Best Of 2016

We start the Stagestruck year in, now, traditional fashion by casting a glance backwards at the previous twelve months of productions.  If you dip into this column with any regularity then you’ll know that Stagestruck likes to poke around in the nether-regions of East Anglia’s theatrical offerings, seeking out the unusual, controversial or bizarre.  So in that vein here are a handful of shows which, whilst I’m not suggesting were necessarily the best that appeared on the region’s stages in 2016, all nevertheless contained an element of originality and creativity which cut them out from the crowd.

What I Learned from Johnny Bevan:  Luke Wright.

Luke Wright’s first ‘play’ is a modern poetic epic which establishes him amongst the finest artistic social commentators of this generation.  This powerful concoction of humour and rhetoric was the most memorable, and enjoyable, show I saw all year.  The mutability of the performance, combined with the humour and scorching candidness was mesmerising.  Imagine a story devised by Alan Bleasdale, Ian Dury and John Copper-Clarke and you may get somewhere close to the tenor of Johnny Bevan.  All the noise currently surrounds Kate Tempest but, for my money, Luke Wright is this country’s finest young poet.  Unfortunately, I believe Luke may have finished performing Johnny Bevan but you can catch his new show, The Toll, at various venues in the region throughout 2017, starting this month at the Norwich Arts Centre.

The Best Thing: Vamos Theatre.

How can a production in which there is no dialogue and the actors’ expressions cannot move be so moving and transportational?   Masked theatre may sound as enthralling as an Ian Duncan Smith joke book but this current production from Vamos Theatre yet again proves that there’s more to theatre than meets the ears.  Set amidst the social tumult of 1960s Britain, The Best Thing is a bitter-sweet heartbreaker of a story.  I never miss a Vamos production and, having caught this last spring at the Bury Theatre Royal, will be going to see it again at The Wolsey in February.  Put aside your pre-conceptions and get along, you will be amazed.

A Christmas Carol: Spinning Wheel Theatre.

Having said Stagestruck is inclined to seek out the unusual, this straight telling of the finest Christmas story of them all makes the list simply because it was so good.  Touring a production in small venues is a fraught logistical undertaking and something which requires real skill to execute efficiently.  Spinning Wheel Theatre obviously have this mastered and this production was marked by a beautifully evocative set which simply did not look as though it was thrown into the back of a van after every performance.   Add the extremely strong characterisations the actors brought to this familiar tale and you have a perfect piece of festive theatre.

Chotto Desh: Akram Khan

The DanceEast Christmas show has become something of a favourite of mine over the past few years and the December 2015 offering did not disappoint.  A story weaving between modern London and the flora and fauna of Bangladesh does not scream Christmas at you, and that was part of its charm.  Warm, bright and handsomely executed, with the most innovative and humorous use of a bald head I think I may have ever seen!

The Adventures of the Little Ghost: choreographed by Sophie Nuzel.

Another dance piece, this time with a chorus drawn from the community.  Sophie Nuzel utilised the number of dancers that put at her disposal charmingly, accenting the work of the professionals in the cast and drawing a refreshingly delightful hour of entertainment from a simple story.

Alight Here: Klanghaus.

Part gig, part theatre.  Visual artist Sal Pittman combined with art band The Neutrinos to create a site-specific show.  The site in this case was the disused Colchester Bus Depot and my bored, teenage self could never have imagined what I might later experience whilst I waited for the 207 in the confines of that cold, functional space.  I don’t believe I learned anything about public transport (although peeking into those lofty offices was satisfying) but one day all evenings may start like this.  Gig on a bus anyone?  Count me in.

All Roads Lead to Rome/Antarctica: Chris Dobrowolski.

A little bit naughty of me perhaps as I have included both of these shows on best of lists before.  However, I’m an unashamed fan of Chris’ work and his performance-lectures are worth second and even third looks.  The performance of All Roads was, sadly, the last but if you keep your eyes peeled there should still be the opportunity to catch Chris’ highly entertaining account of his time as the Artist in Residence on the British Antarctic Survey at some point.  I suggest you grab your Ladybird book of art appreciation and get along.