Top productions of 2016

Another year has passed, and despite this one being particularly bad, there was still lots and lots of theatre. So here are my top five productions of 2016, excluding the fringe- it just became impossible to narrow down to five, if I included the fringe. I may do another post describing my top five fringe productions.

5. Lazarus at the Kings Cross Theatre

08lazarusjpsub-master675Now this may be, that it is the last production I saw, but at No.5, it’s Lazarus. The new musical, written by David Bowie, another icon we lost this year. It was a melancholic and thought-provoking story, with suitable music, and a very dystopic production. The visual images created were something to be in awe of. As I said a beautiful chaotic mess of a show.

 

4. I am Thomas at the Lyceum

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Politically charged and hilariously funny, it’s I am Thomas from the Lyceum, which I saw in March. The Direction and the ensemble’s work pulled off a fantastic show with a great vision, all about freedom  of speech, in the height of the Je Suis Charlie movement. The music was brilliant, adding another layer to this piece- it was like an onion…

3. The Shakespeare Trilogy at the Donmar.

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Okay, so I know I’m cheating a little bit, but I struggled picking just five shows, and they did have the same cast and director- basically. The Shakespeare trilogy consisted of The Tempest, Julius Caesar, and King Henry IV. It was an entirely female cast, and set in a female prison. I had some qualms about Julius Caesar, however the production was made clear, when I saw Henry IV. The Three shows worked as an entity, but also separately. The productions were creative, heartfelt and sorely needed. Setting Shakespeare in a modern environment was something that needed to be explored in mainstream theatre, also with a diverse and female cast it broke the stereotype of an old white english man performing Shakespeare.  The productions were fantastical, mythical and scary at some points. Definitely some of the best Shakespeare I’ve seen.

2. The Glass Menagerie at the Edinburgh International Festival.

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I wasn’t actually going to go see this, I absolutely  hated the play when I studied it – it was boring and nothing happened in it. The ending was not satisfying, and I just didn’t get the characters, except maybe Tom, though I even found him to be a bit of a lad. I even wrote an epilogue for it, which was how unsatisfying I found the ending. (It was a terrible epilogue by the way. When I was younger I was under the delusion I could write scripts…) Anyway a friend convinced me to go with the one sentence ‘there is such beauty in the mundane’  And he was so right. I managed to snap up one ticket for the last night- I may have left work early for it… oops, but I decided I had to see it. And I am so glad I did. It has to be one of the most poignant and beautiful productions I have seen this year. The set was unbelievable, the direction and acting was brilliant, and I saw the beauty in the mundane. In the characters I hated, I found redemption, and the ending turned from unsatisfying to almost hopeful. The music was amazing. The whole production was poetically serendipitous, showing these damaged characters as fragile as glass. It brought meaning to the meaningless. And a quote – “Time is the longest distance between two places” , has earned a place on my laptop.

 

Drum roll please for my top production of 2016…. (It won’t come as a surprise I assume…)

 

  1. In The Heights at The King’s Cross Theatre

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In the Heights is at my No. 1. spot, as  I said is probably not a surprise. I saw this back in February, and I managed to get tickets for £15. In The Heights was written by Lin Manuel Miranda, and it set in the lower east side of Manhattan, in a Latino community in Washington Heights. The main selling point of this show, is of course the music. I watched it in February, and I am still listening to it constantly.  The complex lyrics, with Latino roots was the perfect way to show the core of the inspiration, as Lin Manuel Miranda is an immigrant from Puerto Rico.  I’m absolute sucker for Lin Manuel Miranda, but that is not the only reason. The actors were brilliant, and lovely as well. The youthful charm and energising tone to the performance made it an incredible night. I felt a part of the cast and the community. For once I didn’t want to run up and perform with the actors, because I was already up there. I cringed at what the characters said, and cried when they cried. I could not stop smiling, except you know, when I was crying.  The political connotations came through the comedy, and identity and immigration, were the core aspects of the show. It was full of life and symbolism, and I absolutely loved it.

 

Notable few:

Okay, so I said top 5, but here a few notable ones that I couldn’t just not mention. –

Aladdin: Full of colour and childlike imagination.

The Libertine: The writing in this was brilliant. The characters and story was so sad, but it was shrouded in comedy.

A Night in Miami: The political statements made in this were amazing, and heartbreaking. Along with a beautiful rendition of ‘A change is gonna come’ 

Kinky Boots: An extremely fun night, with fabulous costumes, and an amazing message to help change society for the better.

 

This was a longin. And this is without Fringe productions- eek.  There may be a post coming soon for that. But all in all. I hope 2016 has been great, and here’s hoping 2017 will be even better, and here’s to less loss in the arts world next year.  See you all in 2017!

-Charlie

 

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Julius Caesar – Donmar Warehouse

I went to see Julius Caesar, part two, of the Shakespeare Trilogy at the Donmar Warehouse, following The Tempest, yesterday.  Again I got tickets through the Young + Free initiative, which provides 25% of their tickets for free to under 25s. Julius Ceasar is about the rise and fall of the title character, and his betrayer, Brutus.

Again this production was set in a female prison, however it was a far less magical, mythical production, than The Tempest, which I think was very effective in the story it was telling. The theatre in the round aided to make a truly visually and audio immersive production. And the whole tone of the production was great Switching, from comedic, to eerie, to poetically tragic. It had a good pace, and the sound and lighting all aided to the shifts in the tone.

The whole cast were brilliant. I was so excited to see them again, as it is the same cast in The Tempest. Their connection to every audience member, I would have to say, made the production for me. Their interaction, their conviction and the true grittiness of their performance was perfect. There were moments that were just so realistic, you forgot that you were watching a performance in a theatre, you thought you were watching inmates perform Shakespeare, and it just made you really uncomfortable. Especially from Harriet Walter, who was usually the cause of this uncomfortableness. Also Jade Anouka, who played Mark Antony, brought a really playful aspect to the play. My favourite scene had to be the funeral. The rhythmic presentation, aided with the lighting and the rest of the cast, was very empowering and riling.

The production was full of different ideas and conventions, which I loved, individually. However, I felt like there were too many, and none of which, that they were really committed to. It mixed and matched too much.  I loved them all at the time, but in looking back at it, they didn’t seem to follow through in the whole production, and it just left me quite confused.

Overall, it was an amazing cast, and the director produced an extremely immersive and tense production, which was very enjoyable to watch.

Finally, I wanted to say, that I was really glad to go to the theatre yesterday, especially with all that had happened in the U.S. I thought Theatre is the perfect way to escape this, but the thing is, is every performance is influenced by outside events. As much as I tried to forget about Donald Trump, I couldn’t help but see his reflection in Julius Caesar, or at least the Caesar that Brutus paints. The rise and fall of his, and Brutus’ power and the eventual fall of Rome to Octavius, felt like a weird dystopia, that felt familiar, and oddly foreshadowing.