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My five favourite fringe productions of 2016

There's been some cracking fringe theatre this year - there's also been some best forgotten but we'll gloss over that. These five favourites are taken from a list of more than 40 fringe plays I've seen this year (in no particular order):

Rotterdam, Trafalgar Studios 2

Fresh, contemporary, funny and packing emotional punch Rotterdam didn't shy away from exploring difficult issues.

Odd Shaped Balls, Red Lion Theatre

A powerful solo performance that managed to inject sensitivity and emotion into the testosterone-fuelled world of rugby.

A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing, Young Vic (The Maria)

Another powerful solo performance, Aoife Duffin had me hanging on every word of this bleak, unflinching story of a woman's relationships as she grows up.

Pigs and Dogs, Royal Court

In a year in which theatre land seems to have decided that serious = long, Pigs and Dogs proved the opposite. It was a powerful, punchy, revealing 15 minutes long.

Hamlet, Trafalgar Studios 2

If you are going to do fringe Shakespeare you need to be inventive as there are so many big budget, starry productions for comparison. This version was stripped down to a powerful 90 minutes focusing purely on the mental health of the prince. It was cleverly done.

Related posts:

My least favourite plays of 2016

Five favourite Shakespeare plays

Overall favourite plays of 2016

My least favourite plays of 2016

27485423786_8780a5bbf5_zI've seen so many great plays this year (best of list coming soon) but occasionally there is play that doesn't work for me. I don't set out to dislike a play (why buy the ticket?) but not everything is to everyone's liking. The criteria for getting on this list is being memorable but not for good reasons. It generally has nothing to do with the acting or production but is usually the play itself.  Some plays are good but easily forgotten so there is an achievement, of sorts, in making this list at least.

Lunch and the Bow of Ulysses, Trafalgar Studios 2

This double bill about the start and end of a relationship was so relentlessly bitter and joyless it made me worry for the writer, Steven Berkoff. I think, given my track record with Berkoff plays, I'm adding him to my list playwrights I don't get on with and should probably avoid.

Travesties, Menier Chocolate Factory

Tom Stoppard expects a certain level of knowledge and familiarity with the historical figures and works of art and literature he features and most of the key characters I knew nothing about. I'm also not that familiar with Oscar Wilde's The Importance of Being Earnest which forms the heart of a key plot line. As a result I felt alienated from the narrative and the humour, it was like watching a play through a window. I'm fully prepared to put my hand up and say I'm not clever enough for Stoppard.


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Rev Stan's 10 best plays of 2016 so far

4267324_ee18d61bbe_mSo we have reached the half way point of the year which is a good time to reflect on what I've really enjoyed or what has made its mark so far.  In case you were wondering, I've seen 50 plays (not including repeat visits) and the quality has been high. There has also been a good variety of things to see - some particularly good comedies - and some great fringe productions. The second half of the year holds a lot of promise which could make my end of year list trickier than usual.

1. A Girl Is A Half Formed Thing, Young Vic  A powerful and emotional 90 minute solo performance by Aoife Duffin.

2. The Crucible, Walter Kerr Theatre, New York Not every play Ben Whishaw is in makes it onto my best of lists (honest). The Old Vic's production of The Crucible in 2014 with Richard Armitage playing John Procter was cracking so this had a lot to live up to and director Ivo Van Hove's very different production including the against-type casting of Mr W as Procter ticked a whole series of different boxes.

3. Hamlet, Royal Shakespeare Theatre, Stratford Upon Avon  Possibly the best Hamlet I've seen, so far and I've seen quite a few.

4. Kings of War, Barbican Theatre Four and a half hours of Shakespeare performed in Dutch with English subtitles - I wasn't sure at first but by the end I was utterly gripped.

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My 1,000th post: The theatre addict's initiation

Balloon_stock_png_by_mysticmorning-d3kdoy9In April 2010 I wrote my first post on my new theatre blog and six years later, here I am writing my 1,000th. My love for theatre and writing about it hasn't waned and neither, it seems, has the interest from those of you generous enough to indulge me by reading what I write. So thank you, it still surprises me that people actually do take the trouble.

To celebrate I've been thinking about those more unusual experiences you very occasionally have as an audience member - I see it as a sort of initiation, a test of endurance and dedication, so here are my five:

1. Spat on by an actor - That moment when you are sat on the front row, somewhere like the Royal Shakespeare Theatre and there is an actor walking towards you giving an impassioned and earnest speech with a generous accompaniment of spittle spraying far and wide. You brace yourself as they get closer.  I was once spat on by the lovely Alex Hassell, a former Hottie of the Month so I can't complain too much.

2. Splashed by stage blood - During Jamie Lloyd's production of Richard III they handed out protective T-Shirts for those sitting in the front row. I just wore dark colours and saw it as a rite of passage.  My reward was a few splashes on my foot. I have seen someone walk out with a nice smear right across their cheek. I live in hope.

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Me and Shakespeare - a list

CgtmglOWgAAbcEOOn the 400th anniversary of Shakespeare's death it seems appropriate to do a list:

First Shakespeare I saw

Midsummer Night's Dream at Tolethorpe Hall - Performed by a local am dram society outside in the grounds, the stage skirted by trees and shrubbery it was quite magical. The cast would just melt into the darkness of the leaves and branches.

Last I saw

Coincidentally it was A Midsummer Night's Dream, this time at the Lyric Hammersmith and it was brilliantly funny.

Plays I studied

Henry IV part 1 for O-level, Richard II and The Tempest for A-level, Hamlet, Othello, Richard II, Richard III, A Midsummer Night's Dream and Twelfth Night for my degree.

The plays I've yet to see

Cymberline (booked to see in the Autumn), Antony and Cleopatra, Henry VI (seeing an abridged version as part of Ivo Van Hove's King's of War tomorrow), Henry VIII, Merry Wives of Windsor, Pericles and King John.

Favourite play

Hamlet. Always see something new in every production and I'm still waiting for the perfect Ophelia.

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Five actors I'd love to see on stage - an update

7917222618_1050343ce5_zStarted watching the BBC's War and Peace this week - brilliant cast but Paul Dano particularly stands out as Pierre. I've long been a fan of his screen work; it was Little Miss Sunshine in 2006 that brought him to my attention. He's done a heap of amazing stuff since then: There Will Be Blood, 12 Year's A Slave, Love and Mercy and most recently Youth.

I would love to see him on stage which got me thinking about the lists I've done in the past so I dug them out and immediately wanted to add some names.

This was my first list in 2011 and it very much still stands although I can cross Julie Walters off now - she was a brilliant as I imagined she would be. Then @PolyG did a list in 2014 which I added to including Andrew Garfield whom I'm hoping to tick off my list next year. But here are five more names I want add, what do you think?

Paul Dano

For the reasons set out above and he's no stranger to treading the boards on Broadway so what's he waiting for? Come on Paul, it's lovely over here in London.

Alicia Vikander

She's been a regular presence on the silver screen, in fact at one point last year I think I saw her in three different films in the space of a month. She's nominated for best supporting actress for A Danish Girl - it should be best actress because it certainly wasn't a supporting role. I first spotted her in the Danish-language film A Royal Affair in 2012 and I'm intrigued to see if her screen presence translates to the stage.


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

4205372675_dfdab2ec96_m...or 15 plays for 2015 (see what I did there and it is in no way because I couldn't whittle down the list further, no).

In no particular order:

1. The Ruling Class, Trafalgar Studios - brilliantly bonkers and I'll never forget James McAvoy riding a unicycle around the stage wearing just a pair of  white y-fronts.

2. peddling, Arcola - Harry Melling's debut as a playwright channelled Beckett and Ridley and boy did he work the small cube performance space. (I've compiled a full list of my favourite fringe plays.)

Harry Melling's debut as a playwright channelled Beckett and Ridley and had his trademark energy in its performance - See more at: http://theatre.revstan.com/#sthash.L2TDLhB1.dpuf
Harry Melling's debut as a playwright channelled Beckett and Ridley and had his trademark energy in its performance - See more at: http://theatre.revstan.com/#sthash.L2TDLhB1.dpuf
Harry Melling's debut as a playwright channelled Beckett and Ridley and had his trademark energy in its performance - See more at: http://theatre.revstan.com/#sthash.YjYodV00.dpuf
Harry Melling's debut as a playwright channelled Beckett and Ridley and had his trademark energy in its performance - See more at: http://theatre.revstan.com/#sthash.YjYodV00.dpuf

3. Measure For Measure, Barbican - A Cheek By Jowl production with Russian actors performing in Russian that took me prisoner and I've still not got over it.

4. The Motherf**ker With The Hat, National Theatre - And so begins an obsession with Stephen Adly Guirgis' plays.

5. Waiting For Godot, Barbican - This Sydney Theatre production starring Hugo Weaving poked fun at the audience, it was bleak, tragic, warm and very entertaining.

6. Oreisteia, Almeida - Epic Greek tragedy turned into a gripping family drama.

7. The Jew of Malta, Swan Theatre - Wasn't sure what I was expecting but it wasn't this fantastically gruesome and funny play.

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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