From the hilarious to the harrowing, twenty-eighteen brought some incredible performances to the UK theatre scene, both on a fringe and mainstream level.
I always find it hard to summarise my opinions on all the shows I see in one year, and it seems that each calendar-recycling day I end up feeling more and more daunted by such a task. In twenty-eighteen I watched thirty-seven shows, and so, unsurprisingly, narrowing this list down to what I believe to be the three best was no easy task, though as always, possibly more-so with theatre than any other art form, subjectivity plays a terrifically important role in ranking such artistic experiences; indeed, there is no arbitrary way to grade or organise art in terms of competence, relevancy or quality – the beauty is totally in the eye of the beholder. These are just my personal favourites – but my god did I like them.
3. The Body – Cider With Rosie
By Nick Darke. Performed at The Cider Works, Crediton 10-12th July 2018. Directed by Racheal Vowles.
I am truly ashamed to say that, before stumbling upon this wonderfully bizarre text and production by the Cornish play-write, politician, beachcomber and all round general fucking legend Nick Darke, I was completely unaware of him or his wonderful texts. I understand he has a tendency to divide opinion – and certainly, I will acknowledge that the brutally surreal and relentlessly unpredictable nature of this farcical play isn’t for everyone, but I for one loved it. Not only did this unlikely rural production uncover a true partly forgotten gem of British play-writing, its energised, committed and frankly hilarious cast bought to it a very distinct charm, competency, silliness and subtle darkness that created the perfect dichotomy in which to present the text and its backwards narrative. Not forgetting of course the wonderful setting – a working Cider mill; airy, cold, and full of dangerous but slightly funny possibilities, much like the story itself, The Body dragged the word ‘theatre’ kicking and screaming into the world of twenty-first century community arts projects, and stuck a conking great red nose on it. This production was a true bit of gold-dust – incredibly hard to fault at all, bar some perhaps slightly drawn out segments more due to the nature of the script and not the performance – I would unreservedly recommend seeing it again if its revived, or indeed anything by Cider With Rosie in the future. Racheal Vowles’ direction has been proved by this show to be truly spellbinding and wickedly hilarious. A triumph of small-scale theatre.
2. Labels – Worklight Theatre
By Joe Sellman-Leava. On tour 15th – 21st July 2018.
Labels was paradoxically both technically simple and logistically complicated, whilst retaining a beautifully multi-faceted and real story-line. With Joe Seaman-Leava’s performance leaving a brilliantly frank and assured comment upon race politics in our current social climate, it’s no wonder that Worklight have received widely positive responses to the production. A poignant way to conclude the running of Exeter’s most unusual theatre, The Bike Shed (may its legacy rest in such pieces), the show’s tendency to hope for the better seemed both admirable and indeed minorly depressing – that we haven’t already achieved better, that is. Much of the piece revolves around Joe’s own anecdotes from growing up in rural England as a mixed race man, and at times, despite his jovial style, amazing capability for impressions and effortless stage presence, the piece can be incredibly hard to watch. It paints a sad yet incredibly truthful picture of the racism we can so easily forget about unless we are directly faced with it. A stellar performance only slightly let down by structural aspects and at times perhaps a slight over-reliance on comedy; in reality the issues at hand are so grave, important and genuine, there’s no need for such engagement tactics. People should listen regardless, and indeed it seems that they do, if only because of Joe’s no-nonsense, ego-less attitude to the topic and performance. It feels more like a conversation with a friend than a solo piece, and at that, a very important one.
1. Amadeus – National Theatre
By Peter Shaffer. Performed at The National Theatre, London (Olivier Stage) 22nd January-24th April.
The very thought of Amadeus still gives me goosebumps to this day as I write this, even though it’s been a fucking year since I watched it. Lucian Msamati’s depiction of Salieri is masterful, and Adam Gillen’s Mozart, whilst at first potentially hard to get into and perhaps overly clownish at certain moments, proves otherwise pitch perfect and manically gorgeous. The Southbank Sinfonia’s violently precise movements, re-mixing classical tunes into rock-steady beats of strings and serenity add another incredible aspect to this wonderful realisation of Peter Shaffer’s text. It goes without saying that any future performances crafted by seemingly much-under-watched award-winning director Micheal Longhurst are absolutely worth trying to experience, as this incredible monster of storytelling proves undoubtedly his incredible capabilities in forming theatre that can be as architecturally complex as it is relatable. With an effortless passage through time and tale there is, in my opinion, only one word that summarises the production and indeed the man himself who it is so covertly named after: Magnificent.
-Toby Moran Mylett