2010 – Year of Theatre

My New Year’s Resolution 2010 was to make the most of living in London. Live the year as if it was our last in London (it isn’t) and go to the theatre at least once a month (we did).  The resolution worked: forced onto the front foot, Deb and I sought reviews, went to plays (and theatres) we might not otherwise have visited and simply booked what we could.

So what moved me in 2010? All sorts, from opera to tragedy to farce. Four stood out above the crowd, in reverse order:

4: A Midsummer Night’s Dream at Kingston’s Rose. Judi Dench back in the play where she started her career, but not just her, the whole cast were phenomenal.

3: Now it gets really tough, because 2010 allowed me to watch three of the best plays I have ever seen. Just an inch behind the leading two was La Bete – all star cast including David Hyde Pierce and Joanna Lumley, but it was Mark Rylance who held the audience in the palm of his hand. One of two Rylance performances I saw this year that convinced me he’s unparalleled in British theatre.

2: Can’t really distinguish between the top two. Jerusalem was brilliant, funny, poignant, biting, aggressive, timely. Seeing it on St George’s Day (the original title of the play) brought its themes on modern England to light even more strongly. And of course there was Rylance at his majestical best, owning every corner of the stage and every member of the audience.

1: We started the year with War Horse and it remained the strongest piece of theatre in a brilliant year. If you haven’t seen it, do so now. I cried, sat spellbound for two and a half hours and will return again in 2011 (Deb’s already been back in 2010). Seeing the disappointing Birdsong on stage later in the year merely proved how brilliant was War Horse for bringing the First World War to the stage so well.

The Year of Theatre worked well enough that we’ve already extended the run for another year. The first three months are already booked – Fela at the National in January, Children’s Hour in the West End in Feb and King Lear at Richmond in March. Plus probably Season’s Greetings at the National to be booked. The New Year’s resolution re-invigorated my appetite for theatre. And now I’m as hooked as I ever have been. My message for 2011? Get out there, away from the small screen, to where the light shines brightly on the human condition.

Such Tweet Sorrow

The Royal Shakespeare Company’s micro-blogging treatment of the most famous love story of all has been running for ten days now. Enough time to pass judgment on a genuinely innovative take on Romeo & Juliet.

Such Tweet Sorrow has taken the story out of Verona into 21st Century England. Juliet is bored at school. Her sister, Jess, ran the London Marathon yesterday. The star-cross’d lovers now woo each other on Twitter.

The Twitter version is being improvised by a cast of six RSC actors, working over five weeks with a couple of authors and an RSC director. The timeline is designed to be real-time, so you see (a version of) Shakespeare’s story – the plot that is – unfolding on Twitter.

But not his poetry. As I write this, Tybalt has just come out with: “Could of sworn I just saw that prick @mercuteio leave. Surely he would have the balls to confront me.”

And that’s where I’m left thinking that in this case, the medium is not the message. Romeo and Juliet has seen countless interpretations. But it’s those that retain the poetry, some of the finest the English language will ever see, that work. Baz Luhrmann’s modern re-telling retains pride of place in my DVD collection as a faultless example of cinema. Even the exception – West Side Story – works as a musical, not as a version of Romeo and Juliet.

I applaud the RSC for trying. And I’m sure we’ll find an art form that prospers in Twitter. But for now, Shakespeare isn’t it.