Saturday, December 29, 2007

Review of the Year - 2007

It's that time of year again when we look back over all the shows we've seen in 2007 (seventy of them in total) and pick out a few of the highlights. We wouldn't dream of claiming to name the best of the year - just our own personal favourites. As with last year, categories will be made up as we go along... Waldorf has added her comments in italics...

For my favourite professional male performance it's hard to look beyond Alan Cumming in "The Bacchae" who managed to truly capture the audience. As a result it left the show unbalanced and lacking when he was off stage, but I doubt I'll see a more commanding performance in terms of sheer stage presence. But I don't think it was the most impressive male performance I saw this year - that belongs to Tom Smith for his roles as the Writer & Sergeant in "Black Watch". His portrayal of each of the two characters was so entirely convincing I had no idea it was the same actor playing both roles - I even refused to believe it when told after the show until I was shown it printed in the programme. He really didn't - it was highly amusing. Male nudity seems to have played a large part in our theatre going this year, from Alan Cumming's buttocks to Rebus McTaggart's Sharon Stone impression.

There have been a number of very strong female professional performances that come to mind from this year with Cara Kelly as the captivating "Molly Sweeney" and Eleanor Buchan as the spritely waitress in "Your Ex Lover is Dead" right up there. However it's Denise Hoey's remarkable lead performance in "The Rise and Fall of Little Voice" that still resonates several months later - and of course we also loved her as Dorothy in "The Wizard of Oz".

We caught several youth and student shows again this year and saw a number of excellent performances with particular highlights being David McNay as The Magistrate in GCNS's "Lysistrata" who made us long to see what he could do in "Rocky Horror" and Kirstie Steele's performance as Lyra in SYTs "His Dark Materials - Part I" which almost rescued a problematic show.

We also ventured into the world of amateur theatre and were hugely impressed by the high standard of performances. In particular Kim Shepherd was a revelation as Scaramouche in STF's production of "We Will Rock You" with fantastic vocals and brilliant comic acting. It was a performance that would have been worthy of a mention with the professionals noted above. Similarly, Tom Beattie's role as the father in "Ice Cream Dreams" was a perfectly pitched performance giving three dimensions to the sadness, humour and failings of his character.

My thoughts for my favourite newly created/devised production come down to two shows that really stand out. The much missed NTS Young Company's "The Recovery Position" was a stunning site specific piece while Deborah Pearson's "Your Ex Lover is Dead" was immensely entertaining while also giving the audience something to think about.

My favourite performance of an existing or adapted work has three really strong candidates. Glasgow College of Nautical Studies "Lysistrata" was an absolute joy from start to finish; The Citizens/NTS "Molly Sweeney" featured incredibly involving performances from it's strong cast; and Lauder Studio Theatre's production of the play version of "Blood Brothers" showed what a committed cast and clever direction can bring to a show.

You may have noticed the glaring absence of "Black Watch" from the last two categories - I just couldn't make up my mind which it belonged in, so I figured I'd just mention it separately - as just about the whole planet is aware by now, Black Watch is in a class of it's own, whichever category you choose to place it in. It's going to be in London in 2008, and revisits Scotland - well worth going to see and we're hoping to go again see it again.

Our visit to London this year earns Trafalgar Studios the award for most uncomfortable theatre. I'm not sure whether the air conditioning was broken or the heating jammed on full but it was like sitting in a sauna. Statler blames the rather spicy Thai curry I'd had beforehand, but I wasn't the only one waving the programme as a fan. However "Elling" made up for the discomfort. A close runner up is The Citizens' Circle Studio, which despite putting on some great shows can never be accused of being comfy - my legs are just too short. I thought the Trafalgar Studios was just fine, and as for 'problem' theatres - nothing beats the irritation factor of the creaky seats in Glasgow's Kings Theatre.

Making up 21 of our shows this year, the Edinburgh Festival deserves a comment on it's own. As already mentioned, "Blood Brothers" was a highlight, along with "Mehndi Night", "James II" and the painfully funny "Rebus McTaggart". The black comedy musical "Failed States" was a last minute addition for us but well worth it and "Venus As A Boy" showed how powerful a one man (and his musician) show can be.

For sheer spectacle of set design "The Bacchae" with its poppies descending from heavens and it's attempt to incinerate the front of the stalls has no competition. However clever set design isn't all about blowing the budget, and both "The Ballad of James II" and "The Soldier's Tale" showed what can be done simply and cleverly. Fair point about simplicity, but for me Killer Joe's incredible full size realisation of a trailer can't be beaten.

What strikes me as I look back over the year is the power individual scenes and moments in a production can have, staying with you long after the show. Denise Hoey's "Goldfinger" in "Little Voice" and Kirstin McLean flying off through an opening roof in "The Recovery Position". This was a huge highlight for me, and was a magical idea. The unexpected rendition of "Give Peace a Chance" in "Lysistrata", the entrance of the dog in "The Butler Did It?!" and the unrestrained violence of "Blood Brothers". Not forgetting the genuinely perilous swordfight in "James II" ranging around the Chapel. And then there was "The Soldier's Tale" wedding scene which left me grinning from ear to ear. Truly unforgettable moments - exactly what makes theatre so great.

Well that was 2007, and we'll shortly be posting our plans for early 2008 - and it's already looking good!

2 Heckles

Bluedog said...

That's a really intersting roundup of 2007.

Black Watch is still packing them in, and is opening in Sydney on the 10th January - it comes back to Scotland later this spring.

I was really sorry to miss The Bacchae (clashed with harvest) and we tried but failed to get tickets for Molly Sweeney. You can't get to everything!

S said...

The Bacchae was certainly one of my highlights, as is the whole Edinburgh Festival experience every year (no matter the programme, fringe or Int, always exciting).

Glad you had a good year. I've been too lazy to do a review of the year, maybe one day...