Saturday, 16 March 2019

Theatre Review: Angels in America (Anioły w Ameryce) (Teatr Studyjny, Łódź)

Due to the challenge of its length, the extravagance of some of its rhetoric and imagery, and its self-consciousness about its status as an Important American Play, we've become used to thinking of Tony Kushner's Angels in America: A Gay Fantasia on National Themes as a huge, starry spectacle: a perspective compounded by Mike Nichols's imperfect 2003 mini-series adaptation for HBO. Yet it's worth remembering Kushner's remarks in his "Playwright's Note" prefacing Part Two of the saga, "Perestroika": "The play benefits from a pared-down style of presentation, with minimal scenery and scene shifts done rapidly [...,] employing the cast as well as stagehands - which makes for an actor-driven event, as this must be." 

That's precisely the approach taken by Małgorzata Bogajewska in her new production of the play at Łódź's Teatr Studyjny. "An actor-driven event" is what this staging, in particular, has to be, since Bogajewska's production is the second Diploma Show for the 2018/2019 graduating contingent of Acting Students at Łódź Film School. This production doesn't rival the first - Mariusz Grzegorzek's thrilling Fever (Pomysłowe Mebelki z Gąbki) - for overall jaw-dropping impact. But it offers some indelible moments and provides the talented cast (several of them familiar from Fever) with multiple opportunities to shine. 

Drawing wholesale on diverse American cultural and historical traditions, Kushner's play has a lot on its mind: it attempts to create a fluid myth structure to explore identity politics, religion, economics and the AIDS crisis in the Reaganite '80s, and boasts characters whose garrulousness can be equal parts exciting and exhausting. The text is well known in Poland not only thanks to the HBO series but also Krzysztof Warlikowski's prize-winning Warsaw production of 2007. Presenting only Part One of the play, "Millennium Approaches," Bogajewska's production inevitably feels a bit truncated; a certain amount of context is lost, and the play's humour is sometimes under-served. (Though the punchline to the gag about the Kosciuszko Bridge being "named after a Polack" inevitably gets a reaction here.)

Yet other elements emerge freshly illuminated in this staging. When it comes to representations of desire, Bogajewska is not a director to hold back - as evidenced by her production of Gabriela Zapolska's 1907 play Ich Czworo, in which Gabriela Muskała and Sambor Czarnota shared a riotous table-top sex scene that prompted two shocked patrons to flee the theatre. And Joanna Jaśko-Sroka's spare approach to the design of this Angels doesn't preclude some wonderfully eccentric touches and moments of bold physicality.

Using the deep stage effectively, Bogajewska keeps the proceedings clear and fluid in the scenes of parallel action and dialogue. With a piano ever-present, several sequences are given a delirious nightclub cabaret vibe, with a bald-headed Belize (played by a female cast member, Isabella Dudziak) crooning "Blue Velvet" and "Why Don't You Do Right?" - the latter song brilliantly recontextualised here as a marginalised character's rebuke to the powerful.

Music, in fact, is an important component throughout, the production seemingly seeking to create a soundtrack of '70s and '80s queer-associated artists. Elżbieta Zajko's Harper assesses her marital woes to the strains of Barbra Streisand's "Woman in Love," while, in their shared hallucination, she and Prior (Robert Ratuszny), bond to Queen's "I'm Going Slightly Mad." Sebastian Śmigielski's Man in the Park is garbed like an escapee from Frankie Goes to Hollywood's "Relax" video (Bernard Rose version). More elaborate musical moments - such as an Antarctica bop to "Stayin' Alive" - feel rather forced. But the appearances of the Angel are sensationally effective: spotlighted and sporting Stars and Stripes shorts, Wiktoria Stachowicz's heavenly messenger spreads her wings at the microphone: a punk rock apparition.

There's much to admire in the performances. Kamil Rodek captures the conflicts of the closeted Mormon Joe, his desire and fear startlingly visualised in an unforgettable "wrestling with the angel" moment. Zajko brings both vulnerability and strength to her characterisation of the struggling spouse, retaining her dignity even when kitted out in a bubbly balloon ensemble for the fantasy sequences. Robert Ratuszny's depiction of Prior's physical decline is harrowing, his coughing fits so convincing that they set off contagious bouts in the audience. Ratuszny's scenes with Mateusz Grodecki are intense, and Grodecki finds some surprising sympathetic notes in Louis, the lover who abandons him.

Paweł Głowaty, also the production's choreographer, is exceptional as Roy Cohn, bringing relish to the character's menace, and using voice and posture to evoke age and arrogance in a way that's uncanny for such a young actor. The sensitive Ksenia Tchórzko maximises her appearances as the Rabbi and Hannah, contributing two of the production's most moving moments in the mother/son phone-call scene with Joe - brilliantly staged here to bring the characters into physical proximity that belies their emotional distance - and in the encounter between Cohn and the ghost of Ethel Rosenberg.

Without giving too much away, the scene that Bogajewska chooses to bring the evening to a close is surprising yet satisfying, as it offers a gesture towards "Perestroika" and, with particular poignancy for a Polish production, makes this an Angels book-ended by the sound of Jewish voices.

Anioły w Ameryce is currently booking at Teatr Studyjny between 20 - 22 March, 12-14 April and 29 - 30 April. Further information here.

Production images: Filip Szkopiński and Dariusz Pawelec 

Thursday, 7 March 2019

Tuesday, 26 February 2019

Preview: Cinema Made in Italy 2019, Ciné Lumière, 26 February - 3 March 2019

When I interviewed Cinema Paradiso's Salvatore Cascio a couple of months ago, the actor remarked on the current situation for Italian films worldwide: "In terms of quality cinema, we have a lot of talent, but the problem is selling our films: it often happens that they are not seen as widely as they should be internationally." While there are occasional exceptions to that rule - Alice Rohrwacher's widely praised Happy as Lazzaro springs to mind - it's true that many new Italian films tend to go under-seen and under-celebrated.

As noted in previous years, that state of affairs makes the annual Cinema Made in Italy season a particularly welcome addition to London's cultural calendar. Now in its 9th edition, the six-day festival, organised by Istituto Luce-Cinecittà, with the support of the Italian Cultural Institute in London, and taking place at Institut Francais's Ciné Lumière, gives Londoners the opportunity to catch a range of new productions that would otherwise remain inaccessible. This year's programme of ten films, judiciously selected, as usual, by Film London CEO Adrian Wootton, is typically wide-ranging, encompassing crowd-pleasing comedies, relationship dramas, and politically conscious fables, and supplemented by post-screening discussions with filmmakers and cast members.

This year's opening night film is one that is sure to be widely distributed: Paolo Sorrentino’s Loro reunites the director with longtime collaborator Toni Servillo for an all-over-the-shop Berlusconi satire, with actress Elena Sofia Ricci in attendance for a Q&A after the screening. Classic cinema, meanwhile, is represented by Bernardo Bertolucci's still-vibrant The Conformist, featured as a tribute to the director who died last November.

Two films with a Cannes pedigree - having screened in the 2018 Un Certain Regard and Directors’ Fortnight competitions respectively - are among the most distinctive. Valeria Golino’s Euphoria (Euforia), the actress/filmmaker's second feature after the acclaimed Miele (2013), casts Riccardo Scamarcio and Valerio Mastandrea as two contrasting brothers, Matteo and Ettore. Matteo is a gay big city businessman while Ettore is a teacher who's stayed in their provincial home town and left his wife and child for a younger lover, a relationship which has also foundered. When Ettore is diagnosed with cancer, the control freak Matteo takes it upon himself to hide the seriousness of his brother's prognosis from the family and indeed from Ettore himself, moving him in to his palatial Rome flat, which allows the brothers to get to know each other better.

Combining sharp odd couple comedy and melodramatic fraternal bonding, the central premise of Euphoria is not entirely convincing, but scene by scene the film engages and sometimes surprises. While the drama is told from Matteo's point of view, Golino and her co-writers are fair to both brothers' perspectives. Mastrandrea is a touching presence and Scamarcio, previously seen brooding fetchingly in the likes of Vincenzo Marra's First Light, complements his Loro turn with another lively and charismatic performance. There are bumps along the way, but a lovely ending redeems some of the more forced moments.

Gianni Zanasi's Lucia's Grace (Troppa Grazia), which competed in the Cannes Directors' Fortnight, stars Alba Rohrwacher as the heroine of the title, a single mother who works as a land surveyor and who discovers that an ambitious building project is environmentally unsound. What could be a Dardennes premise takes a transcedent turn with a surprising apparation: that of the Virgin Mary, no less, who lobbies Lucia to build a church on the site. Adhering to a comedic tone for the most part, Zanasi's film is more successful in its presentation of Lucia's real world relationships than the fantastic aspects, but Rohrwacher's astute performamce holds the disparate elements together.

Valerio Mieli’s Remember? (Ricordi?) is an ambitious and philosophically-minded romance that's narratively tricksy yet somewhat lugubrious in its tracing of the love story between Luca Marinelli and Linda Caridi's unnamed protagonists. When they meet, he's a miserabilist hipster and she's a winsome dream girl; the film shows a shift in those positions through the couple's many years of interactions. With a script that tends to allow the characters to state the themes, Remember?'s most...memorable element is the associative editing, used interestingly - if insistently - to show how places can trigger reminiscence.

Two less mannered dramas have volatile, down-on-their-luck singers as their protagonists. Bonifacio Angius's second feature Wherever You Are (Ovunque Proteggemi) casts Alessandro Gazale as a hard-drinking has-been who, incarcerated in a mental ward, comes into contact with a young woman (Francesca Niedda), whom he ultimately assists in helping her and her son (Antonio Angius), bumbling his way towards redemption in the process. By turns abrasive and tender, Angius's compelling road movie ambushes you with emotion at the end. 

A mother/son bond is also central to We'll Be Young and Beautiful (Saremo Giovani e Bellissimi) the debut feature by Letizia Lamartire, which charts the renegotiation of the relationship between Isabella (Barbora Bobulova) - a one hit wonder of the 90s who's still singing her signature song "Tick Tock" at a bar a few times a week - and her son Bruno (Alessandro Piavani) who serves as her guitarist but is harbouring different musical ambitions. Occasionally contrived, and much too heavily Oedipal in its later stages, We'll Be Young and Beautiful benefits from lively musical interludes and vivid performances from Bobulova and Piavani, adding up to probably the best mother/son melodrama since Xavier Dolan's Mommy.

Finally, comedies, sometimes hybridised with unexpected genre elements, are well-represented in this year's selection. Paolo Zucca's absurdist farce The Man Who Bought the Moon mixes conventional culture clash comedy with elements of wild inventiveness, while Paolo Virzi, fresh from directing Donald Sutherland and Helen Mirren in the likeable American road movie The Leisure Seeker, combines satire and noir in Magical Nights (Notti Magiche), which explores the golden age of Italian cinema in Rome through the tale of three aspiring screenwriters (Mauro Lamantia, Irene Vetere and Giovanni Toscano) who turn out to be the main suspects in the murder of a famous producer. 

More modest, but definitely more relatable, is Duccio Chiarini’s The Guest (L’Ospite), a delightful comedy-drama that follows its hero Guido (Daniele Parisi) a taken-for-granted literature professor who's approaching 40, as he finds himself sofa-surfing following a break up with his partner. As such, he's privy to the less-than-ideal domestic arrangements and complicated romantic entanglements of his parents, friends and colleagues, which the film views with a wryly sympathetic eye. Along with a smart script, crisp editing and good performances, the most charming thing about The Guest is that it doesn't take the expected route. The opening scene suggests a ribald sex comedy, but the movie becomes sweeter, sadder and mature in its perspective on romantic and professional compromise. Directing confidently throughout, Chiarini brings his light but wise film together beautifully in a perfect final shot.

Cinema Made in Italy is aCiné Lumière between 26 February and 3 March. Further information here

Wednesday, 6 February 2019

Theatre Review: Cougar (Orange Tree Theatre)

Charlotte Randle and Mike Noble in Cougar
 (Photo: The Other Richard)

Benefiting from a whip-smart production by Chelsea Walker, Rose Lewenstein's Cougar brings a nervy, sometimes feral intensity to the Orange Tree stage. I only saw one play by Lewenstein so far - her elegant and touching drama about three generations of Jewish women, Now This is Not the End - but that didn't prepare me for Cougar which is an altogether wilder, weirder beast. 

A series of short hotel room-set scenes, presented in jumbled chronology, constitute the piece. All of the scenes involve Leila and John, a couple who hook up during a conference. He's a barman and she's a leading figure in corporate sustainability who jets around the world, promoting the "Green Agenda" to international companies. As their affair develops, Leila takes John on her trips, paying his way, and warning him not to fall in love with her. This arrangement gets tested by various factors, not least the ever-deteriorating condition of the world itself. 

With its hotel rooms setting, and focus on sex and power plays therein, Cougar superficially evokes John Donelley's The Pass. But Lewenstein's more surprising play has grander thematic designs, and ambitions that are hearteningly big. The play touches on a range of fashionable interrelated topics - #MeToo, Trump, climate change - but only occasionally (such as Leila asking John: "Are you consenting?") do those elements feel too calculated. Consumption, at both macro and micro levels, is the governing idea, and feminist sloganeering of the "Burn it all down" variety is avoided for something knottier and ultimately more provocative.

Charlotte Randle and Mike Noble in Cougar
 (Photo: The Other Richard)

The characterisation of Leila is particularly intriguing in this regard. An "impenetrable" compartmentalist, unwilling to say "Me Too" and with a desire to be "bought" by a man (imagine the outcry if David Hare had come up with this!), she comes close to "dysfunctional career woman" cliche. But Charlotte Randle's intelligent, carefully modulated performance - which shifts from sensuality to icy contempt in a hair's breadth - creates a fascinating, credible character. Mike Noble is equally compelling, as he shows John grappling with his place in this dynamic, pointing out the paradoxes in Leila's position as "a climate-change celebrity" and attempting to orientate himself via the Lonely Planet app before the cities that the couple find themselves in begin to blur. 

Indeed, as Rosanna Vize's set gets progressively trashed, Cougar takes on a hallucinatory quality, its "snapshot" structure, repetitions and mirrorings complemented by a subtly unsettling sound design by Alexandra Faye Braithwaite and superb lighting by Jess Bernberg (who did such an exquisite job on Jonathan Humphrey's 2017 production of The Death of Ivan Ilyich). Bernberg's work, in particular, contributes powerfully to the story-telling here, as it skillfully delineates temporal and location shifts as well as providing a few moments of startling exposure. Walker keeps the rhythm tight, sharp and coiled throughout, with scenes snapping off and resuming in unexpected places.

Overall, Cougar memorably conveys the hothouse atmosphere of a fraught affair while gesturing at the wider resonances beyond its claustrophobic parameters. This take on relationship upheaval and pending apocalypse will probably polarise people, but Walker's haunting production deserves to be a big success.  

Cougar is at the Orange Tree until 2 March. Further information here

Tuesday, 5 February 2019

Film Review: If Beale Street Could Talk (dir. Jenkins, 2018)

Adapting James Baldwin's 1974 novel, Barry Jenkins follows up the Oscar-winning Moonlight (2016) with another artful - but more fraudulent feeling - narrative of African American male victimhood. Here the setting is 1970s Harlem, where a young couple, Tish and Fonny, are starting to make a life for themselves. Childhood friends, the pair's bond has turned to romantic love, and Tish is expecting their child. But any potential for happiness is interrupted when Fonny is falsely accused of rape and incarcerated pending sentencing. 

An avowed admirer of Claire Denis, Jenkins demonstrates her influence in the attention that he pays to ambience in If Beale Street Could Talk. With Moonlight cinematographer James Laxton again at the helm, the film boasts striking images that, at their best, create a hypnotic quality with the addition of Nicholas Britell's jazz score. 

Unfortunately, also like Denis, Jenkins sometimes has problems dramatising his material and the fragmentary, nonlinear structure inhibits involvement here. Many of the interactions simply fail to convince. A crowd-pleasing argument between  the protagonists' parents - in which his holy roller mother (Aunjanue L. Ellis) gets
 what's coming to her - is offensive, poorly acted, and painfully overpitched, while a late detour to Puerto Rico, where Tish's mother (Regina King) goes to track down Fonny's accuser, is particularly awkward. The occasional use of photographs to link Fonny's incarceration to the wider historical context of African American male suffering render the film a calculated, heavy-handed "Black Lives Matter" treatise.  

Much of Baldwin's florid language (including Tish's narration) seems to have been preserved wholesale from the book. But, while arguably pungent on the page, spoken as dialogue it has an artificial air that grates more than it entrances, and neither KiKi Layne, as Tish, nor Stephan James, as Fonny, manage to overcome the posed fakery of the whole conception. There are scattered elements that engage in Jenkins' film, and a long scene between Fonny and his friend, Daniel (excellent Brian Tyree Henry, who gives the movie's finest performance), in which the pair talk about their experiences and limited options, proves a highlight. But coming after the carefully-crafted Moonlight, If Beale Street Could Talk must count as a considerable disappointment.

If Beale Street Could Talk is out in the UK on 8 February. 

Monday, 14 January 2019

Theatre Review: Fever (Pomysłowe Mebelki z Gąbki) (Teatr Studyjny, Łódź)

Premiered in November, and already honoured at FIESAD, Morocco's International Drama Schools Festival (where it collected two prizes), Mariusz Grzegorzek's Fever (more opaque Polish title: Pomysłowe Mebelki z Gąbki) now returns to its "home town" to confound, challenge, delight and excite audiences anew. This production is the Diploma Show of the Acting Students at Łódź Film School, and, as such, serves as something of a showcase for the emerging talents of one of Poland's most prestigious and storied institutions. Since the 2018 Diploma Film from the school, Jagoda Szelc's Monument, was one of the best things that I saw on screen last year, and Grzegorzek's production of Jennifer Haley's The Nether was one of the best that I saw on stage, Fever seemed the ideal occasion to make my first visit to Teatr Studyjny, particularly as the performance was subtitled in English (which the theatre plans to make a more regular feature of its productions). 

And so it proved. By turns playful and political, serious and silly, raucous and reflective, the 3 hour Fever roars across the stage with dynamic youthful energy from its opening moments. Dance, music, poetry, trash TV and worrying Web 2.0 culture are among the grab bag of modes and cultural references that the show draws from. The kaleidoscopic collage structure of the piece both imitates and subverts the restlessness of Internet surfing or TV channel hopping by mobilising those tendencies for avant garde theatrical purposes. The audience is seduced and challenged by being whisked briskly from one contrasting scenario to the next then surprised with longer sequences that require sustained and immersive engagement.

Inevitably some of the scenes and interludes are more successful than others. But the mixing of wildly heterogenous material generates its own cumulative excitement. Fluidity is the name of the game here, with the show leaping from punk (an exhilarating shared scream through Buzzcocks' "Ever Fallen in Love") to classical (David Lang's "The Little Match Girl Passion") to a hilariously filthy take on Disco Polo ("Ass Dance"). 

The shifts from wicked parody to heart-wrenching sincerity test the vocal and physical prowess of the multi-tasking cast of 13 - Izabella Dudziak, Mateusz Grodecki, Faustyna Kazimierska, Karol Nowiński, Piotr Pacek, Anna Paliga, Zuzanna Puławska, Robert Ratuszny, Aleksandra Skraba, Michał Surosz, Ksenia Tchórzko, Filip Warot and Elżbieta Zajko - who work together wonderfully well. At times - lined up and striding towards us - they suggest a mob: insolent and looking for trouble. At others - when forming a supportive circle or gently holding on to Tchórzko's hair - they're an empathetic, caring coterie. We're clearly seeing the emergence of some Polish stage and screen stars of the future here. 

The amount of time given over to the TV reality show parody "Nabrzmiałe Problemy" ("Swollen Problems") - which documents a Łódź teen love triangle - may seem excessive, but the constant switching up of the performers keeps it fresh and funny. Check out, for instance, the brilliantly contrasting ways in which the actors playing the TV announcer approach that role, offering sinister relish (Filip Warot), cool dismissiveness (Robert Ratuszny), sincere interest (Mateusz Grodecki) and self-satisfied camp pose-striking (magnetic Piotr Pacek). Meanwhile, Aleksandra Skraba, Zuzanna Puławska, Izabella Dudziak and Elżbieta Zajko (the latter two also feature in Grzegorzek's Czarownice z Salem) all distinguish themselves with their memorable takes on the show's highly-strung heroine, Sandra. (And be warned: the hilariously inane theme tune of "Swollen Problems" is a definite earworm.) 

Complementing such sharing of roles, notions of family relationships and community form a thematic throughline, as the show slyly addresses the question posed by Bradley Cooper in A Star is Born's "Shallow" (and quoted early on here): "Tell me something, girl, are you happy in this modern world?" The brashness of the TV show parody is contrasted with sober sections dedicated to Hutsul customs in which attention to community rituals gives the performance a charged collective and historical sense. Some of the most potent moments of the night draw deeply from Polish literary tradition and history, too: witness the rousing choral rendition of the Gall Anonim/Czesław Niemen "Pieśń wojów" ("Warrior Song") or the grotesque and absurdist take on Władysław Bełza's poem "Kłamstwo brudzi" ("Lies Stain"). We're then brought bang up-to-date again with a daring sequence that directly confronts xenophobia and recent political woes. 

Grzegorzek's visionary directorial signatures are, of course, much in evidence, including projections that range from trippy psychedelia to simple black-and-white beauty (with a twist), while the sensational costume designs of Tomasz Armada (alum of Łódź Academy of Fine Arts and co-founder of the Limanka Fashion House) also ensure that the production is a visual feast as well as an aural one. Fine vocal coaching from Izabela Połońska and highly creative choreography from Mateusz Rzeźniczak further contribute to the dynamism of the event. 

The most breathtaking sequence is saved for last - an expressionist rendering of the bloody, tragic folk ballad "Four Miles From Warsaw," accomplished with bowls of water, towels, a sheet, brilliant accordian-playing from Leszek Kołodziejsk - and spine-tingling vocal and physical commitment from the whole cast. It's hard to imagine seeing a more transfixing and imaginative piece of staging this year. Yet that's not everything, after all. Following the intensity of that sequence, a joyful, cleansing coda leaves the audience on a high as it takes us firmly into the liberating territory of Dionysus - by way of Donna Summer. I felt love. 

Fever is performed at Teatr Studyjny on 20th, 26th and 27th January. Further information here

Photo credit: Filip Szkopiński. 

Monday, 31 December 2018

Review of 2018: Theatre - 10 Favourite Productions

With knee jerk complaints about casting decisions taking up a large part of the critical "conversation"; established White critics making racist pronouncements or else bending over backwards to demonstrate their commitment to "diversity" and what Armond White has called "the identity politics fashion that dominates contemporary culture" generally at the forefront, now is surely an odd time to be involved in arts journalism. Responses may seem calculated, artistic standards may be getting shorter shrift than they should be, but for me these 10 productions all offered a powerful reminder that, in such divisive times, theatre can still be one of the best resources we have for bringing us together.

The Nether (Otchłań), Jaracz Theatre
Mariusz Grzegorzek's hallucinatory take on Jennifer Haley's The Nether mixed suspiciously glittering, velvety Victorian and spare, clinical ambience to captivating effect. With projections blossoming and blooming over the bodies of the actors, the play's exploration of the seductions of, and the perversions enabled by, the Internet was powerfully illuminated. Amidst a brilliant cast, Paulina Walendziak stood out for her amazing performance as Iris, the "shining little girl." Full review here.

The Meeting, Chichester Festival Theatre 

Absent from UK stages for far too long, it was great to reacquaint with the wise and humane voice of Charlotte Jones this year. The OT's revival of Humble Boy was a delight, but better still was Jones's new play, about conflicts in a Quaker community,  which moved and involved all who were lucky enough to see it. Here's hoping for a future Meeting down the road. Full review here.

Utility, Orange Tree
Quiet, unassuming American plays have become "a thing" in recent years, countering (a bit) the brashness of the culture at large. One of the best to make it to British shores, Emily Schwend's Utility, slipped through the net somewhat, but Caitlin McLeod's lumimous production proved totally absorbing, immersing us in the kitchen of a Texas household and the everyday dilemmas of a young mother (great Robyn Addison)  preparing for her daughter's birthday party. Full review here.

Caroline, or Change , Hampstead Theatre/Playhouse

Tony Kushner and Jeanine Tesori's masterpiece is a work that moves me so deeply and instinctively that I find it almost impossible to write about. Suffice to say (for now, anyway) that it was wonderful to revisit it in Michael Longhurst's fluid production which reminded us that when it comes to subjects for radical musical theatre, a maid at work in a basement, not Founding Fathers' history, is really where it's at.  

Fun Home, Young Vic

Less lucky than Caroline in not getting the West End transfer it deserved (for now, anyway), Sam Gold's production of Tesori's other great musical was a treat to see at the Young Vic.

Ich Czworo, Jaracz Theatre

When Gabriela meets Gabriela... Not content with giving a couple of the year's best film performances (in Fugue and 7 Emotions) Gabriela Muskala was also wickedly good (and hilarious) as the adulterous matriarch in Ich Czworo (Four of Us). Looking like a festive picture postcard, and with fabulous music adding to the joy, Malgorzata Bogajewska's production sexed up Gabriela Zapolska's 1907 play with outrageous aplomb. 

Richard II, Almeida
Distilling the play to its essence, Joe Hill-Gibbins delivered a biting production that freshly illuminated the drama with brilliant Simon Russell Beale and Leo Bill complemented by a multitasking ensemble. 

Operetka, Jaracz Theatre

A cast of 30 delivered a spiky, brilliantly choreographed production of Witold Gombrowicz's surreal satirical operetta.

Nine Night, NT/Trafalgar Studios

Natasha Gordon's funny and touching family portrait, with a magnificent Cecilia Noble, deservedly made its way to the West End. 

Hadestown, NT

I've loved Anais Mitchell's Hadestown album since first hearing it eight years or so ago. Rachel Chavkin gave the material the production it deserved in this great staging. "ALL ABOARD!"

Bonus: The Light Princess in Concert (Cadogan Hall), Three Sisters, Sexual Neuroses of Our Parents (Jaracz Theatre), Humble Boy (Orange Tree), Curtains (Rose).

Still to see: Summer and Smoke (Almeida/Duke of York's)

Disappointed: Othello (Globe)