Sunday, January 5, 2014

Top 10 UK shows 2013

After seeing 54 shows in London, Manchester, Cambridge, Cardiff, and Edinburgh I decided to make a Top 10 list mainly to bring attention to some theatrical works I really loved and hope travel to the US.   I saw some of the most well-reviewed productions (Chimerica, The Events, Merrily We Roll Along, Othello, Grounded, The Scottsboro Boys) coming out of the UK.  But those are not the ones that have stayed with me months later. 

I liked that production of Merrily but I included it in my 2012 list when I saw it at the Menier Chocolate Factory so it was not eligible for this year's list.  Months later I'm still sorting through my negative feelings about The Scottsboro Boys (excellent production of a problematic piece--I'm still not ready to talk about it).  I never bothered to write a review about The Events which I found to be an interesting idea but a disjointed production (the volunteer choir in the production I saw was distracting and constantly threw me out of the show with their incessant smiling).  Othello was very good but it never won me over like the Crucible's production of a couple of years ago (which had it's problems but fuck I don't know I just loved it). 

This Top 10 list is about the shows I think we need in the world and those that I want to see again because I think there is much we could learn from them.  My list is decidedly odd-ball which really suits me. 

1.  The Seagull: I fell for this Blanche McIntyre directed, John Donnelly adaptation of Chekhov's The Seagull hard.  And maybe like all good romances you don't see it coming.  I could hardly sit still in my seat because I felt so electrified by the production.  Modern and contemporary and yet still utterly Chekhov.  I'm still thinking about the rubber bands.   PLEASE COME TO NEW YORK. 

2.  Purge:  Presented as part of the Forest Fringe series at the Edinburgh Fringe, Brian Lobel's performance art piece Purge has stayed with me months after seeing it.  I bring it up on dates, in work conversations, and with anyone who will listen.  Interactive, personal, and yet epic.  Bringing social media into theater in a way that makes complete sense and was totally original.     PLEASE COME TO NEW YORK. 

3.  Stand-by For Tape Backup:  Another piece from the Forest Fringe, this was my first Ross Sutherland piece and I hope it is not my last. Smart, funny, overwhelming, and totally entrancing.  I wish I'd had a chance to see this spoken-word, video collage performance piece twice because there was so much to unpack.  PLEASE COME TO NEW YORK. 

4.  Brand New Ancients:  The theater gods have been kind and this show is coming to New York for a short run at St. Ann's Warehouse.  Blending spoken-word, hip-hop, live music, storytelling and myth, Kate Tempest's unusual but beautiful theatrical work needs to be seen to be believed.  This one will stay with you for a long time. 

5.  Quietly:  Owen McCafferty's play about questions of reconciliation and immigration in Northern Ireland was one of the few plays at the Edinburgh Fringe Festival to move me to tears.  The explosive tension in the play made for hand-wringing but the gutting emotional undertow was what pulled me in.  I am hoping this Abbey Theatre production tours to America.  It is too good for New York audiences to miss.  

6.  Credible Likeable Superstar Role Model:  Edinburgh Fringe had some kickass ladies writing and performing this season but this piece about feminism, the world we create for girls and the future we control for the next generation of women by Bryonny Kimmings took a darkly magical, loopy, and personal journey to that destination.  Kimmings performed alongside her niece Taylor and you could not help but feel you shouldered responsibility for the future at the end of this piece.  And that's not a bad thing at all. 

7.  I Wish I Was Lonely: Another Forest Fringe piece (note a pattern).  A lights-up, audience interaction show, where Chris Thorpe and Hannah Jane Walker ask the important question: in a world of constant connection, have we stopped letting ourselves feel things?  Staring into the eyes of a stranger never felt so necessary and this show made me terribly self-conscious of my own efforts to connect, disconnect, and communicate.  

8.  The Amen Corner:  Rufus Norris is to become the new Artistic Director at the National Theatre in London but his production of James Baldwin's play The Amen Corner was my introduction to his directing work.  Strange to see an utterly American play about African-American characters in New York touching on religion, religious music, and jazz performed in London.  But this epic play was given a rich revival with Marianne Jean-Baptiste as the star.  If we'd stop reviving A Raisin in the Sun on Broadway for like a minute, maybe we could have an American production of this powerful play.  'Cause London has thrown down the gauntlet people with this terrific production.

9.  Tree: Daniel Fucking Kitson had to go and write another mind-twisty story and then had to go and cast Tim Key in it to perform alongside him.  And I had to fly to London, take a Megabus to Manchester (in the rain), to see it.  And it was worth the journey and all I want to do is see it a second time because, as usual, things are not what they seemed and I want to know where the legerdemain began.  And I can't see it again so I'm left festering about this and putting it on my Top 10 list in the hopes that it somehow comes back in a time and place where I can see it. 

10.  Long Live the Little Knife: Speaking of con artists, David Leddy's "did they or didn't they" show about two con artists and theater as con was just an ever-loving delight.  Dark and biting and colorful and fresh.  When I started to wonder if there was anything good at the Edinburgh Fringe, this was the show that shocked me back into excitement.  Much like an adrenaline shot to the heart, this play about art, artifice, and authenticity wasted no time in jolting the audience to attention and I never wanted to look away. 

Honorable mentions to:  Chimerica for its massive scale, thoughtful ideas, and stunning production even if it kind of sold out for sentimentality in the end, The Cripple of Inishmaan for letting Daniel Radcliffe con us all in a wonderful way, The Bush Theatre's production of Disgraced for putting the audience smack-dab in the middle of an explosive dinner party and never letting up, The Pajama Game for the beautiful staging and making union talk seem sexy, The Drowned Man for bringing to life the sordid and the sexy and make Peeping Tom prurience an artform, Bridget Christie for her reasonable talk that is somehow comedy because the world around it has become unreasonable, Claudia O'Doherty's wackadoo Pioneer for being loud and proud, Ben Moor for being quiet and delicate with Each of Us when Edinburgh seemed to lack quiet, Blythe Duff for continuing to be riveting in everything she does, Lucy Ellinson for being authentically militaristic and American and motherly in Grounded, Fleabag for being dirty and dark, The Pride's tarnished mirror for being a lovely metaphor, Kyle Soller and John Heffernan for committing to that Edward II  heart and soul and sinew when ye gads it was not quite worthy of them, the National Theatre for staging Strange Interlude because who the hell does that, Trash Cuisine for making the woman next to me end up in convulsions 'cause theater that powerful cannot be contained, Daniel Mays for bringing such energy to Mojo, and Ben Whishaw for just being.

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