As we live in a world where people appear to be increasingly defensive, and criticism (however constructive) is simply batted away, I feel I absolutely need to stress from the outset that this is just my opinion. I would write ‘Least favourite shows of 2018’ as the title, but that doesn’t really roll off the tongue – so we’re stuck with ‘worst’ for now, unless anyone can give me a satisfactory alternative.
Anyway. It has been an exceptional year, but within that I have found some duds. Some, like Six and Heathers, I simply didn’t connect with myself but completely understand why they’re popular, and (on the whole) can appreciate their creativity & conception. Others I was less sympathetic towards.
So here are my bottom 10, if you will…
10. The Importance of Being Earnest, Vaudeville Theatre
Given how famous this play is, it seemed rather odd that I’d never seen it – so I eventually made it to the Oscar Wilde season at the Vaudeville to see the Classic Spring Theatre Company’s production. I know you can’t be ridiculously innovative in everything (it would actually be rather dull if nothing was done in a ‘traditional’ manner), but given that none of the Classic Spring shows seemed to want to try anything different… This Earnest ended up as rather dull, unfortunately.
9. The Best Man, Playhouse Theatre
It’s understandable that Gore Vidal’s play was dug out to make its UK debut this year, as our fascination with US politics (and inability to get our own house in order) continues – though it almost felt like you needed to have read a primer before watching it, as the intricacies of the American voting system certainly flew over my head. It was also simultaneously depressing and hilarious that Martin Shaw had real issues enunciating, when he had just been criticising younger actors about the same thing.
8. The Crystal Egg Live, The Vaults
My first review of the year – that’s two years running I’ve not got the year off to a good start… We were promised a multimedia experience, but what we got was a bit of a mess. After an initial attempt to make it into an immersive show, the audience was settled into a sedentary section that was quite confusing & difficult to see, depending on where you ended up sitting. H.G. Wells can be hard to understand at times, but you’d hope that a visual interpretation of a story would make things clear!
7. The Captive Queen, Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
I don’t like having to include a show from Emma Rice’s time at the Globe on this list, but I’m afraid this production was (to put it bluntly) rather boring. Barrie Rutter seemed to have focused more on his acting role rather than the play’s direction; its setting seemed an afterthought to shoehorn in northernness that wasn’t consistent across the whole production, and the fact that the script consists of rhyming couplets did absolutely nothing for it. This one would’ve been better off in the Globe Theatre itself, rather than the tiny SWP.
6. Becoming Shades, The Vaults (VAULT Festival)
Admittedly, circus is not my thing. However, I know the Persephone story well – and as long as I know who’s who, I don’t need things to be drip-fed or explained in anatomical detail. Storytelling is storytelling, and it’s something that Becoming Shades really couldn’t manage. It put me in that bad a mood that I almost kicked one of the performers in the face when she decided it was OK to tug at my leg during the ‘interval’… Note to performers: invading people’s personal space is a big no-no!
5. Julius Caesar (SPADA Productions), Courtyard Theatre
This one wasn’t helped by the fact that the Bridge Theatre’s production of the same play was thrillingly modern, with an incredible energy pulsating through the pit (if you had a promenade ticket). SPADA’s version suffered from serious overambition, an unnecessary amount of nudity (I’m no prude), and a real lack of focus – all they seemed to want to do was shock. If I hadn’t been reviewing I probably would’ve left at the interval.
4. The Distance You Have Come, The Cockpit
Song cycles may not be my thing either. As well as the warnings about references to abuse and depression, it could’ve done with noting that it suffered from delusions of grandeur: basically, it whacked a load of Scott Alan’s songs together (that don’t normally sit side-by-side) and claimed that it was telling a story. In reality, it told a few bits of stories but chopped & changed so much it was impossible to get a handle on the whole thing – and the songs were quite samey, making it a bit dull too.
3. Into the Woods, The Cockpit
The Cockpit strikes again! This production of the Stephen Sondheim musical attempted to bring the events into the present day (with TOWIE and royal weddings incorporated), but it fell completely flat. It’s another show in this list that suffered from having an actor-director, in my opinion; it did lack focus and became rather inconsistent in places, plus the director’s acting performance was sadly quite devoid of acting for the most part… A rather inauspicious introduction to this show for me.
2. People Like Us, Union Theatre
The Brexit play that only Rod Liddle was calling out for. I would have been genuinely interested in seeing something that explored the rational reasons for voting to leave the European Union, but instead we were given Nigel Farage’s Greatest Hits – though I suppose ‘greatest’ isn’t the best choice of words. Not only was the content questionable, it also ended up poorly written and structured; there was very little character development to speak of, and there was a weird propensity to give them their own monologues at random points. A terrible experience all round.
1. Knights of the Rose, Arts Theatre
Wow. My review of this was something of an essay, so I’m not sure I have much more to say about it! I still have a chuckle when I remember the massive list of literary references in the back of the programme – it tried to be in-depth and comprehensive, but couldn’t even manage specific references so you actually know what they’re on about… I also have the cringeworthy moments cued up in my mind for when I need cheering up! (“Alas, poor Horatio – I knew him, Yorick.”) I dread to think where they got the money to finance this flop, as the marketing campaign was seriously over the top and it somehow managed to make it to the end of its troubled run. One that should never see the light of day again.