Thursday, December 31, 2009

"Review of the Year - 2009"

While 2009 has given us two shows that will live long in our memory, when we look back over the year it's difficult not to focus on the shows that have disappointed. But first, the two shows that were absolute stand outs of this or any other year...

"Sub Rosa" memorably took us behind the scenes at the Citizens for its gruesome tale of a long-gone theatrical company that grabbed us from start to finish. Beautifully written and performed this is a serious contender for our favourite piece of theatre - ever.

Vanishing point's "The Beggar's Opera" perhaps didn't have quite the technical perfection of "Sub Rosa", but it made up for this with an energy and visual style that made it the second of our two highlights of 2009. It may have divided opinions (as shown in the press reviews and the number of 'heckles' added to our post) but we were firmly in the camp of those who thought it was marvellous. It also gave us the clear stand out male performance for us this year - Sandy Grierson's magnificent MacHeath.

Other male performances that really impressed us during 2009 were Finlay Welsh in "Poem in October" at Oran Mor, Matthew Zajac in "The Tailor of Inverness" and both Andrew Lincoln and Toby Jones in "Parlour Song" down in London.

Andy Clark also deserves a mention here for a number of great performances in "Othello", "Tam O'Shanter" and most recently as a panto dame in "Ya Beauty & the Beast". He was also just about the best thing in both "The Last Witch" and "Hoors". Which brings us to the disappointments we spoke of...

Of course it was unfair of us to expect Gregory Burke to come up with a follow up to match "Black Watch" but "Hoors" was so far away from it we found it almost impossible to believe they shared a writer. "Confessions of a Justified Sinner" at the Lyceum was a major let down and we were left perplexed as to why Polly Stenham's "That Face" received rave reviews in London when we saw the Tron's production of it. And two of the National Theatre of Scotland's major productions - "Be Near Me" and "The House of Bernarda Alba" failed to engage or entertain us in any meaningful way. "The Last Witch" was a showpiece of the Edinburgh International Festival but only worked for us in moments and at the Fringe Grid Iron's "Barflies" was equally disappointing.

But even disappointing shows can still be memorable, and in "Barflies", Gail Watson gave the best female performance we saw this year (and she was also the one redeeming element in "The Corstorphine Road Nativity". Other impressive female performances include Sarah Haworth's strong Desdemona in "Othello" and Zoe Thorne in "Spoonface Steinberg".

Looking back this doesn't seem to have been a year full of outstanding individual performances but there were plenty of ensemble shows that made an impact. As well as "The Beggars' Opera", Vanishing Point also gave us the excellent "Interiors" and Borderline proved sequels can work with "The Ducky" (DC Jackson's follow up to "The Wall"). The National Theatre of Scotland Workshop production of "Dolls" was enchanting and XLC's "The Pillowman" was at times literally stunning. At the Fringe, You Need Me's "Certain Dark Things" was beguiling, "Kursk" was cleverly immersive and Nonsenseroom's "Ae Fond Kiss" a beautiful piece of theatre. Highlights of A Play, A Pie & A Pint at Oran Mor were David Ireland's hysterical "What the Animals Say" and Sandy Nelson's heartbreaking "The Glimmering Nymph".

So despite the disappointments there was plenty to enjoy this year. Thanks to all those who have taken our comments on their shows in good spirit and to everyone who has contributed 'heckles' over the last year. Look out next week when we will post our run through of what we'll be seeing in the first half of 2010.