The best two theatre shows I saw in 2014 are both transferring to the West End. When I saw them, one at the Young Vic in London, one at Chichester Festival Theatre, they both reminded me why I fell in love with theatre all those years ago.
There’s something special about people standing right there in front of me trying to touch me. Emotionally, I mean, not physically, although that has happened more than once, including last year at Dante or Die’s brilliant I Do, presented by Theatre Royal Winchester.
My lifetime love of theatre started when I was a child. I remember in my first year at junior school, I saw a performance by the older children of The Pied Piper story and later when I saw the boy in the playground, it was like I had glimpsed a celebrity superstar.
Sitting In The Dark
My first visit to a professional theatre- the Leeds Grand- was to see Mother Riley and Kitty, a long forgotten husband and wife act who played mother and daughter- not unlike today’s Mrs Brown. The huge- to a child- auditorium, the darkness when the lights went down, the brightness of the stage lighting and the excitement of seeing these characters whom I previously knew from television live on stage hooked me for life.
Ever since, I have gone to the theatre hoping to recapture that thrill. Clearly, while I nearly always enjoy a night at the theatre, that level of wonder doesn’t happen often. It did when I saw A View From The Bridge at The Young Vic. It’s a claustrophobic family drama by Arthur Miller set in working class family household where sexual tensions mount until they finally erupt.
The key to its success is not simply that it is a great play, superbly acted by Mark Strong and others, but also the director Ivo Van Hove’s vision in using a bare set and an effect at the climax that literally made my jaw drop. If you love theatre, have lost faith in it or wonder what all the fuss is about, see this visceral production during its run at the Wyndhams Theatre from February.
Career Defining Performance
The other great production I saw this year was Gypsy at the CFT. I was unfamiliar with this musical but thanks to Jonathan Kent’s knack of putting on musicals in a way that brings out the absolute best in them, I now recognise Styne and Sondheim’s musical to be one of greatest.
At the heart of the show is Rose, the ultimate showbiz mother, horrific in her attempts to make her daughters the success she never was, deluded in her view of their talents and ultimately sad and vulnerable as she becomes sidelined and rejected. I had never appreciated the subtlety and ambiguity of the famous Styne and Sondheim song Everything’s Coming Up Roses. The complexity and emotional range of the part was more than matched by Imelda Staunton’s career defining performance. Don’t miss it when it transfers to The Savoy in March.
Traditional Panto Is Best
My theatre going year has ended with a visit to a pantomime and there’s none better than the one at the Theatre Royal Winchester. I know I’m a Trustee of the theatre so you may think I’m biased but I love the way they capture all the elements of traditional panto.
I don’t go to a pantomime for a celebrity who can’t act or a comedian doing a version of their stand up or a would-be musical that lacks the quality of singing or dancing of the real thing. Perhaps it’s because I remember the fun of my early theatre visits but I want a panto with proper actors performing a well written script that includes a dame, corny jokes, a slosh scene, a bit of romance and a battle between good and evil. And that’s what I got at Sleeping Beauty.