Thursday, 3 January 2013

The Unexcitingly Titled... Theatre Awards 2012 (Part 2)

Back to part 1


The ‘What a Piece of Work’ Award for Best Shakespearean Leading Man
There have been a lot of strong performances this year, but the one that hit me hardest was Alex Waldmann as King John for the RSC. Weakly charismatic, broken, brash - you felt the fight go out of him after his mother’s death and his final desperate dance to Franki Valli’s Beggin’ has been thrumming through my head ever since.

The ‘All Graces’ Award for Best Shakespearean Leading Lady
In the same way that I found myself thinking again and again of Waldmann’s John, Maya Thomas’ portrayal of Lavinia in Hiraeth’s Titus Andronicus has stuck with me in the convening months – stark, unforgiving, hollowed out and deeply damaged – she remained a desperate but compelling figure throughout the play. 

The ‘Rama Lama Lama Ke Ding A De Dinga A Dong-eth’ Award for Best Shakespearean Ensemble Performance
From start to finish, the Globe’s The Taming of the Shrew was a charming, delightful, romp of a production – mostly down to its charming, delightful and rollicking cast. Impressive all round and with a fantastically balanced chemistry – they were an absolute joy to watch.

The ‘Girls Who are Boys, Who Like Boys to be Girls’ Award for Gender Bending
It’s been another good year for Shakespearean gender bending between Propeller, the Globe’s Original Practices, and the Donmar’s Julius Caesar – not to mention a fantastic range of performances elsewhere. But there could be only one winner of this one for me – Paul Chahidi’s Maria was my undisputed star of the Globe’s Twelfth Night – a part he was clearly born to play (with a twinkle of mischief in his eye).

The ‘Most Tragical Comedy and Comical Tragedy’ Award for Best Play Transformation
I’d be hard pressed to explain exactly what type of play the Renegade Theatre Company (invited to England as part of the Globe 2 Globe festival) were transforming The Winter’s Tale into, beyond something a bit magical. Starting in the middle with the tale of Perdita and then flashing back to explain the bits that came before – they focused the story into a vibrant, joyful morality tale – the changes strengthening Leontes’ misdeeds and rewarding them with the truly unexpected sight of Hermione turning back into a statue at the end. Perfect.

The ‘Laugh Until You Cry’ Award for Best Production of a Comedy
All the reasons above that made the The Taming of the Shrew cast my favourite ensemble; go double for making this my favourite comedy of the year. One of those productions that left me breathlessly grinning and all but skipping down the street.

The ‘Rocks Fall, Everybody Dies’ Award for Best Production of a Tragedy
I love strong, conceptual settings for Shakespeare and it’s definitely something my two favourite tragedies of the year had in common. Hiraeth’s Titus Andronicus was a bleak, striking production set in a ‘This Is England’ style eighties – full of anger and passion and life. Whilst the Donmar’s Julius Caesar transplanted the action into a woman’s prison, transforming it into a play within a play, and though I know this didn’t work for some of the audience, for me it added so many meta layers to the action (particularly with the final twist) that it blew me away. On top of which both were filled with fantastic performances and made fantastic use of music.

The ‘I Just Can’t Wait To Be King’ Award for Best Production of a History
It’s been a long time since a production has left me so excited to see what the team behind it will do next, but King John has left me (all but) salivating for Maria Aberg’s As You Like It next year. It was a superbly mad production – bright, garish, simplistic on the surface and much deeper if you delved beneath. They made excellent use of Pippa Nixon as the Bastard, narrator and god of mischief and mayhem; Waldmann was a fascinating central figure; visually it was a feast; the feeling of the party going sour was perfect; and it captured both the fun and the tragedy of the play.

The ‘It Was All Greek To Me’ Award for Best Non-English Production
This was a fantastic year for seeing Shakespeare translated into a wealth of languages. My favourite though had to be the National Theatre of Bitola’s Henry VI part 3 at the Globe – a stunningly bold, twisty, gender-bending, sexy, intense production that has left me longing to see their Richard III (make it happen Globe). Special mention to the National Theatre of Belgrade too, for their hilarious take on part 1 as well (with the best clowning team of the year).

The ‘Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick, Dick, Goose!’ Award for the Best Richard of Gloucester
Surprisingly this award has nothing to do with Privates on Parade, but is instead a result of the slightly ridiculous number of people I’ve seen play Richard of Gloucester this year – 12 at a final count (even if at least seven of those were from Two Roses for Richard III). My joint favourites had to be Martin Mirchevski’s terrier-like portrayal in Henry VI part 3 (seriously he winked at the audience at the end); and Jonjo O’Neill’s charming, playful and ultimately more sinister Richard for the RSC.

The ‘Best Foot Forward’ Award for Best Jig
Normally this would be going to a big song and dance number closing a show, but this time two individual performances reached new jig-pinnacles – so this award is going to Edmund Kingsley’s delightful briefcase boogie in King John; and the patented Robert Heard Wiggle, which the Globe brought in to play in the Taming of the Shrew’s overly memorable Cuckoo’s Nest (seriously, it’s an ear worm and a half).

The ‘Empty Chairs at Empty Tables’ Award for Something Being Missing
Blood… it’s all about the blood. With the exception of King John (which I’m willing to believe used the RSC’s entire budget for Kensington gore for the summer), it’s been a surprisingly bloodless year for Shakespeare productions. Which has made me surprisingly sad.


The ‘Don’t Ever Change’ Award for My Theatre of the Year
As much as I love several other theatres (I never told them I’d be monogamous), there was only one possible winner for this one – the Southwark Playhouse. Out of the 14 plays I saw there this year 11 were four or five star productions, three of which were in my top five for the year, and only one was a real dud. With both a fantastically interesting and diverse programme, and an integrated interest in developing and encouraging talent locally and further abroad. On top of which the venue had such a lovely atmosphere and welcoming staff it was always a joy to visit. Let’s just hope that everything works out for them in their new venue.

The ‘Love at First Sight’ Award for My Favourite New Exciting Venue
I could pretend that it was the lovely cafĂ© or the intimate auditorium or the interesting schedule of productions that they’ve got coming up (who knew what I needed was a musical about Alan Turing), that won this award for the New Diorama Theatre, and it certainly all helped. But really it was the nicely displayed Fire Evacuation information in the toilets.

The ‘Where’s the Exit’ Award for Venues Making Me Nervous
Oh, Old Red Lion Theatre, I really wanted to love you, you’re so close to my work. But the way you crammed the audience in and your narrow staircase and the way you blocked the aisles really did make me a bit nervous. In fact, I’m pretty certain the entire row felt me tense when the Mercury Fur cast carried on naked flames. (I told you we were packed in – it was practically three to a seat - and as one of the three was Philip Ridley's agent, it was a bit intense).

The ‘Stop Making Those Eyes at Me’ Award for Overly Intensive Actor Interaction
I really can’t pick for this one – whether it was Andrew Hawley leaping chairs just so I could stroke him, or Paul Kaye giving me a proper musical drubbing for being a reader, or Stephen Harper choosing me as his personal pet audience member for the show – let’s just say it’s been a pretty good year all round.

The ‘Are You Talking To Me?’ Award for Holding Up in the Face of Confusion
Bless, Matthew Aubrey who, during the RSC’s public understudy run of Boris Godunov, had to play two important characters, in the same scene, talking to each other, with no one else on stage. It was a bit Gollum/Smeagol but the fact that he managed to make us understand what was going on at all is a testament.

The ‘Ending on a Cliff’ Award for Keeping an Audience Hanging
I quite desperately need to know what would have happened at the end of Matthew Gurney’s rendition of Little Red Riding Hood during Tanika’s Journey – it was very mean for them to leave us unsatisfied like that. (Seriously, he needs his own TV show signing stories for children. Now.)

The ‘Sherlock Holmes’ Award for Theatre Mysteries
The Case of the Missing Intervals, that’s all I’m saying. (Seriously, where did they all go? Particularly in the lovely but bum knackering 160 minute Cymbeline at RADA).

The ‘All I’ve Got is a Photograph’ Award for My Favourite Theatre Photographer of the Year
It’s got to be Adam Trigg for some excellent work all round ( and an amazing Titus Andronicus album in particular ( – atmosphere, movement, emotion, low-shots, close-ups, hands, feet – pretty much everything I could have asked for.

The ‘Hold Me Closer’ Award for Life-Ruining Nicknames
It may not be Tiny Hamlet levels, but we’re really very sorry, Harry Hadden-Pigeon. (You were a tiny matador pigeon, though).

The ‘Is That a Sunburn or Are You Just Nervous To See Us’ Award for Truly Exquisite Embarrassment
Poor Dominic Thorburn, at a post-show question and answer in Cheltenham, his appearance on stage was greeted by a tidal wave of breathless teenage giggling – following which he couldn’t even look at the audience, let alone answer any questions. It was hilarious.

The ‘Lacking Hidden Depths’ Award for Shallow Theatre Going
This one has to go to my friends. Never have I had spare tickets snapped up so quickly than with the words – “Attractive Scottish men, bending over, in thin shorts.” Well done, guys.

The ‘With a Wiggle in the Walk and Giggle in the Talk’ Award for Top Thespians, Thespian-ing in Thongs
One of the more unexpected themes from the year’s theatrical offerings, with Jonathan Slinger, Simon Paisley-Day and Simon Russell-Beale battling it out (wobblingly) for the top spot. Despite some impressive persistent comedy from Slinger, my loathing for this type of yellow stocking scene means I’ve got to give this one to Paisley-Day (particularly for the strut and codpiece).

The ‘Minutes Silence’ Award for Much Missed Hair
Despite some valiant attempts to become contenders (see and!/samuelrcrane/media/slideshow? there was only ever one possible winner of this category – John Stahl. When it was announced that he and the best beard seen on a stage this year were pursuing solo careers we were all devastated. Some of us are still wearing black armbands. (I’d have been ready to declare the RSC the enemy of beards but then Paul Copley’s smashing beard came along, so I’ll resist).

The ‘It’s the Company You Keep’ Award for Favourite Audience Members
Two favourites again – the delightfully loud-laughing and well-dressed gentleman next to us at All Good Men at the Finborough; and the entertainingly confused young ladies next to me at The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, who were just realising after the curtain-call that the Janitor was, in fact, a woman. Sexual confusion ahoy. (Plus a special mention to the four fish that gave me such wonderful company at The Effect, turns out I have a surprise skill as a fish-charmer).

The ‘Apple Didn’t Fall Far From That Tree’ Award for Living Up to the Family Legacy
Somewhere between asking whether she needed to take tombola rings for Propeller’s Winter’s Tale’s nude scenes and chatting up an actor whilst he was still on stage, my Mum snagged this one. (I was trained by the best).

The ‘Just Like Yesterday’ Award for Theatrically Inspired Nostalgia
I’m not sure if it’s recalling lost youth or making me feel old but I had a surge of feeling at both the Natwest Pig making an appearance in The Animals and The Children Took to the Streets, and the rooster reflectors attached to Arthur Darvill’s wheelchair straight from an 80s Kellogg’s cereal packet in Our Boys.

The ‘Tears in the Aisles’ Award for Promoting Audience Weeping
I cry a lot at the theatre, but nothing quite matched my Tender Napalm levels of weeping – during, after, on the tube ride home… It was so extreme that a policeman actually asked if I was alright.

The ‘Tears in the Aisles’ Award for Promoting Audience Laughter
I am not sure I have ever seen me and my friends laugh quite as much as during the interval of Chariots of Fire. Never have cymbals been played with such intense concentration or such consistent surprise. Well played, Joe Bannister. Well played.

The ‘Let Me Entertain You’ Award for Keeping us Enjoyably Distracted
Lonley Birch, Twitching, Where’s Woody – that’s all you’re getting.

The ‘Heffernan’ Award for Services to Knitwear
I really was very charmed by Cinderella at the new St. James Theatre raggedy knit wear (as well as the fact that it was basically a love story for bird watchers).

The ‘Darvill’ Award for Disservices to Knitwear
Despite the fabulous sheep and the overall delightfulness of the production, it was a while after Propeller’s The Winter’s Tale before I could look at a woolly hat again.

The ‘Why Do You Hate Us?’ Award for Needlessly Cruel Programmes
Really, Southwark Playhouse? Really? You really had to put that pear flan in the front of the Someone Who’ll Watch Over Me programme. There were tears, Southwark Playhouse!

The ‘Never Gonna Give You Up’ Award for Internet Trolling
Having teamed up last year to be my favourite Rosencrantz and Guildenstern, this year Prasanna Puwanarajah and Ferdinand Kingsley snuck their way onto the list with some fairly shameless internet trolling ( / Twitter team of the year, right there.

And in case anyone is still actually reading this, my top ten productions of 2012:

01. Mercury Fur - Old Red Lion/Traflagar Studios
02. The Curious Incident of the Dog in the Night-Time - National Theatre 
03. Someone Who'll Watch Over Me - Southwark Playhouse 
04. Tender Napalm - Southwark Playhouse 
05. Bound - Southwark Playhouse 
06. The Effect – National Theatre 
07. Something Very Far Away - Unicorn Theatre 
08. Penetrator - RADA 
09. King John - Swan Theatre 
10. Constellations - Royal Court Upstairs/Duke of York's

 Thanks, folks. No promises that there will be any resurrections going on here any time soon - but if something catches my fancy, I may dust the old place off and blog again.

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