Plymouth’s Drum Theatre was praised for its innovative work and ability to take its audience on a challenging journey into new work by the Guardian’s theatre critic Lyn Gardner in her review of 2010. Here’s what she said…
Perhaps not a blistering year – in fact one in which even a so-so Edinburgh couldn't muster a five-star review, but certainly one with some highpoints, as well as shifts. There has been a late flurry of cherishable shows with The Animals and Children Took to the Streets, 1927's timely subversive parable that's like a gothic graphic novel brought to life at BAC, and Anna Mackmin's revival of the totally escapist Me and My Girl at Sheffield Crucible. Like chalk and cheese, but both hugely enjoyable in their own ways and a reminder of the breadth and depth of British theatre. It's a breadth and depth that will be challenged by both local authority and central government funding cuts over the coming year.
It was of course a fantastic year for both the Royal Court and the National. To my regret I managed to miss both Tribes and Clybourne Park at the Court, but enjoyed Laura Wade's timely Posh, Anya Reiss's remarkable debut Spur of the Moment and DC Moore's superb The Empire. Moore also had the terrific Honest at the Royal and Derngate which had a great year with the fine Spring Storm season moving to the National. It's interesting how often it seems the case that the dynamism and health of a regional theatre is often reflected in how far it feels connected to its local community.
It's apparent at the Royal and Derngate where the double act of Laurie Samson and chief executive Martin Sutherland, is clearly a fruitful one and you can see it operating too at the Drum in Plymouth, an example of a theatre that has really taken its audience on a challenging journey into new work: this year playing host to Mike Bartlett's Love, Love, Love as well as Dan Rebellato's terrific piece of new writing, Chekhov in Hell. The Drum is a rebuke to all those other theatres who say that they can't programme innovative work because their audiences don't want it. Their work demonsrates that if you try hard enough, you can take them with you. It's part of the job. All the audience development in the world won't help if the programming plays it safe. Now is the time for theatre to prove that it can spring surprises, that it's urgent and relevant.
One of the most cheering sights of the years was the sell-out regional tour of Tim Crouch's The Author generating real passion and sometimes rage as it crossed the country. There are of course many different ways to take an audience with you: another approach is seen at the Bolton Octagon, where David Thacker is revitalising the place with a repertoire of classic work well staged, in which one play seems to reflect back on another. The same happened at Liverpool, where a terrific revival of 'Tis Pity She's a Whore was paired with Slung Low's Anthology, which considered some of the themes of Ford's tragedy and gave them back to us as modern stories lurking in the nooks and crannies of the city. Brave programming.
Surprise of the year was another late entrant, with Lucinda Coxon's brutally crafted and honest Herding Cats at the Ustinov in Bath, another regional venue that has taken risks and reaped the dividends. I haven't seen Hamlet at the National but really rated Thea Sharrock's After the Dance, Mike Bartlett's ingeniously staged Earthquakes in London and Josie Rouke's impressively pitched Men Should Weep, another superbly timely piece. Good times, too, at Sean Holmes's Lyric, where the David Eldridge/Robert Holman/Simon Stephens collaboration A Thousand Stars Explode in the Sky is probably the play that has haunted me most this year.
I've had an unusually good time at musicals. The Finborough has been celebrating its anniversary in style and has proved throughout the year why it's more important than many better funded theatres; its transfer of State Fair to Trafalgar Studios was a complete delight. The tiny Union has been firing on all cylinders, too, with The Bells are Ringing and the all-male Iolanthe real hits. Legally Blonde was 100 per cent fun with Sheridan Smith in great form. Graeae's Reasons to be Cheerful showed real promise at the Theatre Royal Stratford East and Howard Goodall has absolutely nothing to say sorry for with Love Story, although the staging is way too tasteful and coy. You Me Bum Bum Train was fun and different and another novel experience, and I loved Wildworks's Enchanted Palace at Kensington Palace, more an installation cum museum presentation than a show, but one that brought the building alive. BAC's One on One Festival was an example of radical and inventive programming. Forkbeard Fantasy's The Colour of Nonsense proved that that company's invention is undimmed by the years and the veteran actor Maggie Steed was a sheer delight as Judith Bliss in Hayfever. I loved Nic Green's Trilogy and Sound and Fury's Kursk as much second time around, and Keiran Hurley's Hitch at Forest Fringe during Edinburgh, an account of the art of protest, has seemed ever more relevant as the year has progressed. And how theatre will face its own challenges and respond to the new climate of political protest is bound to make 2011 interesting.
guardian.co.uk © Guardian News & Media Limited 2010