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Rev Stan's Theatre blog StOlivier awards for 2014

Champagne photo by Rev Stan

It was a year in which I was spat on, splattered with blood and humiliated - the things we audience members have to go through when watching a play. It was also the year of the dog with not one but two scene-stealing canine appearances (Two Gentlemen of Verona and Shakespeare in Love) and then, on my final theatre visit of the year, the 'ahhh-factor' ratcheted up a notch with a kitten stealing the show in Elephants. A kitten, yes. Actors don't bother speaking when there is a kitten on the stage, no one is listening.

But back to the matter in hand, yes, it is that time of year again; a time to honour and reflect on those moments that made up 2014's theatre highlights. And, a time to feel aghast all over again at some of the lowlights.

The long and short of it award

Down on the South Bank the Young Vic was having a little competition with itself over running times. Bam it hits us with a lithe, 2-hours straight-through A View From the Bridge then, pow, it counters that with a three hours 40 minutes Streetcar Named Desire. Maybe the latter was to stick one in the eye of neighbour Old Vic which at the time was running The Crucible at a good three and half hours long. I'd normally go for quality over quantity but for once the long plays got away with it.

Best use of a song

Last year was particularly notable for the use songs during plays (I'm not talking musicals). Lorde's Royals got used at the end of Charles III and then again during one of the James plays.

And I'm still haunted by the brilliant use of Chris Isaak's Wicked Game during Streetcar Named Desire. It's an ambiguous song in that it's not quite as romantic as the lyrics may initially imply. It was an ambiguity that worked perfectly for the sexually charged moment between Gillian Anderson's Blanche and Ben Foster's Stanley.

But neither of those songs gets the award, nope, it goes to David Bowie's Starman played during My Night With Reg. I'll never be able to listen to that song again without it conjuring up the bitter sweet 'dance' in Guy's flat. It was a laugh or cry moment and the song captured it perfectly.


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Theatre review 2014: It was a vintage year and this is my big best of list

Well I think we can safely say 2014 was a vintage year for theatre, just so many highlights. In June when I did a quick tally there were more than 10 potential contenders for my 'best of' list and the year just got better.

I've also seen more this year probably around 15-20 more plays than last year which has meant a bigger pool to choose from. I've already published my favourite Shakespeare's and favourite fringe lists but this is the biggy, my overall favourites from everything I've seen. These are the plays that, for me, had the most impact, left the biggest impression or were just pure unadulterated fun.

So in no particular order:

1. The Pass, Royal Court Upstairs A sharp and witty play that put fame under the spotlight and who couldn't enjoy Russell Tovey and Gary Carr running around in their Calvin Kleins. Had to have a second look of this one.

2. Good People, Noel Coward Theatre Imelda Staunton gave a tour de force performance as the fast talking Margaret in a funny and beautifully observed play that examined opportunity vs circumstance in light of the American Dream.

3. Charles III, Almeida Theatre Mike Bartlett channelled Shakespeare in this extremely clever and funny new play that imagined what Prince Charles would be like as King. It's now playing in the West End so go and see it.

4. A View From The Bridge, Young Vic This stripped back version of Arthur Miller's classic pushed the complex emotional conflicts of its key characters to the fore. It was tense and powerful and another play I had to see twice. Look out for the West End transfer this year although I don't think a huge West End stage will quite deliver the same impact - it was staged as a thrust with audience on three sides at the YV.

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Theatre review 2014: My favourite fringe productions and my fringe star

2014 was a cracking year for fringe productions, particularly new writing. Popular themes were deprivation and the break down of society but often delivered with a spark of hope in humanity and a dollop of humour. Sometimes you had to look hard to see the hope but it was there.

Alex Waldmann gets my fringe star award for appearing in two productions I loved this year, Jonah and Otto made it onto the list below and Widowers Houses gets an honourable mention.

There are a handful of fringe productions that are making an appearance on my overall best of list which I'll be publishing later today but I haven't included them here so as to make more room for more productions I loved. What can I say, its was a quality year.

In no particular order:

1. Pests, Royal Court Upstairs This was urban poetry, fresh and urgent and had a lot to say about how society is failing the young.

2. Grand Guignol, Southwark Playhouse Brilliant macabre comedy with stage blood a plenty. Perfect Hallowe'en fair.

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Theatre review 2014: My favourite Shakespeare/Jacobean productions or the two Hamlets and two Henrys

Anyone who's met me over the last few weeks will have heard my rant about 'best of lists' being released before the end of the year and here I am doing it myself but in my defence, I have seen all the Shakespeare and Jacobean drama I'm going to see for the year so there isn't a danger of a last minute entry (my last play of the year is actually tomorrow night).

Have seen far more plays in Stratford this year than previously which has bolstered the RSC's appearance in the list. Wanted to make it my top five but there are two Hamlets and two Henry IV's I had to get in (well three Henry's technically) so it's six.

In no particular order:

1. Roaring Girl, Swan Theatre  First time I've seen this play by Dekker and Middleton and came out wanting to be Lisa Dillon who plays the protagonist Moll. Brilliant end of performance dance sequence too.

2. Hamlet, Riverside Studios   Both Hamlets I saw this year make an appearance in my list and Hiraeth's prison set Hamlet at Riverside Studios was the first. It wasn't perfect but it had an energy and physicality...and an angry young Hamlet in Adam Lawrence that made it stand out. It also had some of best stage fighting I've seen this year too.

3. Hamlet, Manchester Royal Exchange Maxine Peake was my second Hamlet and brought a brilliantly youthful portrayal of the prince in a production that made Hamlet into more of a family drama, than a political one. I loved the children's performance of the play within the play and the production also gets points for not acknowledging that a woman was playing a man's role.

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Who I would add to @Polyg's W-list of actors still to see on stage

Polyg has posted a fab list of five actors she'd love to see on stage but hasn't yet, which got me thinking. I ran a similar list back in 2011 which included men and women (can now tick off Julie Walters) but it is growing. Poly's list is all male (coincidence or is there a list of actresses to come?) and I'd say a big yes to everyone for the reasons she states and add:

Andrew Garfield won awards for his stage Romeo early in his career and appeared on Broadway two years ago but 2006 was the last time he trod the boards in London. He's got such a varied body of film and TV work under his belt but stands out, for me, in those roles which require a deep emotional sensitivity. His performances have made me laugh and smile but have also had me sobbing and I think he'd be pretty special to see perform in the flesh.

Tilda Swinton returning to the stage would get me very, very excited. She spent her early career with the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh and RSC and since then has gathered such an eclectic and interesting mix of screen roles to her name. I could see her doing something avant garde with a subtle yet powerful magnetism.


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My five favourite plays of the year so far

PhotoIt's been a phenomenal year for theatre so far  and that isn't even including final performances of Ben Whishaw in Mojo and David Tennant's Richard II.

I've managed to pack in more than 40 plays (no wonder I'm tired) and at least 10 of them would earn an equivalent of five stars if I rated that way. It's going to make my end of year list very tough to decide.

What stands out from the crop of plays this year is the quality and imagination of the new writing. And, curiously, the classics that have made their mark have been either pared down and/or contemporary interpretations giving them a fresh appeal.

There are a couple of fringe productions I want to mention that haven't quite made the top five - Debris and Pests - which both exemplify contemporary writing at its most urgent and poetic. This for me is what fringe theatre is all about discovering something fresh, new and bold.

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Five London theatres with decent tickets under £20

Michael Grandage said in an interview last week that cheap West End theatre tickets are essential to attract the next generation of theatre-goers. Now while I'm much older than the age group Grandage is seeking to attract I a) go to the theatre a lot and always like a good value ticket and b) think I've got a good few decades of theatre-going left in me yet.

His comments, ironically, come at a time when a lot of West End theatres have sneakily pushed up ticket prices. Standard stalls seats seem to have risen from around £55 to £60 in the last couple of months, an increase of 9% which is way above inflation.

Now I've always thought of the West End as mainly for tourists and occasional theatre-goers with some exceptions. (*coughs* Mojo). There are plenty of places in London to see good quality theatre, with some of the best acting, writing and directing talent and without paying over the odds. Here are five such places that you can get tickets near the stage (I hate seats in the gods) for less than £20.

1. Royal Court, Sloane Square

All tickets on Monday's are £10 for both theatres. Get online at 9am on the day and you shouldn't have a problem.

2. Donmar Theatre, Covent Garden

£10 Barclays Front Row tickets go on sale, online 10 am two weeks prior. Now I only tried this when Coriolanus was on and had no luck but then it was hideously over subscribed. I do, however, know plenty of people who've successfully secured tickets for less starry productions relatively easily.

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It's a list with a stage actor/music video/Ben Whishaw theme. OK.

I've been collating this list in my head for a while but struggling to give it some sort of cohesive title. It started out as stage actors (and some film actors but I might come onto that) who are also musicians. But in compiling two subsequent themes floated to the surface: music videos and Ben Whishaw.

So in the end its a sort of themed brain-dump of a list which one or two of you might appreciate. I certainly enjoyed compiling it, mainly because it's a good excuse to listen to some music and watch some music videos.

It all started with Johnny Flynn whom I first saw on stage in The Heretic in which he played and sang. This led to some googling and the discovery of his band Johnny Flynn and The Sussex Wit whose albums I now own and love.

I've seen him in lots of plays since and he is due to play Roger Taylor in the Freddie Mercury biopic opposite Ben Whishaw as Freddie. The prospect of him acting and singing in a film alongside Mr W brings me untold joy.


Next on my list is Olly Alexander whom I first saw on stage in Mercury Fur (he'd already been on the big screen with Mr W in Bright Star. I've subsequently seen them together in Peter & Alice but prior to that I discovered that he had a band called Years and Years. And lo and behold who should pop up in the bands latest video...

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Who do you want to see play...Iago

IagoIt's a topic that comes up frequently among us theatre nerds, who we'd like to see play certain characters, so thought I would start an occasional series. Inspired by a report that Nigel Lindsay has said Iago is the next character he'd like to play (he'd be brilliant btw) I thought the Othello villain would be a good place to start.

So this is my list, who is on yours?

Ben Whishaw is my first choice, obviously. Have written before about how I'd love to see him play a real out and out baddie and we've got closer with Baby in Mojo but Iago is still on the to do list I've written for him. I think he could do a wonderful job at Iago's duplicitous persona caring and concerned friend of the butter wouldn't melt sort while gripping the bread knife firmly behind his back.

Someone else I think would be very good is Kyle Soller and probably influenced by his performance in Edward II I could see him being quite an excitable, kinetic and slightly nervous Iago.

I also fancy a charming blond bombshell Iago, someone who is beautiful on the outside but cut through with blackness on the inside in an almost surprising way. And again, because I've just seen him on stage in Ghosts, I think Jack Lowden would be interesting at this.

A curve ball and because I think gender swapping shouldn't just be the preserve of men playing women (so looking forward to Maxine Peake playing Hamlet later this year) I'd like to see Andrea Riseborough as Iago. She doesn't do enough stage work in my book and I think she could play a beautifully bitchy Iago opposite Cush Jumbo as Othello.

My longer list would include: Harry Melling, Sam Troughton, Jamie Parker, Daniel Mays, Mark Gatiss...I could go on but it has to stop somewhere