And so here it is, the end of another year in Liverpool theatre. There have been all sorts of treats to be found throughout 2012, from giant productions to the ever-remarkable resilience and vibrancy of the grass roots arts scene. Here are some of my favourites.
Performance of the year: Tim Minchin as Judas in Jesus Christ Superstar (Echo Arena, October). Oh my goodness. There is now nothing this man can’t do. After the Aussie musical comedian turned his hand to musical theatre to pen the West End smash hit Matilda, he went on to take to the stage himself in this Andrew Lloyd Webber revival. Passionate, dramatic and heartbreakingly good, now I know what Lady Gaga was going on about. (The production also deserved praise for being the best thing Mel C has ever done by miles, and for making Chris Moyles a palatable presence. If you missed it, it comes back to the arena in March 2013.)
Best actor: Stephen Fletcher as Jamie in The Last 5 Years (Actors Studio, July). The Liverpool actor has never been better than in the role of the tortured romantic male lead in this beautiful two-hander.
Best actress: Amanda Drew as Blanche DuBois in A Streetcar Named Desire (Liverpool Playhouse, February). A truly breathtaking performance in this pitch-perfect production of the theatrical classic.
Best community production: MATE Drama Workshop’s The Yarn (Unity Theatre, September). Everything that is good about community theatre, this lovely piece about a fictional village’s tales of yore was a labour of love and it showed.
Best ensemble: Elegies for Angels, Punks and Raging Queens (Iosis Studio, November). Some 36 professional and non-professional actors and performers joined together for this impressive, uplifting and emotional show that told the stories of a wide variety of characters who had died from AIDS.
Best comedy: Big Wow’s The Art of Falling Apart (Unity Theatre, January). What do you mean, you didn’t see it? Well, it’s back on at the Unity for a second run from January 9, 2013. Don’t be so silly again.
Best double act: Not a double act in the usual knockabout sense of the word, but Elinor Randle and Yorgos Karamalegos of Tmesis theatre company launched this year’s Physical Fest with a revival of their exquisitely beautiful first piece, also called Tmesis, which it was an absolute pleasure to see performed again (Unity Theatre, May).
Best new play: There was nothing quite like the Anfield Home Tour (Liverpool Biennial, November). No other work this year had as much to say in such a unique and touching way.
Best speech: The Playhouse’s artistic director and exective director Gemma Bodinetz and Deborah Aydon deserve a special mention for giving the usual opening night speech of this year’s rock ‘n’ roll panto (Liverpool Playhouse, December) dressed in the ludicrous oversized squirrel and nut costumes that feature in the show. Yes, it actually happened, and photographic evidence does exist somewhere.
Best dance: No contest here – an unforgettable three-minute solo from Darren Pritchard (below) as part of Homotopia’s Archetype gallery tour, led by performance artist David Hoyle (Walker Art Gallery, November). An unexpected and profound thing of beauty.
Best touring musical: On this score, Liverpool has been well and truly spoiled rotten this year, with some outstanding productions passing through including Dirty Dancing, Legally Blonde (again) and 42nd Street. But for me, the magic of The King & I (Liverpool Empire, April) clinches it.
Best trilogy: The Norman Conquests (Liverpool Playhouse, May) was simply adorable, evocative and an unforgettable delight.
The ‘you only take me to see the crap’ tribute award: My sister Nicola is often my +1 on review nights, and she’ll often joke I’ll only take her if I can’t find anyone else to see the crap shows. However, this year I managed to keep her happy with loads of good stuff, plus it’s always nice to have a proper punter’s opinion. Her hits of the year included Vincent and Flavia’s Midnight Tango (Liverpool Empire, June), A Streetcar Named Desire, Dirty Dancing, and Avenue Q (Liverpool Empire, June).
Event of the year: The Improvathon (The Kazimier, March). A 33-and-a-half hour non-stop made up cacophony of comedy madness, the experience you take away from watching even a fraction of the show stays with you for a long time.
Moment of the year: I do tend to forget about Sea Odyssey (city centre, April) as I was struck down with gastroenteritis as soon as it finished, so tend to associate the whole weekend with unpleasant happenings. However, its importance can’t be underestimated as we wave goodbye to the last of our Capital of Culture year cash, and the moment the Little Girl Giant was reunited with her Uncle at the waterfront must have been one of the most sweet and magical things to happen in the city since Lennon met McCartney.