Looking Back: 2010 – A theatrical year in Review

Looking back at all the theatre I saw in 2010, some very palpable images linger in my mind.  Jennifer Ward-Lealand in a bed. Jennifer Ludlam on the floor.  Robyn Malcom in a mound of dirt. A horse’s arse in a doorway. Edward Newborn eating a banana. Richard O’Brien up a ladder with a crown on his head.

Some of course I’d like to forget. Michael Hurst under strobe light wearing a phallus. The image still burns.

2010 began with the Arts Community getting behind Australian import The Short+Sweet festival and a month of short 10minute plays. It was a mixed bag for sure, but introduced many talented and emerging people to the scene, as did The Young & Hungry Festival.

Jennifer Ward-Lealand in 'Le Sud'
Jennifer Ward-Lealand in 'Le Sud'

It must be said that Jennifer Ward-Lealand (whose legs I have forever admired) had a very good year in theatre (but don’t mention the war…!), memorably bringing life three different characters throughout the year. She dobbed a French accent for Dave Armstrong’s brilliant farce Le Sud.

“New Zealand dodged a bullet in 1838. A French-speaking, garlic-smelling, beret-wearing bullet to be precise. If it wasn’t for a quirk of history, this review might be written in French, talking about a brilliant satiric play about what Nouvelle-Zélande would have been like if it had been colonized by the English…” ( Le Sud Craccum Review)

Jennifer then shone in the meaty role of the mother in Silo Theatre’s That Face, in which the Oedipal complex was played out it reverse.

But it is Jennifer’s mother that dominates – a truly disturbing creation. Manipulative, battling mental illness, she tries to exert control of her son’s life… She gets drunk, talks to herself, rips up a bouquet of flowers like a toddler, and even perversely encourages her son to dress up in her clothes…. There is a creepy undercurrent of attraction directed towards her son…If all this sounds considerably over-the-top, it isn’t onstage; Jennifer’s matriarchal monster is all too real.” (That Face Craccum Review)

Jennifer Ludlam in August: Osage County
Jennifer Ludlam in August: Osage County

And in August: Osage County she bought great life to the harassed older sister Barbara. But it was another Jennifer – Jennifer Ludlam who stole the show, in her stand out role as the matriarch of the Weston family (“a world-class performance completely in her own league”) in what really was a stand-out and world class production from ATC and director Colin McColl.

“You’d be forgiven in thinking the playwright Tracy Letts must have done something revolutionary. He hasn’t. What he has done is created some very compelling characters, placed them in a boiler room of a situation and told a damn good story…. It goes to show how rare it is for the elements to come together and to see a play on stage that thrills, moves you, and catches you entirely…” (August: Osage County Craccum Review)

Other favorites include Charlie Brown going to the dark side in Dog Sees God, Baxter vs Morrieson in Horseplay, Thomas Sainsbury’s crazy Britney dancing in Dance Troupe Supreme,  the brilliantly told The Intricate Art of Actually Caring, Bruce Phillips in A View from the Bridge, and Edward Newborn revisiting a role 25 years later in the haunting Krapp’s Last Tape.

ATC offered a new spin on The Importance of Being Earnest, absurdism divided audiences in Happy Days, and Oliver Driver in Thom Pain offered “one of the most intensely frustrating theatrical experiences of my year.” (Craccum Review not online)

Avenue Q's Puppets
Avenue Q's Puppets

As an unashamed lover of the Musical Theatre razzmatazz, 2010 was heaven. We were treated to naughty puppets in the Australian company tour of Avenue Q:

“I’m always surprised about how real puppets can seem sometimes… there is something charming about the art form and I think audiences kind of do want to believe. You know it’s working when your heart strings are being tugged by a puppet with a human hand up its ass…”  (Avenue Q Craccum Review)

Soundheim featured twice, Jesse Peach’s Sweeney Todd played at the Maidment, and Silo Theatre utterly transformed the Town Hall Concert Chamber and pointed guns into audience members’ faces for the Driver directed Assassins.

The values of the American Dream are slaughtered, and when the Dream is shown to be baseless, what is left for those left behind? The answer is painted on big letters at the back of the stage: Shoot a Prez…. The play then is incredibly subversive and audiences will delight in these entertaining assassins. The play’s masterstroke is to get us to clap each time an American President is shot as the production numbers climax” (Assassins Craccum Theatre)

Auckland Music Theatre produced a spirited production of RENT that was ultimately not Civic Theatre ready, and I found 42nd Street  derivative. The South African production of Grease relied too heavily on nostalgia.

Amanda Billing as Sally Bowles in Cabaret
Amanda Billing as Sally Bowles in Cabaret

In Michael Hurst’s Cabaret we crossed the threshold of the Spiegeltent to enter a completely new world where the men are built like Atlas, the women wear next to nothing, and the insidious Nazi philosophy grows in the background. It was a wholely new and theatrically enthralling take on Cabaret, and well deserved its extended and extended season.

And Richard O’Brien returned to New Zealand in his Rocky Horror Show, the audience’s approval halting the show whenever he came on. Normally reticent Auckland audiences were dressed up and ready to party and participate. The most fun I have ever had as an audience member.  

2011: You have a lot to live up to.

Tommorow I will preview what is on my radar for upcoming theatre this year.

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