It’s part two of MADEUP’s best of 2013, and from musicals about mutant bats, vampire ballets and the Bard to disco infernos, once again all human (theatrical) life is here… Here are some of the best bits from May to August:
11. Matthew Bourne returned
The imagination of uber-choreographer Matthew Bourne is always welcome at the Empire, where audiences could catch his gothic take on Sleeping Beauty back in May. You just may have seen it on UK TV on Christmas day – if not, it’s available on BBC iPlayer for a little while longer (Jan 1 2014 to be exact).
12. Ticking seeing Jason Donovan on stage off the bucket list
Every time I’ve tried to see Jason Donovan in a show over the years, I’ve ended up with his understudy. I was half expecting the same to happen when Priscilla Queen of the Desert came to the Empire in May, but no! A camp delight from start to finish, with extra authentic Aussie former heart-throb. Great fun. Review here.
13. Car Door Moments
The Physical Fest returned this year and one of its highlights was a one-woman piece from Lancaster-based dancer Ellen Turner. In Car Door Moment she explored the crazy, spilt second thoughts that rationality and common sense prevent us from acting on – and the Unity were probably picking the spaghetti out of the rafters for months afterwards.
14. The Last 5 Years (pictured, top)
Possibly my personal favourite production of the year, I would happily watch Stephen Fletcher and Helen Carter’s portrayal of doomed couple Jamie and Cathy again and again. Staged at the Epstein theatre back in June, this superb production of Jason Robert Brown’s off-Broadway musical was a real gem (full review here).
15. Branagh live
Not strictly on stage in the city, we had a chance to see Kenneth Branagh’s sold out production of Macbeth beamed into FACT as it was performed live as part of Manchester International Festival from a disused church. Ray Fearon’s Macduff arguably outshone Sir Ken himself.
16. Jak Malone is Bat Boy
From acting royalty back to the community scene, What We Did Next finally tackled a show that had been in their sights for some time – the ludicrous, yet catchy Bat Boy – at the Unity theatre in June. He may not be a professional, but a fantastic performance from Jak Malone in the title role was one of the most striking of the year, demanding physicality and comic timing as well as being able to make a believable romantic lead. Review here.
17. When I was a Girl I used to Scream and Shout (Unity Theatre, July)
This revival of an 1980s coming of age tale by Sharman Macdonald re-introduced audiences to a perfect piece of fringe theatre and a play with real depth. A fascinating story about the relationships between three women (reviewed here), it was brought lovingly to life by Gillian Hardie, better known as one half of comic duo Caz and Britney.
18. Can’t help falling in love
A promenade piece with a difference, How to Fall in Love (reviewed here) paired its audience into twos and forced them on a date around the city. Not everyone’s cup of tea I grant you, but the show was cute, funny and touching, and my favourite bit was getting our portrait drawn against the backdrop of the Chinese Arch on the way round.
19. Sketchpocolypse Now
More sketch-based shenanigans from those purveyors of Mello Mello’s Comedy Knight, the Legion of Doom. The trio were at their finest – and funniest – with this ‘best of’ show at 81 Renshaw in August, before they headed to Edinburgh.
20. Vaudeville returns
Unknowingly kicking off something of a vaudeville revival this summer was Life in Theatre’s production of Neil Simon’s The Sunshine Boys at the Epstein in August. Alan Stocks and Andrew Schofield couldn’t fail as the old-school comedy duo with the love-hate relationship, and director and co-star Stephen Fletcher’s lovingly crafted period piece was another great piece of work. Read more about the production in the review, here.
21. 999 for Desdemona
The perils of outdoor theatre – as tormented Othello was busy throttling the life out of innocent Desdemona in Grosvenor Park in Chester Performs’ open air production, the night we went along a real life-emergency ruined the moment as a fleet of sirens honked their way past as the fair lady breathed her last.
22. Iago is undone
It was back-to-back Othello this August, as city centre-based Trickster Theatre also took on the tragedy in the less conventional confines of the Kazimier. Cellan Scott stole the show as Iago, taunting and captivating the audience until the very end. His remorseless, maniacal laughter as the lights went down was masterfully chilling (review here)
The Royal Court revived one of its biggest hits of recent years at the end of the summer, with former Las/ Cast man John Power taking on the role of John Lennon. An unarguably enjoyable play all round, most everyone will have a different favourite moment. Mine was Julia, a version so sweet and heartfelt as to be more enjoyable than the original (can I say that? I just said that). Here’s a clip of him.
We’re nearly there… only one more post to go to take us from September to December. Stay tuned…