It’s the last day of the year, so here it is: MADEUP’s best of 2014, a top ten of some of the most memorable, touching, fun and impressive shows that graced the stages of the city over the last twelve months.
10. Animal Farm (The Arts Club, October)
Community theatre company Tell Tale once again demonstrated their ambition and imagination with their own adaptation of George Orwell’s allegorical tale. Some striking performances and nods to modern politics from writer Laurence Wilson made this one of their best works to date. (Review here)
9. The Bells (Unity, January)
The Bells kicked off another packed year at the Unity Theatre and returns in 2015. A gothic drama telling the tale of a village with a dark secret, it is the first of two mentions in this list for a Deborah McAndrew play, in this case, an adaptation of an 1871 work by Leopold Lewis. The production, by Hazard Theatre, was due to return to the Unity next month but is being rescheduled, hopefully as part of a tour. (Review here)
8. The Lion King (the Empire, May)
No bigger show came to Liverpool this year, and there were certainly few better. This polished and perfected Disney classic didn’t put a foot wrong – and after all the hype, audiences wouldn’t have settled for less. (Review here)
7. [title of show] (the Lantern, November)
The final show of the year from community musical theatre company What We Did Next was a kooky and self-aware off-Broadway show about the trials and tribulations of writing an off-Broadway show. An amateur cast as competent as any professionals included the superlatively talented Jak Malone, who always ends up getting a mention in these round ups one way or another. (Review here)
6. An August Bank Holiday Lark (the Playhouse, May)
Deborah McAndrew’s new play for Northern Broadsides to commemorate the outbreak of World War One told the story of the villagers left behind as their sons and lovers went to battle. A gentle tearjerker almost in the vein of War Horse, this charming and genuinely moving piece stayed long in the memory. It won McAndrew a UK Theatre Award, and director, star and NB stalwart Barrie Rutter was named today in the new years honours list. (Review here)
5. Improvathon (Kazimier, April)
No surprises from me here, as the annual 33 hour improvathon is always one of the highlights of the year. This year’s 2014 minute non-stop, completely off-the-cuff instalment of fun and games was as amusing, clever and bizarre as ever – as I wrote at the time: “It started as a tale of life in a genteel English village. Some 2014 minutes – or roughly 33-and-a-half hours later – sweet old granny Mother Bowman had been revealed as a regenerating demon, possessing the family for 400 years; and it all ended as 1950s Umbridge came together to celebrate the first gay wedding between the village’s two priests – officiated by God, of course.” (see pictures from the event here and here)
4. Twelfth Night (Everyman, March)
Twelfth Night was the play to open the brand new Everyman theatre, and boy did it deliver. Shakespeare’s rowdy comedy impressed on all counts as it showed off the venue’s new facilities and boasted a brilliant ensemble, including Matthew Kelly, Nicholas Woodeson, Pauline Daniels and Paul Duckworth, unforgettable as Feste the fool, played in increasingly outré drag. (Review here)
3. Black (Unity, November)
Black, a one-man, autobiographical show from cabaret performer and opera singer Le Gateau Chocolate returned to Homotopia this year with the addition of a 12-piece orchestra, the Psappha Ensemble. A beautiful and moving one-hour piece about the art of the performer and the struggle for self-acceptance, it remains one of the most wonderful original pieces to come out of the city in a long time. (Interview with Le Gateau Chocolate here)
2. The 25th Annual Putnam County Spelling Bee (Unity, March)
This quirky musical about an interstate schools spelling competition was the debut production from Unknown, a company comprising mainly LIPA students and amateur performers. But the energy, enthusiasm and talent on stage – not to mention the catchy songs and infectious comic script – made this busy and charming show one of the most joyous of the year. (Review here)
1. Broken Biscuits (Lantern, September)
Broken Biscuits came out of the left field this autumn and this powerful, emotional drama proved itself one of the top productions of the year. A debut play for writer Tricia Duffy, it told the tale of two best friends whose lives are torn apart when their soldier sons go off to war – and only one returns. An in-house production at the Lantern, directed by the venue’s owner Margaret Connell, it was the highlight in a great year for the theatre, that really seems to have hit its stride in 2014, supporting new writing, comedy, folk music, and appealing to established and up-and-coming theatremakers alike.
Honorable mentions: Lloyd Hutchison gave one of the performances of the year as Eddie Carbone in A View from the Bridge (Playhouse, April); Tonderai Munyevu was captivating in Sizwe Banzi is Dead (Playhouse Studio, May), and Karl Falconer of Purple Coat productions gave a spine-tinglingly good soliloquy as Aston in Pinter’s The Caretaker (Lantern, May); What We Did Next worked wonders performing Roger and Hammerstein’s lavish musical Carousel with just two pianos (Unity, June) and Kneehigh’s highly anticipated Dead Dog in a Suitcase had surely one of the most breathtakingly impressive finales ever staged in the city (Everyman, June); a lovely visual gag featuring the Crosby beach iron men set the scene for the lovely Grace and the Sea, specially written for community theatre group MATE Productions (Unity, July); Trickster Theatre turned their hand to Shakespearean comedy with their funny and charming version of Much Ado About Nothing (the Kazimier, August); local lads Stephen Fletcher and Danny O’Brien were among the many good things about the Royal Court’s production of Noises Off in September, and Ashleigh Gray was a spectacular Elpheba when Wicked came to town (Empire, September); and finally, a revival of seventies crime drama Sus was pertinent and fantastically acted (the Black-E, October). Phew!