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.
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)