Sunday, 17 December 2017

My Favourite Theatre of 2017

Joan by The Rabble

I saw theatre in Melbourne, Sydney, Seattle and San Francisco this year. There was a superb line-up of work at the Malthouse Theatre and Theatre Works this year, as well as some tough comedy at the Melbourne Comedy Festival.

Here’s my list of highlights, not ranked except the first.

Michael Luwoye as Hamilton in Hamilton

1. HAMILTON by Lin-Manuel Miranda (San Francisco, North American Tour)

I didn’t write a review of this show after I saw it in San Francisco in August because I wasn’t sure what else needed to be said about this astonishing musical about Alexander Hamilton, one of America’s founding fathers. I knew the songs backward; I had even seen a bootleg video recording. Nothing could have prepared me for what I witnessed in that theatre. The direction is superb; the choreography enhances the lyrics and the story in surprising and moving ways.

The first North American tour cast was refreshingly different than the original cast, whose voices I knew so well from the cast recording. I am so used to seeing replica productions where the actors are cast so close to the original actors that it can only invite comparisons. I didn’t once think of Lin-Manuel Miranda’s performance as Hamilton as I watched Michael Luwoye’s complicated, layered take on the character. I will never forget his flood of tears during “It’s Quiet Uptown”.


THE REST OF THE TOP TEN (alphabetical order)


ATLANTIS by Lally Katz (Belvoir)

A follow up to Stories I Want to Tell You in Person, Katz is played to superb effect by Amber McMahon. Rosemary Myer’s production was a wild ride through Vegas, New York, Miami and Katz’s mind. Hilarious and heartbreaking.

AWAKENING by Daniel Lammin (45 Downstairs)

Taking the classic Spring Awakening and giving more agency to the female characters and putting a modern context on the second half, Lammin’s writing and directing blew me away.

Caravan

CARAVAN by Angus Cerini, Patricia Cornelius, Wayne Mcauley & Melissa Reeves (Melbourne Festival/Malthouse)

Susie Dee and Nicci Wilkes inhabit their caravan-residing mother/daughter duo in this biting satire that exposed a Melbourne Festival audience to characters we so frequently see on our stages.

CHIMERICA by Lucy Kirkwood (Sydney Theatre Company)

A big, bold production of Kirkwood’s exploration of history and personal responsibility and how a picture may contain a thousand words, but none of them may be right.

THE ENCOUNTER by Complicite (Malthouse)

An immersive audio experience that, like Chimerica, questioned a foreigner’s responsibility when entering other countries to report on the world.

GLITTERY CLITTERY by the Fringe Wives Club (Melbourne Comedy Festival)

Songs, game shows, audience participation and a strong feminist message. I could have seen this show again and again.

JOAN by The Rabble (Theatre Works)

Another remarkable work by The Rabble, contemplating the real and fictional history of Joan of Arc. The visual moments of this production are seared on my mind but the glorious text late in the piece as Joan finds her voice was equally stunning.

NANETTE by Hannah Gadsby (Melbourne Comedy Festival)

A farewell to her stand-up career, I saw this relatively early in the year and then Gadsby performed it across the globe and across the country dozens more times. Jokes without punchlines. Punch lines without jokes. Devastating. A virtuosic performance.

WILD BORE by Adrienne Truscott, Zoe Coombs Marr, Ursula Martinez (Malthouse)

A show criticising criticism. A takedown of lazy critics and a challenge to even the best ones. Made me think harder about every work I reviewed after I saw this one.

THE NEXT TEN


AMERICAN SONG by Joanna Murray Smith (Red Stitch)

A play about gun violence in America that hit me so hard, I sobbed through the second half of this incredible production.

Angels in America

ANGELS IN AMERICA by Tony Kushner (45 Downstairs)

Gary Abraham’s superb production of Kushner’s classic was deceptively minimalist, but this show is so much about the words and the performances, you don’t need to overdo it with stage magic. But the magic was there anyway.

AWAY by Michael Gow (Malthouse)

The classic Australian play is burned into my mind from high school and from revisiting it on the page every few years. Matthew Lutton’s production opened it up in ways that were refreshing and new and heartbreaking. And I am so jealous of the school kids who were studying it this year and saw this show.

BOOK OF EXODUS, PART I by Fraught Outfit (Theatre Works)

Another incredible work from Adena Jacobs collaborating with children.

MERCILESS GODS by Dan Giovanni (Griffin Theatre)

Little Ones’ stage adaptation of Christopher Tsiolkas’ short stories is the mostly explicitly gay show and conversely their least camp/queer work. Still remarkable in it simplicity and the strength of performances.

MONKEY SEE, MONKEY DO by Richard Gadd (Melbourne Comedy Festival)

This was a tough comedy show about sexuality and depression. Unforgettable.

NICHE by Elbow Room (Northcote Town Hall)

Selling pop stardom along with feminism and the complications when you are desperate for her brand to go viral. I need this show back and for it to travel. Emily Tomlins and Erynn-Jean Norvill were, as always, incredible.

Niche

THE REAL AND IMAGINED HISTORY OF THE ELEPHANT MAN by Tom Wright (Malthouse)

This was a tough show to watch, though a Wright/Lutton collaboration is always elegant in its way. John Merrick’s life is both known and unknown and this show tries to reconcile both sides.

A STRATEGIC PLAN by Ross Mueller (Griffin Theatre)

Art and commerce; it’s a tough balance to maintain. This is a show about music venues closing down but it’s also about trying to make art without compromise.

SPENCER by Katy Warner (Lab Kelpie, Chapel Off Chapel)

An hilarious family comedy about having high expectations and never really meeting them. Great script, perfect cast.

OTHER MEMORABLE SHOWS


THE BASEMENT TAPES by Chapel Perilous (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

CUCKOO by Jane Miller (15 Minutes from Anywhere)

DESERT, 6:29PM by Morgan Rose (Red Stitch)

FULLY SIK by Tessa Waters (Melbourne Comedy Festival)

FUN HOME by Lisa Kron & Jeanine Tesori (North American Tour, Seattle)

MURIEL’S WEDDING: THE MUSICAL by PJ Hogan, Kate Miller-Heidke & Keir Nuttall (Sydney Theatre Company)

THE NOSE by The Bloomshed (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

THE ONE by Jeffrey Jay Fowler (Melbourne Fringe Festival)

TOO READY MIRROR by Jamaica Zuanetti (Melbourne Fringe Festival)


Desert, 6:29pm


PAST YEARS


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