Wednesday, 23 December 2015

10 of my top moments in a theatre in 2015

The inevitable end-of-year lists of favourite plays and performances will be soon be coming (I just have to, you know, stop seeing shows…) but something I did last year which I really enjoyed was a compendium of “top moments in a theatre”, the breath-taking, show-stopping aspects of productions that have etched themselves in my mind over the past year. 

Made in Dagenham final night
Not everyone loved Made in Dagenham as much as me and mine and so it closed six months after opening at the Apollo. But something about it really worked for me and so I kept going back for more, seeing it four times in total, the last of which - on its closing night - was fittingly, a really special occasion. It was so nice to see the show get the raucous reception (I felt) it deserved and Gemma Arterton's eloquent speech at the end should have been recorded for posterity and as a cautionary note to those who delight in spreading negative publicity.

The atmosphere at the Arcola for Octagon
It is of course close to the height of #firstworldproblems to complain about the audiences at press nights but they are funny beasts - over-enthusiastic friends and family, critics professing a disaffected attitude, bloggers pleased just to be invited, etc etc. So I do find myself opting to see a good few shows on alternative evenings and the difference can be amazing - a Saturday night crowd that were definitely up for it transformed Octagon into a joyously communal affair that elevated the material into something special (and completely different to the press night atmosphere by all accounts).
See also: the raucousness encouraged at the Old Red Lion for Lardo

Lela & Co.'s darkness
Sometimes, the pre-show warnings that one receives seem a little excessive (is anyone actually affected by haze?) but for Lela & Co., but being advised that part of the drama would play out in darkness was both unsettling and intriguing. And once it started, the knowledge it was coming added an extra layer of darkness, director Jude Christian expertly employing the blackouts to represent and respect the almost unbearable happenings. I haven't felt theatre quite that intensely for a long time.
See also: Jon Bausor's sci-fi set at the same theatre for You For Me For You

Andrew Wright's choreography for Mrs Henderson Presents
There was lots to love in Mrs Henderson Presents and so it's great that it will soon be opening at the Noël Coward. For me, the highlight was Andrew Wright's gorgeous choreography telling so much of a love story in 'What a Waste of a Moon', Emma Williams and Matthew Malthouse sketching out more romance than you could shake an ostrich feather at in this beautiful sequence. 
See also: Wright worked additional wonders with the showgirls of Follies

(c) Tristram Kenton
Lee Proud's choreography for Grand Hotel
And speaking of choreography, there was great work too from Lee Proud at Grand Hotel. Lee Newby’s design wasn’t the first to put the Southwark Playhouse in traverse but it was the first to really make it work, thanks in no small part to the strutting confidence of Proud’s imaginative routines which made full use of the space, even in unexpected directions.
See also: Drew McOnie’s work in Bugsy Malone, especially that finale

'The Schmuel Song' finally making sense
I’ve seen The Last Five Years on stage three times now and though there’s much to love in Jason Robert Brown’s score, ‘The Schmuel Song’ has always been something to endure rather than enjoy. But something miraculous happened in Richard LaGravenese’s film of this two-hander (definitely benefitting from his choice to have both actors present in each song), whereby it becomes hugely charming and almost unbearably romantic – Jeremy Jordan’s delivery is the definition of swoonsome and Anna Kendrick’s adlibbed reactions offer the perfect counterbalance.
See also: Emily Blunt’s utterly delightful ‘Moments in the Woods’ in Into the Woods.

(c) Tristram Kenton
Lizzie Clachan’s design for As You Like It
Part of the cleverness of Lizzie Clachan's design for the National's As You Like It is that it poses its essential question straightaway - how will the corporate office environment that opens Polly Findlay's interpretation transform into the Forest of Arden, answers it by throwing everything into the air in one of the most memorable scene changes you'll ever see.
See also: Stewart Laing's striking design choices for The Hairy Ape 

Anastacia McCleskey’s ‘Don’t Make Me Over’
Probably my favourite vocal performance of the year. I found all of Close To You unexpectedly lovely but McCleskey’s soul-stirring rendition of this Bacharach classic brought tears to my eyes almost from its opening notes. Simply stunning.
See also: Preeya Kalidas' infectious enthusiasm powering Bend it like Beckham's engagement party scene

(c) Z.Warzyński
Songs of Lear at the Battersea Arts Centre
I thoroughly enjoyed Song of the Goat’s atmospheric Songs of Lear at the time but the experience was deepened by the desperately sad news of the fire at the Battersea Arts Centre just two weeks later which caused several structural damage, including destroying the beautiful Grand Hall where we’d just seen Grzegorz Bral’s production. Fortunately, sterling work by the London Fire Brigade limited the amount of damage to the building as a whole and the #BAC phoenix campaign saw a magnificent community spirit rally round to keep BAC looking forward.

(c) PND Productions
The musical loveliness of Sincerely Yours
Some of the best moments in a theatre come when you're least expecting them. I went to WWII-themed revue Sincerely Yours with half a mind on packing for my holiday that began the next day but its, ahem, sincerity won me over, in particular the gorgeous Andrews Sister-style arrangements. The sequence of 'We’ll Meet Again’, ‘White Cliffs of Dover’ and ‘We’ll Gather Lilacs' was just spine-tingling, revivifying these hoary standards with real emotion. 

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