Saturday, 17 December 2016

The "Well I Liked It" awards, 2016.

Another year, another chance to reflect on what's been happening. Obviously, offstage, this year has been a bit of a garbage fire, between beloved cultural icons dying, Trump, some rather awful local politics, and general awfulness. But on stage the standard has generally been pretty strong, and occasionally exceptional. So it's the exceptions I'm naming here. As always, I did not see everything, and this is driven by my personal taste exclusively, so all the basic one-guys-prejudices apply.

Having said that, here are a couple of people, companies and shows that stuck out for me.

Jordan Best had possibly her most kickarse year ever in theatre. I didn't see everything she did because she did so damn much, but I did see the thoroughly engaging "Beauty and the Beast", the truly outstanding ensemble of "Playhouse Creatures", the intense and gripping "Macbeth" and her intensely rageful performance in "The Normal Heart". Whatever she did, she did it with dedication, drive, commitment and strength. I am grateful to be living in a town where Jordan is regularly presenting productions that challenge, provoke, engage and enlighten.

Will Huang has the kind of talent that should annoy people. He's got all the good looks of a leading man, plus the acting talent of a character actor. Plus he's got a powerhouse voice. He started the year blowing up my "long hair Will is Nice Will" theory by being the longhaired diva jerk Stacee Jaxx in "Rock of Ages", went on to be the disturbing son Gabe in "Next to Normal" (with slightly trimmer hair) before breaking hearts as the charming but ultimately doomed Felix in "The Normal Heart" (with the long hair). You know what, I don't think it's his hair that indicates how he's going to behave, I think it may actually be the script and his talent. Anyway, he was a compelling presence to watch this year.

Everyman seems to get an award every time I do one of these, but it's because they remain my favourite company who do stuff that nobody else does. Not only did they deliver a great dramatic experience in "The Normal Heart" full of rage and fury and engaging compassion, they also provided a variety showcase where so many have burned before with "Musical Theatre Confessions", a format that gives top-edge performers a chance to show off a couple of extra strings to their bow. All hail the Everypeople.

Phoenix Players had a one-two punch of two modern musicals that delved deep and dramatic but also rocked the audiences socks off with solid performances and bands with "Next to Normal" and "Spring Awakening". I spent a lot of this year avoiding local musicals again (for the usual reasons, either I'd seen the show before or the production otherwise did not appeal) but these two got me out of the theatre and held me spellbound. I know the audiences unfortunately did not throng to these fascinating works, but I hope somehow this was financially sustainable enough for Phoenix to continue to think different to the rest of the pack.

The visiting production that excited me the most was "Things I know to be True". Andrew Bovell has an ability to cut through with style and grace, and the combination of his words and Frantic Assembley's exceptionally physical production made for a night that was heartfelt and poignant and oh so beautiful.

Interstate I was most impressed by "Matilda" - yes, it opened last year but I saw it this year so it counts, dammit. This is big-scale musicals done right - if there's a couple of minor imperfections (in particular, Tim Minchin may need to simplify lyrics for choral singing so they don't get lost in follow up works, or at least have them not be sung by kids), it's an all round entrancing night out.

So that's my lot for the year. Thank you to those who read everything, or just the reviews of the show's they're in.

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