What was 2011 like in the theatre? Okay, British theatre. Okay, London theatre. Okay, just the things I saw.
It was an okay but not amazing new play year. I enjoyed Penelope Skinner’s riotous The Village Bike and debbie tucker green’s Truth and Reconciliation was fierce and precise. A late entry, Written on the Heart,
was compelling and vividly current. I liked Steve Waters and John
Donnelly’s pair of education plays at the Bush early in the year, Little Platoons and The Knowledge. I loved loved loved Wastwater by Simon Stephens, glacial and savage and yearning. Duncan Macmillan’s Lungs I read but didn’t see and was up there as one of the strongest of the year. The Acid Test,
particularly in the first half, had some of the most brilliant and
satirically funny dialogue. The two strongest pieces were by established
writers. Philip Ridley’s Tender Napalm
was a sharp new direction for him: just two voices, two bodies in
space, creating a world. His settings are usually integral to the
action, shaping and determining the characters. Now it’s the other way
around. And it was viscerally, compellingly played. And then there was
David Eldridge’s Knot of the Heart,
an almost overwhelmingly moving and truthful story of someone tearing
themselves and their family apart and slowly being put back together.
There were some very fine revivals this year. From the post-war repertoire, I enjoyed the two Weskers, the Donmar’s Moonlight, Butley in the West End, Fen at the Finborough, Saved at the Lyric, and, maybe most of all, Inadmissible Evidence at the Donmar. For the entire length of The Browning Version
at Chichester I was convinced that I was watching one of the greatest
plays of the last hundred years, a conviction that has not left me. (I
enjoyed Flare Path but still am not convinced that the play is all that). I’d never seen the Goldoni behind One Man, Two Guvnors, but the show works very well and is extremely funny. Nor had I seen Schiller’s Luise Miller but I’m glad I have, especially because of its strong version by Mike Poulton. Elsewhere, I’ve just seen the Young Vic’s Hamlet which was a strange but exhilarating experience. Maybe the most beautiful revival was Katie Mitchell’s A Woman Killed With Kindness at the National; stately, frozen, horrified, and shocking.
London Road and Matilda
were stunning new musicals which could both - so easily - have been
disasters. Probably the show I enjoyed most this year was actually not
new this year, just new to me, and it was Lone Twin’s Catastrophe Trilogy, played out all day on a Sunday at the horrible Chelsea Centre, but was a blissful experience. Also new to me was I Am the Wind, another fine Young Vic experience in a year of ‘experience’ theatre. The Lyric’s Aladdin was comfortably in an excellent groove, a complete delight.
Design-wise, I thought the Young Vic had it. There was Miriam Buether’s delightfully gaudy set for Government Inspector (complemented by Nicky Gillibrand’s wonderful costumes); Richard Peduzzi’s stark tilting raft for I Am the Wind,
which, in its simple lifts and tilts in its small lake, created an epic
journey for this splintered gem. And then Jeremy Herbert’s set for Hamlet, another pre-show walk-through, like Government Inspector, opened
right out, embracing the audience, yet also working on our nerves, our
desires to look, our fears. The lighting needs special mention here:
Adam Silverman lit the show like nothing else I’ve seen. Stark and
beautiful, functional and atmospheric, all at the same time. The most
terrifying ghost, the cruellest Elsinore, and sitting in the Young Vic,
it didn’t feel like an English theatre experience.
Not a great year, but there’s so much energy and excitement around, one feels there’s something waiting, ready to burst out.