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That was my year of theatre-going 2015: Least favourite plays

I'm calling these 'least favourite' rather than 'worst of' because they are plays I didn't like or didn't get on with for various reasons and that doesn't necessarily mean they were bad. It looks like the National Theatre hasn't had a good year but I saw so much there it's probably proportionate. Probably.

So in no particular order:

Hard Problem, National Theatre - Eagerly awaited and subsequently disappointing new Tom Stoppard play, it just wasn't engaging enough.

The Mentalists, Wyndhams - From Richard Bean I was expecting One Man, Two Guvnors belly laughs instead I got mild amusement.

Game, Almeida Theatre - Underwhelmed by Mike Bartlett's exploration of a topic that has been covered better elsewhere.

An Evening At The Talk House, National Theatre - Felt very long for a shortish play which speaks volumes

Waste, National Theatre - Lack of shock value made this a dull political piece

That was my year of theatre-going 2015: Favourite fringe plays

It's been a particularly good year for monologues and silliness is how I'd sum it up the fringe theatre scene in London this year so, in no particular order*, here are my 10 favourites...

Bull, Young Vic - probably the most uncomfortable 55 minutes I've had in the theatre

Kill Me Now, Park Theatre - a refreshingly frank (and funny) play that genuinely tackled a rarely discussed subject

peddling, Arcola Theatre - Harry Melling's debut as a playwright channelled Beckett and Ridley and had his trademark energy in its performance.

Lonely Soldier Monologues, Cockpit Theatre - A verbatim play about women serving in the US army that, in its insight, was genuinely harrowing and shocking.

Product, Arcola Theatre - A brilliantly pitched satire and farce performed by Olivia Poulet.

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That was my year of theatre-going 2015: Favourite curtain call moments

Ches_CurtainCallStill have at least one theatre trip planned before the official end of the year so there could be a late addition to this, but as there are quite a few lists to work through (love a list) thought I'd kick off with my favourite curtain call moments.

The lively one: Cheek by Jowl's Russian actors were bubbling with energy having finished their performance of Measure for Measure at the Barbican. They linked arms and hokey-cokey style ran at the audience. They were obviously chuffed with how things had gone and deservedly so.

Back at ya: It seemed wholly appropriate that at the end of a play about football that the cast of The Red Lion (National Theatre) would, football player-style, applaud the audience as they left the pitch stage. Benedict Cumberbatch did something similar at the end of Hamlet but I'm not sure why. Perhaps he was rewarding us for managing to get a ticket or successfully negotiating the security and ID checks to get into the theatre or simply for good behaviour. Whatever, I can officially say I've been applauded by Benedict Cumberbatch.

Can't get out of character: Got to enjoy John Heffernan on stage in two different plays this year and both curtain calls you could see the moment when he clicks out of character and becomes himself. It is always several seconds into the applause and he always looks delightfully shy and self conscious. First time was Oppenheimer, Vaudeville and the second was Macbeth, Young Vic.

Didn't we do well: Do enjoy it when British reserve is thrown out the window at the curtain call. Denise Gough was so chuffed with how things had gone in People, Places, Things at the National Theatre she did fist pumps. And then there was the lovely moment at the end of the RSC's Othello when Hugh Quarshie fist bumped Lucien Msamati when he joined him on the stage.

Job done: One of the benefits of sitting on the front row is that you very occasionally overhear what the actors say to each other as they leave the stage. Once I heard an actor say to another 'you were rubbish'. This year, at the end of the Beaux Stratagem, National Theatre, when the actors had taken their third or fourth bow, Geoffrey Streatfeild turned to Susannah Fielding and said ‘can we go now’.

Anyone else got a favourite curtain call moment from 2015?

Related posts:

Curtain call moments 2014

Best plays of 2015 so far


Ten best plays of the year so far

There's been a bumper crop of plays already this year and I fear for a very difficult end of year list knowing what is still to come.

I wouldn't say I've loved all these plays, it's not a wholly appropriate word for those that have been difficult to watch, but they have all made a big, big impression.

1. The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios - James McAvoy riding a unicycle wearing nothing by cowboy boots and white pants. What more is there to say.

2. Bull, Young Vic - Bartlett on bullying and an intensely uncomfortable watch.

3. Kill Me Now, Park Theatre - A delicate, warm, funny and un-melodramatic look at subjects few dare to tread.

4.peddling, Arcola Theatre - Harry Melling's self penned one man show channels Beckett and Ridley

5. Measure for Measure, Barbican - A Russian production, in Russian and no one was more surprised than I by just quite how good this was.

6. Product, Arcola - Olivia Poulet makes a desperate pitch in this Hollywood satire.

7. Lonely Soldier Monologues, Cockpit Theatre - Harrowing verbatim tales of sexism in the US military.

8. The Jew of Malta, Swan Theatre, Stratford - Brilliantly gruesome black comedy and riotous fun.

9. Chef, Soho Theatre - Deliciously lyrical and poignant monologue.

10. To Kill A Mockingbird, Barbican - Devastating, funny, warm and utterly huggable play.

Yep it's Stan's Shameless Theatre Phwoar list for 2014

Normally I pick one hottie for the StOliviers but there were too many to choose from and who doesn't love a bit of picture researching? I know at least two people who've been waiting for this list, I hope you enjoy.

In no particular order and photo credits listed when available:

Russell Tovey in The Pass, Royal Court - he spent half the play in his pants

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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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