I’ve spent a lot of time in the past months applying for and being interviewed for various jobs in theatre (either in companies making theatre, or in theatres [the buildings] or even in school theatre departments), and one question that almost invariably comes up, is “What have you seen recently that you really loved?”, or “What kind of theatre really speaks to you?”. Writing monthly blog posts has helped me with not feeling put on the spot with the first question, because I know what I’ve seen recently – I wrote all about it – but I find the second question a little bit more difficult, because I like a really wide variety of plays and productions. There are definitely also ones I don’t like, but it isn’t as simple as “I like political theatre from the 1980s” (I do, often, but I also like entirely different things…) I’ve spent a while thinking about this question, and I’ve come to the conclusion that I really like productions that make me feel strongly or think intently. This can mean anything from something where I came out thinking about something very specific about contemporary politics, to coming out of the theatre unable to stop smiling because something was so feel-good, to having spent a significant amount of time weeping in empathy with characters.
Looking back on theatre that I have seen in the past (almost) 21 years, these are the productions that stand out the most as having made me think or feel very strongly. That doesn’t necessarily make them the best technical successes, or the most polished performances I’ve ever seen, but they’re the productions I look back on months and even years later and think, “that was just incredible”. They’re more heavily weighted towards relatively recent things, because those are what I remember most distinctly, but I have been going to see plays since I was very young, and I’m going to start with one of my first memories of seeing theatre.
I remember going to see Romeo and Juliet in the Botanical Gardens in Sheffield in 2006, when I would have been 9 or 10, not long before the world cup, with the two families being dressed in football [soccer for my North American readers] kit. It was fantastic: I had a great time, and don’t remember having any issues understanding what was going on (possibly because the rivalry between the families was so explicit!) and I’m sure that having found that production so easy to follow helped with studying Shakespeare in school in the following years: I didn’t have the pre-conceptions many of my classmates did that it would be incomprehensible. (And I went on to write a whole dissertation about performances of his work.)
The Phantom of the Opera, June 2008. My parents took my brothers and I to see this as a twelfth birthday present for me. It was the first play I saw in London (I think), and it was incredibly exciting to get to make a trip down to London to go see a show. I remember being incredibly awed by the technical effects on the stage, and terrified when (***spoilers***) the chandelier came crashing down over the audience, before swinging and landing on the stage. My parents had got five tickets in the stalls, in a set of two and a set of three: my father and brothers were a few rows in front of us, and the chandelier came down right above their heads! It was one of my first experiences of theatre as overwhelming and overpowering (incredible sets, powerful music and a trip down to London as a treat would do that!) and it’s stuck with me to this day.
Our Country’s Good, National Theatre, September 2015. I’d studied this play at A-level, and loved it, and was thrilled when a year later it was on at the National Theatre. I went to see it with my family and it was really exciting to get to see this play I’d spent a whole year thinking about, and crafting what I thought was the ideal production of the play (design, direction…) so that, when set three pages of the text in the exam, I could say “This is what would need to be done here, so that the play could work overall”. I knew it backwards, and I had quite a fixed idea of what I would do: I spent a whole year debating interpretations with my teachers and classmates! Seeing it in the flesh, and thinking about where they had done what I would have done, and where they had done different things, and what I thought had worked, and where I thought my ideas were better was an experience I’m unlikely to get again: I won’t ever get to study a play in that much depth, and then see an interpretation of it, and it’s a memory I treasure.
Legally Blonde, ADC Theatre, June 2016. I went to see this a few days after I finished my second year university exams, and it was incredible. I had seen the film (once, and I didn’t remember it very well) and I wanted to see something fun and lighthearted to celebrate the end of my exams. I came out grinning (I tried to stop smiling and I literally couldn’t) and I actually started skipping on a deserted path home, I was put in such a good mood by it. (My boyfriend was slightly concerned I’d gone completely mad, but I was just happy.) I think it was the combination of humour, uplifting music, and slightly tongue-in-cheek, but nonetheless unashamed feminism that really made this one of the most memorable nights I’ve spent at the theatre. (Possibly the high from having finished my exams helped too.)
An Evening With An Immigrant, Soho Theatre, July 2016. I saw this on the first night of my first week with Fuel, and I was blown away. I wasn’t sure quite what to expect when, on the day I arrived, the team said “Oh, by the way, we’re all headed to the opening of this play we’ve worked on, why don’t you come along?”, but, as you do, I took the opportunity and went along. What I got was somewhere between a TED talk and a slam poetry evening, and it is probably my favourite of this list of favourite memories in theatre. It was raw, true, I cried at the story being told, I cried at the way it was told, and I was left with a lot of thoughts to unravel and process about immigration, racism, multiculturalism. I’ve recommended this production to everyone I’ve met since, and whenever I see that it’s on somewhere, I include it in my monthly theatre recommendations. If you get a chance to see it – I quite sincerely cannot recommend it enough.
The Shakespeare Trilogy, November 2016. I saw this for my dissertation on female actors in contemporary performance of Shakespeare, and I loved it. It was an endurance game (three Shakespeare plays in succession) for me, but even more so for the actors, who I remain in utter awe before: the amount of energy required for each one of those performances, sustained over three consecutive ones was incredible, and they were brilliant. The plays aren’t ones you necessarily correlate (Julius Caesar, Henry IV and The Tempest) but they had a lot to say, and the gutsy feminism of the all female casts was inspiring. As was what they showed about imprisonment. All three plays were set in womens’ prisons, and exploring what theatre can do for women (they were workshopped in real prisons with inmates). I went to sing a Christmas service inside HMP Thameside around the same time, and I thought what was said in the Shakespeare Trilogy about the power of theatre, which I had seen in music, was incredibly powerful. It’s something that has stayed with me, and will continue to beyond the dissertation.
These are the performances that have most marked me and that spring to mind when I think of theatre I’ve been changed by over the years: I started with Shakespeare and musical theatre, both of which I still very much enjoy, which opened the door for wider options which let me think and feel, and ideally which are engaged with society and its questions (be that political issues immigration, imprisonment, or wider, more conceptual questions like the concept of loneliness or how human relationships function).
That’s all for this week, thank you as always for reading! Please like the post if you enjoyed it, and I’d love to hear about what kind of theatre you are interested in, and what your most memorable theatre trips have been in the comments! Next week will be a bit different: I’ll be getting quite close to my exams and so have scheduled a quick life update for you all, and then some recommendations for theatre that might just turn out to be one of your most memorable nights are set for the following week! Follow the blog if you haven’t already to make sure you catch those!