Best of 2016

Despite everything that has happened in the wider world, 2016 has been an incredible year for theatre in Manchester, both in terms of local output, and for the standard of visiting companies.  Often, there has been too much to choose from, and theatre can truly take over your life if you let it.  Some shows are finished by the time you hear how good they are.  Others come with fanfare and reputation; some live up to it.  These are the ten shows that define 2016 for me.  Yes, there are a lot of shows that almost made the list; the quality this year has been exceptional.  But these are the shows that have tilted my axis, and somehow changed the way I see the world, if only by a fraction.  Presented in alphabetical order.

Domestica, Sleepwalk Collective, HOME, October.

The Orbit festival at HOME was one of the highlights of the year. Despite some superb shows including Women’s Hour, Two Man Show and Lemons, my clear choice was Sleepwalk Collective’s Domestica. I had to see it twice to understand why I loved it so much but I could happily see it again and again.  We watch, as if we stand in front of a painting. And yet we’re watching something in transition, a railing against the familiar portrayal of women in art.

Ghosts, HOME, November.

HOME have gained a deserved reputation for bringing new and exciting theatre to Manchester, with gems such as The Emperor, Gecko’s Institute, Adolphus Tips, 32 Rue Vandenbranden, Beyond Caring and World Factory. There would be an argument to include many of these shows in a top ten list.  But for me the most impressive production was Polly Findlay’s Ghosts. Beautifully staged, expertly directed and with the most perfect pace, this was a bold adaptation of a classic text that speaks to us here and now.

Handle with Care, Dante or Die, Lowry Week 53 Festival, April.

The Lowry’s Week 53 festival was very much a hit and miss affair. Some gems (Anatomie in Four Quarters) and some that didn’t hit the mark. But standing out was Dante or Die’s Handle with Care staged in a storage unit in Salford, exploring how we deal with memories. A poignant, moving performance that encourages you to reflect on your own experiences.   And this is a theatre company to watch; their new work, Take on Me, so far limited to the South of England, is superb.

Late Night Love, Eggs Collective, HOME, June.

There’s a myth that reviewers will review every show they go to. Sometimes you just want to sit back and enjoy a great show and not think about why you love it. So it was with Eggs Collective. There is no review. Yet I loved this show. It took me back to nights in my youth sitting under the covers listening to Radio Luxembourg until I fell asleep. Such a talented bunch.

Love on the Dole, Salford Community Theatre Project, July.

Community theatre has the power to bring productions to life in an unexpected and unforgettable way. Staged part in Islington Mill, and part in wider Salford, this production drew in the local community to stage a highly relevant and powerful version for today. I loved being part of a staged march, walking down the A6 through stopped traffic. Utterly compelling and truly memorable.  Relevant to today, close to the community and very much about Salford then and now, this play marks an incredible achievement for everyone involved.

Multi Story, Bolton Octagon Reveal Festival, June.

Performed as part of Bolton Octagon’s Reveal Festival, this compilation of six interconnected short plays was performed on the top floor of the adjacent multistorey car park. Site specific theatre needs to make the maximum use of its environment , and this production combined some brilliant new writing with a great use of the space.  This piece feels very real, at times you forget it’s theatre, and you’re watching real people in a Bolton car park. 

Negative Space, Reckless Sleepers, Contact, March.

There has been so much good stuff at Contact this year, including Belarus Free Theatre with Burning Doors, Open Clasp with Key Change and Lucy McCormick’s Triple Threat (part of Works Ahead). Indeed there is only one show that I really regret missing this year, and it is Kim Noble’s You’re not Alone (I have a son and daughter, and a mother in a care home, I can’t see everything). But for me the most memorable is Reckless Sleepers’ Negative Space. I loved the way in which this company used the stage, their innovative approach to ‘theatre’ and their sense of pushing the boundaries.  It’s very different, and I suspect each person will take away a unique, personal experience.

Orphans/Sans Merci, Play with Fire, Hope Mill, January/September.

Hope Mill is a valuable addition to the Manchester theatre scene. There have been impressive musicals but really, that’s not my thing. What has made an impact on me has been the two plays put on by Play with Fire – Orphans in January and Sans Merci in September. Both were powerful, well produced, memorable plays that bring to the stage characters that we might not otherwise see. A theatre company to look out for.  It’s a powerful story about the effects of a single incident on three women, as a proxy for the wider issues.

Wish List, Royal Exchange, September.

The Royal Exchange’s studio has showcased some innovative and challenging theatre this year, but the piece that left the strongest impression was Bruntwood Prize winner Wish List.  Charting the impact on young lives of fractured family and zero hours contracts, the sense of lost lives and lost hopes pervaded the play. Very much a play of our times. A piece that is at the same time incredibly beautiful and desperately sad.

W;t, Royal Exchange, January.

Overall I have enjoyed the Royal Exchange’s output this year. Husbands and Sons and King Lear were both strong plays.  Mark Storor’s powerful Little Sister came very close.  Young Company’s Factory was an ambitious and memorable use of Swan Street. For me there could only be one play that stood out, and that was W;t. The production captured the perfect balance between humour, acceptance and fight of cancer patient Vivian Bearing, professor of metaphysical poetry. Almost perfect in every way.  It is an exceptional text, and this was an astounding performance.

 

Theatre lover, amateur director, occasional actor, writer.

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