Michael gives a month by month overview of his favourite cultural events of 2015…
Tree – Old Vic
A very funny hour and a half of back and forth, rat-a-tat-tat dialogue between Tim Key and Daniel Kitson, who sat throughout, obscured within the branches of a full-sized tree. Exactly what good theatre should be, a play that you can’t imagine working in any other medium. I wrote a full review at the time should you want to read more about it.
How To Hold Your Breath – Royal Court
Occasionally harrowing, often bonkers and sometimes incoherent, Zinnie Harris’s play began with a Faustian-tinged one night stand, and descended into a dystopian vision of the collapse of European capitalism. Still, it starred Maxine Peake so what’s not to like? I’ve filled in more details in a full review elsewhere in this journal.
Derren Brown, Miracle – The Orchard Theatre, Dartford
I’m not sure why Derren Brown seems to favour Dartford for previews but this was the second time I’d travelled to my home town (I worked at The Orchard as a teenager) to see him test out a new show. It was, as ever, an accomplished and mind-boggling mix of misdirection, psychological tricks and sleight of hand. The more polished version is now on a long run in the more glamorous setting of the West End’s Palace Theatre.
Maze – Margate Winter Gardens
Jasmin Vardimon Company & Turner Contemporary presented an intimate dance performance in a maze carved from industrial foam (by Ron Arad). It was a pretty full-on encounter, at one point a very sweaty dancer dropped from a scaffold, wrapped a rope around his neck and implored me to strangle him. But by the end, he and I were waltzing on a huge foam stage.
Crafts Council: COLLECT 15 – Saatchi Gallery
COLLECT is The International Art Fair for Contemporary Objects, presented by Crafts Council each year (well, actually not in 2016 because the Rolling Stones exhibition has squeezed them out of the Saatchi Gallery). We’ve done the publicity design for the past two years. It’s a treasure-trove of shiny objects, most are way out of my price bracket. But I enjoyed it so much in 2014 (you could read my review) that I wanted to return. It didn’t disappoint.
Empire Strikes Back – Secret Cinema
My dreadful confession is that I don’t really like Star Wars. Yes, I know that’s an awful thing for a child of the ’70s to admit. But I do love a spectacle so I was drawn to the lavishly high production values of Secret Cinema’s screening. An incredible undertaking. No idea how they’ll top it but I’m on the look-out for clues to this year’s event.
A House for Essex – Living Architecture
The cultural highlight of my year was a two night stay in Grayson Perry’s crazy house, built to mourn the loss and celebrate the life of Essex everywoman Julie Cope. You can read more, see photos and watch videos on the page with my full review.
Absent – Shoreditch Town Hall
Dream Think Speak transformed Shoreditch Town Hall into a hotel set where they staged more of an installation than a performance. A contemplative, evocative setting, woven loosely around the story of an absent profligate socialite and a profit-driven property developer. Not as showy as their Somerset House excursions but just as thought-provoking.
Three Days in the Country – National Theatre
Patrick Marber ‘owned’ The National Theatre in the autumn with work in all the main performance spaces (I even saw him perform, in the temporary space, in Tim Crouch’s An Oak Tree). His rewriting of Turgenev’s, A Month in the Country was superb, helped of course by direction from Rufus Norris and wonderful performances from John Simm, Mark Gatiss, Amanda Drew and many others.
London Film Festival
October was all about the London Film Festival. I was lucky enough to get tickets to lots of swanky premieres. Highlights included the adaptations of J.G Ballard’s High Rise, directed by Ben Wheatley, and Colm Tóibín’s Brooklyn (with a superb screenplay from Nick Hornby), staring Saoirse Ronan. Lowlights, I’m afraid, included Johnny Depp in the plodding Black Mass.
The Notebook – Battersea Arts Centre
We went on one of our monthly Cog Nights to see Forced Entertainment’s telling of Ágota Kristóf short story, The Notebook. I was stunned by it. To quote from my own review (which you can read on another page of this site): “over the course of two and a half hours their matter-of-fact telling, of the facts that matter, is heartbreakingly insightful, disturbing and unforgettable”.
Henry V – Barbican
I normally avoid the history plays, but I’d seen RSC’s Richard II (and wrote about that in this journal) and wanted to see if the spectacular reviews of Gregory Doran’s follow-up productions were justified. Yes, they were. He makes the (I find, pretty clunky and uneven) play flow with a natural rhythm that I’ve not seen before, Alex Hassell is utterly believable and Oliver Ford Davies is great as the modern chorus that ties it all together.
Dotted around the hits were a fair few misses in 2015. I was confused by The Ruling Class at Trafalgar Studios (James McAvoy was great but the play is crass and hammy); Antigone with Juliette Binoche was a grand but tiresome disappointment; I wanted Mamet’s American Buffalo to be much better than it was (especially with Damien Lewis, John Goodman and Tom Sturridge in the cast); and I really wanted Damon Albarn’s Wonder.land to be spectacular but it really wasn’t; and last (and by all means least), Wallace Shawn’s Evening At The Talk House could most generously be described as ‘challenging’.