Thursday, 31 December 2020

2020: Sort-of a Theatre Review of the Year

In January, You Stupid Darkness! imagined a world assailed by an invisible, unknowable enemy, where we couldn't leave the house without protective equipment. What will these crazy playwrights think of next? No really, tell me, I could do with the warning.

I usually end every year with a review of the best and worst theatre I saw, interspersed with me being a bit smutty about men who got their kit off, and giving out some dubious award to people or shows that amused or horrified me. Well, I think we all know why 2020 might not be too much fun to recap in any great detail; with theatre all but shut down from mid-March onwards it should also be obvious that I don't have many shows to pick from, and there's something vaguely patronising about trying to make up a Top Ten, never mind award an earth-shatteringly important title like Best Nipples, out of the 42 live shows I did manage to squeeze in. That said, a couple of shows in those first two-and-a-half months did make strong entries in certain categories, and theatres' attempts to keep something going both for audiences and their own survival were downright heroic.

Tuesday, 29 December 2020

Stage-to-screen review: Nine Lessons and Carols
- stories for a long winter

My "stage to screen" reviews were meant to be a very occasional feature in among the live theatre trips, but of course in 2020 they've ended up dominating. For my last one of the year it's one more of the shows I'd actually booked to see live but the government's Department of Tossing a Coin to See if Theatres Can Stay Open This Week put an end to that; having dipped their toe into digital content a couple of months ago when The Duchess of Malfi was briefly made available, I wasn't surprised when the Almeida offered a recording of their seasonal show to ticket-holders as an alternative. I say seasonal, but while the short preparation time led most theatres to dust off some version of A Christmas Carol, director Rebecca Frecknall, writer Chris Bush, songwriter Maimuna Memon (who also performs) and the cast were sent off to devise a more melancholy reflection on the season and the year leading up to it with Nine Lessons and Carols - stories for a long winter.

Saturday, 26 December 2020

Stage-to-screen review: Dick Whittington
(National Theatre)

British theatres' biggest annual earner, the Christmas pantomime, attempted a limited return in those areas that were allowed to, before everything got promptly shut down again (it's OK though, the Culture Secretary and Prince William had already been very publicly allowed to take their families to one, so it's not like anyone who matters was being excluded.) In what is hopefully a one-off attempt to make up for something people were missing out on elsewhere, the National Theatre were one of the venues putting on a panto, with an updated version of a Jude Christian and Cariad Lloyd script for Dick Whittington first seen at the Lyric Hammersmith two years ago. When this too was put on ice, they put Ned Bennett's new production up on YouTube for a few days over Christmas (available for free internationally, which raises the possibility of people all over the world watching and being baffled by the British concept of wholesome family entertainment consisting predominantly of dick jokes.)

Monday, 14 December 2020

Theatre review: A Christmas Carol (Bridge Theatre)

For what is almost certainly going to be my last live theatre visit of the year (I have two more booked but Tier 3 will put paid to them,) it's a story that always shows up a lot around this time of year, but this Christmas, with short lead times and the need for something straightforward and familiar, has been pretty much ubiquitous - or would be if the theatres weren't closing again the minute the shows opened. Maybe the two are connected, and the government's renewed vendetta against theatre is something to do with the popularity of a story that might as well be subtitled "All Tories Are Guaranteed Eternal Damnation," who knows? Out of many options the version of Charles Dickens' A Christmas Carol I chose was Nicholas Hytner's at the Bridge - it's one of the easier theatres for me to get to, but more importantly the cast includes a Future Dame in the form of Patsy Ferran, and a current one in Simon Russell Beale.

Wednesday, 9 December 2020

Theatre review: The Dumb Waiter

"It's not like Pinter where you can more or less say what you like so long as you leave enough gaps."

In what I suspect will be a pretty short window of time to catch live theatre in London before we get bumped up a tier, a classic Pinter makes a surprisingly swift return to the stage - it's less than two years since The Dumb Waiter was in the West End, but Hampstead Theatre were keen to mark the 60th anniversary of a show that premiered there in its own debut season. Planned to run last spring as part of the theatre's 60-year retrospective season, it does of course also feature a bubble-friendly cast of just two, with Alec Newman as Ben and Shane Zaza as Gus, a pair of mobsters who've been holed up all day in a basement room waiting for the instruction to carry out a hit on an unknown target. But when instructions do come, via the titular miniature elevator, they're confusing and increasingly extravagant food orders, seemingly intended for a restaurant kitchen that's long since closed.

Friday, 4 December 2020

Stage-to-screen review: Rent

The latest leg of my virtual tour around the UK's theatres takes me to Manchester and the Hope Mill, where Blake Patrick Anderson and Millie O'Connell must be feeling particularly hard done by 2020 - their run in Be More Chill, which for Anderson in particular had been expected to be a star-making performance, got cut short by the first lockdown, and when they reunited for Luke Sheppard's revival of Rent it only lasted five performances before Lockdown 2: Emetic Boogaloo scuppered that as well. Intended to be a mix of socially distanced audiences with simultaneous live-streaming, with Manchester still barred from live performance even after lockdown lifted they've had to rejig the plan, and stream a recording of the final live performance of Jonathan Larson's iconic, none-more-nineties musical.