Say what you want, but I thought that 2009 was a strong year for theatre in Scotland. Every theatre space I went to had at least one production that impressed me, and looking back over my reviews of the year I am reminded how high the quality was, not only in script but in direction, design and performance.
And there were many productions that might not have been excellent, or even great, but had elements that were strong, if not fantastic. I am reminded how many productions had excellent elements, even if the overall production didn’t stir much excitement in me.
As stated earlier, I don’t think it’s possible for me to choose a Best Of 2009 for many reasons. The most earnest is that I haven’t seen everything; therefore, a complete Best list is impossible. But there is another reason: category. I find that the productions with the best acting didn’t necessarily have the best direction, and that a great script didn’t guarantee a great production. I can even say that a list of my favourite theatrical moments would be made up of many productions I found on average to be mediocre.
So I decided to cheat a bit and make a list of the productions that I enjoyed the most. That doesn’t mean the ones that made me laugh the most or gave me the best ‘bang for my buck,’. Instead, it means that I want to honour those productions that remind me why I love theatre. And in so doing I came up with a rather large list of productions that I look back on with great fondness, the productions I not only loved but urged readers and friends to spend their time and hard-earned money on.
As most insist on a round number of 10, I have had to whittle out a lot of productions I really liked. Some killed me to delete from the list, but I tried getting the long list down to 20 before finalising my top 10. I had to stop before having a breakdown.
So, I have written here a list of runners-up. Mind you, many of these could probably change places with some of those that landed on the top 10, and there are others not here that found themselves cut for sometimes trivial reasons. In fact, as I prepare to write this, there are those that I am tempted to switch around and save. But I’ll keep to my original list.
So, in alphabetical order, here are the runners-up to my favourites of 2009.
Barflies: Sure, the material was weak at points and was a bit chauvinist, but it was also cleverly staged and had a great turn by Gail Watson.
Be Near Me: Many had problems with the script and the ages of some of the cast, but I thought it was a powerful production.
Bright Black: Whatever the production lacked in character and plot was more than made up for in its innovative staging.
Chronicles of Irania: A fantastic piece about culture and injustice, and with a stellar performance by Maryam Hamidi.
Cinderella: Citizens’ Christmas show dared to be dark and was also the best telling of this story I’ve seen in some time.
The Doubtful Guest: Theatrical marmite; you loved it or hated it. I loved it, and it just might be the hardest I’ve laughed in a theatre for some time.
The Ducky: DC Jackson’s sequel to The Wall showed more insight into the minds of young people than most plays, films and TV programmes I’ve seen recently. And it also showed that Jackson is maturing as a writer.
The Event: An insightful look at the art of performance that was far darker and funnier than it first appeared.
Go to Gaza, Drink the Sea: Harsh political theatre about life in Palestine that had both a heart and a brain.
The Hotel: For a premise that could have been intimidating, this proved to be accessible to the shyest of people and very funny.
Morecambe: A moving tribute to one of Britain’s greatest comedic minds of the previous century. It also got the loudest and most heartfelt standing ovation I’ve encountered in years.
Richard III: A completely original take on one of Shakespeare’s most famous characters.
Waltz of the Cold Wind: A very quirky comedy that was clever, moving and very funny.
Waiting for Godot: Not the best production of a Beckett play I’ve seen but probably the most accessible. And who knew Ian McKellen and Patrick Stewart were so funny?
Ya Beauty and the Beast: The production that made me believe in pantos, and it was an absolute hoot from start to finish.
And there was also another list I should bring up at this point: the honourable mentions. These were productions that I revisited and loved as much, if not more, the second time around. Had I not removed them from consideration, most would certainly have made the top 10, if not the top 5.
Midsummer: I really liked it the first time, but I hadn’t realised just how brilliant the script and songs were until my second viewing. And both Cora Bisset and Matthew Pidgeon are phenomenal. I’m glad this is still touring as it is a production well worth seeing and remembering.
Peer Gynt: NTS and Dundee Rep’s punk-like rendition of Ibsen’s infamous play gladly stuck two fingers up to classicists. It was filthy fun and a worthy multi-winner at CATS a few years back.
The Sound of My Voice: This brilliant production was a marvel to watch and contained one of the best performances I’ve seen in years. I’m very glad it’s making yet another return.
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