There were plenty of shows that I missed this year that may have made this list if I caught them. I’m thinking especially of War Horse and Wicked that took month long residencies in the Bristol Hippodrome at the beginning of the year and 1984 and King Charles III which were garlanded with praise in London and went to the Theatre Royal Bath. So this is a very partial list of the work that I have seen this year which graced the region or played at Latitude where I spent a blissful three days. Other performances which almost made the list include Headlong’s version of The Absence Of War (which I didn’t review) was a gripping drama that seemed especially pertinent as Labour imploded in the months before the election, Chris Goode’s polemic Men In The Cities
5. The Magic Flute (Welsh National Opera- Bristol Hippodrome)
A production that is already ten years old but Dominic Cooke’s production of Mozart’s masterpiece still proved a surrealist delight and was given a first rate musical performance under the baton of outgoing WNO music director Lothar Koenigs. Sophie Bevan was a first rate Pamina, lusciously sung and meticulously acted, another watermark on her ascent to stardom.
4. An Oak Tree (Tim Crouch- Bristol Old Vic)
Touring again after ten years Crouch’s seminal work (subject of many thesis’ on its subject) was a spell bounding work that in a way brings theatre back to its simplest and riskiest origins. On press night Scottish actress Neve McIntosh took on the actors worst nightmare, appearing on stage unsure of what her line was or where the piece was going. By stripping away the artifice and the theatrical, forcing all focus on the here and now, Crouch’s piece is a beautiful distillation of the art of theatre.
3. Grounded (The Gate Theatre- Arnolfini presented by Bristol Old Vic)
A blazing one women show that began the year with a bang that contained an absolutely extraordinary performance by Lucy Ellinson in the role of a drone pilot who falls apart balancing the pressures of home-life and remote war fare. It was Ellinson’s swan song in the role and she inhabited the part in a way that I haven’t seen since Mark Rylance’s Rooster in Jerusalem. George Brandt’s play tackled the political and personal and turned it into a thriller to rival Homeland while director Christoper Haydon kept its rhythm fast, unrelenting but never heavy.
2. Fake It Til You Make It (Byrony Kimmings & Tim Grayburn- Latitude Festival)
Bryony Kimming’s shows have gradually matured from her provocative in-yer-face early work and this new found thoughtfulness has developed into her most powerful piece of work to date. Her boyfriend Grayburn may not be a natural performer but the honesty with which they tackled this piece about depression and the natural tenderness of the relationship between them made the tears flow. A really important piece of work that also turned into one of the most tender and powerful.
1.The Encounter (Complicite- Bristol Old Vic)
There have been countless words written already this year about this extraordinary work but it really is a work of genius, world class theatre makers stretching every sinew to make a work that is unlike any other work I have ever seen. Simon McBurney takes us on a man journey through the heart of the Amazon using binaural technology and asking us as audience to don headphones. A tricky, weaving piece of work that demands of its audience a lot but rewards them with a piece that hits greatness early and never lets up. https://youtu.be/LW01mBruivo