I’m late with this list. Apparently the beginning of December is the time that everyone does end-of-year lists. Top tens for everything, and in the small corner of the internet that I follow and like to pretend to be part of, in many cases they are top ten theatre shows.
Many of the lists I read feel very samey, as one would expect, and are very London centric: that play by that guy, that play directed by only Dutch director anyone over here seems to have heard of, that retro-escapist musical at the National, Hamilton added in to show off for having a ticket… London is wonderful, and I’m not going to start bashing critics for not getting out of London more (that’s been done enough by other people), but I don’t think London has very many venues or frequent festivals that are putting on really exciting, boundary-breaking new theatre, or engaging that well with what’s happening internationally.
I have been lucky enough to do a lot of travelling to see performance this year, thanks to both an Arts Council England & British Council Artists’ International Development Fund grant and my part time role as Circus Producer (joint maternity cover) at Roundhouse, and partly in other professional and personal capacities. At last count I attended some of at least 24 arts festivals (of various kinds) in 2017 including 12 outside of the UK. I’m fully aware of how lucky I’ve been – I can’t imagine it being quite the same for the next few years so I might as well make the most of it. So this post is obviously a brag, but also I wanted to share some of the great performances that I’ve seen: many of them will never make it to the UK, or might never be on again in London, but if you can, go see them or look out for what the artists are doing next.
I’m ever-increasingly fascinated, obsessed and excited by form. I love work which blows apart convention and traditional narrative structures, alongside our expectations of how theatre (as broadly as possible) should be and how it should be presented. Experimental dramaturgies. This is a list of performances which I felt really did something different, and did it really fucking well. They’re performances that moved forward my ideas of where performance is going next, or blended form and meaning in ways that made me think differently, or are just really ‘out-there’ and deserve recognition for it. It’s ended up somewhere close to a ‘best of’ for me, but that’s not the intention and there’s a few exceptions.
Nine shows, in chronological order by (first) watching:
- The Voice of Nature by Tim Spooner (UK), TJP Strasbourg, January (seen again at WATCH OUT Festival, Cambridge Junction, May)
Tim’s meticulous, chaotic, micro-mechanical live sculpture performances are a bizarre but beautiful insight into another world. The Voice of Nature is Tim’s first ‘full length’ show, on a big stage and it’s wonderfully uncategorisable. So uncategorisable that it’s having little interest from UK venues.
- Effet Bekkrell by Groupe Bekkrell (FR), BIAC Marseilles, February (now part of CircusFest at Roundhouse in April 2018)
Eexhilarating, raw, riot-grrl abstract circus-chaos. They use their skills and tricks in new ways, teetering on the edge of failure and reaching a physical vocabulary beyond most contemporary circus. (Molly Nicholson and I loved it and had to bring it to the UK.)
- Story #1 by Rachel Mars and Greg Wohead (UK), The Yard Theatre, London, February
It’s a spoiler to tell you but this show that starts with the entire audience and both performers together watching an entire episode of Come Dine With Me. Followed by a cunning and playful deconstruction of narrative and the duo’s relationship. I just loved the gall they had to do it.
- Bacchae – Prelude to a Purge by Marelene Monteiro Freitas (CV/PT), SPRING Utrecht, May
90+ minutes of OTT, super-slick Weimar-influenced stylised movement meets jazz and swing brass concert. Yep. Could have been annoying, but I found it mesmerising. An audience member collapsed, and in his delirium blamed the show, but the show resumed with extraordinary continued momentum.
- A Piece of 2 (Balancing Human Sized Rocks) by Nick Steur (NL), Oerol Terschelling, June (coming to the Brighton Festival in May 2018)
A durational performance combining two formal enquiries from Nicks’s past work. Over 6 hours, singlehandedly balances two huge irregular-shaped boulders on each other. The concentration and investment in balance is mesmerising.
- Windstilleven by Collectief Walden (NL), Oerol Terschelling, June
An abstract poetic look at the theory of relativity, taking half of the audience on a walked experience through seaside sand-dunes, pits and tufts to end up locked inside a huge pinhole camera and witness the rest of the audience as performance.
- The Believers Are But Brothers by Javaad Alipoor (UK), Summerhall, Edinburgh, August (coming to the Bush Theatre in January 2018)
A play, but not as we know them: experienced as part monologue, part Watsapp group, and part video. Traditionally theatrical, I felt somewhere towards understanding the online radicalisation of young Islamic men, and simultaneously impressed by how smoothly the formats blended, diverged and synchronised.
- Staged by Circumference (UK), Jacksons Lane, London, September
Won’t spoilt this one. Well-done but unoriginal choreographic circus-theatre becomes an extraordinary woke, coup-de-theatre. Circumference are thinking about circus in self-aware, intellectual ways that are vital for the development of the form in the UK.
- Andante by Igor and Moreno (UK), Cambridge Junction, November
Each of Igor and Moreno’s performances on the edge of dance-theatre find new scenographic and choreographic languages. This one is dominated by the filling of the theatre space with thick smoke until there is nothing left to see. I’m a long-time fan and I’ve written further about this here.