Tuesday 31 December 2019

Review of 2019: Theatre - 10 Favourite Productions

Pomysłowe Mebelki z Gąbki, Teatr Studyjny

"Nabrzmałe probleeemy!" If you were lucky enough to catch Mariusz Grzegorzek's exhilarating extravaganza - a rollercoaster ride through Polish culture high and low, historical and contemporary - then it wasn't really necessary to see another show this year. Satire, surrealism, all kinds of song, silliness, seriousness, uproarious humour and deep emotion (plus tap-dancing!)... the marvellous Mebelki had it all - including, in its tirelessly inventive, multitasking ensemble of Łódź Film School graduates, a constellation of stars of the future.  Review here.

The Antipodes, National Theatre
The reception was more lukewarm than it usually is for an Annie Baker play with The Antipodes, suggesting that the appeal of Baker's brand of slightly calculated mumblecore-ish naturalism may be wearing thin. For me, though, this singular exploration of storytelling created a relaxed feeling between rapture and boredom unlike anything I've ever experienced in the theatre. Especially with this cast - Conleth Hill, Sinead Matthews, Arthur Darvill, Fisayo Akinade, and Stuart McQuarrie among them - delivering tales both mundane and fantastic. 

Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes, Orange Tree

Formal and linguistic playfulness bely a serious examination of loss and the relationship of language to experience in Tiago Rodrigues' Sadness and Joy in the Life of Giraffes in which an inquisitive 9-year-old (terrific Eve Ponsonby) and her memorably foul-mouthed teddy bear embark on an imaginative odyssey across Lisbon, one rendered with hilarity and poignancy in Wiebke Green's breathless, barmy and dazzling production. More Portuguese plays for UK stages, please. 

Death of a Salesman, Young Vic/Picadilly  
Fantastic performances by a cast including Wendell Pierce, Sharon D. Clarke and Joseph Mydell ignited Marianne Elliott and Miranda Cromwell's game-changing production.

Po Ptakach, Teatr CHOREA/Earthfall

Co-directed by Tomasz Rodowicz with Jessica Cohen and Jim Ennis, Po Ptakach takes off from The Birds, using Aristophanes's comedy as the basis for a distinctive and immersive piece of physical theatre that gives the themes of the original fresh potency. One of many highlights of this summer's Retroperspektywy festival

Wife, Kiln Theatre

Placing and tracing queer currents in and around A Doll's House, Samuel Adamson's sharply funny and touching decades-spanning drama offered a generous but unsentimental look at theatre's ability to preserve continuity and inspire change -for actors and audience members alike. Review here

My Mother Said I Never Should (UK touring)

The most frequently performed work by a female playwright worldwide, it's not hard to see the appeal of Charlotte Keatley's My Mother Said I Never Should: the play offers a distilled yet subtly expansive look at British women's lives across the 20th century. Both embracing and subverting "kitchen sink" realism, Michael Cabot's sensitive and beautifully acted production did justice to the play's focus on the sadnesses and pleasures of working- and middle-class lives. 

Śliskie słowa,  Teatr Studyjny

"Harlem River," Żabka meltdowns, slacklining and headstanding... The final Łódź Film School Diploma show of 2019, directed by Artur Urbanski, was a devised experiment, patchy but delivering some unforgettable, powerful moments.

Three Sisters, National Theatre

When not succumbing to heavy-handed blame-the-Brits didacticism, Inua Ellams's relocation of play to the context of the Biafran War made for a sometimes revelatory reimagining of Three Sisters, bringing into focus connections between national and domestic strife.

The Mikvah Project, Orange Tree 

A portrait of desire in conflict with culture, Josh Azouz's The Mikvah Project unfolds a love story between two very different Jewish men who meet every Friday to take part in the religious ritual of water submersion. With a design that opens a pool in the OT floor, Georgia Green's audience-inclusive production sustains a palpable erotic tension, while also indulging in some broad humour, especially in a manic Alicante interlude. Nice news that the  production is returning to the Orange Tree next year

Photos: Mariusz Grzegorzek, Johan Persson,  Tristram Kenton, Alistair Muir, Rami Shaya, Geraint Lewis, Manuel Harlan, Brinkhoff/Moegenburg, Robert Day, Aleksandra Pawlowska 

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