2018 has been a formidable year for theatre. From new writing to exquisite reproductions – here are my top 5 picks from a year of theatrical gems.
Othello @ Oxford Playhouse
In this English Touring Theatre co-production with the Playhouse and Shakespeare at the Tobacco Factory, the Othello text is made to feel completely contemporary, via Victor Oshin’s accompanying movements in the title role and Kitty Archer’s tone and phrasing as Desdemona. The best part of this offering is the after-dinner scene between Desdemona and Emilia (Kelly Price), which completely captures the end-of-party chats we’ve all had; the heels-off, quiet conversations interjected with short bursts of raucous behaviour. It is utterly relatable and current. The northern accent Price gives Emilia helps bring out the funniness of the character’s lines (and adds a new dimension to “I will speak as liberal as the north”) in this Richard Twyman-directed show complete with a very well-staged final bloodbath that isn’t devoid of surprise.
See image one, courtesy of ©Helen Maybanks
The Fishermen @ The North Wall
Gbolahan Obisesan’s stage adaptation of the Chigozie Obioma novel, as presented by New Perspectives, is impassioned, energised, and visually alluring. During the two-hander directed by Jack McNamara, lines bounce beautifully between Michael Ajao and Valentine Olukoga, as we’re drip-fed the history of Ben and Obembe – from the jovial to the beyond-dark – in a way that doesn’t give us too much to digest at once but doesn’t leave us wishing the plot would move more quickly. This tale of trust and death builds and builds in an impeccably controlled manner, and concludes with a tableau that somehow encapsulates all The Fishermen’s love and loyalty in a single moment.
See image two, courtesy of ©Pamela Raith
The Dragprov Revue @ Jericho Tavern
The Dragprov Revue is a title born out of the marrying together of drag and improv, but in the case of this drag king/drag queen double act, the drag seems almost secondary. The gift Ed Scrivens (‘Eaton Messe') and Francesca Forristal ('Christian Adore’) have for improvisation is the star of the show. Scrivens and Forristal – expertly accompanied by pianist Joe Zacaroli – tell the story of Messe and Adore, through sketches and songs informed by audience suggestions. It is heartening to see both performers genuinely laughing at what the other comes up with at times; a reminder that what happens onstage in a gig like this can be as new to the people doing it as it is to the audience, during a show gloriously littered with thrusting, decent vocals and speedy thinking.
See image three, courtesy of ©ChrisWRCox Photography
The Inheritance @ the Young Vic
Matthew Lopez’s epic about the Aids crisis and what it means to be a young gay man now, currently playing in the West End, is very special indeed. Directed by Stephen Daldry, it’s smartly structured, highly moving and very funny – the six ½ hours fly by. Highlights include Hubert Burton’s hilarious portrayal of gold puffer-wearing artist Tucker and Samuel H Levine’s brave and mightily impressive performance as both Leo and Adam. Not lacking in powerful monologues – or the endearing Vanessa Redgrave – it plays the Noël Coward until 19 January.
See image 4 (Vanessa Redgrave and Samuel H Levine) courtesy of ©Simon Annand
Tamburlaine @ the RSC
Under the direction of Michael Boyd, Jude Owusu shines as the tyrannical Tamburlaine in this RSC offering, displaying a presence that renders him well-worthy of the title role. The violence in Marlowe’s play holds the audience’s attention and is neatly staged. Early on, a neck break with accompanying sound effect is perfectly timed and alerts viewers; further along Orcanes’ tongue is cut out, tossed and allowed to splat on the floor – you can’t take your eyes off it. The pace is quick and the scenes of humiliation powerful, in what has to be the most murderous play I’ve ever witnessed.
See image 5, courtesy of ©Ellie Kurttz RSC