Tuesday 31 December 2019

Highs and Lows of 2019

I wrote less for the blog in 2019 than in recent years because of a change of role at work at the start of the year, but am hoping to write more regularly in the coming year...

Best Opera: Honourable mentions for the Royal Opera's Forza del Destino (outstanding musically but not quite in the same league on the production front) and the experience of the Southbank's imported Donnerstag aus Licht. For the award a tie between Handel's Berenice in the Linbury - a reminder that simple can often be best, and the magnificent Breaking the Waves in Edinburgh which deserves to be seen more widely in the UK and further afield.

Worst Opera: No award.

Best Play: Honorable mentions for Master Harold...and the boys at the National and the hilarious, biting Appropriate at the Donmar (bizarrely much less feted than the overpraised Sweat at the same venue), but the award goes to Maggie Smith's masterclass performance in A German Life at the Bridge.

Worst Play: As in most years there was strong competition for this award. The National picked up overall this year but still offered three dismal new plays - When We Have Sufficiently Tortured One Another, Faith Hope and Charity, and The Antipodes - all of whom just escape winning by virtue of having some good performers trapped in them. The Almeida had another fairly weak year, with Shipwreck putting in the strongest bid. The Donmar made a late bid with the [blank]. But the worst of the year, and finally winning the award he was runner up for with An Oak Tree back in 2015, was Tim Crouch's dire Total Immediate Collective Imminent Terrestrial Salvation at the Edinburgh International Festival.

Best Musical: A vintage year. Both Mean Girls on Broadway and School of Rock which I finally caught in London were hugely entertaining - the former blessed, amongst other things with the brilliant Jennifer Simard playing at least three supporting roles. Honourable mention for The Bridges of Madison County at the Menier which reduced me to tears. For the award a tie between the powerfully topical Fiddler on the Roof at the Menier (another show which brought tears to my eyes) and the marvellous Come From Away in the West End.

Worst Musical: The Donmar's disappointing revival of Sweet Charity came closest, but nothing in 2019 was irredeemably awful.

Best Concert: Angela Hewitt's beguiling performance of Bach's Well Tempered Clavier spread over two evenings at the Usher Hall during the Edinburgh International Festival.

Unclassifiable Event of the Year: Barrie Kosky & his Komische Oper collaborators moving compilation of Yiddish operetta, Forget Me Not, late night at the Lyceum also during this year's EIF (packing more punch in its simplicity than many of Kosky's opera stagings as far as I was concerned).

Shows Dr Pollard is Awaiting Revivals of: At long last a full staging of 1776 has been announced - sadly it's on Broadway so I'm already planning a trip there for Spring 2021 - hopefully doubling it with the revival of The Music Man - both shows would merit a London revival (though we have at least had The Music Man once at Chichester) but I've given up hope of that. There is still no sign of anyone resurrecting Stephen Oliver's Timon of Athens - the kind of thing the BBC ought to do there being clearly no hope of ENO resurrecting a work they commissioned. More baffling is the ongoing neglect in the UK of Poul Ruders's The Handmaid's Tale, not seen here as far as I'm aware since the ENO production back in 2003. And I would love to see Rodgers and Hart's lovely, witty Babes in Arms again.

Shows in 2020 Dr Pollard is Looking Forward To: Another strong musicals year is in prospect - mine starts with Dear Evan Hansen and Curtains (I have treasured memories of David Hyde Pierce in the original Broadway production of the latter). Later in the year Moulin Rouge arrives from Broadway. I love Janacek's Jenufa which returns to the Royal Opera in the spring but I lack confidence in the director. On the theatre front the Old Vic's Beckett with Alan Cumming and Daniel Radcliffe stands out, as does Marianne Elliott's arrival at the Bridge with They Shoot Horses Don't They late in the year. Lastly, the return of the Lincoln Center Jazz Orchestra (Barbican, late May) is always a cause for celebration.