2009 Roundup Part III-The Favourites

Before I begin this, I’ll start by saying how much I have both loved and hated making these lists.  It has been an absolute pleasure revisiting last year’s productions.  Each review brought back fond memories (yes, even the bad ones) and made me appreciate how strong and varied the work I reviewed was.  And yet, it really is impossible to come up with a true top list.  Looking at my previous postings, I find that there are productions that I genuinely liked that didn’t make it, and that some had aspects stronger than things found in the productions listed here.

Most critics I know and/or have read throughout my life have expressed bitterness towards writing such lists.  As a reader, I’ve always enjoyed the end-of-year roundups and commentary, but now that I’ve done this, I understand why many dislike them.

Anyway, here we go with my Favourite 11 of 2009!

11. Power Plant (original review here)

Yes, I’m cheating by having an 11th, but I had to include this brilliant experience somewhere.  It was listed in many theatre listings during the Edinburgh Festival, but I don’t know if I’d primarily call it theatre.  I can make a case for it being included under the banner of ‘theatre’, but it truthfully fits under ‘art installation’ better.

But no matter.  I hadn’t been in the glass houses in Edinburgh’s Botanic Gardens before, and I don’t know if I want to after seeing this phenomenal piece.  The mix of light, sound, projection, fire and many other elements was a hypnotic extravaganza that both filled me with wonder and moved me to tears.  Always engaging and playful, Power Plant made me look at art and its relationship with its environment in a new way, and if it ever came back I would not only jump at returning to it but would cart as many people I could muster with me.

10. The Dark Things (original review here)

I had some fundamental problems with the script and hope that it gets reworked a bit if another production is to see the light of day, but Dominic Hill’s autumn production at the Traverse was a masterwork in direction and acting.  This might have been the most difficult production to watch this year.  It was all grim stuff, and Hill’s direction didn’t allow the tension to let up one moment, not even in comedic sections.

And I have to spend a bit more time once again praising the ensemble, all of whom were fantastic.  Nicola Jo Cully and David Acton were both wonderfully memorable as Steph and Gerry, and I didn’t even recognise Keith Fleming as the horrid Karl until reading his name in the programme during the interval.  But Suzanne Donaldson shattered my heart as LJ, and Brian Ferguson was simply marvellous as lead character Daniel, giving a performance that I can only call a master class in how to create a believable character.  Absolutely stunning.

09. The Interminable Suicide of Gregory Church (original review here)

I hadn’t seen a Daniel Kitson piece before.  I’m a huge fan of performance monologues, and Kitson gave one of the best I’ve ever seen, taking me back to the great (and sorely missed) Spalding Gray.  Kitson’s Gregory Church is storytelling at its best: provocative, engaging and very entertaining.  I saw this after a twelve-hour marathon of theatre and yet left completely energised, almost as if I were high.  That alone should count for something.  Count me now as a fan.

08. Autobahn (original review here)

What a fantastic launch for a new Scottish company (okay, so it’s made up of established practitioners, but still).  Theatre Jezebel’s inaugural production packed more theatrical punch than most productions this year, making me laugh, cringe, tear up and laugh again even harder—and that was just in the first of six equally engaging one-acts.  The biggest shame about this was that it was only on for a week.  I almost missed it; I’m very glad I didn’t.

07. Chronicles of Long Kesh (original review here)

I’ve seen a lot of powerful political theatre recently, but none have come close to the theatrical heights of this gem from Northern Ireland.  The subject matter was harsh, but the production was extremely humane, which in turn made it all the more haunting.  The cast of six gave one of the best ensemble performances I’ve seen in a long time, and it made me ashamed to admit that I didn’t know as much about ‘The Troubles’ as I’d thought.  As this current farce with the Robinson couple plays out, it makes me wonder how close the political situation just might be to melting down to the very state this production warned against, thus making the memory of this production all the more poignant.

06. Lucky Box (original review here)

Of all the productions I saw at A Play, A Pie & A Pint in 2009, this is the one that has stayed with me the most.  A simple premise that could have exploded in the face of the production team, it instead was the catalyst for one of the best scripts, and most intriguing character-driven conflicts, of the year.  I also have to hand it to actors Stuart Bowman and Scott Fletcher for making me care about them both as much as I did.  And I’m a sucker for trick endings that are left open.  All of that in a production that lasted less than 50-minutes.  Astounding.

05. Peter and Wendy (original review here)

Confession.  I have, from time to time, been a bit overenthusiastic about productions, giving praise to pieces that a few weeks later didn’t seem as great.  Not so here.  If anything, I didn’t praise it enough.  I had said that it was one of the best renditions of the Peter Pan story, but upon reflection I now think that it is THE BEST version of JM Barrie’s story I’ve ever seen.  Constantly inventive in its storytelling, Peter and Wendy managed to not only make the story feel fresh and immediate but also successfully balanced the playfulness and sentiment, something that most productions fail at.

04. Faust (original review here)

If it were the job of a critic to focus only on the negative, I would have had a field day with this.  The venue was difficult to get to and the seats were hard.  The subtitles were placed in a way where you had to decide if you were going to watch the action or read it.  The lead actor was a bit wooden and seemed to make his pact with hell out of boredom.  And worst of all, the promenade section was so horribly stage managed that only a fraction of the audience were able to see everything.

And yet, Faust contained some of the greatest theatrical moments I have ever seen.  The grand spectacle that director Silviu Purcarete wove together for this is both hypnotic and unforgettable.  I don’t think I will ever shake the images of almost a hundred cast members running out of the floor and around the stage, a wall falling down, the entrance of a young girl…  Just writing about those moments has made me think of others, all equally impressive.

And it contained the single greatest performance of a demonic character I have ever seen.  Ofelia Popii’s Mephistopheles was an absolute triumph of voice, movement and stage presence.  Every little thing she did was mesmerising, and I doubt that I will ever forget her for it.

03. Internal (original review here)

This is the production I have spent the most time discussing.  I have spent countless hours between personal reflection and speaking with many who also took the journey and have analysed and dissected every moment countless times.  Not bad for a play that clocked in at 25 minutes.

I’m still in awe at the entire set-up and the amount of ground covered.  In fact, I have to confess that had I actually known what happened I may have given it a miss.  The thought of actually going through a 10-minute date and then sitting in a group therapy session to discuss with the others (actors and audience alike) what happened isn’t the most appealing way of spending on evening.  And yet, I found my encounter to be a highly interesting, even revealing, experience.  I played fair by being completely honest, and I think I had a better time as a result.

But that’s the great thing about Internal.  Not only did it make its audience actively question themselves, it also pushed and questioned the boundaries of theatre itself.  It took great gambles in its concept and execution, and the dividends were astronomical.

02. Interiors (original review here)

01. Sub Rosa (original review here)

Had you asked me six months ago which of these two productions I preferred, I would have said Interiors by a hair.  And why not?  It was a brilliant idea of a play that could have been riddled with clichés and unsubstantiated theatrical tricks, but the end result was a feast for the senses and intellect.  I spoke honestly when, at the CATS Awards ceremony, I said that it contained one of the greatest ensemble performances I’d ever seen.  And as I reflect on everything I saw in 2009, a lot of my favourite moments were in Interiors (and a bit of irony here: as I sat down to write this list my Iphone managed to play Go West and Video Killed the Radio Star back-to-back, reminding me of two of this production’s finest moments).

But as I think back on Interiors, I find that I struggle to remember everything.  Sure, I remember moments clearly, but I’m not quite sure about the order.  And I’ve recently seen stills of the production, and not all of them were familiar.  As great as the piece was, and as impressionable as many of its moments were, I’m struggling to remember it all as a whole.

I remember every nuance of Sub Rosa.

It has been a year since I took the promenade journey through the Citizens, and yet I remember every twist and turn, every light effect and sound cue that I encountered.  David Leddy not only managed to create a theatrical landscape that was unforgettable but also wrote a script far more beautiful and complicated than it first appeared.  It was flawlessly produced, wonderfully performed and brilliantly creative.  Many site-responsive pieces can feel trapped within its space; not so here.  Leddy created a performance that was larger than the space itself; so grand that I am still shocked he managed to pull it off.

Extra kudos need to go to the ushers, who not only were great as the tour guides but had the horrible responsibility of clearing the entire theatre on the press night due to a fire alarm.  That they not only were able to do so in a professional manner but were able to co-ordinate getting everyone back to the point of interruption as efficiently as they did is impressive.  And it speaks even higher of Leddy’s work that the vast majority of the people I spoke with didn’t feel the interruption affected their enjoyment of the piece.

It is for all of these reasons, and more, that I call Sub Rosa my favourite production of 2009.

So, there you go: the end of my 2009 Roundup.  It was much more difficult to make than I thought, and even now part of me wants to reedit the last few posts, but I’ll leave it as it is.  Looking over everything, I can honestly say that these 11 were my favourite of 2009, even if I know that my Best of 2009 list would look different.  Still, it was a great journey to take again, but I now look forward to 2010.

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