It’s that time again – and after a frightful year all round, here’s a bit of cheer with the MADEUP Top Five of 2016 list. Hooray!
Personal circumstance meant it’s still been hard for to see anywhere near as much theatre as would be ideal, but there have been some real bonuses too, and fingers crossed this site still pretty much knows what’s what (a bit).
Two fantastic things to happen this year include making it on to Radio 4’s Front Row programme to review the Everyman’s The Massive Tragedy of Madame Bovary! (which was so deliciously complex I nearly made this a top six); the other was becoming part of the fantastic My Theatre Mates, the online network set up by leading theatre critics Terri Paddock and Mark Shenton. This means everything that is published on MADEUP is promoted through their channels also – it’s great to know that regional theatre is being acknowledged and supported in such a way, and I’m personally really proud to be able to keep being a champion of that.
The site was named one of the top 30 theatre blogs on the web by Feedspot; and finally I also joined the reading panel of the Liverpool Hope Playwriting Prize – really looking forward to seeing which scripts make it on to the shortlist in 2017.
So without further ado! Here were my very favourite things of the last twelve months:
5. I Am Thomas, Liverpool Playhouse, (February)
The Playhouse, in conjunction with the National Theatre of Scotland and touring company Told By an Idiot, presented this ‘brutal comedy with songs’, with lyrics by poet Simon Armitage, early on in the year. Thought-provoking, bonkers, funny and brave, the incredible voice of supporting actor John Pfumojena alone might have made it one of the best of the year. (Full review here)
4 As You Like It, Prescot Parish Church and grounds (August)
Community arts organisation MATE Productions did wonderful things with this Shakespearean comedy in the summer, taking audiences inside a church and around its woodland grounds for a delightful, imaginative, feel-good production. Homemade cake, a wrestling match in a nave, and some truly lovely music alongside many other impressive, accessible touches made this one of the most enjoyable plays of the year. Read the full review.
[Note – The production also toured Merseyside and was performed at RSC Stratford in collaboration with Prescot-based Shakespeare North, for which there are ridiculously exciting times ahead. Read more about that, here.]
3 You Kissed Me, 41 Ritson Street, Toxteth (May)
“A challenging, beautiful one-woman show that may have only played to a handful of people over several performances, yet will undoubtedly have provided an experience not a one of us will forget,” so read the review back in spring. I stand by this absolutely –this Physical Fest piece by performer Fionnuala Dorrity was so incredibly haunting, intriguing, unusual and touching, it was clear right away it would make this list. Full review here.
2 The Merchant of Venice, Liverpool Playhouse (July)
It doesn’t get much finer than Jonathan Pryce as Shylock, on the Liverpool stage. A touring collaboration with Shakespeare’s Globe, from Liverpool it went to New York, Venice and China. Press night in the city was put on hold, hence the lack of regional reviews, although the Echo (presumably) rightly went on their own time and expense to give a take on it here. A sumptuous and absorbing treatment of a personal favourite.
1 Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone, Unity Theatre (October)
Josette Bushell-Mingo’s one-woman play had everything – there are so, so many reasons why it deserves a top spot. As MADEUP put it at the time: “The show entertains, illuminates, moves, educates and unifies. Nina – A Story About Me and Nina Simone is important. It is theatre that really, truly matters. Indeed, it could arguably be the most valuable and most definitive work the Unity has ever staged – giving a platform and a voice to a hugely political, fiercely independent, intensely visceral, inspirational and challenging piece of theatre, recalling history yet existing very much in the here and now; devised and performed by a sensational and intuitive performer and communicator, whose career began to flourish here decades ago.” (Read the full review here)