It may not have been a vintage year for the theatre, but there were plenty of memorable moments. Fergus Morgan gives his unique take on the highs and lows of 2018
When theatre historians come to write the book on 2018, what will it be called? “2018: Myriad Mediocre Macbeths” is definitely accurate. So is the more existential “2018: A Very, Very, Very Bleak Matter”.
But if there’s a sense that much of the theatre industry is fiddling while Rome burns in Brexit Britain, then at least 2018 served up some decent melodies, as well as a fair few dirges.
Appropriately enough, we kick off The Stage Alternative Awards 2018 with a new category: Most Brexit Show. The prize goes to a runaway winner: Julie Burchill and Jane Robins’ abominable People Like Us. If I hadn’t been reviewing, leave would have meant leave after 10 minutes. I stuck at it, and as a reward I wake up screaming every night to the sound of Rod Liddle’s squelchy press-night guffaw ringing in my ears.
There was sweet music from the National Theatre with Hadestown. It wins both The Lin-Manuel Miranda Award for Most Listenable Soundtrack – citation: Anais Mitchell’s original concept album bangs – and The Late-Era Leonard Cohen Award for Deepest Voice. The walls of the Olivier are still reverberating thanks to Patrick Page’s bass. The National may need to build a wall or two before the end of the run.
Hadestown was a high-point for RuNo’s regime, which had another mixed year. On the one hand, there was Translations, The Lehman Trilogy, and Nine Night (tick, tick, tick). But then there was I’m Not Running (cross, in more ways than one), and the mighty Macbeth – winner of this year’s Palm d’Face for biggest flop. Pity the poor folk who are dragging this dud on a protracted national tour. It does win Best Use of Shredded Bin Bags in Post-Apocalyptic Costumes.
This year sees a neat passing of the Theatre Marathon Award from one day-long show about New York’s gay scene with Angels in America to… another day-long show about New York’s gay scene with The Inheritance, which sails past the six-hour mark. The Judi Dench in Shakespeare in Love Award for Minimal Time in a Show That Reaps Maximum Awards goes to Vanessa Redgrave who was garlanded with accolades despite being on stage for 1.39% of the show.
A long play doesn’t always make a good play. The Ballon d’Bore goes to the Hogarth cycle at Kingston’s Rose Theatre, which left audiences wishing they could dull the pain in Gin Lane after its five and a half hours.
The autumn saw a host of high-profile departures, no doubt taking inspiration from Theresa May’s cabinet. Those stepping down included Madani Younis at the Bush, Edward Hall at the Hampstead, Walter Meierjohann at Manchester’s Home, Conrad Lynch in Keswick, Sean Holmes at the Lyric Hammersmith, and Steven Atkinson at HighTide. Clearly they know something we don’t.
Unlike in the critical sphere, where everyone’s favourite pantomime villain Quentin Letts wins The Arsene Wenger Award for Most Overdue Departure. He’s jumped ship from the Daily Mail to the Sunday Times, so that strange smell hasn’t evaporated, but at least you only catch a whiff of it once a week now. Who takes on the least popular job in theatre remains to be seen.
Speaking of critics, Dance Nation at the Almeida won this year’s Publicly Funded Play Most Likely to Send the Daily Mail’s Critic Over the Edge Award. The sight of empowered young women on a London stage possibly proved too much for our pal Quentin. “This Arts Council-funded theatre revels in scenes where the language is frequently foul and the content occasionally sexual, with nudity,” he railed, unwittingly supplying a ringing endorsement for the Islington venue.
To Nick Hytner, and the curious case of the Bridge Theatre, which hasn’t proved the hit-making hotbed everyone expected. Alan Bennett’s Allelujah! and Barney Norris’ Nightfall vie with David Hare’s I’m Not Running at the NT for the coveted David Hare Award for Underdeveloped Play by a White Man on a Major Stage, losing out to fellow Bridge Theatre buddy Martin McDonagh’s A Very, Very, Very Dark Matter, which was just a very, very, very bad play (approximately the 145th time that joke has been made). Congrats, Martin: you can pop this one in your toilet next to your Three Billboards BAFTA.
It also snaps up the Steven Berkoff “Who Will Dare” Award for Tiresomely Wilful Controversy, just pipping David Ireland’s Ulster American to the post.
Best Baby was a one-toddler race this year with The Writer’s little cherub walking away with the prize for tongue-in-cheek role from a baby making fun of the previous year’s volume of babies on West End stages.
While perhaps not as consistent a field as it was in 2017, there were still a few highlights in the Best Beast category, with strong performances from the Duck in The Wild Duck, and the Snake in the National’s Antony and Cleopatra. The winner is the snake. Actually there were four snakes, called Hondo, Pork Pie, Mr Jingly Jangley Junior (yes really) and, appropriately for the Olivier stage – Larry.
Among several genuinely concerning controversies this year, That Bloke Who Tried to Burn an EU Flag Award for Most Pointless Protest goes to those folk who resolutely stand outside Kilburn’s Kiln Theatre, making a fuss about its perfectly fine name change and completely missing the point that a) they are needlessly harassing one of theatre’s few female, BAME artistic directors, b) they look like complete tools, and c) there are far more important things to worry about.
Fun Home claims the coveted Most Deserving of a West End Transfer That Has Inexplicably Not Got One Despite Everyone Wanting It To. And Anoushka Warden’s My Mum’s a Twat just beats Chris Bush’s The Assassination of Katie Hopkins to Best Title.
The Crossrail Award for Most Protracted Opening, meanwhile, goes to Sylvia at the Old Vic, which was billed as the British Hamilton, but has had more false starts than a learner driver on a steep hill.
And that was the year that was. Perhaps not a classic, when it comes to catastrophic productions – a shabby vintage compared to the fine wine that was 2017 – but by no means undrinkable. Cheers then, to 2018.