Tuesday, 30 December 2014

Highs and Lows of 2014

It's that time of year again...and it hasn't been an especially vintage year...

Best Opera: Dialogues des Carmelites at the Royal Opera by a country mile. The only perfect marriage of production, work and performance this year. Honourable mention to Birtwistle's Yan Tan Tethera at the Barbican.

Worst Opera: There was plenty of indifferent stuff, particularly at the Royal Opera towards the end of the year where, thus far, the Holten regime is having more misses than hits, but nothing was truly awful.

Best Play: I saw a lot of indifferent theatre this year, and none of the London houses I regularly attend had an especially strong year, but one show stood out from it all – the stunning (and bafflingly ignored by other end of year round ups) My Night with Reg at the Donmar. A show that reminded, as so often, that strong characters and narrative still trump most everything else. It transfers to the West End in the new year and is unmissable. Honourable mention for EIF's The War in what was a uniquely good (in my 17 years experience) year for drama at the International Festival – visually stunning and ultimately moving.

Worst Play: Henry IV at the Donmar made a valiant effort to win in this category but just escapes by virtue of the presence of Harriet Walter. As a result the palm goes to a show I didn't review at the time, the dull, unconvincing Little Revolution at the Almeida.

Best Musical: An honourable mention to Matilda the Musical (which I finally got round to seeing this year) but my highlight was once again from All Star Productions above the Olde Rose and Crown in Walthamstow and their hilariously funny production of It's a bird...it's a plane...it's Superman (coming to the West End for a brief run in February and unmissable).

Worst Musical: The Factory at the Edinburgh Fringe.

Unclassifiable Show of the Year: A new category this and a tie result, reflecting two remarkable performances at the 2014 Edinburgh International Festival (Jonathan Mills went out on a high). Exhibit B was one of my most powerful cultural experiences this year and it remains highly to the credit of the EIF for programming it, and a damning comment on narrow minded protestors in London (many of whom clearly had not seen the show themselves) who denied audiences down south a chance to judge for themselves. Closing out EIF 2014 was the return of the magnificent musikFabrik with Delusion of the Fury. As I said after their Zappa tribute in 2013 and again this year, other UK Festivals should be lining up to book in their work. I can't think why they don't seem to be.

What am I looking forward to in 2015: I'm hoping the ENO Meistersinger (an opera close to my heart) will be good, but its up against tough competition to beat the recent Glyndebourne production. The National's recent Shaw productions have been very fine, so hopes are also high for Man and Superman. Oh and The Rise and Fall of the City of Mahagonny at the Royal Opera (who badly need a good new production after a poor first half of the season).

Shows which Dr Pollard is still awaiting revivals of: 1776: the musical and Stephen Oliver's Timon of Athens remain on the list. We're way overdue Prokofiev's War and Peace in London (sadly I fear the state of English National Opera precludes us ever seeing Tim Albery's wonderful production again). Finally, there's been a plethora of Sondheim in recent years but a proper fullscale main stage revival of Follies is seriously overdue...the Olivier at the National would be a great space for it and given commercial theatre shows no sign of reviving it, a revival by subsidised theatre seems to me completely justified.

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