the Michael Grandage season after Peter and Alice and I’ve been inside the National Theatre building – as opposed to the Shed – twice in the last six months. It’s really instructive to look at how many shows in other highlights lists I didn’t see – Coriolanus, The Weir, The Night Alive, Ghosts, The Amen Corner, Roots, Strange Interlude, Richard II, Henry V, Josephine and I. Maybe I’d have liked them. Who knows?

Either way, I’ve been elsewhere – often at Open Court or the Shed or the BAC or Soho Theatre, models that don’t necessarily build press nights/reviews into their make-up. In any case, that shows quite how spoilt for choice we are. However, it doesn’t necessarily follow that we’re spoilt as theatregoers and, indeed, I had a real trouble trying to pick a top ten for the Guardian this year. There was lots I really enjoyed, but little that blew me away – certainly not that many of the paper’s other writers would have seen or chosen. Maybe it’s always like that. Who knows?

Anyway, you didn’t come here for a chunk of reflexive practice, but for a big old list of good stuff. Actually not just good stuff – there’s too much of that to list. These are the really transcendent ones; the handful of shows that, for a short while, eradicated the rest of the world.

Here you go. Happy Christmas etc.

The Events

The most blistering piece of theatre as thinking in public by a country mile. If David Greig’s play contained an extraordinarily intricate argument, Ramin Gray’s production conveyed it with unparalleled clarity. Chloe Lamford’s design was just so. Rudi Dharmalingham and Neve McIntosh performed it beautifully. And that music…Jesus, I’d have bawled my eyes out noisily to ‘We’re All In Here’ had I not been in an auditorium. Review here.

The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart

Only caught up with this a couple of years late, but I don’t think I had a bigger heart- rush all year. Loved it. Loved it. Loved it. David Greig is a bit of a full-blown genius. Wils Wilson too, because this was everything I want theatre to be: big-hearted, full-blooded and hard-thinking.

Have I No Mouth

My god. Probably the rawest piece of theatre I’ve ever seen, Feidlim Canon and his mother Ann winded me with this show about his father and her husband. They say nothing prepares you for the death of a parent. In its own way – small though it may be – this has. A devastating experience, but one for which I’m profoundly grateful.

Life and Times

Wowee. This was just immense. A 12 hour – eventually to be 24 – verbatim musical extravaganza to rival Proust’s Remembrance of Things Past. I could have watched Episode One for ever and ever. That the rest was anything but a disappointment is testament to its bravura and sheer WTF brilliance, but also to the slower shifts as the work becomes more complex and reflexive. Review here.

L’Apres Midi d’un Foehn

Plastic bags. That’s all it was. Plastic bags cut into stick men dancing in an air current. But it became ballet and much, much more. I sat open-mouthed with delight and just gawped. Simple, but oh so gorgeous.

Hans Was Heiri

This was a delirious, scatterbrained joy; a show that sent you cross-eyed and made your head swim, triggered gleeful chuckles with its off-the-wall idiocy then left you breathing in its serene elegance. Review here.

Circle Mirror Transformation

People say it’s slight. It’s anything but. Annie Baker writes with superhuman finesse and a fine-tuned appreciation of humanity. Anyone who dismissed this as a serio-comedy about a smalltown drama class wasn’t watching closely enough. This is a masterpiece about the damage that can accumulate over time, our basic need to be seen to exist and the tightrope between helping others and helping oneself. Masterful. Review here.

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