I’m lucky. I know that. I get to work in, write about AND see theatre. I don’t see anywhere near as much as I’d like to see (*note to self, see more theatre in 2018) but when I do, I love being there. It’s a pleasure and 2017 has carved up numerous pleasures that make me feel entirely privileged to be working in the industry that I do.
Here are five productions that, for their own reasons, made an impact upon me in 2017 and will add to the numerous ‘Best of’ lists that do the rounds at this time of year:
PUNK ROCK by Simon Stephens (Royal Welsh College of Music and Drama)
I could be accused of bias here. RWCMD is my alma mater. Back in the day it was just WCMD and the castle mews was hidden under a pile of pigeon poo. Now, it is a different beast. It is still run by brilliant people but the spaces are different as the set for Punk Rock proved. Going from an intimate school common room to a distanced, clinical hospital room via some very nifty hydraulics made me channel Hans Gruber (“when Alexander saw the breadth of his domain, he wept, for there were no more worlds to conquer”). Consistently churning out world class practitioners, the cast of Punk Rock proved themselves to be shoulder to shoulder with the best. Playwright Simon Stephens gave them a pretty decent headstart with his phenomenal script but they embraced the characters, setting and stylized delivery and earned every ounce of sweat produced by their punchy, physical delivery. I was a proud alumnus and thrilled audience member. The industry is in good hands with this new intake.
Reinvention of a Classic Part One: THE CARETAKER by Harold Pinter (Bristol Old Vic)
Produced in association with Royal and Derngate, Northampton, Bristol Old Vic played a blinder with a brilliant reimagining of Pinter’s classic. With a set that placed its audience in the eye of the storm, this was a dark, dangerous and dirty world that not only gave a nod to the original but reimagined with a contemporary reading.
For a full review, here is what I wrote for Bristol 24/7.
Reinvention of a Classic Part TWO: THE TEMPEST by William Shakespeare (Insane Root)
This was a late entry and a proper Christmas treat from theatrical guerillas Insane Root. Having already commandeered Redcliffe Caves for Macbeth and the Bristol Suspension Bridge for Orpheus and Eurydice, Insane Root claimed the heart of Bristol’s Old City by creating a brilliantly deft reimagining of The Tempest in St. John’s on the Wall Crypt. Told from the perspective of Prospero, the cast of four filled the space with magic both vocally and physically. This wasn’t just a bit of crafty editing and multi-rolling. This answered the age old argument of how you stage Shakespeare now: economy and imagination.
TRANSLUNAR PARADISE by Theatre Ad Infinitum (Tobacco Factory Theatres, Bristol)
You know when you love a song so much you put it on repeat? Well this is my theatrical equivalent. Having first experienced Translunar Paradise at Bristol Old Vic, I jumped at the chance of a repeat viewing this year at Tobacco Factory Theatres.
This is a piece of work that stayed with me to such an extent that large chunks of conversation from the show stayed with me almost verbatim until I saw it again. Curious considering that not a word is spoken during the show. The physical language is so precise and so emotive that you can’t help but join in with the conversation.
Who needs a difficult second album when you have a perfect earworm!?
For more, this is what I wrote for Bristol 247.
FATHERLAND by Simon Stephens, Karl Hyde and Scott Graham (Manchester Royal Exchange for Manchester International Festival)
In an interview with The Guardian’s Lyn Gardner, Fatherland is described as being about, “Where we come from, how we are fathered, and how both contribute to our identity”. After experiencing Fatherland, this almost feels like it is trivialising the subject matter whilst summing it up perfectly. Creators Simon Stephens, Karl Hyde and Scott Graham leave their London homelife behind to engage with their Northern roots and as a result have created a piece of theatre that starts with them questioning their own identity and ends up demanding the same of its audience.
This isn’t a piece of theatre you experience. It is one you live. It is being restaged in 2018 at London’s Lyric however I was lucky enough to see it as part of 2017’s Manchester International Festival at Manchester’s glorious Royal Exchange Theatre. This embodied the community in every aspect; from the choir of voices that surrounded the theatre from the outside through to the aerial work of the cast that brought the show to your seat. Every time I talk about one section of the show, a parent talking about the pride the memory of their child brings them whilst flying through the air, it brings tears to my eyes.
This is a moment of theatrical synchronicity that is rare. Great writing, incredible music and muscular direction that creates a physical language that is so strongly stamped on its DNA that it almost becomes another character. Fatherland celebrates life and theatre in equal measure and makes you bloody love both.
There are many more productions that I would have loved to have seen but missed. The good thing is, I knew they were out there and others caught them. Theatre is in great hands. The five companies and productions mentioned above are the tip of a very big and beautiful iceberg. Theatre is in great shape despite all the obstacles thrown at it. It doesn’t need to be made great again. It already is great. You don’t need a badge to go. It’s not a club. There isn’t a hierarchy. It is made for you. Just go.
2018. You have some big shoes to fill.