Saturday, 15 December 2012

The "Well I Liked It" awards

Given that I've (probably) seen my last bit of theatre for the year, and everybody's concentrating on exciting things like awards or, probably far more important, planning Christmas with friends and family, it seems the time to celebrate the good and ignore the bad from the year in theatre.

So I'm inaugurating the "Well I Liked It" awards for things that I liked. For any recipients - you should enjoy your WILI in private. Waving your WILI around in public doesn't impress anyone. My reasons for granting a WILI are my own, and I'm not going to give my WILI to anyone who's work I haven't seen. A critic has to have some standards, after all...

And I'm aware that theatre is a ridiculously collaborative medium, and amateur theatre even more so, so there will probably be instances where I'm praising someone for their work when actually several people were involved.

And these are awards with no particular rhyme or reason - I'm not doing anything like categories or anything. Just "I think that's award worthy".

Enough pre-amble. Let's get to the giving.

First up: "Thysestes" and "Death of a Salesman" get gongs for being the outstanding two works I saw interstate this year in the professional sphere, both at Belvoir (and I'm aware my eye is limited by only seeing Belvoir of the major companies interstate). Both were inventive takes on classic stories - "Thysestes" admittedly being a much older story and a much looser interpretation, but "Salesman" also providing a creatively different vision on a familiar play centred skillfully on a strong single visual metaphor and some incredible performances.

Also interstate, a production of J. Julian Christopher's "Man Boobs" in Melbourne, a dramatic-comedy/comedy-drama about body-image, emotional failure and the effects of past trauma, done by VicBears as part of the Midsumma festival. An intimate two-man piece turned one night's casual hookup into something far more heartfelt and soul destroying.

Locally: Big praise to Jenna Roberts' performance as Roxie in "Chicago" - one of the most striking performances in a local musical was also one of the first of the year. Jenna wasn't on stage a lot this year, but she made her performance count - it had the element of surprise, never quite knowing what she was going to do next but knowing that it was going to be amazing, whatever it was.

Duncan Ley's twin directorial triumphs for the year, "Pride and Prejudice" and "Pool: No Water" beg to be looked at as a pairing, just because they applied a consistent directorial aesthetic of "for gods sake, make it interesting" to two very different scripts. P&P was a story everybody knew going into the theatre, Pool a story I suspect nobody knew - both showed great ensemble work, were visually stunning to look at, kept all kindsa surprises up their sleeves and generally dazzled.

Cynthia Jolley-Rodgers lighting for "Speaking in Tongues" made an unconventional set look amazing, with clever use of shade, colour and pools of light to enhance the emotional impact.

Lachlan Ruffy deserves an award for being everywhere, and fitting in perfectly and perfectly differently every time he was somewhere. His twin performances in "Breaker Morant" were differentiated beyond just haircut-and-accent into portraits of intimidated fear and blind arrogance respectively, his gorgeously genial Bingley in P&P was delightfully charming, his palsied-up Gus The Theatre Cat in "Cats" was heartbreaking, his lighting for "Memory of Water" was emotionally acute and kept the work intimate, his gawkily brave teenager in "Lost in Yonkers" was hilarious and moving, and his waiter-dance-moves in "Rent" were just plain gigglesome.

Euan Bowen gets an award for what he did with a cape in "Improbable Fiction". Dear god, can that man wield cape.

Jarrad West was also everywhere (to the extent I didn't see everything he did). But both as performer and director, he amazed. In particular, his Diabetes in "God" pulled the whole piece together (in a ridiculously short skirt), his direction of "Hairspray" was witty, soulful and oh-so-John-Waters and his direction of "Rent" made me see stuff in my favourite musical I'd never seen before.

Vanessa DeJaeger impressed the hell out of me in three different places - her sunnysided Rosemary in "How To Succeed in Business", her mini-bitch Amber in "Hairspray" and her touchingly damaged Mimi in "Rent".

Max Gambale also brought the gobsmackingly good in two places: The just-plain loveable Edna in "Hairspray" and the demented artilleryman in "War of the Worlds" both amazed in two very different ways.

I've undoubtedly ignored stuff that I loved but just forgot to mention. But this is a few things that sprung to mind as worthy of some form of reminder recognition.

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