Posts Tagged ‘Matilda’

And so another year draws to a close, and it’s time to look back on another theatrical year. Here are the TheatrePunk awards!

So, in no particular order, here are the top ten. These represent the most fun I have had in a theatre this year. They may not be the best things to be staged in Britain this year, but they are the shows that gave me the most pleasure. The shows that I recommended to friends, sometimes saw twice, or the ones that really gave me something to think about. In summary, they are my favourites of the year…

Matilda (RSC)

Just an absolute joy from beginning to end. Intelligent, moving, funny and with a soundtrack that sticks with you and for two hours turns you into a child again. It was one of the best musicals I’ve seen in years, and I’m absolutely delighted that, having already had its sell-out run extended, it appears to be settling down for a long West End residency.

Frankenstein (National Theatre)

Probably the theatrical event of the year, and I’m sure it’s a show that will be appearing in many ‘best of the year’ pieces. Benedict Cumberbatch and Jonny Lee Miller were incredible in Danny Boyle’s return to the UK theatre scene. I saw this with Jonny Lee Miller as Frankenstein’s monster and Benedict Cumberbatch as the doctor. They both shone, and perhaps because of that, the piece marked another triumph for the NT Live screenings, which allowed people to watch the cast in their alternate roles.

Journey’s End (Touring Consortium)

As a fan of anything related to the First World War, I was really looking forward to seeing this show. I certainly didn’t expect it to be as brilliant as it was. It was just spectacular. A masterclass in acting superbly staged and sensitively tackled. It was one of those shows that played on my mind for a long time afterwards, and remains one of the best adaptations I have ever seen.

Operation Greenfield (Little Bulb Theatre)

One of the few shows I saw twice this year. I was simply too good to only see once. Little Bulb have been quietly bubbling away for a while now, creating fun fringe pieces which challenge audiences and demonstrate the supreme talents of the small company. All actor-musicians.  The music in this piece is the thing you will take away with you more than anything. ‘Summer Flowers’ was a classic, ‘I am the True Vine’ was another, but ‘Zachariah in the Temple’, Operation Greenfield’s final triumph is the song that left you wanting to leap for joy.

Alvin Sputnik: Deep Sea Explorer (Weeping Spoon)

If this were a list from ten to one, then there is a very good chance that Alvin Sputnik would top that list. It is, to put it simply, my play of the year. I can’ do justice to it’s brilliance in a paragraph, so I’ll sum up. It is a one man show about a man who dives to the bottom of the sea in pursuit of the soul of Elena, his wife. The story was perfectly executed using a circular screen in centre stage, a wonderful moustache, and one of the best puppets I’ve ever seen. Alvin Sputnik was a white glove and a white foam ball. It was theatre at its very finest and something every theatre fan should see.

Translunar Paradise (Theatre Ad Infinitum)

Sometimes I am so grateful for twitter, as without the buzz I saw on there I would never have spotted this little gem. Theatre Ad Infinitum have created a beautiful little show which certainly gets my ‘Best Show at the Fringe’ award this year. A simple story about an elderly man mourning his wife, it used masks and an accordion so effectively that every single person in the audience was crying by the end. I believe the show is now on tour so is definitely worth a trip – though bring tissues. Many tissues.

One Man Two Guvnors (National Theatre)

It’s about to transfer to Broadway following an extended run at the National and a transfer to the West End, which demonstrates just how popular this show has been. James Corden shines in this traditional farce, and demonstrates that he’s not just ‘Smithy’. Richard Bean’s script is tight, with jokes packed into every single moment. The dialogue is funny, but the physical comedy and slapstick is even funnier. Using traditional Commedia set ups gives the whole thing a structure and clarity that is rarely seen in comedy. Certainly worth the hype it has received.

Othello (Crucible Theatre)

This is my favourite of Shakespeare’s plays, which means I’m hyper-critical and very difficult to please when it comes to new productions of it. As the first paragraph of my review demonstrates, I hold a grudge. So I was delighted to find that the Crucible’s adaptation of Othello was brilliant. It was performed in a traditional style, allowing Shakespeare’s language to do the majority of the work. Dominic West was the best Iago I have seen, revelling in the maliciousness of the character without ever becoming repellent, a difficult task indeed!

Dunsinane (RSC)

I think this was too quickly dismissed by many. In my view, this represents one of the best scripts I’ve read this year. The writing was really sharp, with relevant points and a pace that made the whole thing trip along quite nicely, despite the strong subject matter. Jonny Phillips was also brilliant in the role of Siward – every time I see him he’s great, which makes me think that anything he’s in next year is probably worth a look.

Wastwater (Royal Court)

As a fan of new writing (though looking over this list, you wouldn’t know it) I am a massive fan of Simon Stephens. This trilogy of tales were all really strong, in my opinion, and provided a lot of food for thought  about relevant issues and social situations. I loved the scenes in the hotel room, and the way in which what was being left unsaid was much more important than what was being presented. It was a really strong piece, and the script has given me many joyous hours of reading and rereading.

If this were a top fifteen, the next five would be…

The Wild Bride (Kneehigh Theatre)

The Heart of Robin Hood (RSC)

Richard III (Old Vic)

Our Private Life (Royal Court)

Frisky and Mannish: Pop Centre Plus (Frisky and Mannish)

The Theatre Punk Special Awards 2011

Best Tearjerker

Honourable mentions must go to Alvin Sputnik, and Love Letters Straight from the Heart, but the winner for this has to be Translunar Paradise by Theatre Ad Infinitum. A play so sad that I ran out of tissues, because I was sharing them with the two people sitting next to me. The term ‘not a dry eye in the house’ is used too often these days. Translunar Paradise demonstrates that sometimes that’s really true. Every single person in that audience was crying.

Annoyed that I paid the ticket price award

13 at the National. Annoying because I had an inkling it wasn’t going to be brilliant, but I like Mike Bartlett and keep ignoring the times he disappoints me. I’d like to think it won’t happen again, but…

Numb Bum Award

Richard III at the Old Vic. Kevin Spacey was spectacular, the show was brilliant. But did it really need to be three and a half hours long?!

Daily Mail baiting award

Marat/Sade at the RSC. Over the din of the anal rape you could still hear Quentin Letts grinding his teeth in fury.

Up and Comers award

Curious Directive. Your Last Breath at the fringe showed real promise , and a style that was reminiscent of Complicite. Definitely a company to watch next year.

 Worst of the Year

This is the one everyone really wants to know, right? Well my award goes to Woyzeck on the Highveld by Handspring Puppet Company. Just dreadful from beginning to end. Badly written, poorly structured, and perhaps the most surprising of all, the puppetry was fairly slapdash. Simply had no redeemable features.

Happy Christmas fellow Theatre Punks, and we’ll see you in the new year!

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01/12/11

It’s Christmas. A time to eat drink and be merry. So what better show to start the festive season than spending some time with Robin Hood and his Merry Men.

Robin Hood has been a favourite character of mine for as long as I can remember. As a child my first love was…okay it wasn’t Disney’s fox version of Robin Hood, he came a close second to Virgil from Thunderbirds, but he was right up there. Since then I’ve always looked on the story of Robin Hood with warmth and fondness, so when the RSC announced their Christmas show, I was incredibly excited.

After last year’s sensational Matilda, so sensational I saw it twice, Robin Hood had some big shoes to fill. The marketing for Robin Hood hinted at a dark take on the normal pantomime fodder, with our eponymous hero running through a misty forest. Even the tagline ‘tread carefully through the forest’ spoke of unseen dangers at every turn; very different from the musical extravaganza we were treated to last year.

The Heart of Robin Hood takes on an almost Shakespearian format. Maid Marion, oppressed by her life in the castle, disguises herself as a man and steals away to the forest. There she meets Robin Hood and his men who, unlike stories we’re used to, is a bit of a brute. Instead of robbing from the rich and giving to the poor, Robin simply robs everybody, keeping all he steals for himself and his gang. From here the show takes on a familiar format, as Marion joins the outlaws and teaches Robin about virtue, honesty, and love.

However, while there is a formulaic structure to this tale, there are curveballs that many would not expect from a children’s Christmas show. The plots main conflict is derived from Prince John’s desire to slaughter two small children while he amasses an army to steal the throne while the king is away at the Crusades.

Martin Hutson is deliciously evil as Prince John, revelling in every heinous act the character commits while maintain an oily veneer that is great fun to watch. There was almost an element of Richard the third in his portrayal, as such open and disgusting villainy is very difficult to get right without lapsing into comedy, but Hutson seemed to manage it here.

James Mcardle as the eponymous Robin Hood is also a standout performance, portraying Robin as a little more slow-witted than the legend you’re used to, which made him all the more endearing. Mcardle is, of course, met blow for blow by Iris Roberts as Marion, who mixes comedy and pathos incredibly well and carries most of the story on her shoulders. Marion also has the honour of nailing my favourite line in the script, demonstrating Farr’s complete understanding of women. “I love him. He’s brutish, he’s rough, he’s emotionally unavailable. He’s perfect!”

It is a credit to the entire company that they all use their surroundings beautifully, mixing brilliant acrobatics with fantastic acting with seemingly no effort at all. Speaking of the surrounding, I must talk about the set.

Borkur Jonsson’s set is spectacular. A huge curved wall dominates the stage, so high it disappears behind the back wall and into darkness. Characters climb up it on ropes, abseil down it, slide down exuberantly, and use it’s crevices and hidden levels to enact various settings in the story. This set piece alone injects energy into the story, and makes every scene that much more exciting.

In addition to this, a small pool with hidden depths provides great moments of fun and levity, and a jaw dropping moment for fans of the male gender. (I won’t spoil it, but it’s when Robin’s Merry Men first appear. There’s a plastic goose involved. You’ll know it when you see it.) Add to that the forest that hangs from the ceiling, from which characters swing on ropes, musicians play in the tree tops and Robin Hood leaps on unsuspecting victims, and the hidden platforms and windows in the sliding wall, then this is simply the best set I’ve seen all year.

That said, this is not a perfect show. The script sags a little in the middle, and I don’t think the marketing for this show did it any favours. Who is this show aimed at? Is it a children’s show with dark moments, or a show for adults that children will happen to enjoy too? From the marketing so far, it seems the RSC isn’t really sure.

Also, while the set is just beautiful, it does mean that the performance space is very small – leading to lots of entrances and exits in a scene from minor characters. This is also true of chase scenes, wherein the space takes on a slapstick element as the majority of the chase goes on outside the performance space. It’s not something I found particularly distracting, but from the grumblings of a few around me in the interval I know it may not be to everyone’s taste.

But there are minor quibbles, and in my humble opinion, Icelandic director Gisli Orn Gardarsson has created a truly great Christmas show here. It has everything a family of any age could want. There is drama, comedy, romance, some fantastic fight scenes, and a darkness that is rarely seen from a piece aimed at a younger audience. It is for this reason more than any other that I’m sure some will give it negative reviews.

Adults in the audience glanced worriedly to their children as Prince John dangled a severed tongue for all to see, but the kids loved every second of it, and that is the secret of the success of this show. Not once did it patronise or talk down to any of the children watching it – instead it presented a fantastic story with, admittedly, some strong themes, in such a way that every child understood and enjoyed, even in the scary bits.

The show may not be as obviously perfect as last years Matilda, but The Heart of Robin Hood may still be the most fun you have in a theatre this Christmas – and not a panto dame in sight.