2011 has seen an abundance of productions start, continue and end their theatrical journeys. There have been shows that have received a facelift, with a new cast heading for a different venue (One Man, Two Guvnors for example – read our review here). Across the country, fringe theatre has responded to the social climate and added context to existing plays as with the Lyric Hammersmith’s production of Edward Bond’s Saved (read our article about the show here and our review here). In doing so, new benchmarks for theatre in 2012 may well have been set.
One of the most prominent and admirable ventures this year was the Old Vic 24 Hour Plays. 2011 marked the project’s eighth anniversary as 31 actors, seven directors, seven producers and seven writers worked through the night and following day to create seven short plays all written, learnt, directed and produced in just 24 hours. This challenge culminated in a unique evening of performance on the Old Vic’s celebrated stage (see what we thought here or relive the experience vicariously with our Editor’s live blog). Sat at home, we can only imagine the dedication of these intense theatre-makers. It indicates, however, the wealth of achievement to be found elsewhere during 2011.
Following a sell-out season at the Courtyard Theatre, the Cambridge Theatre hosted the West End transfer of the Royal Shakespeare Company’s Matilda The Musical. 2011 has seen much debate concerning innovative musicals and those adapted from a film or novel. Despite this, Matilda The Musicalwas nominated for a total of nine WhatsOnStage Awards and its booking period has been extended until October 2012 (read our verdict here). Yet the recipe for theatrical success is still unclear and adaptation does not automatically make for great theatre: @SusanElkinJourn found her least favourite theatrical experience of 2011 to be “Roald Dahl’s Twisted Tales at Lyric Hammersmith and the best being Matilda. Odd that they’re linked by Dahl” (see what Editor Jake Orr thought of Twisted Tales here). The Royal Shakespeare Company was also supported by @leenahassan‘s appreciation of their revival of Harold Pinter’s The Homecoming. She additionally tweeted support for Shakespeare’s Richard III and Edward Hall’s Comedy of Errors at the National Theatre. @TimSim85 and A Younger Theatre’s Editor @jakeyoh loved One Man, Two Guvnors, with @Audreydirector also advocating London Road, which were both performed at the National Theatre. Despite some resistance to As You Like It, the National Theatre produced the goods through alternative productions. For both @AmeliaHockey and @LaurenCaddick, Frankenstein was a clear favourite – “just brilliant”.
Additional Twitter responses to the theatre highs and lows of 2011 focused less on commercial and mainstream productions, instead with a view to support the well-known in ‘smaller’ venues and debuting productions. A Younger Theatre’s Web Editor @eleanorturney tweeted for Richard II, and @Cpt_Shortbread’s best was Cinderella, both of which played at the Tobacco Factory in Bristol, whereas @Cpt_Shortbread’s worst was “perhaps Evita at Bath”. A multitude of Shakespeare productions – aside from the success of the Royal Shakespeare Company – received much praise. @John_murphy1 and @millingtonbell both saw Othello at the Sheffield Crucible, with @millingtonbell also praising the German Hamlet production at the Barbican Centre. @PascaleKasirabo thought As You Like It at the Rose Theatre in Kingston “was thrilling… a splendid job!” Conversely, Twelfth Night at the National Theatre was the “driest production of Shakespeare ever!” to @roseannanna. The Barbican Centre’s programming won support through Lullaby, which turned the Pit into a communal bedroom for the audience, with @johnhunter calling it “snoozily brilliant!”
The best theatre of 2011 was incredibly diverse and to be found up and down the country, not just in London. Yet we see mixed responses to various Clockwork Orange productions across the UK: @teddyfizz felt the “worst Clockwork Orange” was the version at the Theatre Royal Stratford East, whereas for @PascaleKasirabo, the Volcano Theatre Company’s version at the Gulbenkian Theatre in Canterbury was “pretty impressive. Acting, Staging and script!” He consequently saw the show numerous times and always “left the theatre with a smile”.
There was much positivity elsewhere on Twitter for Bound by Bear Trap Theatre. The company has won numerous awards preceding their upcoming tour of the production throughout 2012. Put simply by @LondonFarmBoy, “my favourite play of the year has to be Bound [at the Southwark Playhouse]… moved me like no other”. The Young Company at the Southwark Playhouse, @YoCoSwkPlay, also loved Bound from this multi-award-winning international touring company. Bear Trap Theatre was copiously praised by Lyn Gardner in The Guardian online following their performance at the Edinburgh Festival 2010, indicating the abundant talent of the festival through their approach to simplistic theatre. As a result of their success within 2010, Bear Trap Theatre made their way into Top 10 plays of 2011, including that compiled by The Spectator. @tessagillett tweeted her best theatre of 2011, naming “Bound by Bear Trap Theatre…and Fela! – Totally different but both totally brilliant”. Here, the sheer contrast between favoured productions indicates the diverse range that have won audiences’ hearts throughout 2011.
Not all productions that premiered in fringe venues were received positively however. Whilst @EveNicol and @teddyfizz placed Tender Napalm first along with Happy Days in the Art World, the worst @EveNicol saw “was fringe stuff I’d feel terrible naming and shaming”. By its very nature, fringe theatre is the ideal birthing ground for both the incredible and the dire. For example, @sundancemckid felt The Strange Undoing of Prudencia Hart “was the only halfway memorable play I saw this year”. For Editor @jakeyoh, “thinking of worst…I’d rather not name. Mostly fringe work”.
Away from the mainstream, fringe theatre and festival productions have gone on to great heights from original incarnations, but many have also flopped following the unique starting opportunities provided by fringe springboards. With the alternative view of fringe as a platform for new and innovative work to be performed, can fringe work be placed under such scrutiny in a predominantly test-tube environment? However, without criticisms and critics alike, there may be no hope to develop fringe theatre further in 2012.
With the good, the bad and the downright ridiculous highs and lows from 2011, 2012 is sure to have a whole host of theatrical extravaganzas in store for us. Happy New Year!
Image credit: bayasaa