Monday, December 29, 2014

Top 10 of 2014: UK Edition

I enjoyed another year of  UK theater-going.  I saw almost 50 shows out of the country.  From what I saw, these were my favorites:

1.  A View From the Bridge (Young Vic): Ivo van Hove can sure pack a wallop.  I mean he gets some help from Arthur Miller but in the end this production is very much about van Hove's choices and the strong cast seeing those moments through to completion.  I'm not sure you could do better than Mark Strong as Eddie. Maybe the greatest coup de theatre I've ever seen.  I've already said too much.  Just go.  I've already got my tickets to see it again when it transfers to the West End.

2.  Assassins (Menier Chocolate Factory): I didn't even think I liked this Sondheim musical and Jamie Lloyd's production showed me why I was wrong to doubt it.  A strong cast across the board but Lloyd's choices make more of this material than meets the eye.  We all knew Aaron Tveit could sing but he's pretty damn good at being dastardly as well.  Jamie Parker brings a sweet darkness as well.  Andy Nyman is a Guiteau for the ages.  Lloyd makes each assassin have a purpose in the larger sweep of things and I think he brings a cohesion to the musical it could otherwise be lacking.  If it wasn't totally sold out I'd see it again.

3.   A Series of Increasingly Impossible Acts (Lyric Hammersmith/Northern Stage):  So good I saw it twice.  Joyful, challenging, and breaks down the way you look at performance and performers.  I felt like I got to see the building blocks of acting and drama as this structured but evolving work played out. Was the perfect ending to my trip to Edinburgh.

4.  Hug (Forest Fringe):  One of my most anticipated shows of EdFringe 2014.  I was pretty much getting on a plane to be blindfolded and hugged for theater.  And it was everything.  Some people cried. I ended up feeling rapturous joy.  I had a good hugger.  I heard not all huggers were created equal.

5.   Lippy (Dead Centre/Traverse Theatre):  Although this later came to New York (Abrons Art Center) I first saw it at Edinburgh and was totally blown away by the form and structure of this devised piece by Irish theater troupe Dead Centre.  Through humor and the most unlikely storytelling approach they address a dark and difficult subject.  But they do it with beauty, haunting images, and a dense soundscape that leaves an indelible mark.  I'm keeping an eye out for these guys for the future. 

6.  Hurtling (Forest Fringe): Greg Wohead offered up some very diverse pieces at Forest Fringe and I really liked the Ted Bundy project (if you can 'like' such a disturbing and unsettling thing).  But Hurtling was something entirely different.  One-on-one theater for the timid.  Staging plein air theater in your mind.  It was something that needs to be experienced and I'm grateful for having climbed the hill to have done it.

7.  King Charles III (Almeida Theatre):  Sort of like if Shakespeare had written his own version of The Avengers but without some stupid tesseract thingy.  Mike Bartlett's wicked smart play brings together characters we think we know in a modern context and through his trickery we discover their resemblance to famous characters of Shakespeare. The monarchy hasn't changed all that much has it.  The troubles may look new but the indecision of Hamlet, the blindness of Lear, the arrogance of Lady Macbeth, and the ambivalence of Prince Hal all have modern counterparts. I'm making it sound less cool than it actually was.  It was a funny play about the modern monarchy and the struggles between duty and self and it was damn good drama.  Oliver Chris  and Lydia Wilson were particularly surprising to me here, having seen both of them play wildly different characters before.  I thought they found the spirit of the Duke and Duchess of Cambridge without being parodies of them. 

8.  Spine (Soho/Underbelly):  Rosie Wyatt makes Clara Brennan's multi-generational monologue on libraries, protest, and the future sing.  She's the downtrodden troublesome youth and the patient, fading elderly woman who takes her in.  And she'll break your heart.  I was a sobbing mess at the end.

9.  Lungs (Paines Plough Roundabout): I know I was the last person on earth to see Lungs.  WE STILL HAVE NOT HAD A PRODUCTION IN NEW YORK.  But I was glad to see it in the Roundabout touring space.  Intimate and well-acted by Sian Reese-Williams and Abdul Salis, I got to fully appreciate how George Perrin's direction makes this thoughtful, funny, sad play come alive.

10. 'Tis Pity She's a Whore (Globe Theatre): I have a perverse affection for this play.  Drenched in misogyny, incest, and tragedy, somehow I still feel like there are lessons here to be learned about how we treat women today. Thought it shows misogyny through the most extreme lens, it doesn't actually feel all that far off on some level. This candlelight production makes the most of the new Sam Wanamaker space at the Globe.  The intimacy of the space and the intimacy of the subject matter make the nudity, buckets of blood, and intensity of the drama all the more in your face.

Special Mentions: Every Brilliant Thing would not be as brilliant without star Jonny Donahoe and I lucked out by having Josie Long be the audience member who got really involved in the show; Josie Long for making me cry once in Every Brilliant Thing and again in her own show Cara Josephine; Chris Thorpe and Rachel Chavkin exploring the challenging and uncomfortable world of modern Nazism in Confirmation; the weird gutter, comic book world of Pomona and the broken people living within it; the Donmar Warehouse for actually reviving my fave musical City of Angels and putting Hadley Fraser and Rosalie Craig in it; Christeene and the Christeene Machine making me glad I went into the basement of filth to worship at her altar; Sam Crane in 1984--I didn't know what was going on but I couldn't take my eyes off of him; Andrew Scott maybe have been the frenetic star in Birdland (and he was good at it) but Alex Price was the heart of that show for me and oddly his door slam meant more to me than Carrie Cracknell's coup de theatre here; the magical children's book world of HUFF; and Daniel Kitson making me believe in Christmas magic again.

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