Last year at this time I was gleefully taking a holiday on the continent, but this year the funds simply aren’t available - heck, they aren’t even available to make it back to the theatre before New Year’s. Reviews are likely to be sparse for a while, barring free tickets making themselves available.
To be honest, I can do with a bit less theatre these days. My goal for 2008 was to see 100 shows, and by my estimates I went to the theatre at least 125 times this year including revisits and to see shows which I didn’t cover here for a variety of reasons (friends in, professional coverage, etc.) which is a lot - arguably too much - by anybody’s standards (short of those who usher one of the big tourist shows and see half of it eight times a week.) Needless to say, I’ve completely forgotten about most of what I saw. This news shouldn’t come as much of a surprise, as only the truly great and utterly awful remain in our memories. All of the shows mentioned below, regardless of whether or not I said they were good or bad, succeeded greatly in NOT being mediocre and forgettable. Regular readers will not be surprised to find an overwhelming number of musicals listed below as well.
“Nice Try” award - So Jest End. The author emailed regarding his dismay with my negative review, and I hope that he can take that venom and use it in future revisions of the show. I am also available to write snarky theatre parodies should anybody wish to hire my services.
Worst One-man show - An Audience With The Mafia. If I were a praying man I’d have asked god why this insipid, self-indulgent, and boring piece of dreck was allowed to make it to a stage. Easily one of the worst shows AT ALL of 2008.
Best Revue - Make Me A Song. I love William Finn, and the cast were excellent. Too bad nobody actually went, thereby ensuring that producers would see no interest in Finn in London and again passing over Spelling Bee for a London run.
Best Concert series - Maria Friedman Rearranged. While some more variety between the Menier and Trafalgar runs would have been nice, Ms. Friedman is charming and this concert series is warm and inviting.
Best One-man show - Jay Johnson: The Two and Only. A funny, touching piece about a man, his art, and the loss of heroes that was cut tragically short due to producer failure and placement in the Arts Theatre (Of DEATH!) The marquee is still posted at the Arts’ former location.
Best Concept In Need of a Dramaturge - Involution. This sci-fi look at genetics and religion had much to offer: a dystopian setting, interesting and conflicted characters, and some great dialogue, but it also meandered and dragged. Some well placed edits and this could be a serious contender of a piece.
Best Show That’s I Took Too Long To See - Black Watch. Finally something that justified reworking the main stage at the Barbican. So what if it toured for a year before I saw it?
Worst Characters - You’ve Been A Wonderful Audience. Dying comedians, annoying prats, and whiny sidekicks combined in the smelly furnace known as the Barons Court.
Play of Ultimate Suffering - Tough Time, Nice Time. OK OK, so I hadn’t slept for three days before seeing this due to an ongoing flu and felt like utter hell during the performance wanting nothing more than to reach a state of unconsciousness and failing miserably. One would think that two naked men sitting in a bathtub being entirely unsexy would have done the job, but sadly I made it through this one awake, in much pain, and hating every minute.
Best Adaptation - Brief Encounter. I truly regret not making more of an effort to see this delightful, cozy and brilliant production a second time. Thankfully it’s touring in 2009 and hopefully coming near London again if not making a triumphant return to the West End.
Best Pantomime - Mother Goose (Hackney Empire.) OK so I could argue that I also saw Dick Whittington for the second time in 2008 (and I liked it better) but of the three shows I’ve seen so far, this is unchallenged as the best panto of the 2008 season and likely to go unchallenged as finance is keeping me away from Croydon and Stratford.
Best Alternative Christmas Show - The Devil Wears Tweed. A hilarious send-up that got me digging for classic radio serials. And yes, it does border on being a musical. So did Brief Encounter.
Best Devised Piece - Spyski. A hilarious send-up that...hey wait a second, am I being too obvious with my love/hate of certain genres? Anyhow, this time it’s a crossover between espionage films and Oscar Wilde. What’s not to love?
Worst Classic Play - Troilus and Cressida (Barbican.) Boring, badly staged, boring, poorly costumed, boring, over-acted, boring, full of annoying characters, boring, expensive, and REALLY FUCKING BORING. Also deserves an award for Worst Stage Combat. No wonder it went over so well wherever they premiered it (somewhere on the continent that speaks French) and little wonder that I continue to avoid Shakespeare as a result.
Best Play - August: Osage County. Did you really need to ask?
Best Surprise - Imagine This. I went into this expecting a horrid score and to be hit with the “help help we’re being oppressed” stick. Instead I was greeted with some sweeping tunes and the best musical staging all year.
Runner-up: A Tale of Two Cities at Upstairs at the Gatehouse. Not just for who was behind it but for making Dickens’ epic intensely intimate and for assembling one of the best casts on the London Fringe.
Best Turn-Your-Brain-Off Show - Joseph. It’s a long time personal favourite, and it’s hard not to crack a smile by the end.
Best Early Closure: RENT Remixed. Two months early. Everybody else has gone on to better jobs without skipping a beat.
Best Revival: The Music Man (Chichester.) OK so not a TONNE of competition this year, but everything about this production was spot on and even this cynical bastard felt chills of anticipation and excitement when Winston sang of the Wells Fargo Wagon. Unfortunately it appears that plans to transfer this production to the West End this spring have fallen through due to the economy.
Biggest Waste of the Creators’ Time: Rue Magique. Ten years went into this insipid mess about child prostitution. Sometimes it’s better to pull the plug and pursue alternative avenues.
Best Fringe Musical: Betwixt. Smart, funny, and charming (there’s that word again...) this show was a perfect reminder of why London is so desperately in need of more mid-sized venues. Word is that this one is bound for New York.
Most Out Of Character Production: Come Dancing. A remarkably tame celebrity pet project took centre stage in this year’s lineup at Stratford East. And while I had some issues with the piece, there’s a lot going for it and it’s always a thrill to see pop composers coming to the theatre.
Die Vampire Die Award: Dracula (White Bear.) Can we please just get Tanz der Vampire in London?
Most Overhyped Production: Marguerite. The creative team from Les Miz. One of the biggest divas in the West End. An utterly unimpressive evening with bland lyrics and the least sympathetic lead character in a musical since Scarlet O’Hara. Speaking of which....
Worst New Musical: Gone With The Wind. Not only did GWTW have a longer gestation period than Rue Magique, it had far more money behind it and a creative team which should have known far, far better and taken the necessary steps to either quit while ahead or perform the radical reworkings needed to make this piece tolerable. While Rue Magique was certainly an example of what not to do in writing a musical, it was never boring - a term which more than aptly described Gone With The Wind.
Best Musical Performance: Elena Roger in Piaf. Talk about a celebrity vehicle! And a personal one as well - my professional writing debut was a review of the Donmar’s production.
Best New Musical: Eurobeat, The Harder They Come (tie.) Funny enough, neither of these is *truly* new (both ran on the fringe long before I saw them) but they were new to me and I wound up visiting each four times. Eurobeat was wickedly funny and full of catchy novelty pop songs. The Harder They Come may have been a film adaptation, but with the original creatives contributing the film’s anarchic spirit and grit came across surprisingly well, especially after the show took up residence in the small yet lavish Playhouse vs. the impersonal bunker at the Barbican (I felt more involved in the circle at the Playhouse than in the front row at the Barbican.) Sadly both shows came to premature demises - the former closing two weeks early after a disastrous tour and the latter closed two months ahead of schedule. But amazing they were, and will be fondly remembered.
Here’s looking forward to 2009 and posts requiring far less formatting.