There have most definitely been some highlights:
Discovering the Sam Wanamaker Playhouse at The Globe
My goodness what a treat of a theatre this is. It’s the smaller, intimate, indoor space at The Globe and is laid out as an indoor theatre in Shakespeare’s time would have been laid out – bench seating on three levels, galleried stage and all candlelit. I think you’d be hard-pressed not to be completely captivated by the setting. It’s now one of my favourite theatre spaces of all time. I saw three shows there this year – The Inn at Lydda (a thought-provoking fictional tale of when Caesar meets Jesus), Comus (by John Milton and beautifully retold in a historical setting) and The Little Match Girl (A very clever integration of puppetry and actors). If you get a chance to visit, go! I defy you not to love it wherever you’re sitting.
New work: The Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer
I’ve seen a number of revivals this year but not very much at all that’s completely new writing. One new piece I did see and one of my highlights of the year was The Pacifist’s Guide to the War on Cancer at The National (Dorfman – their smaller space). It clearly wasn’t to everyone’s taste as the reviews were mixed. But I found it moving, powerful and entertaining (if a musical about cancer can be entertaining). It was an important piece of theatre in that it approaches a difficult, emotive topic we don’t really want to talk, or even think about much but in approaching it, gives us much-needed permission to do just that. The musical was in the verbatim style – that means that the playwright and the actors talked to real cancer patients and recorded what they said and then used their words exactly as they were said. This means there’s a raw honesty about the dialogue which works for me as an audience member. (This is a technique the National is known for. Rufus Norris used this technique to great acclaim with the musical and the film of London Road.)
Revisiting Shakespeare – a surprise highlight
I can’t say I’m much of a Shakespeare fan. I studied The Tempest and Macbeth at school and didn’t enjoy it much. I found the language hard-going as it’s not the English we use today in either style or vocabulary. To try and combat that I took a role in Julius Caesar with The South London Players a few years ago. Although I enjoyed being in the play, I can’t say that it ignited any particular love for The Bard.
But seeing as he is the father of our modern theatre, and having friends who do have a love for Shakespeare, I’ve given it another go this year and have been (mostly) pleasantly surprised. I’ve taken in an Australian Aborigine version of King Lear called The Shadow King (replete with didgeridoos, sand and body paint), a modern version of Cymbeline (it’s a kind of mash-up of several of Shakespeare’s previous plays) (both at The Barbican), Edwardian versions of Love’s Labour’s Lost and Much Ado About Nothing from the RSC at Theatre Royal Haymarket and the piece de resistance, Glenda Jackson as King Lear at The Old Vic. She was utterly magnificent. Probably the best performance by any actor I have ever seen on stage or screen. It inspired the thinking behind my blog post about work and aging here.
Low point: Closure of Croydon’s Fairfield Halls & Ashcroft Theatre
But it hasn’t all been plain sailing and I’m still cross and frustrated about this. One of my favourite venues, and an unsung hero in theatrical circles was Croydon’s Ashcroft Theatre and Fairfield Halls. I’ve seen some fantastic shows and performances there over the years including Under Milk Wood, The Accrington Pals, Teechers (woefully under-marketed but such a brilliant show) and Morecambe. The venue was a great place for touring shows, amongst other things.
This year, I managed to catch a few shows. My favourites were Lotty’s War, about the Nazi occupation of Jersey and Shadowlands which is about the author CS Lewis. Both very moving in their own ways. And what a treat to be able to see something local to me rather than having to go into the West End every time. But no more. The Fairfield Halls closed down in the summer and is set to be part of a regeneration project in that part of Croydon with a view to reopening in 2018. We’ll have to see if that happens or not. In the current fiscal climate, I’d say chances of that happening are getting slimmer by the day, unfortunately. I hope to be proven wrong.
My list of shows seen (not in date order) with a brief review. Current shows listed first.
So that’s my round-up of my year in theatre. January and February are usually quiet times for me theatre-wise. Not least because I’m preparing for Swedish Beers and my other events in Barcelona the week of Mobile World Congress so I need to keep my head down. But come Spring, I hope to be back in the saddle and enjoying theatre and performance of all sorts in 2017.