2016 Theatre Review – My memorable theatre moments the year!

Having already chosen my top ten productions of the year and my favourite performances of the year, for my last 2016 theatre review post I wanted to look back on my most memorable moments at the theatre in the last twelve months. These are the moments that have stayed in my mind, whether a set, scene or personal experience while seeing a show.

The mind-bending set change at the end of Wild (Hampstead Theatre)

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I had heard so many people talk about the staging of Mike Bartlett’s Wild before I arrived at the Hampstead Theatre and that final set change was certainly a sight to be seen! Watching one set change in to another, much starker one was already impressive and then it started to rotate! I admit I was a little distracted from the actual scene itself. Top marks to the set designer and stage management team for this feat.

Watching the cast of Unreachable do all they could to make each other corpse during their final show (Royal Court)

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I’d hoped to see Unreachable twice, but had to miss my earlier trip, meaning my only visit was to the final show. Seeing the final performance seemed to heighten the hilarity, as a number of times the cast, particularly Jonjo O’Neil, were trying to throw their fellow cast members off. It was very very funny and one of the most fun trips I’ve had to the theatre.

My return to the wonderful world of Punchdrunk (Sleep No More, NYC)

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A Punchdrunk show is always an experience to remember and Sleep No More in NYC was no exception. From the first moments of making my way in to the venue in darkness, to exploring the eerie and intricate rooms and levels, where I sampled the sweets in the shop and leafed through the books on the shelves, right through to my own one-on-one experience with one of the cast, I had a great time. I only hope it’s still there on my next trip.

Genuinely feeling as though someone was behind me blowing in my ear at The Encounter (Barbican)

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From immersive theatre to sensory theatre with my trip to Simon McBurney’s one-man show The Encounter. Using special technology (including the head in the photo), he was able to transport us in to the rainforests of Brazil. The moment he had us close our eyes and then created the effect that someone really was behind my right ear, blowing on it, was astonishing. The possibilities for audience interaction in future shows is very exciting indeed if such experiences can now be created.

The magical illusions in Harry Potter & The Cursed Child (Palace)

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The most eagerly awaited show on the planet was just as much fun as I’d hoped (and I’m not even a huge Potter fan) and one of the biggest thrills of the theatre year for me was seeing the illusions achieved in this production. I especially loved the entrance to the Ministry of Magic. The cast must be on skates or something  backstage to get from one part of the stage to another so fast! A treat for young and old alike.

Watching Glenn Close in Sunset Boulevard from the centre of the front row (London Coliseum)

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Glenn Close as Norma Desmond was a performance I’d been looking forward to since it was announced and on seeing it, I just had to go back for a second time. I’m still amazed that this wasn’t a total sell out, but the fact that a week before, I was able to buy a front row ticket was unbelievable. Having Close stand so close to me and deliver that performance was a real thrill for me in 2016.

 

Saying goodbye to War Horse and Groundhog Day at their final London performances (New London and Old Vic)

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I was lucky enough to be at the final London performances of both War Horse at the New London Theatre and Groundhog Day at the Old Vic in 2016. The first show was closing after over nine years, during which it has delighted and moved so many audiences and it was lovely to hear author Michael Morpurgo’s words of thanks to its cast and crew. On the other hand, we’d barely had Groundhog Day in theatreland before it was off to prepare for Broadway. I loved the show (it’s my favourite of 2016) and being able to say a fond farewell to it, from the front row no less, was a joy.

Experiencing the enthusiasm of New York audiences for Shakespeare during the RSC’s King and Country tour (BAM, NYC)

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This year also saw my first trip to NYC since 2012 and it was filled with a great deal of wonderful theatre. However, one of the things that truly stood out was during my time at the BAM Harvey Theatre in Brooklyn, where the RSC was showcasing its King and Country cycle. Having seen it in both Stratford-Upon-Avon and London, I was surprised to experience the plays in a new environment. Antony Sher has talked about how the New York audiences were more enthusiastic and I agree with him. There was a new kind of excitement in the venue and lines received an audience response they hadn’t in the UK, which in turn had an effect on the actors. From chatting to other audience members, many had read the plays before coming and had a genuine enthusiasm for the plays. It was wonderful to be a part of it.

Being given a reminder of how precious time and life is by Gavin Plimsole (Greenwich Theatre)

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One of the new theatres I visited during 2016 was the Greenwich Theatre and I was rather moved by its show The Inevitable Heartbreak of Gavin Plimsole. As we journey through the last part of Gavin’s life, depicted by marbles dropping through a chute after a certain number of heartbeats, the audience was reminded of how precious life is and how we should not take it for granted. At the end of the show, we each opened a box. Mine had a marble in it for me to keep. I have kept it in my handbag ever since. Sometimes it is the smallest shows that make the biggest impression.

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There were so many special moments for me in theatres this year, but those are the ten that have stayed with me the most as I sit here and reflect on the last twelve months. Next I’ll be looking ahead to the productions I’m most excited about in 2017, which I hope to post very soon. If you have some moments that have stood out for you, let me know about them in the comments!

 

 

Theatre Review – Become immersed in Punchdrunk’s Sleep No More (New York)

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During my recent trip to NYC, there was one other theatre experience that had been a must for a long time and that was another Punchdrunk adventure!

After enjoying, but being slightly overwhelmed by The Drowned Man, I was excited to experience Sleep No More in New York, which has already been running for over five years. A collaboration between Punchdrunk and Emursive, Sleep No More brings its audience the same unique, immersive experience that those already familiar with Punchdrunk have come to love. It’s taken me some time to write this review, as it’s essential not to give much away!

For the uninitiated, Punchdrunk shows centre around a story which is brought to life around a multi-levelled building by an ensemble of actors, through movement, dance and minimal dialogue in what is called promenade theatre. Once inside the story, the audience members are each given a mask, which must be worn at all times and there is absolutely no talking. You are also encouraged to split up from those you arrive with. This may sound daunting, but it’s absolutely the best way to experience a Punchdrunk show. It is after all a journey; during three hours inside, you wander around and decide what to observe, which actors to perhaps follow and which rooms to explore. Everyone should choose for themselves. Your time within the world created will be greatly improved by doing so.

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My souvenirs from Sleep No More

So as for Sleep No More itself? It’s hard to review in the sense that the magic of the experience is to know very little at the outset and so I am limited in what I can say! You arrive at The Mckittrick Hotel (a converted warehouse building) and on “checking in” at the door, make your way through to the bar.

The show has been devised around Macbeth, one of Shakespeare’s better known and bloody stories. However, this is no ordinary Macbeth and indeed it isn’t even the only story that unfolds within the five storey building. My choices over my time at the McKittrick meant I in fact saw very little from the Macbeth side, unlike my friend who saw most of the recognisable moments from that story brought to life!

Being inside such an experience is hard to describe. It’s at times as if you are in someone else’s dream, due to the lack of set course you take, while at the same time being incredibly liberating to simply wander wherever you choose. To reach each new floor involves climbing the stairwells and as you are effectively on your feet for three hours, wear sensible, comfortable shoes! It can also get quite warm inside, so wear layers or light, cool clothing.

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Close observation of the actors by the audience at Sleep No More

I enjoyed Sleep No More much more than The Drowned Man and the key reason for that was my attitude. I was braver in my exploration of the building. I ventured in to dark rooms alone, walked closer to actors and wasn’t afraid to catch their eyes. They are after all reacting to the audience as much as to each other. My open attitude must have been clear, as I did get to experience one of the famous “one on one experiences” in which one actor took me aside, away from the other followers and in to the dark crevice between the walls. It was a unique, surreal and very intimate moment that I won’t forget and drew me further in to the mysterious atmosphere of the show.

More than anything else, the creation of the world will astonish you. The attention to detail in these shows is superb. Each floor is a different environment; you may find yourself both in indoor and outdoor locations, all perfectly brought to life. Every prop is there by design – whether the titles of books you can take off a shelf, the half written letters you can read on tables or the posters and notices on shop pinboards. One tip I will say is, if you find yourself outside the sweet shop – go in, open the jars and sample the goods! The sound/music underscoring the locations is also perfect and the large ensemble of actors work incredibly hard to bring the world to life inches from you.

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The experience begins on arrival at The McKittrick Hotel

The masks and silence also add an air of gothic creepiness to the night. They are unquestionably unnerving and having everyone wear one is so effective. They also make you bolder in my view. There are no places out of bounds here. If you want to sit on the arm of the chair of an actor as they sit there reading something, then you can. The anonymity of the masks allows you a freedom that is like no other theatrical experience and on returning to the outside world at the end of your time, it’ll have you comparing notes with friends and theatregoers as to what you each saw and did for a long time afterwards.

I’d also agree that Sleep No More, like any Punchdrunk show, is something that will inevitably benefit from repeat trips. The more time you spend there, the more you’ll see and the more the pieces of the story will start to come together. Sadly, I only had time for one visit this time, but, if it’s still there on my next trip to NYC, I’ll almost certainly go back. Once you’ve caught the Punchdrunk bug it’s inevitable!

So, if you’re going to, or are in, New York and are looking for a totally unique evening, book a ticket. If you go with others, do split up inside. It’ll mean you have so much more to share afterwards. Finally, be bold. The more you put in to Sleep No More, the more you’ll enjoy it!

Sleep No More continues at The McKittrick Hotel at 530 West 27th Street and is currently booking until 30th December 2016. Tickets are $86.50 (plus booking fee) and try to get the earliest timed slot to maximise your time inside. For more information visit the website here