Best of 2011

This list was going to be a top ten but there were too many performances that tied for 10th place that I couldn’t choose one. I decided to leave it at nine because these all had a little something extra that meant they stayed with me long after I left the theatre (or other site-specific location!)

Here are nine of my favourite theatre experiences this year:

  1. Way back at the beginning of 2011, I was lucky enough to see the work in progress preview of Thisispopbaby‘s Alice in Funderland. It was a musical with vivid characters, great songs and loads of jokes. I loved it. I saw it with a friend who, since then has asked me at least 23 times since then when the full production will take place. When can we go see it again? I was just as eager because there are so many people I want to see this wonderful show. I’m delighted that it has a long run at the Abbey later this year and I will be able to drag lots of people along to enjoy it!
  2. Another show that moved from the Project to the Abbey was The Company‘s As you are now so once were we which was part of the 2010 Fringe Festival and was in the Peacock earlier this year. It’s a bit of a cheat to have it in this year’s favourites but I was delighted to see it again. It was such a joyous piece of theatre and I’m glad it got more than just a week at the Fringe. It toured to LA in June as part of Imagine Ireland and the run even included a performance on Bloomsday!
  3. I’ve mentioned I Am a Homebird (It’s Very Hard) a few times on this blog this year. (The main review is here.) I first saw it in February as part of The Theatre Machine Turns You On, Volume II and then went back to see the full, finished piece later in the year. It was a moving piece of theatre that I loved so much that I wrote a short piece about it for one of my college courses.
  4. Mimic was a one-man show that completely absorbed you in it’s dystopian world. It was a little bit like Forced Entertainment’s Void Story, but was also completely different with music and impressions and little bits of songs.
  5. Because I am likely to get excited about new writing than old, there are very few things on my list by dead playwrights but Pygmalion at the Abbey was excellent. It was performed at the Abbey for the first time this year and it was a lavish production with a flawless cast. Everybody on stage was fantastic, the set was cunning and clever, as well as being beautiful to look at and all these elements worked together to tell a great story. I really enjoyed it.
  6. I saw another play by a dead playwright the same week I saw Pygmalion: Loose canon’s production of A Midsummer Night’s Dream? The two were very different. Where the Abbey had a cast of sixteen all playing their own part in lavish costumes, on a wonderfully intricate and detailed set, Loose Canon has a cast of five, playing 15 characters on a bare white stage. Both had a very strong cast and both were very enjoyable. Loose Canon also had a lovely dead-pan Puck!
  7. End of the Road was a tour de force of wonderful ideas performed by a fantastically strong cast. I was astounded by the way it made interactive performance look easy.
  8. End of the Road was a Fishamble production, directed by Louise Lowe who was also in charge of a piece of theatre that I’ve already seen on many end of year lists – the heart-breakingly beautiful Laundry. I was nervous about going to see this production; partly because of the subject matter; partly because of the one-on-one nature of the piece and mostly because I’m a coward. I’m so glad I did see it though because it felt important to be a witness a this bleak chapter of Irish history. It was also a wonderful piece of theatre, moving and sad and so immersive that it took a little while to shake it off afterwards. I talked about it with my classmates afterwards; it was a piece of theatre that you wanted to talk about. It’s a wonderful example of the power and the ability of theatre to change things.
  9. I only managed to see the last hour and a half of THEATREclub’s epic six hour omnibus episode of Twenty Ten and I wish I’d seen more. I did see the first hour the previous Saturday but I suspect it gave a much better sense of the crazy ups and downs of 2010 when seen all in one go. It was an ambitious project well executed.
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The End of the Road

Yesterday I went down to the Project Arts Centre after work hoping to get a ticket for Fishamble’s new show The End of the Road. This production is part of the Made in Temple Bar festival and when it opened for booking at the beginning of July, the tickets went fast and I wasn’t quick enough! But luckily, someone wasn’t able to make it yesterday and I got their spot!

I was interested in this show because I like the work of both the writer Gavin Kostick and the director Louise Lowe, and I wanted to see this promenade performance. The play is about the life of one man, a guy called Bill and the audience drop in and out of different moments in his life, gradually building up a picture of this man and the life he’s led.

The audience are in groups of eight and you are lead out the back of the Project by Bill’s Mam and Dad and left listening to a recording of interviews with the real Bill. This is interweaved with the voices of the actors who play Bill in the production. Each group is accompanied on their tour by their own Bill. The fours actors (John Cronin, Ronan Leahy, Michael Glenn Murphy, Robbie O’Connor, below) are all different ages but each one plays Bill at every age as we visit scenes from his life.

Robbie O'Connor, John Cronin, Ronan Leahy and Michael Glenn Murphy, Photo by Ros Kavanagh

Bill acts as a tour guide for his own life as he leads his audience down towards Fishamble Street and shares his story with them. He does this through conversation with the audience and also by letting us see it happen for ourselves. There’s an intimacy shared between the audience and the actors, you find yourself in real places – cafes, waiting rooms, pubs – ease-dropping on other people’s conversations, but these conversations happened 30 years ago. It feels a bit like time-traveling as you walk down the street and see horses and people pushing old fashioned prams and bicycles. There are boys and girls in uniform playing old-fashioned games. It feels like you are taking part in something, not just seeing a play.

The performance is well-balanced between the pieces on the street when Bill talks directly to the audience and the scenes inside the various buildings. There are wonderful performances from the main actors and also the extras on the street and I really appreciate how the performance does not talk down to the audience but allows us to piece together the story for ourselves as we more back and forwards through time.

It’s a wonderful piece of theatre where the fourth wall is completely dismantled, along with a few other theatre traditions. We’re not really dealing with a nice, neat piece of fiction – instead it’s the messy reality of someone’s life. It is performed with respect for the subject matter and the audience and you come away feeling like you have experienced something a little bit special. My only complaint was that there was no time for applause or acknowledgment. My little group ended the show standing at the end of the road, applauding the horse. He didn’t seem that bothered.

Even though it’s fully booked, it’s definitely worth trying to get a ticket for. The Project Arts Centre are running a returns list from 5.30pm each day and there are 8 shows a night until Friday. Shows are at 5.45, 6:05, 6.25, 6.45, 7:05, 7:25, 7.45 and 8.05pm. I arrived at 5.30pm and managed to get a ticket for the 6.05pm show so it’s worth giving it a try.