by Lissy Lovett
Looking back over the plays I’ve seen this year, English Touring Theatre’s tour of Shakespeare’s Globe’s Anne Boleyn has been my stand out favourite. It’s just the kind of play I like – funny, well acted, tightly scripted, with moments of sadness and surprise, all woven around an historical story which by the end makes me feel like I might have learnt something – in this case a tiny bit of the events and philosophising that led England to become a Protestant country instead of a Catholic one. The writer, Howard Brenton, wears his historical research lightly, I’m sure it all must have been more complicated than is presented here on stage, but he gives a good flavour of the issues, illustrated nicely with details – the battle between the Jesuits and Puritans over altar rails is particularly good. The cast, containing some changes from those who performed the play at the Globe itself back in 2011, were superb. Due to my job, I was fortunate to see the play at many venues on its tour, like some kind of Tudor /Stuart groupie, and it was exciting to see them develop their performances more at each venue and respond to the different audience reactions in each place (2012’s best audience award by the way goes to the audience at Hall for Cornwall in Truro – they were amazing.)
This leads me on to another aspect of this production that I loved. It was a high quality, somewhat difficult show – enjoyable yes, but no Calendar Girls (which I liked too, Calendar Girl fans) – which went out to theatres up and down the country and found an audience. Nicholas Hytner of the National Theatre was in the papers the other day saying that he didn’t think that venues should be expected to attract a balanced cross section of their local community for all their performances, and though I understand some of what he means, I think in this instance that this is a misguided comment. In these difficult times of cuts, when the Arts Sector is trying to make a case for continued subsidy, only by showing that the theatre is available and relevant to everyone can we say that it’s a reasonable use of taxpayers’ limited money. ETT go out and make great art available to everyone, (their shows are generally accessible to deaf, deafened, hard of hearing, blind and partially sighted audiences too unlike many other companies), and Anne Boleyn was the perfect example of what I think theatre in the UK should be.
Other things I liked this year –
My favourite musical this year was Loserville. You’ll hear, often, theatre folk complaining that there are only film adaptations & jukebox musicals being made now and that it’s a shame that no new musicals are being written. Well, someone did write one, it’s excellent, and no one went to watch it so now it’s closing. We’ve only ourselves to blame.
In festival land I returned to Latitude for the first time in a few years and discovered an improved programme of theatre and performance; watching The Paper Cinema’s Odyssey, a mixture of music, puppetry and animation ,on a bleary Saturday morning in a tent was a highlight.
The Globe to Globe Festival at Shakespeare’s Globe was a masterstroke of logistics and thrived with audiences drawn from London’s different cosmopolitan communities.
Akram Khan’s DESH at Sadler’s Wells was delicate, beautiful and almost, but not quite, made me cry.
And finally, Indhu Rubasingham set out her stall as the new artistic director at Kilburn’s Tricycle with a fantastic production of Lolita Chakrabarti’s new play Red Velvet; amongst other things this play touched on an older established theatre company resisting the winds of change which I found an interesting choice as a first play. I’m looking forward to seeing what she puts on going into 2013.
Lissy Lovett thinks theatre is for everyone whether they like it or not, and she tweets here.
2 thoughts on “MostlyFilm’s Best of 2012: Theatre”
“it was exciting to see them develop their performances more at each venue and respond to the different audience reactions in each place”
That sounds fascinating and intriguing because you always hear actors talk about how the audience changes a performance, but because we mostly only see a play once or maybe twice, it can be hard to see.
Can you remember a bit about what felt different and how? Would be interested to hear more…
Yes, sure. I think the most obvious thing is playing for laughs. If there’s a really responsive audience, the cast will make more of all of the potentially funny lines & really milk them. Sometimes that kind of thing can get a bit out of hand, but these guys just about managed to keep a lid on it.
Characterisations got more extreme as the tour went on too, but again, they didn’t go too far with that.
I can quite often watch a play and think “you’re just showing off now”, so it’s a fine line the poor actors have to tread!