Friday 30 December 2016

Highs and Lows of 2016

Edited in early January to reflect two events I inexplicably managed to miss out of the original...

It's that time of year again...

Best Opera: The lacklustre recent form of London's two main houses continued. That said an honourable mention for the fine revival of Tannhauser at the Royal Opera. Outside London Opera North delivered a powerful, moving Billy Budd. But the palm goes to a show I reviewed first time round, this year getting its second outing: Glyndebourne's outstanding Cunning Little Vixen.

Worst Opera: Plenty of dreary but not irredeemably awful opera this year. Honourable mention for the Aix Cosi at Edinburgh (hopeless production but musically solid).

Best Play: Despite the National having a generally dismal year it did produce two outstanding shows which tie for this award: Les Blancs and Ma Rainey's Black Bottom. Honourable mentions for Mr Foote's Other Leg, the RSC Cymbeline and the hilarious Harlequinade revival.

Worst Play: Exceptional level of competition for this for the second year running. The National appears now to be trying to compete with the Almeida for how many indifferent to awful shows it can put on in succession. Collectively their candidates for this award in 2016 included Oil, Boy, They Drink It in the Congo, Sunset at the Villa Thalia and the sadly disappointing revivals of Waste and As You Like It. Edinburgh had a second disappointing theatre year under alleged theatre man Fergus Linehan. In the end it comes down to the endurance test that was van Hove's Shakespeare mash up Kings of War (Barbican) and the painful Anything That Gives Off Light at Edinburgh - the latter just edges it.

Best Musical: A vintage year for musical theatre. I was very glad I caught the powerful long-running Billy Elliott the night before it closed. Mrs Henderson Presents was a lovely piece which deserved a longer West End stay. Honourable mention for the Guildhall's glorious revival of On the Twentieth Century. Even then it's impossible to separate two very different but equally outstanding shows - the powerful Grey Gardens at the Southwark Playhouse (blessed with unforgettable performances from Sheila Hancock and Jenna Russell and why it didn't get a transfer I don't know) and the nearly carried out helpless with mirth Disaster the Musical on Broadway.

Worst Musical: The National followed up last year's dire with the even more awful The Pacifist's Guide to the War on Cancer. Honourable mention for the tedious Lazarus (the second undistinguished directorial effort by van Hove I saw in 2016).

Best Cabaret: Alan Cumming's outstanding performance at the Hub as part of EIF 2016.

Best Concert: The remarkable performance of Messiaen's Catalogue d'Oiseaux at Aldeburgh 2016. I unfortunately missed the early morning start, but the other three were each in their own way stunning. The combination of the Minsmere scenery as dusk fell and Messiaen's music was especially haunting.

An Unforgettable Moment: I've seen finer Winter's Tale's than the Branagh West End revival back in January, but I will never forget the extraordinary moment when Judi Dench's Paulina recognised the lost Perdita (Jesse Buckley) - a reminder of what I am forever going on about that the greatest power in theatre often comes from the subtlest look and moment of physical contact.

Shows Dr Pollard is STILL awaiting revivals of: The list remains exactly the same as last year with the exception of Follies - Stephen Oliver's Timon of Athens, 1776: the musical, Prokofiev's War and Peace.

Shows in 2017 Dr Pollard is looking forward to: The line up for 2017 is unusually rich for this point. The best news is the National's decision to revive Follies (I was very pleasantly surprised by Norris doing this). The casting of Imelda Staunton and Philip Quast also bodes well. But I've had so many disappointing evenings at the National since Norris took over there that I have dark moments when I fear they'll screw this up as well. The other musical theatre headline is the long trailed arrival of Broadway hit Hamilton in the West End...though I'm not looking forward to the likely scrum for tickets. Simon Russell Beale in the RSC Tempest transfers to the Barbican next summer and is a must see (it's good that other companies are taking advantage of the NT's baffling failure under Norris to avail themselves of his services). Ryan Wigglesworth's marvellous Echo and Narcissus at Aldeburgh makes me hopeful for his Winter's Tale at ENO. The Royal Opera has a strong finish to the 2016-17 season including the return of Hytner's fine Don Carlo, the premiere of Ades's Exterminating Angel and the new Rosenkavalier (though I hear slightly mixed reports of the production which I don't catch till January). Finally, on the new work front, the Donmar follows the superb Temple (on St Paul's/Occupy) with Limehouse (on the Gang of Four). The former was one of my highlights of 2015, so the omens are good.

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