Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Unexcitingly Titled... Theatre Awards 2012 (Part 1)

Another year, another set of theatre round-ups abandoned half way through. Oh well, I suspect I will never be a regular theatrical blogger. But, like a ghost haunting the ruins, I couldn't resist coming back and posting some biased, silly, and very tongue in cheek awards for the theatre I've seen in 2012. So that's 145 plays, musicals, and readings seen a 158 times (which at least, I suppose, means I finally cut down on repeat trips). And the winners are...

The ‘Words, Words, Words’ Award for Best Playwright
There was only one possible winner of this award - going from someone whose work I’d never seen to my favourite modern playwright in the space of a year – it had to be Philip Ridley. Obviously helped by the invention of RidleyFest 2012, which saw five of his plays taking the stage – the brutality and lyricism and depth of love, twisted as it is, that infuses Ridley’s work has completely enchanted me. Roll on RidleyFest 2013. (Apparently starting at the Pleasance with Vincent River. Yay!)

The ‘Whole New World’ Award for Best Set/Costume Design
I’ve combined the set and costume design this year as after much consideration I realised that my favourite for both was Angela Davies’ quirky, eclectic and colourful design for The Mouse and his Child. Often cobbled together from familiar items, it captured the charm of the toys world, the darkness of the junkyard, and the cartoony atmosphere that pervaded it all. And whilst it lacked some of the thrill of last year’s Heart of Robin Hood set, it still turned the theatre into an exciting, immersive space that I would have loved to experience as a child. On top of which it had a Mousetrap trap! You can’t get better than that.

The ‘All the Worlds A Stage’ Award for Theatre Bleeding Into Reality
I wandered out of the New Diorama’s superb Ladybird, a crippling look at the hopeless lack of opportunities for Russia’s working class youth, to find an almost exact replica of the forest image that had made up much of the backdrop staring at me from a swish, expensive office building opposite. It was an absolute kick in the gut.

The ‘You Probably Couldn’t See For the Lights’ Award for Lighting Design
Dominated by intense periods of darkness, Guy Hoare’s lighting design for Going Dark at the Young Vic managed to capture the horror and frustration of going blind. I was particularly impressed by scenes with low lighting that left me frustrated, struggling to make out any details. I also loved Ben Rogers’ beautiful, atmospheric and transformative design for Deafinitely Theatre’s Tanika’s Journey at the Southwark Playhouse; and Lee Curran’s stark but emotive lighting for Constellations (which worked perfectly with the beautiful balloon based staging).

The ‘Painting Pictures on the Stage’ Award for Best Use of Projection
In my best traditional approach I’ve been unable to pick a single winner here – so the joint prize goes to Paul Barrit’s design for 1927’s The Animal and Children Took to the Streets which created a vast world for its characters, working seamlessly with the actors to capture the heightened and distinctive atmosphere of the play; and Finn Ross’ impressive, immersive design for Complicites’ Master & Margarita (who also gets bonus points for recognising that those in the cheap seats deserve an incredible show too).

The ‘Sound of Silence’ Award for Best Sound Design
With the bare set, it was Christopher Shutt’s sound design that really gave a sense of location to the scenes in the Royal Court’s Love and Information – and guessing what he was building during each set change was surprisingly fun.

The ‘Right Notes in the Right Order’ Award for Best New Score
For the second year I’m giving this one to Michael Bruce who, you might guess, I think is a bit marvellous - he’s got a witty, light touch and is adept at capturing a vast range of styles. All of which made him the perfect choice to score the Donmar’s vibrant, energetic and bittersweet production of The Recruiting Officer. It didn’t hurt as well that the score was performed by a very charming (and rather handsome) group of actor-musicians, The Listed ( Special mention should also go to the lovely work of Benji Bower for his beautiful, lilting and sultry score for Cinderella at St. James Theatre.

The ‘Old Songs, New Feelings’ Award for Added Musical Emotions
This has been another good year for theatres using music to emotionally manipulate their audiences – from the rousing verses of Jerusalem at the end of Chariots of Fire to the clever use of play-out music tugging at the heart strings (personal favourites were The Effect’s use of Keep Breathing by Ingrid Michaelson and Something Very Far Away’s use of The Trapeze Singer by Iron and Wine); not to mention every sea shanty that the Bound cast hit its sobbing audience with. There was also the continuing theatrical conspiracy to never let me listen dry-eyed to Elvis again (I’m looking at you, Mercury Fur).

The ‘Old Songs, New Meanings’ Award for Eye Opening New Interpretations
During the Globe’s Read Not Dead reading of The Court Beggar they decided to soothe a man being threatened with castration by whipping out an acapella version of the Beatle’s classic Yesterday. You might just want to think about the lyrics for a minute or two.

The ‘Shall We Dance’ Award for Best Choreography
Another one where I’ve been unable to choose a single winner – so it’s going jointly to Lee Proud’s vivid, stylish work for Victor/Victoria at the Southwark Playhouse; and Nathan M. Wrights slick choreography for Sweet Smell of Success at the Arcola (the sheer amount of joy the ‘elevatoring’ at the back of the stage gave to me and a friend is indescribable).

The ‘Let’s Get Ready to Rumble’ Award for Best Fight Choreography
Alas I can’t credit this to anyone as I’ve not found a fight choreographer listed anywhere, but Matthew Monaghan’s production of Penetrator at RADA had such an intense, prolonged period of violence that for one of the few times in my life I was genuinely scared for an actor’s safety. Superb stuff.

The ‘Behind Every Good Show’ Award for Best Stage Management Team
The sheer effort that must have gone into cleaning up after Filter’s Midsummer Night’s Dream and the rather epic food fight that closed the first half means I’m going to have to give this to their team (not to mention all the set rebuilding they had to handle after each show).

The ‘Pure Imagination’ Award for Innovative Ideas
Something Very Far Away at the Unicorn Theatre easily stole onto my top ten of the year, not only for the breadth of its beautiful and lyrical story telling but also for its unusual approach. The small cast projected the film they were creating onto a screen behind them, allowing the audience both to watch the film and the filming. The inventiveness was astounding - puppetry, projections, shadow animation, zoom ins, rain (from a bucket raised in front of the camera), spinning horses - creating what can only be described as magic.

The ‘Stand By Your Man’ Award for Best Supporting Actor
Another success story for Southwark Playhouse’s musicals (they’re basically the best venue going for musical revivals at the moment), as I’m sharing the award between Richard Dempsey for some truly superb comic timing in Victor/Victoria; and Ryan Sampson who provided the emotionally compelling heart of Floyd Collins.

The ‘My Gal Is Red Hot’ Award for Best Supporting Actress
With fabulous supporting performances in She Stoops to Conquer and Julius Caesar, Cush Jumbo was definitely one of my favourite actresses this year. Vivacious, intelligent, emotive, sharp, subtle and with superb comic timing and a spine-tingling rendition of one of my favourite Shakespeare speeches. She brought a gloriously kaleidoscopic range to both performances. Friends, Romans, Countrymen…

The ‘Holding Out For a Hero’ Award for Best Actor
I have a terrible feeling that Southwark Playhouse’s Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me is one of those productions that you never quite get over (my flatmate certainly hasn’t forgiven me yet), and a big part of that was Billy Carter’s superb performance. He managed to capture both brusqueness and vulnerability making his character utterly compelling and completely heart breaking.

The ‘I’m Every Woman’ Award for Best Actress
Another joint prize as I really couldn’t choose between Sally Hawkins and Anastasia Hille. Hawkins performance in Constellations was a dazzling, ethereal, deeply human character. Whilst Hille gave a distinctively still, intelligent and brittle performance in The Effect, shining in an exceptionally strong cast.

The ‘Rama Lama Lama Ke Ding A De Dinga A Dong’ Award for Best Ensemble Performance
I saw lots of fantastic ensembles this year and there were several duking it out for the top spot but two really stole my heart. The cast of Bound, which I caught at the Southwark Playhouse, pulled us into the intense brothership at the centre of the play with an array of charming, talented, funny and heart-breaking performances. Whilst Greenhouse Theatre’s cast of impressive young actors created an intensely vivid world and fascinating group of characters in Mercury Fur, that I’m still dwelling on six months later.

The ‘All By Myself’ Award for Best Solo Performance
Ben Deery’s excellent, self-penned, Most Savage and Unnatural wins this one for me – his experience with both the RSC’s young person Shakespeare and at the Globe shone through his audience interaction, handling them masterfully, and though a little rough around the edges it was brimming with humour, emotion, character, intelligence and charm. Plus it managed to avoid the manic, breathless pace that often mars one-performer shows for me.

The ‘Catching My Eye’ Award for New Actors
I’ve seen some excellent new actors this year, but the ones I’m most excited about seeing again are Ciaran Owens who blew me away as Elliot in Mercury Fur and followed up with some great performances in Our Country’s Good; Bethan Cullinane and Charlie Archer who both impressed as the leads in Ladybird at the New Diorama; and Graeme McKnight who I caught in two RADA productions, Cymbeline and, the superb, Penetrator. Here’s hoping they all get more roles next year.

The ‘I’m A Sheep’ Award for the Best Actors Appearing As Animals
Oh, this is the award that just keeps on giving and it’s been another superb year for actors unleashing their wild (and particularly avian) side. Both Cinderella at the new St. James Theatre and The Mouse and His Child was crammed full of fantastic performances, but I’ve got to give this one to the Southwark Playhouse’s Christmas season which saw Adam Venus as the myth inspiring Blazerbird in Feathers in the Snow, and Joel Mellinger presenting his Cock in The Canterbury Tales.

The ‘Shiny New Shoes’ Award for Best New Musical
I’m not entirely convinced I’ve got the next two awards round the right way, but though Victor/Victoria has been around for a few years, it hasn’t ever appeared in London until this year’s excellent, hilarious, energetic and heart-warming Southwark Playhouse production, technically making it a new musical. And a marvellous one.

The ‘Dust Off Your Dancing Shoes’ Award for Best Musical Revival
Likewise, as the quirky, original and marvellous, The Animals and Children Took to the Streets has played London before I’m going to shoe-horn it into the revival category. If your sensibilities disagree, feel free to switch them round, as both were superb and both deserve an award. At least my other favourite revival definitely counts – sneaking in, my last show of the year, Privates on Parade, was a glorious, joyful, breathless production that subtly undermined the inherent homophobia with a superb, delicately nuanced performance from Simon Russell-Beale. And top of it all I got to find out that some of my favourite actors can sing and dance as well.

The ‘Buried Treasure’ Award for Best Play Revival
If you hadn’t already guessed that Mercury Fur was going to be taking this spot, I can only assume you don’t know me very well or (sensibly) stopped following me on twitter. Not only is it my favourite production of the year but it shot straight to the second spot on my favourite productions of all time list. One of those plays that hi straight at my heart, resonating with characters and issues I cared about, and a world I still haven’t got bored of exploring (I’ve since re-read the play at least fifteen times, as well as making three return trips to see the production). All performed by a fantastic, small cast. Powerful, painful and never leaving me short of shuddering by the end. It’s everything I want theatre to be.

The ‘Brand New Gems’ Award for Best New Play
It’s lucky that I see theatre giving me a pounding headache as a good thing as my favourite new play this year, Lucy Prebble’s The Effect, left my head (and heart) throbbing for days. Though I’m well aware this wouldn’t appeal to everyone as much as me (it looks at a lot of issues that I care deeply about) but I hope most would appreciate the marriage of ideas and emotions, the fascinating characters, the pitch perfect balance between the two storylines and the sorrow and joy that underline it all.

The ‘Shakespeare’ Award for Best New Adaptation
Given that much of the National Theatre’s larger stage output this year has been disappointing, its lucky that the Cottlesloe has had a fabulous year for new plays, producing my favourite adaptation of the year as well with The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night Time. A thoroughly joyful experience, it both managed to be a faithful adaption, true to both the tone and events of the story, and transform the story into something inherently theatrical. Plus it was pure theatre magic.

On to part 2....

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