In 2018 I managed 115 performances in theatres between London and Edinburgh. The majority were in Manchester and trying to compile a Top Ten has proved frustrating as every time I took one out another two vyed for attention. I finally decided to just do a round up mentioning my absolute favourites grouped by the theatres who programmed the productions.
The Royal Exchange excelled with some stunning performances, direction and writing. The Almighty Sometimes was theatre heaven with wonderful new writing by Bruntwood Prize winner Kendall Feaver and pitch perfect performances from Julie Hesmondhalgh and Nora Lopez-Holden. Rashdash tore up the rule book and re-imagined Chekhov with a brilliantly witty and flamboyant Three Sisters. Death Of A Salesman from Arthur Miller with a mesmerising performance from Don Warrington made for gripping viewing. Director Sarah Frankcom brought us the Samuel Beckett Happy Days with a stunning set and an astounding performance from Maxine Peake. Currently showing an outrageous and thoroughly entertaining take on The Producers, I’m looking forward to 2019 and the wonderful Julie Hesmondhalgh in Mother Courage.
Where to start with HOME? Their programming gave me a Top Ten without looking elsewhere! In no particular order but all stellar productions in their own right:-
The Maids by Jean Genet with the main Theatre redesigned in the round, this was a startling and visually stunning production. The Hofesh Shechter SHOW was every bit as brilliant as Grand Finale earlier in the year. Other smart and outrageous productions were the Rashdash collaboration Future Bodies and the fabulous Tiger Lilies with Corrida de la Sangre.
Delicate, beautiful writing by Annie Baker and a great cast made for theatre magic in Circle Mirror Transformation. This theme of absolute quality writing and performances was also evident with Eugene O’Neill’s Long Day’s Journey Into Night and again in Roland Schimmelpfennig’s Winter Solstice. The Fishermen previewed here before having huge success at Edinburgh Festival and this adaptation of the Chigozie Obioma novel was an absolute joy to witness.
The Manchester Project devised by Monkeywood showcased our city, writers, and performers. Exciting local talent such as Rosie Fleeshman impressed in her one woman show Narcissist in the Mirror. I think I saw this 3 times this year including at Edinburgh Festival and at Oldham Coliseum!
CONTACT had a year of really exciting programming with Contact in the City, they took new work such as Handlooms into a working sari shop on the Curry Mile. A fun Christmas show devised by Jackie Hagan The Forest Of Forgotten Discos! took new audiences to the lovely Hope Mill Theatre. My standout show of the year had to be the irrepressible burst of energy and creativity that was CYC with Sh!t Theatre for She Bangs The Drums at Castlefield.
The Lowry impressed with visiting shows such as the crowd pleasing and brilliant War Horse and the sumptuous Kneehigh The Flying Lovers of Vitebsk which I totally fell in love with. The Ben Caplan, Old Stock – A Love Story was another gem in their programming. In The Aldridge Suite was Proto-type Theatre with The Audit – so clever that I saw it again at Slung low in Leeds.
Oldham Coliseum produced some great shows this year including the heart-warming Ian Kershaw’s Bread and Roses and a great production of the classic A Taste of Honey. They also programmed pieces such as Lucy Prebble’s The Effect with electrifying direction by Jake Murray.
Elsewhere at 53Two I saw The Newspaper Boy, a truly joyful show by Chris Hoyle directed by Simon Naylor. Hoyle’s Dibby Theatre also showed up at Waterside Arts to showcase Nathaniel Hall’s First Time, a performance that deserved it’s standing ovation and will be soon touring nationally. The Heiner Goebbels’ Everything that happened and would happen was a stunning visual collaboration between Artangel and MIF. Zion Arts hosted EMERGENCY 2018 showcasing new work from Chanje Kunda whose stunningly evocative piece Plant Fetish will be at HOME this month as part of PUSH Festival 2019.
I think this image of Nathaniel Hall in First Time might just perfectly capture what it feels like to see great theatre in this great city of ours. Happy New year.