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Posts Tagged ‘@sohoplace’

My first Medea was at the Edinburgh Festival in its hey day, in the University Quad, in the open air in the rain, in Japanese with a man playing the title role. It was unforgettable and thrilling. Since then there was Diana Rigg at the Almeida and her daughter Rachael Sterling in Mike Bartlett’s reinvention for Headlong. The second Almeida outing with Kate Fleetwood was a slight misfire, but Helen McCrory’s career defining performance on the Olivier stage topped the lot. I’m fascinated by this 2500 year-old play.

Medea’s man Jason decides to trade up to a royal model, hoping to keep Medea as his mistress, but she’s having none of it. She engineers the death of his intended Glauce, getting her dad King Creon as a bonus, then she commits the ultimate crime by killing their sons, before an elaborate escape courtesy of the gods it seems. It’s staged here in-the-round with no design as such, a few props, a chorus of three and Ben Daniels playing multiple roles including Creon and Jason. It therefore relies entirely on the performances and Daniels and Sophie Okonedo rise to the occasion.

The trouble is that the space and Dominic Cooke’s production just aren’t big enough to capture the epic scale of the story. Having the chorus within the audience is a great idea, but falls a bit flat with only three. There’s even more happening offstage in this production, which made me feel like I’d have preferred to be at that play. For once a small space brings intimacy but loses scale. Go for the acting and sit as close as you can.

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The first full year of theatre going since 2019 and I saw 129 shows in the 42 weeks I was in the UK (my travels resumed too!). A good indication of its quality was that a third made my long list.

BEST NEW PLAY – PATRIOTS at the Almeida Theatre & MIDDLE at the NT’s Dorfman Theatre

It was a particularly good year for new plays, perhaps because playwrights had more time during lockdown to craft and perfect their work. There were twenty contenders and after much deliberation 7 rose above the rest. Nell Leyshon’s Folk at Hampstead, about the song collecting of Cecil Sharp, proved a real treat, as did Marvellous, the life-affirming inaugural offering @sohoplace about the extraordinary Neil Baldwin. At the National, an adaptation of Sheriden’s restoration comedy The Rivals, Jack Absolute Flies Again, was by far the funniest new play, whilst down the road at the Young Vic The Collaboration was a fascinating examination of an unlikely relationship between two artistsWarhol & Basquiat. Prima Facie was a great play exposing the broken legal system of trials for sexual offences, but it was really all about the sensational star performance from Jodie Comer. It was two plays about relationships – Peter Morgan’s Patriots, about Berezovsky, the kingmaker of both Putin & Abramovitch and David Eldridge’s Middle about the divergence of a couple in mid-life, that stood out most.

BEST REVIVAL – The Crucible & The Corn Is Green at the NT and Handbagged at The Kiln Theatre

I couldn’t choose between the three, and there were six other very good contenders too. I’ve seen quite a few productions of The Crucible, but few had the intensity of the NT’s revival in the Olivier. Next door in the Lyttelton, what made The Corn is Green was the addition of singing by the miners, fully anchoring the play in Wales. I was surprised how much Handbagged, about the relationship between Thatcher and the Queen, resonated twelve years on and how clever and funny it still was.

The six ‘bubbling under’ were the return of Jerusalem after 13 years as good if not better than before, two Shakespeare’s at the NT – Much Ado About Nothing and Othello, Age of Rage – a Greek Tragedy ‘mash up’ from Amsterdam, a timely revival of Roy Williams’ Sing Yer Heart Out For The Lads in Chichester and To Kill A Mockingbird, transferred from Broadway to The West End.

BEST NEW MUSICAL – TAMMY FAYE at The Almeida

Every year is a lean year for new musicals these days, but this new musical had it all – great book, lyrics and music, given an audacious production with as fine a set of performances as you could hope for.

The Band’s Visit, about an Egyptian band lost in Israel, was a joy, understated and full of hope, which could have won in any other year. I loved Newsies too, but more as a dance showcase than a musical. The others on the long list were Mandela at the Young Vic, Local Hero in Chichester, Bonnie & Clyde in the West End and The Lion, though I was late to that party.

BEST MUSICAL REVIVAL – Spring Awakening at The Almeida, Crazy for You in Chichester and Billy Elliott at Curve Leicester.

A leaner than usual year for musical revivals; covid related costs and delays I suspect, but these three matched (Billy) or bettered (Crazy For You and Spring Awakening) all previous productions. Four of the seven contenders were in the regions (the other two being a terrific revival of Gypsy in Buxton and Terry Gilliam’s Into the Woods exiled to Bath). As much as I enjoyed Cabaret at the Kit Kat Club and Oklahoma at the Young Vic, they didn’t match these three.

So that’s it for another year. Here’s to as much, if not more, in 2023.

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