10 performances that did it for me in 2018
Here are 10 performances I have seen this year that have stayed with me in some way. As I look back on the year I can see that I have been in London much more than in previous years. I normally travel a lot and see performances in different parts of the UK and in other countries, but this year was much more about bedding back into London for me, and I can see that reflected in this list.
In this collection of performances I can see huge densities of ideas packed into short amounts time so that they avalanche out–text, images, wild imaginings. I can see myself drawn to deeply deeply personal experiences unspooled so that they become fantastical, weird. Probably for the first time on this list I’m specifically noticing very good writing–some of the best I’ve experienced in performance. For me I think that means unshowy, wicked, strange, specific writing that undulates itself into a structure rather than forces itself into one. Or at least that’s how it feels.
Listed in the order I saw them.
Barbican, London as part of London International Mime Festival
The images in this show were 👌. It felt like a swirling series of actions and events around mothers, children, birth, death. I will never forget the nurse with extra long arms. We don’t often get this level of weirdness on big stages in the UK. What a treat.
Rosana Cade and Ivor MacAskill
The Yard, London as part of NOW 18 Festival
This whole performance is that thing where you repeat a word so much it dislodges itself from its meaning. Barry and Barry–identical radio show hosts in space or purgatory or nowhere. Moot Moot was hilariously funny and so weird. It made me think about how meaningless it can be to have an opinion for the sake of having an opinion. I reminded me how annoying I find it when people say ‘I’m really opinionated’ as if that’s a substitute for a personality or an excuse not to be inquisitive, curious or exploratory. I liked this show.
National Theatre, London
Omg I put a play on here. I don’t see that many plays nowadays, but John managed to be both incredibly mundane and so weird. Annie Baker’s writing just broke free of normal ‘play’ rhythms and freed everything up by being incredibly specific. Seeing this also reminded me that actual good acting is so rare and difficult to get right, and that I have a hard time enjoying a play if the acting isn’t a perfect mixture of rigorous and relaxed, focused and free. If there’s no concept or real awareness of form at play then I guess it has to be about the writing and if the actors are trying to convince us so hard that they’re doing a good job I find it difficult to access what is going on. This wasn’t like that, though. It was long and I could have been with it even longer.
photo by Stephen Cummiskey
Creation (Pictures for Dorian)
Attenborough Centre for the Creative Arts as part of Brighton Festival
One of my fave Gob Squad pieces yet. A show about art and ageing. For me there aren’t many other artists or companies who are so human, so game to tackle big ideas in specific ways. Being able to hold actual real live conversations within a held artistic frame is something they do so well and something I aspire to.
Battersea Arts Centre. London
Domestica is actually just beautiful. The music, the quality of the performances–velvety deadpan. The multitude of items and moments. It’s seductive and easy to be with but also unsettling and uncomfortable, which is a quality I always like about their work.
LIFT Festival, London
Culturally relevant terrifying piece with bumper cars and scary clowns. I screamed.
The Town Hall Affair
I found The Town Hall Affair so exciting. It was awkward in its mirroring re-enactment–all echoes and slippage.
Made in China
Super Duper Close Up
The Yard Theatre, London
I have been talking and thinking about this show a lot since I saw it, and the more I talk about it with people the more I realise there are so many access points. Depiction of anxiety, female pressure to live up to a specific image, Jewish cultural reverberations, having a lizard-child, a freelance artist being kept waiting by a programmer on salary, playing the game of getting someone to support your work. It was a lot. And again, the writing was 👌. There was never a moment Jess didn’t have me in the palm of her hand.
How Can You Stay In The House All Day And Not Go Anywhere?
Ontheboards.tv recording from On the Boards, Seattle
This is cheating but one of those it’s-my-list-I’ll-do-what-I-want entries. The performance happened in 2010, but I watched it this year on ontheboards.tv. OH MY GOD THE WRITING. It was big and not afraid to be explicit and just tell us things in a really articulate way. There are some ridiculously gorgeous film reenactment bits mirroring scenes from the 1972 Solaris that are deeply awkward and heartbreaking. And a whole section where all that happens is that a dancer sobs for a very long time. I loved it.
Mum, I’m in the Fourth Dimension, See!
The Yard Theatre, London as part of NEXT Festival
I saw this twice–once earlier in its development at the beginning of the year and once just a few weeks ago. It was made with Charlie Ashwell as dramaturg. Again with the 👌 writing! At times it’s like a teleprompter going *almost* too fast–you can hear and experience everything but you only have time to be with each bit of text or each image it prompts for a moment before you have to let go of it to catch the next one. It’s sharp and weirdly funny and bouncing on the current moment.
photo by Jemima Yong