#16 - "Clever and compassionate" - Ugly Lies the Bone

National Theatre, Lyttelton

A female soldier horribly burned in Afghanistan returns to a hometown destroyed by the loss of the space shuttle programme it served, in Lindsey Ferrentino’s clever and compassionate play, written when she was 25. Ferrentino doesn’t romanticise Kate Fleetwood’s sturdy central Jess, or mock the apparent deadbeats back home, nor does she make big political points. Instead her play pulses with common, awkward humanity. The Virtual Reality treatment Jess receives for pain demands Es Devlin’s splashy set and it’s hard to tell if the occasional clunkiness in Indhu Rubasingham’s production comes from the writing, or from British actors “doing” American. I rather hope the latter: and it’s still great.

#15 - 221b or not 221b? Andrew Scott's Hamlet

Almeida Theatre

221b or not 221b? Andrew ‘Moriarty’ Scott gives a remarkably raw, fragile Hamlet who is genuinely unhinged – rising to manic incoherence in his mother’s bedroom and possibly imagining other scenes entirely. Surveillance by CCTV and news cameras makes these Danes urgently physical in private: there’s lots of slaps, snogs and never-let-me-go embraces. Is it coincidence Jessica Brown Findlay’s bruised Ophelia looks like a younger version of Juliet Stevenson’s vivid Gertrude? No. Robert Icke’s almost four-hour production is measured, detailed but not as stunningly revelatory as his Oresteia or Vanya here. The loud Dylan soundtrack jars. And Scott’s wry gestures, sing-song delivery and sporadic rage have a flattening effect. Radical, valuable, but imperfect, then.

#14 - Cut back, dirtied down, alternate realities: A Midsummer Night's Dream

Young Vic

Churned mud underfoot and a mirror behind emphasise the dangerous alternate realities of Shakespeare’s play in Jo Hill-Gibbins’ drastically cut production. Everyone’s on stage throughout, adding a simple, ritual quality as characters are forcibly erotically deranged. The comedy is up and down, the performances uneven. Although striking, with brilliant moments, the show has an unfocused, unfinished air. The lovers and the am-dram artisans don’t know what’s happening and there’s a sense the director isn’t always entirely sure either. It’s splashily refreshing for those jaded by twee Dreams, and probably those new to the play. But as every theatre nerd will note, Robert Lepage did a muddy dream back in ’92.

#13 - A sweet and finely comically calibrated Twelfth Night

National Theatre, Olivier

Regendering Malvolio and Feste here allows Tamsin Greig and Doon Mackichan to essay fine funny turns, and evens up the gender imbalance a bit, but adds no particular new depth to Shakespeare’s comedy of inversion. Simon Godwin’s production is full of finely calibrated physical comedy, sometimes broad, sometimes oh-so nuanced, but the emotions also pack a real punch, especially when Tamara Lawrance’s pert Viola or Phoebe Fox’s mesmerising Olivia are on stage. The revelation/reunion scene is beautiful. The show takes its own sweet time, however and my god – those costumes! The Pythagorean set is eye-bruising, too, but enables this sweetly intimate show to fill the vast stage. 

#12 - The Wild Party and America After the Fall (and the links between them)

The Other Palace/The Royal Academy

Michael John LaChiusa’s hectic, decadent Jazz Age musical is harsher and less arch than Chicago but cut from the same gauzy cloth. Seeing it the same day as the Royal Academy’s superb exhibition America After the Fall is enlightening. The vaudevillians are dancing towards the crash, the painters examining the aftermath. Both shows are less than the sum of occasionally outstanding parts, but the rawness and urgency of both are gripping. The Wild Party (based on the 1928 narrative poem by Joseph Moncure March who also penned the line “Excuse me while I slip into something more comfortable” for Jean Harlow) reminded me of the mid-90s. And of right now, of course.

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