Despite how it seemed at times, my year has actually been top quality in theatre terms. I nominate my likes and dislikes as I go through the year, and this time round only ten made it onto my ‘long’ list for worst show (compared with well over 50 for best show) – so it was fairly easy to chop this down to my bottom five. I must stress again that this is a list of my least favourite shows; ‘worst’ simply fits better as a title, so don’t completely lose your shit over it.
For example, & Juliet was a contender for me because its book is absolutely dire (though I did enjoy the show far more than expected). The return of Girl From The North Country could also have made an appearance; it’s completely lost its soul, especially Like A Rolling Stone – I can’t think that the writer & director would have insisted that the actor shout it, so I have to presume it was a terrible acting decision (and one that almost made me cry with disappointment). I also wasn’t particularly inspired with Sleepless, though as I only saw one of three previews I can’t judge that properly until a full version opens.
In no particular order, what actually made my list are…
Red Palace at The Vaults
Thankfully I was invited to the pre-show meal, which at least got the evening off to a good start (it was bloody delicious – I’m still craving that honey wholemeal rye bread) – but from then on the lack of structure really became an issue. The show began before we had a chance to finish our desserts, there wasn’t enough room for everyone to see (rendering the acrobatic opening pointless for half of us), and you had no clue what was best to aim for when left to your own devices to choose which rooms to enter. The ending was also a bit wishy-washy, and even exiting the venue was a bit like hard work…
Bitter Wheat at the Garrick Theatre
I’m probably falling into a trap by including this play in a list of this nature, but I’d probably raise a few eyebrows if I left it off – so I can use this space as an extra opportunity to reiterate how pointless this play was, and express a bit of concern at its promotional material. What we needed this year were more plays in the vein of Anomaly, which at least considered things from a female viewpoint and was written by a woman; what we didn’t need was David Mamet’s attempt to make a farce out of #MeToo… And advertising it by saying “you can’t be outraged if you haven’t seen it” and “Money, sex, power, you only need one of them to see John Malkovich in Bitter Wheat” was definitely problematic; for reasons previously stated, you absolutely could be outraged without seeing it, and the second one was insensitive at best. It wasn’t even partially redeemed by way of Malkovich’s starring performance, as he really wasn’t anything to write home about.
CAN-CAN! at the Union Theatre
A kind of classical music jukebox musical, the second of the Essential Classics series didn’t live up to the high standards of the first. Gratuitous fart jokes, an obsession with the word ‘gypsy’ (I lost count of how many times they said it, and cringed each time), and far too many plot strands meant it was a bit of a feat of endurance. Like a lower quality Moulin Rouge! and soundtracked by the likes of Offenbach, Johann Strauss II & Franz Lehár, the only real highlight ended up being the choreography – including the final can-can to end the show.
Falsettos at The Other Palace
I have to admit that the row between Selladoor and a group of Jewish theatremakers was in the back of my mind the whole time I was watching this, and definitely made me feel uneasy; knowing for definite that no one in the cast or creative team was Jewish (or had any meaningful link with the religion) made the opening number (Four Jews in a Room Bitching) very uncomfortable and meant the whole thing lacked authenticity. Aside from that I didn’t rate it much anyway. There’s a marked difference in quality and style between the first and second act (thanks to them being two separate musicals tacked together), for one thing – there was no real depth to it, even when the story got more serious, and I only ended up getting a little emotional because I started thinking about Freddie Mercury’s loss (I couldn’t give a shit about Whizzer). Finally, it’s a sung-through musical set in America, yet the only member of the cast who seemed to be bothered about doing any kind of American accent was the child – not what you expect from a cast of that calibre. And I still don’t know what the title’s all about.
Summer Street at Waterloo East Theatre
Oh dear. This is one of those shows where you have to stop yourself from giggling at it (and in the wrong places) so you don’t insult the actors – I was at least assisted in this by being seated down at the front… It probably would’ve worked better in its original jukebox musical format, rather than a completely original show with songs that apparently don’t all need to be sung if a shorter running time is required. The collection of ridiculous deaths that the fictional soap opera characters endured was definitely the funniest thing about it, and I did enjoy Pogo the Summer Street dog’s performance, but even as a silly, tongue-in-cheek show it didn’t manage to hit the mark. The concept was a decent one, and would draw a reasonable audience, but the creative execution was incredibly lacking.