My 10 favourite shows of 2019

I barely saw 250 shows this year, quiet by my standards! And as is the way of these things, here’s a rundown of some of the productions that moved me most…

1. The Curious Case of Benjamin Button, Southwark Playhouse
I haven’t lost it in a theatre as much as this in a good long while. I cry at all sorts but this superlative musical had me trying, and failing, to choke back huge, hacking sobs. And I can still sing some of the songs – it has to come back, surely. “It’s all just a matter of time…”

2. Call Me Fury, Hope Theatre
“This is the history we should be teaching, these are the stories we should be sharing”, this striking and soulful piece gave voice to so many whom history have ignored, and was bloody entertaining with it. 

3. West Side Story, Curve Leicester
A musical I love, in a production that I simply adored. Getting to see two WSSs in one year was a privilege and for me, it was the emotional heart of Nikolai Foster’s production that won out.

4. As You Like It, Queen’s Theatre Hornchurch
The second year of the Public Acts programme comes up trumps once again with this gorgeous musical version of the Shakespeare classic, community theatre at its finest.

5. Islander, Southwark Playhouse
The magic of musical theatre distilled into two voices and a loop pedal – a marvellously inventive and endlessly moving. 

6. Amélie the Musical, Watermill Theatre/UK Tour/The Other Palace
As sweet-sharp as a diabolo grenadine, something truly gorgeous emerges from this film adaptation that simply demands you come up with better words than quirky to describe it.

7. & Juliet, Shaftesbury Theatre
Tell me why… About as much fun as you can have in the West End right now, this is a particularly fine example of the jukebox model and I want it that way.

8. Sexy Lamp, VAULT
A standout piece in a standout festival, Katie Arnstein’s brutally honest monologue about navigating the patriarchy may be lightened with songs and sweets but is no less effective for it.

9. Karaoke Play, Bunker Theatre
Deeply confessional and subtly magical, Annie Jenkins’ inter-connected monologues combined to become so much more than the sum of their parts.

10. The Ocean at the End of the Lane, National Theatre
A magical family tale, perfect for kids of all ages. Not even reading the exit poll as I left could ruin the feeling! 

Shows 11-25 under the cut

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Dance Review: Outwitting the Devil / Heartbeat of Home

A rare foray into the world of dance saw me catch the highly atmospheric Outwitting the Devil from the Akram Khan Company and Heartbeat of Home at the Piccadilly Theatre

I’m not necessarily known for my dance reviews but that’s mostly because I do find it a little difficult to write about, trapped in a vicious circle of not considering myself to have enough relevant experience to write about it in a meaningful way, and thus never booking in to see it, thus never gaining that experience… Over the last weeks though, circumstance has conspired to get me to see the Akram Khan Company in Amsterdam and Heartbeat of Home much closer to home and so, I’m practically a dance critic now. Severrrrrn…

On the precipice of retirement, Khan has decided to focus his considerable talent (Binoche! Kylie!) on choreography, “dancing [his] ideas through the bodies of others” as he so eloquently puts it and the first fruit of this stage of his career is Outwitting the Devil. Inspired by a fragment from the 4,000 year old Epic of Gilgamesh, it is a powerfully evocative if thematically vague piece for six dancers and while I found it largely very impressive, I was grateful to have programme notes to give it some narrative structure. Continue reading “Dance Review: Outwitting the Devil / Heartbeat of Home”

Review: De Kersentuin, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam

Of course a British director doing Tsjechov in the Netherlands makes The Cherry Orchard as watchable as it has ever been – Internationaal Theater Amsterdam’s De Kersentuin proves a real success

“Als ie echt verkocht moet worden verkoop mij er dan bij”

It’s not often that Jimi Hendrix and Creedence Clearwater Revival make their way into Chekhov but it is precisely this kind of refreshing approach that makes this production feel so alive in a way that is rarely achieved (in the UK at least). So it is somewhat perverse that it is a British director responsible, as Simon McBurney directs Internationaal Theater Amsterdam in De Kersentuin, in an adaptation by Robert Icke.

Shifted to the Netherlands in the 1970s, a real sense of liberation permeates the production, and crucial details shine anew to substantively alter the emotional palette. I’ve never felt the presence of Amanda’s drowned son so strongly, which really makes you consider her feelings towards her former home. And as Miriam Buether’s design discards conventional representation, the focus falls as much on the relations of people as it does on property. Continue reading “Review: De Kersentuin, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam”

Review: Oedipus, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam

Robert Icke tackles Oedipus with the same verve as his celebrated Oresteia in a spectacular Toneelgroep Amsterdam production

“‘Het draait alles om, maar staat zelf stil”

You wouldn’t think Robert Icke could do it again, especially in another language, but his version of Oedipus for Toneelgroep Amsterdam is quite frankly phenomenal. Shifting it into the world of contemporary politics and digging into his familiar bag of tricks doesn’t seem revolutionary on paper but on stage, it was just electric. I don’t think the ticking countdown has ever been so brutally effective.

Hans Kesting’s Oedipus is a breath of fresh air in the politics of this Thebes and Icke sets the play in real time on election night, confining the action to the campaign office where Oedipus awaits the result with his family and friends. That wait is filled with tension, not least because he’s decided to start investigating the death of previous leader Laius which, if you’re not familiar with the plot, is a whole can of worms… Continue reading “Review: Oedipus, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam”

Review: Klein Zielen, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam

“En de ziel begreep dat dat kleine stukje genoeg was”

Completing a trilogy of Louis Couperus adaptations for Toneelgroep Amsterdam, Klein Zielen (Small Souls) is the kind of magisterial theatre on which reputations – such as Ivo van Hove’s – are sustained. Couperus is a Dutch writer with a kind of Rattigan-like status as his work is revived here and Klein Zielen is no exception, a study of a family living under the same roof but shattered by the neuroses and traumas of the past that haunt every moment of their existence. 

This is about as lo-fi as van Hove gets, just the one video insert betraying any technological leanings, recalling the stark intensity of A View From The Bridge. And here again, you see the razor precision that he instils in his company and the way they relate to each other, interact with each other. As they each move around the wide open space of the Rabozaal carpeted in a ginormous rug, so much is said about their relationships in the juxtapositions they create. Continue reading “Review: Klein Zielen, Stadschouwberg Amsterdam”

Review: Uit het leven van marionetten, Rotterdamse Schouwburg

 

“In de stilte hoor je de waarheid”

In the name of maximising my time in the Netherlands, I’ve seen a fair few productions in Dutch without any linguistic assistance. Thursday night shows at the Stadschouwberg Amsterdam are regularly surtitled in English but I always want to see more. In the case of plays like Blood Wedding and The Maids, I’ve been able to get away with since I know them; with others, like A Bride in the Morning, it’s been more of a challenge. 

And so it was with Uit het leven van marionetten (From the life of the marionettes), the fifth Ingmar Bergman adaptation from Toneelgroep Amsterdam, helmed by film director Nanouk Leopold in her stage debut. I’d hoped to watch the film in advance but I couldn’t track it down in time and so went into the Schouwburg in Rotterdam armed with just a flimsy synopsis and an overwhelming admiration for a company that included the rather fab Eelco Smits. Continue reading “Review: Uit het leven van marionetten, Rotterdamse Schouwburg”

Review: Ibsenhuis, Stadsschouwberg Amsterdam

“Hollanders bouwen altijd in baksteen”

Simon Stone’s track-record with Ibsen is strong – his adaptation of The Wild Duck was extraordinarily powerful – and so despite my normal reservations with this playwright, I happily booked myself in for his Ibsen Huis (Ibsen House) for Toneelgroep Amsterdam. The play is a new piece of writing but one which takes minor characters from a range of the Norwegian’s dramas and puts them into their own new ensemble, set in the house that Solness built for Hilde Wangel in The Master Builder.

So over three generations, from the 60s to the current day, new cycles of Ibsen-esque family drama play out – lies and loneliness, isolation and infidelity, passion and pain, all the pain of loving and being loved. It’s a dizzying combination, literally so as Lizzie Clachan’s set spins on its axis, and as the shattered narrative is presented to us in fragments. Visually it is clever, especially as it allows for the smoothest of scene changes to be almost cinematically imposed as the focus slides from room to room. Continue reading “Review: Ibsenhuis, Stadsschouwberg Amsterdam”

Production shots for Ibsen Huis

“Moeten we hier als op de Wallen in lingerie gaan zitten?”

Time pressures (and priorities) being what they are, when one is on holiday celebrating one’s birthday, my review of Simon Stone’s Ibsen Huis (Ibsen House) for Toneelgroep Amsterdam won’t be ready for a couple of days. So in the meantime, follow the lovely Hans Kesting’s gaze past the break and feast your eyes on some of the production photos from Jan Versweyveld.

(c) Henri Verhoef
 

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Review: De Meiden, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam

“Alles terug”

The class struggle is an innate part of Jean Genet’s The Maids but the mark of many a good drama that has endured for several decades is its ability to handle new interpretations by the directors who seek to revive them. Jamie Lloyd refracted the play through the lens of American racial politics for his visually striking production at the Trafalgar Studios earlier this year and ever the iconoclast, Katie Mitchell, making her directorial debut at Toneelgroep Amsterdam, chooses to put a migrant labour spin on her more naturalistic version.

So sisters Claire and Solange here are middle-aged Polish women – underpaid, underappreciated and in at least one case, really quite ill – who have found work keeping house for Madame, or rather keeping her super-luxe apartment. The relationship is a complex one though as we see them passing the time by enacting and re-enacting the ritualistic murder of their employer, raging against the system in the only way that they can – in secret, in private, away from the eyes of a Western society that doesn’t really give a fuck when it is oppressing.  Continue reading “Review: De Meiden, Stadsschouwburg Amsterdam”

Review: De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam

“Samenleven met jou… maakt me minder eenzaam. Het is de enige mogelijkheid te vergeten dat we langzaam afsterven

Honestly, just look at the photos below, there are just no words to describe how stunning the creative vision of Ivo van Hove, Jan Versweyweld and the rest of the Toneelgroep Amsterdam crew is (co-producing here with Toneelhuis and the Ruhrtriënnale). At a point where I was a little worried that there might be a little van Hove overkill going on (London theatregoers currently have the choice of Hedda Gabler and/or Lazarus), De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan (The Things That Pass) served as the perfect reminder that only a fool would take him for granted in the stunning way that he brings theatre to life.

De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan is an adaptation of a Louis Couperus novel, a Dutch writer from the turn of the last century whose work appears to be undergoing a Rattigan-like re-invigoration as its extraordinary psychological acuity is being rescued from the previously dusty image it has been saddled with. An epic family story, it probes into the legacy of Dutch colonial times and the way in which unresolved bad deeds can infect generation after generation to pernicious effect, depicting the atomisation of the nuclear family long before it became the norm that it is today, something reflected in the austere timeless beauty of Versweyveld’s design. Continue reading “Review: De Dingen Die Voorbijgaan, Stadschouwburg Amsterdam”