Thursday, 19 December 2013

Top theatre productions in 2013, Dec 19, 2013

Top 6 theatre productions in 2013 (and a Theatre Wrap Up)
By Kate Herbert

Article also published in Herald Sun online on Dec 23 2013 and thereafter in print. KH
 Camille O'Sullivan in The Rape of Lucrece
A SLEW of polished local productions set the bar high on stage this year, but it was the top international imports that took out all of this year's five-star ratings. 

Home grown work earned an unusually high number of four and 4½ stars reviews, though only one of the shows that I awarded five stars was an Australian production - of an American musical.

1.     My number one was the intimate UK piece, The Rape of Lucrece; a thrilling, superbly crafted, theatrical jewel boasting Camille O’Sullivan’s impeccably wrought, poignant performance, inspired direction, songs, design and Shakespeare’s glimmering poetry.

2.     Never work with animals goes the old adage, but the Canadian production, Cavalia, was an exuberant, elegant, thrilling celebration of the beauty and muscularity of horses and humans.

3.     We were privileged to witness the faultless performances of Hollywood royalty in Driving Miss Daisy, with Angela Lansbury as the cantankerous Daisy and James Earl Jones as her jovial, dignified and velvet-voiced chauffeur.

4.     The return of Jersey Boys was heart stopping, with its rags to riches story, witty script, unforgettable songs and spine-tingling, four-part harmonies. Of course, only the production and most of the cast were Australian.

5.     Another return season and the highlight of Theatre Works’ year, was No Child, a US show featuring the phenomenal theatrical skills of Nilaja Sun, who left audiences gob-smacked by her portrayal of an entire class of troubled New York teenagers and all their teachers.

6.     I need to sneak in a 6th 5 star show, the inspired Arena production of Jesus Christ Superstar that catapulted Lloyd Webber’s 70s rock opera into the 21st century with the urgency of a youthful, political revolution complete with tweets, graffiti and a chorus of dread-locked ferals as Jesus' followers.

Beaten by a nose – or half a star – were a handful of shows on 4½, including two smart, Australian political comedy shows: Rod Quantock’s First Man Standing and Charlie Pickering and Waleed Aly’s The World’s Problems Solved.

4½ stars also went to The Other Place (MTC) featuring Catherine McClements’ exceptional performance as a brittle scientist suffering dementia, the perpetually perky Aussie production of Legally Blonde, and Cirque du Soleil’s new crowd- pleaser, Ovo.

Locally written and produced shows fared well amongst my 4 star list: Nicola Gunn’s In Spite of Myself, Patricia Cornelius’ Savages, Men of Steel’s Hard Rubbish, Melissa Langton’s solo cabaret, A Singer Must Die, and Eddie Perfect’s updated version of Shane Warne the Musical.

The inimitable Caroline O’Connor sparkled in Gypsy (The Production Company), Bert LaBonté was a passionate Martin Luther King in The Mountaintop (MTC), and Kate Kendall deserves another season of The Lover.

The gargantuan creature in King Kong warranted 5 stars for its masterly design and manipulation, expressive face and imposing physicality, but the unmemorable music and overwrought production style let Kong down.

While the MTC had some successes, our other major company, the Malthouse had a decidedly lacklustre year.

More power to the local product in 2014.

By Kate Herbert

NB: I didn't see every theatre show in Melbourne in 2013.

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