Posts Tagged ‘LIFT 2014’

Best New Play(s) – The James Plays

First up its plays, new ones, and when I counted I was surprised to find I’d seen 75 of them, including a pleasing half-dozen at the NT. My long list only brought that down to 31 so I had to be real hard to get to the Top Ten short-list of Versailles at the Donmar, Good People & Wonderland at Hampstead, Wet House at Soho, The Visitors at the Arcola (now at the Bush), 1927’s Golem at the Young Vic and 3 Winters & The James Plays from the National Theatre of Scotland at the NT – a three-play feast which pipped the others at the post.

Best Revival (Play) – shared by Accolade and My Night With Reg

I saw fewer revivals – a mere 44! – but 18 were there at the final cut. The Young Vic had a stonking year with Happy Days, A Streetcar Named Desire & A View From a Bridge, the latter two getting into my top ten with the Old Vic’s The Crucible, the Open Air’s All My Sons (that’s no less than 3 Millers) the NT’s Medea, Fathers & Sons at the Donmar, True West at the Tricycle and the Trafalgar Transformed Richard III. In the end I copped out, unable to choose between My Night with Reg at the Donmar and Accolade at the St James.

Best New Musical – Made in Dagenham

I was a bit taken aback at the total of 25 new musicals, 10 of which got through the first round, including the ill-fated I Can’t Sing, Superman in Walthamstow (coming soon to Leicester Square Theatre) , In the Heights at Southwark and London Theatre Workshop’s Apartment 40C. I struggled to get to one from the six remaining, which included the NT’s Here Lies Love and five I saw twice – Dirty Rotten Scoundrels, Dogfight at Southwark, Hampstead’s Kinkfest Sunny Afternoon and Dessa Rose at Trafalgar Studio Two – but eventually I settled on a great new British musical Made in Dagenham.

Best Revival (Musical) – Sweeney Todd in Harrington’s Pie Shop, Tooting

An extraordinary year for musical revivals with 38 to choose from and 22 serious contenders including 7 outside London (two of which I short-listed – Hairspray in Leicester and Gypsy in Chichester) and not one but two Sweeney Tood’s! Difficult not to choose Damn Yankees at the Landor, a lovely Love Story at the Union, more Goodall with the NYMT’s The Hired Man at St James Theatre, Blues in the Night at Hackney, Sweeney Todd at the ill-fated Twickenham Theatre and Assassins at the Menier, plus the Arcola’s Carousel which was so good I went twice in its short run. In the end though, expecting and accepting accusations of bias, I have to go for the other Sweeney Todd in Harrington”s Pie Shop here in Tooting – funnier & scarier, beautifully sung & played and in the perfect location, bringing Sondheim to Tooting – in person too!

Best Out of Town – National Theatre Wales’ Mametz

I have to recognise my out-of-town theatregoing, where great theatre happens too, and some things start out (or end up!). The best this year included a superb revival of a recent Broadway / West End show, Hairspray at Leicester Curve, and one on the way in from Chichester, Gypsy, which I will have to see again when it arrives……. but my winner was National Theatre of Wales’ extraordinary Mametz, taking us back to a World War I battle, in the woods near Usk, in this centenary year.

Best Site Specific Theatre – Symphony of a Missing Room (LIFT 2014)

Finally, a site specific theatre award – just because I love them and because it’s my list, so I can invent any categories I like! Two of the foregoing winners – Sweeney Todd and Mametz – fall into this category but are  now ineligible. The two other finalists were I Do, a wedding in the Hilton Docklands, and Symphony of a Missing Room, a blindfolded walk through the Royal Academy buildings as part of LIFT, which piped the other at the post.

With some multiple visits, 2014 saw around 200 visits to the theatre, which no other city in the world could offer. As my theatrical man of the year Stephen Sondheim put it in the musical revival of the year – There’s No Place Like London.


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A fourth, unplanned, LIFT show. This one is about young people leaving home all over the world, and it’s performed by them. It’s only 50 minutes long, but it makes you think and moves you but sends you home uplifted.

The theatre at Hackney Downs Studios is more like a gym and as you walk in to this promenade performance, the cast of eleven are each in their own space and their own world – one is skipping, one looking at people in a block of flats projected onto a cardboard box (who later sings beautifully), one is drawing a cocoon-shaped mother on the floor then occupying it, one is wheeling a suitcase with an embedded screen and there is an intriguing repetitive scene where a lying girl covered in flowers is lifted and carried by pall bearers who place her upright after which she returns to lie covered in flowers once more.

There’s more movement than dialogue, some of which you don’t understand (unless you speak that language, of course). The visual images and the soundscape are compelling. Towards the end, we move to the walls as a felt football pitch is rolled out, football kit is donned and they become a team – before the descent of white balloons, and the audience, to the floor as we look at the stars to hear their final words. The strange thing is, it doesn’t matter so much about the component parts because its the overall impression it leaves you with that matters. Somehow, you better understand why.

This is a very imaginative work by Brazilian Renato Rocha, unlike anything I’ve seen before. The production standards are sky high and the quality of performances is outstanding. I’ve seen things four times as long which have left less of a mark, but don’t ask me how it did because I was so involved I wasn’t thinking about that at the time.

Another reason why LIFT is indispensable.

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Another LIFT treat after the somewhat underwhelming The Roof; this time something unique & uber-creative from Russia. This is the first time I’ve seen Dmitry Krymov’s work, but it won’t be the last.

The two loosely linked pieces take place on the Barbican Theatre stage, reconfigured during the interval from wide face-on to audience on three sides. With lots of overhead spots, it’s hot and uncomfortable, but each piece is under an hour and captivating enough to divert you from the conditions.

In the first half, we have the story of the persecution of Russian Jews, with extraordinary imagery using a wall of screens from which things and people emerge. It starts with paint splashed onto the screens and continues with still and moving images. Lo-tech spectacle but brilliant. The second piece is about the treatment of composer Shostakovich under Stalin. We first meet a puppet woman the height of three people (Mother Russia? Shostakovich’s mum?), then a young Shostakovich playing in a rickety wooden piano frame. After censorship, the composer becomes more subservient and we see him honoured, but we also see what this all takes out of him. Towards the end there is an extraordinary ‘dodgem race’ where the cast wheel seven metal pianos, clashing and colliding. The multi-talented performers include beautiful singers who come into their own in the closing scene.

Krymov is an artist and his theatre work is a combination of art installation and movement, with the minimum of dialogue and music. It’s very much a visual experience, but as visual experiences go, it’s thrilling. It conveys the essence of the tragedy of both situations more movingly than words can.

Time to book for his November visit with A Midsummer Night’s Dream, seen in 2012 in Edinburgh & Stratford but not London!

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The Roof

Another day, another headphone show. The second of my LIFT 2014 trio. Innovative company Fuel, the man behind Shunt and designer Jon Bausor. Very excited.

Doon Street Car Park, behind the NT, has acquired a compound in which you stand on gravel wearing your headphones. Elevated all around you are rooftops and two ‘rooms’. It’s a live video game. It starts slowly, but speeds up a bit – but only a bit, and its the slowness that’s the heart of the problem.

Player 611 runs around avoiding or shooting monsters, getting ‘prizes’ & popping into the smaller room which is, in turn, a radio staton, pharmacy, infirmary etc. When he completes a level, there’s some sort of ‘show’ in the larger room.

There’s music playing in your headphones and occasionally disorientating sounds that make you look over your shoulder . You’re forever turning around to follow the action. I became uncomfortable, then I got irritated, then I got bored. It’s only an hour but it doesn’t sustain its length. It was original, clever, technically accomplished and the performances were good – but it was slow and dull too, I’m afraid.

Maybe it means more if you are a video gamester?

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Over the years, LIFT has given me some extraordinary experiences, including my first exposure to Catalonia’s La Fura dels Baus and Argentina’s De La Guarda, and my 2014 trio of ‘shows’ starts with one of the most extraordinary. It will be difficult to describe this it, subtitled ‘archive of the forgotten and remembered’, particularly without spoiling it for anyone planning a visit (if you are, I suggest you end here).

When I ‘checked in’, I was told to store coats and bags and was given a neck cord for my glasses. Just six of us enter the Royal Academy of Arts main galleries, where they’re still hanging this years Summer Exhibition. After a while sitting in and walking around the galleries someone put a pair of headphones on me. A while later someone removed my glasses and put on a padded ‘blindfold’ through which I could see light, dark and colour, but nothing else. From here, I was led by a hand, sometimes two, with voices and sounds in my head, through spaces which changed temperature, moisture, light and colour.

It now all seems like a partially-recalled dream. I recall changes in elevation and texture of the surfaces on which I walked. I know I was in a lift twice, one crowded. On one occasion I was outside (it was raining!). Sometimes we were walking between locations, at others in circles, it seemed. I got hot and I got cold. When the hand let me go and I was instructed to continue, I did – I trusted my guide implicitly. An hour or so later, my blindfold was removed and I was in a large empty room with my fellow travellers. In a subsequent room, my headphones were removed and we met the man who’d put them on in the first place. Soon, we exited into a large space somewhere I don’t expect to be!

I’m not sure I’ve digested it all yet, but I do know it was unique and amongst the most fascinating experiences in more than thirty years of ‘immersive theatre’. My artistic radar will hopefully pick up other work by Swedish artists Lundahl & Seitl.

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