Friday, 3 January 2014

The Plastic Bag Awards 2013

Once again it's time for the annual Plastic Bag Awards, the Baggies 2013.

The Baggies offer a great opportunity to look back over the year and mull over things I've done and seen as well as enjoyed and been challenged by. I've seen a few films this year so that category has been reinstated and there's a new category for 'talks' since I've been to quite a few. So let's jump right in and see who wins the first award ...

Best Theatre - Drama

This has been an odd year for drama - I saw some great plays but didn't particularly like the productions ('Othello' and 'Edward II" both spring to mind at the National Theatre) and that narrows down the nominees quite a bit. After a lot of thought, the nominees for this category are:

  • The Winslow Boy
  • The Curious Incident Of The Dog In The Night-Time
  • The Judas Kiss
  • Cocktail Sticks
  • The Audience

'The Winslow Boy' was really quite impeccable but failed to engage me with the characters as did 'The Curious Incident', both really good plays and well produced but didn't do anything for me. 'The Audience' and 'The Judas Kiss' were perfect for the respective leads and both were great productions but the award goes to another tour de force performance in 'Cocktail Sticks' by Alan Bennett.

I saw 'Cocktail Sticks' as part of the 'Untold Stories' evening brigaded with another short Bennett play, 'Hymn'. It is an autobiographical tale of Alan Bennett's relationship with his parents over the years as he finds a pack of cocktail sticks at the back of a kitchen cupboard when clearing out the family home after the death of both of his parents. I recognised so many things in the play that helped make it real for me and that's why it wins the Baggie this year.

Best Theatre - Musical

2013 was a great year for stage musicals with some great (and not so great ) revivals as well as new productions. I saw the new production of 'Merrily We Roll Along' back at the start of the year at the Menier Choccy Factory and it just didn't work for me. I know it's been doing well in the West End but it didn't draw me in. On the other hand, I loved  the Choccy Factory's 'Candide' which is well worth seeing. Other productions that just failed to make the nominations were 'Titanic' and 'The Scottsboro Boys', both musicals I'd love to see again.

The nominations for 'Best Theatre - Musical' are:
  • The Book Of Mormon
  • A Chorus Line
  • The Color Purple
  • The Amen Corner
  • The Light Princess
'The Book Of Mormon' was great fun and very rude and it was great to see Gavin Creel again. 'A Chorus Line' was a joy and I had to see it twice on its short run over the summer. 'The Light Princess' was a feminist fairytale with songs by Tori Amos and a sumptuous production at the National. Also at the National Theatre was 'The Amen Corner' which I saw a matter of days before seeing 'The Color Purple' at the Choccy Factory and it's 'Purple' that wins the Baggie.

'The Amen Corner' was a great mix of drama and song but it was the story and songs of 'The Color Purple' that swung it. Great acting and great voices melded in a great production that made me go back again to see it on its relatively short run. It should have transferred to the West End but a bonus prize is the Baggie for Best Musical.

Best Entertainment

I define 'entertainment' as a staged something that isn't a play or a musical. That makes it quite a wide ranging category. The nominations this year are:
  • Matthew Bourne's Sleeping Beauty @ The New Theatre, Wimbledon
  • John Cooper Clarke @ The Palladium
  • Patti Smith - Words & Music @ The Purcell Room as part of Meltdown
  • A Christmas Carol @ Queen Elizabeth Hall
  • Matthew Bourne's Swan Lake @ Sadler's Wells
A Matthew Bourne production is almost mandatory in this category and it's nice to have two, one from the national tour in the spring ('Sleeping Beauty') and the latest Christmas show at Sadler's Wells, 'Swan Lake'. Both have won Baggies in previous years that clearly indicates their strengths.

I saw the mastery of John Cooper Clarke for the first time this year despite buying my first record of his 35 years ago. He is a master wordsmith and it was a joy just to hear him talking let alone reciting his verse. And it was the same with Patti Smith who mixed readings from her autobiography ('Just Kids') with stripped back versions of her songs played with her son and daughter. However, the Baggie goes to 'A Christmas Carol', an ensemble reading of the story a week before Christmas. It was enchanting.

Best Talk

This is a new category of award for 2013 and is included because I seemed to attend so many 'talks'. These included staged interviews to promote books or celebrate films and  reminiscences as part of the National Theatre 50th anniversary celebrations. The nominees are:

  • Tracey Thorn @ the Royal Festival Hall
  • Ray Davies @ The Purcell Room
  • Julie Walters & Richard Eyre @ the National Theatre
  • Rita Moreno @ the British Film Institute
  • Derek Jacobi @ the National Theatre
Sometimes it nice to just turn up and listen to people talk. They're generally set up in an interview format with someone interviewing the star - the best ones ask such open questions that the star can take flight and talk about virtually anything. The worst are where the interviewer has a script and sticks to it (a hideous Patti Smith interview a few years ago springs to mind where all the questions were based on a book she rubbished in the first five minutes - take a hint!).

Thankfully, all the talks I attended this year were good and the interviewers had actually read the book or done their homework. I'm going to single out Sir Derek Jacobi who gave a talk to promote his autobiography because he was so unexpectedly entertaining and human. I loved his stories about his parents and about him growing up as an actor.

Best Film

I've seen a few films this year for the first time in ages, old films and new films, documentaries and unexpected tales. The nominations are:
  • I'm So Excited
  • Marvin Hamlisch: What He Did For Love
  • A Yank At Oxford
  • Saving Mr Banks
  • The Thirteenth Tale
I saw a not quite finished version of a documentary about Marvin Hamlisch as part of the London Film Festival that reminded me who he was and a delightfully twee 'Yank At Oxford' as part of a festival celebrating Vivien Leigh's centenary. I saw the impossibly camp and colourful 'I'm So Excited' by Almodovar and a preview at the BFI of the new Vanessa Redgrave TV film that was shown over Christmas, 'The Thirteenth Tale'. However, the Baggie goes to 'Saving Mr Banks' for its practically perfect magic.

Best Gig

I went to quite a few gigs last year, particularly over the summer with Yoko Ono's great Meltdown Festival on the Southbank. I saw the Pet Shop Boys bigging it large at the O2 with their new album and I saw Boy George and Marianne Faithfull (separately) at the Queen Elizabeth Hall as part of Yoko's Meltdown. I was privileged to see Siouxsie twice at the Royal Festival Hall, supported both times by Viv Albertine.  The nominees for the Best Gig Baggie are:
  • Siouxsie @ the Royal Festival Hall
  • Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band @ the Royal Festival Hall
  • Amanda Palmer & The Grand Theft Orchestra @ The Roundhouse
  • Viv Albertine @ The Purcell Room
  • Kim Wilde's Christmas Party @ Shepherd's Bush Empire
All the nominees are women of power who've been around for a while. Siouxsie majestic in white PVC and Yoko screaming into her mic, both at the Royal Festival Hall. Amanda Palmer the rock star at The Roundhouse with the kind of light show and professionalism that says she's moved to another level. Viv Albertine headlining her own show at The Purcell Room with a tight band and so different to her 12Bar Club show back in January 2013.

But the Baggie goes to Kim Wilde for her first full show in London in a  couple of decades and killing it - and us! Tight band, Kim striding along the front of the stage taking us higher then singing Christmas songs - it was her Christmas Party after all! Well done Kim!

Best Live Performance

The best performance award is for a one-off song that just hit it and sends you away with a marvellous memory of the evening. This years nominations are:
  • 'Dear Daily Mail' - Amanda Palmer
  • 'Spellbound' - Siouxsie
  • 'Warrior In Woolworths' - Celeste Bell
  • 'Still England' - Viv Albertine
  • 'Kids In America' - Kim Wilde
Amanda's 'Dear Daily Mail' was an internet sensation since, while singing a letter to the Daily Mail about her escaped tit at Glastonbury, she strips off her kimono and sings the song naked. Siouxsie delivered a magical 'Spellbound' and Celeste Bell (or Styrene to me) gave us a perfect acapella 'Warrior In Woolworths' at PolyFest. And who could fail to be excited by seeing Kim Wilde singing 'Kids In America' live 30 odd years after it was her first hit?

The Baggie goes to Viv Albertine for what I think of as the disco version of 'Still England' she gave us at the Purcell Room. Halfway through the song it changed into a disco beat and a glitter ball exploded to surround us all with light as she read out the names of people that mean England to her. It was magnificent and shows just how much she's grown as a musician and performer in the last year, from the D.I.Y. 12Bar Club show to her encased in lube and a PVC top. With a glitter ball. Well done Viv, a performance to stick in the memory!

Best New Album

There weren't that many new albums this year that made me go wow so it was relatively easy to list the nominees:
  • David Bowie - 'The Next Day'
  • Linda Thompson - 'Won't Be Long Now'
  • Yoko Ono Plastic Ono Band - 'Take Me To The Land Of Hell'
  • Boy George - 'This Is What I Do'
  • Kim Wilde - 'Wilde Winter Songbook'
The biggest wow factor goes, of course, to Mr Bowie for releasing a new single out of the blue and then followed it up with an excellent album of new material. I still listen to it avidly. Linda Thompson and Yoko Ono take us back to another time and it's great that both are still producing excellent and challenging music. Then we have two '80s stars in the shape of Boy George and Kim Wilde and, while the Boy's new album is excellent, it's out-shone by Ms Wilde's Christmas record. 'Wilde Winter Songbook' is full of excellent songs for singing along to or listening to on a cold winters' day. Well done Kim!

Best Exhibition

This has been a great year for exhibitions from portraits of Native Americans at the National Portrait Gallery to one of the inventors of pop art, Lichtenstein, at the Tate Modern. The nominations are:
  • Light Show @ the Hayward Gallery
  • Man Ray @ the National Portrait Gallery
  • David Bowie Is @ The Victoria & Albert Museum
  • George Bellows: Modern American Life @ the Royal Academy
  • A Crisis Of Brilliance @ Dulwich Picture Gallery
All were excellent in different ways. I'd be really tempted to award the Baggie to George Bellows or A Crisis Of Brilliance if it wasn't for Mr Bowie. If you weren't in your early teens (or younger) in 1972 when Ziggy pointed straight at you through the telly box while singing 'Starman' then you won't understand the sheer thrill of seeing that costume in a glass case with the model pointing straight out at you. Again. Giant video walls, stage costumes and the keys to his Berlin flat, the exhibition had it all and was a joy to wander through. Well done V&A and thank you to Mr Bowie for blessing it.

And there you have the Baggies for 2013. I wonder what 2014 will bring?

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