Thursday, 27 December 2012

Top theatre picks for 2012

Another year, another 200+ shows! With such competition, you would assume that I’d have no trouble finding a Top 5. But, frankly, 2012 was not the most memorable year for theatre in Melbourne and I struggled to find five favourites.

Only a handful of shows warranted 5 stars, and these were all imported and significant international productions, while the remaining two on my short list were locally grown.

The major theatre companies, including MTC and Malthouse, had a disappointing year, musicals did not hit the high notes that we expected, and even independent productions and notable smaller companies – apart from Red Stitch – did not produce many highlights.

You will find full reviews of these shows on this blog.

1.     No Child… by Nilaja Sun, Melbourne Festival, produced by Theatre Works (Return season at Theatre Works, May 7-19, 2013)
Nilaja Sun in No Child...
This inspired solo show written and performed by Nilaja Sun (USA) takes top place for me this year and is one of those rare, theatrical jewels that is perfectly wrought and impossible to fault. 

 Sun transforms herself and transports us into another world, populating the empty space with a parade of eccentric, vivid characters at a dysfunctional, uptown, New York High School.

This award-winning performance balances hilarious, observational character comedy with poignant commentary on the failure of the US public education system.

When I left the theatre, I wanted to see this show again immediately  – twice. I'll be there for the return season.

2. Lipsynch by Ex Machina (Canada) & Théâtre Sans Frontières (UK)
When Robert Lepage’s sprawling, theatrical narrative, Lipsynch, begins aboard a plane from Germany to Montreal, the audience simultaneously embarks on a 9-hour, transcontinental, multi-lingual and voyeuristic journey through the intimate worlds of nine loosely connected characters.

This production is a phenomenal theatrical experience with its transformational set design, elaborate video projections and its focus on language and the human voice.
3. An Enemy of the People, by Henrik Ibsen, Schaubühne Berlin, Melbourne Festival
An inconvenient truth sets off a socio-political time bomb in Ibsen’s 19th century play, An Enemy of the People, and Thomas Ostermeier’s riveting and lucid production fires it directly into our contemporary world of social upheaval and political cover-ups. 

This is an exceptional interpretation of Ibsen’s explosive play with committed, credible performances from a masterly cast, acerbic and satirical humour and accessible, relevant political commentary. 

Some additional shows that earned 4 or 4.5 stars stay in the memory longer than others. These include:  
Britney Spears: The Cabaret: featuring the charismatic and mischievous Christie Whelan,
makes us laugh and cry at her depiction of the vacuous but troubled pop star and her demented behaviour. With her versatile voice and wearing a scarily brief frock, Whelan shines with Brit’s own hit songs and Dean Bryant’s merciless satirisations of her music.

Beyond The Neck by Tom Holloway, Red Stitch: Through the heart-wrenching stories of four characters whose paths intersect at Port Arthur a decade after the massacre, Tom Holloway’s play compels us to contemplate the life-altering impact of losing loved ones to senseless acts of violence. All four performances are compelling and Suzanne Chaundy’s direction is sensitive.

A Funny Thing Happened on the Way to the Forum: Stephen Sondheim's wacky musical that showcases Geoffrey Rush’s impeccable comic delivery and conducting of the action like a slapstick maestro.

Stockholm by Briony Lavery (Red Stitch): a piece about a couple trapped in a dysfunctional relationship.

 The McNeil Project: two gritty, short plays by Jim McNeil about prison inmates.

By Kate Herbert

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