Friday, 2 January 2015

The Plastic Bag Awards 2014

The annual awards season kicks off with the Plastic Bag Awards 2014. Some years feature one form of art more than others and this year has seen a deluge of theatrical experiences and very little new music or gigs - that's just how it goes sometimes. The judging panel has had some heated discussions  and has decided on the following awards.

Ladies and gentlemen and readers of all ages, I give you the Baggies 2014!

Best Theatre - Shakespeare Production

This is a new category to celebrate Shakespeare and the new productions of his plays put on last year. There was a great series of his Roman plays staged at The Globe over the summer, none of which I'd previously seen, and all are nominated. The nominations are:

'Henry V' at the Noel Coward Theatre
'King Lear' at the National Theatre
'Titus Andronicus' at Shakespeare's Globe
'Anthony & Cleopatra' at Shakespeare's Globe
'Julius Caesar' at Shakespeare's Globe.

Jude Law was my king in 'Henry V' with his stirring speeches and Simon Russell-Beale was suitably grumpy and despondent as Lear but it was the Roman plays at the Globe that really gripped me. The violence and blood of 'Titus' and the faded grandeur of Cleopatra but the glory belongs to 'Julius Caesar' with a great production matching that magnificent play with poetry to make you gasp and weep at its power and beauty.

Best Theatre - Drama

Taking Shakespeare out of this category makes it look, at first glance, a bit lightweight but here we have three revivals and two brand new plays being staged for the first time, both at the National Theatre. No-one can call 'Medea' lightweight. The nominations are:

'Skylight' at Wyndham's Theatre
'Medea' at the National Theatre
'My Night With Reg' at the Donmar Warehouse
'Behind The Beautiful Forevers' at the National Theatre
'Treasure Island' at the National Theatre

'Skylight' was a trip back to the '80s with Bill Nighy being Bill Nighy and we went back to another '80s with 'My Night With Reg'. 'Medea' is a millenia-old desolate play of extremes and can't help but be powerful. 'Behind The Beautiful Forevers' took us to an India few of us will ever see and 'Treasure Island' took us on a rollicking adventure to the Caribbean to find pirate treasure. They're all excellent plays but the Baggie must go to 'My Night With Reg' for evoking those lost days of the '80s when HIV first reared its ugly head and changed lives, and this play gently and evocatively illustrates the horror and pain so many people lived and died with back then.

Best Theatre - Musical

It's been a grand year for musicals, old and new. I saw lots of musicals last year and could so easily have nominated 'Amadeus' at Chichester, '20th Century Boy' at Wimbledon or the lovely Guildhall production of 'Grand Hotel' at the Barbican. But I must stick by the rules and nominate no more than five for the judges to assess and these are:

'Sunny Afternoon' at Hampstead Theatre
'Fings Ain't Wot They Used T'Be' at the Theatre Royal, Stratford East
'Guys & Dolls' at Chichester Festival Theatre
'Gypsy' at Chichester Festival Theatre
'Here Lies Love' at the National Theatre

This is a very difficult category and all five nominees deserve to be in the last five - they all have different qualities that bring them alive but the judges have awarded the Baggie to 'Sunny Afternoon' for being a joyous recreation of the music of the Kinks. It's currently running in the West End and raises the roof every night. Well done people!

Best Entertainment

An 'entertainment' in my book is something that is performed on stage short of it being a play or a musical, so can include readings, cabaret, circus and just about anything else.

'Ellen Terry With Eileen Atkins' at the Sam Wanamaker Theatre
'La Soiree' at the Southbank Spielgeltent
'Shakespeare's Sonnets' at the Royal Festival Hall
'Lord of the Flies' at Sadler's Wells
'A Christmas Carol' at Queen Elizabeth Hall

I loved the acrobatic rudeness of 'La Soiree' and the mammoth reading of all of Shakespeare's sonnets one after another by a set of actors. I loved 'Lord of the Flies', the new Matthew Bourne production, and listening to an ensemble reading of 'A Christmas Carol' just a couple of weeks before Christmas is magical. But the Baggie goes to Eileen Atkins for her one-woman show of 'Ellen Terry With Eileen Atkins'. Eileen turned into different people in front of our eyes as she played some of Ellen Terry's big roles, giving us a glimpse into what true acting can be like. Most impressive.

Best Film

A strange mix of nominations this year - a music documentary, a tale of gay solidarity with the miners strike in the '80s, a silent movie masterpiece with Buster Keaton and a strange American take on a Noel Coward play. The nominees are:

'20 Feet From Stardom'
'The General'
'Design For Living'

The judges picked the winner with little discussion - the Baggie goes to 'Pride' for being the best film in many years. The tale of those brave souls behind Lesbians and Gays Support the Miners (LGSM) and the miners they supported in South Wales during the 1985 miners strike. The miners might not have won but this film has winner written all over it from the touching and funny acting, a great soundtrack and jumpers tucked into jeans for added reality. Well done!

Best Gig

I didn't go to many gigs last year, mainly because artists I want to see didn't seem to be on tour, but there were still sufficient to make a top five. The nominees are:

Suzanne Vega at the Barbican
McAlmont & Butler at Islington Assembly Hall
Kate Bush at Hammersmith Apollo
Marianne Faithfull at the Royal Festival Hall
The Human League at Hammersmith Apollo

Suzanne Vega gave us songs from her latest album ('Queen of Pentacles') and McAlmont & Butler got together for a two-night reunion for charity while Marianne and the Human League, old troupers both, gave us solid professional shows, giving us exactly what we wanted. But the Baggie must go to Kate Bush for her return to the stage after 35 years and me being in the fourth row from the stage. That was a thrill and a half and you could feel the excitement grow in the crowd as starting time approached. And then there she was...

Best Live Performance

This category is for the individual performance of a song on stage, a performance that rips you out of the audience and transcends all barriers to take you to a different place. There are only three monitions this year:

'Running Up That Hill' by Kate Bush
'Everything's Coming Up Roses' by Imelda Staunton ('Gypsy')
'Mother Wolf' by Marianne Faithfull

Imelda's performance of one of the big songs from 'Gypsy' was astonishing in it's intensity as was the ferocity of Marianne's 'Mother Wolf' in which she spits out the words and despises the modern world. But It's Kate's song from the '80s, 'Running Up That Hill' that stays with me for the sheer majesty of the performance making me think we could, indeed, do a deal with God. Well done Kate!

Best Exhibition

I've been to quite a few exhibitions this year, mainly courtesy of membership of the Tate and the British Museum but I found it quite easy to narrow down the nominees, which are:

'Heaven In A Hell Of War' - Stanley Spencer at Somerset House
'Making Visible' - Paul Klee at the Tate Modern
'The Cut-Outs' - Henri Matisse at the Tate Modern
'Revolutionary of Russian Art' - Kazimir Malevitch at the Tate Modern
'Virginia Woolf - Art, Life & Vision' at the National Portrait Gallery

The Stanley Spencer exhibition was marvellous and, astonishingly, free to get in, and it reproduced his sequence of large paintings about his experience of the First World War and after. The colours, textures and patterns Paul Klee explored were delightful and uplifting by turns and the cut-outs of the Old Magician, Matisse, were joyful. Malevitch was more intellectual and hard to take in fully and the assembled objects at the Virginia Woolf exhibition were touching, particularly the little black book kept by the Nazi's with her name in for immediate arrest following a Nazi invasion. I learnt something from all these exhibitions (as one should) and left them wiser and with a greater understanding of their work. It was very difficult for the judges who eventually decided to award the Baggie to M. Matisse for his glorious and joyful cut-outs that got bigger and bigger as he got older. *Bows*.

Best Book

There isn't usually a book category in the Baggies so this is another new one simply because I read four great rock books over the summer and all deserve to be mentioned.

'Clothes Clothes Clothes, Music Music Music, Boys Boys Boys' - Viv Albertine
'Buffy Sainte-Marie: It's My Way' - Blair Stonechild
'Look Wot I Dun: My Life In SLADE' - Don Powell & Lise Lyng Falkenberg
'Bedsit Disco Queen' - Tracey Thorn

Blair's book about Buffy successfully pulls together existing material about Buffy, Don's books sheds new light on his time with SLADE and Tracey's book was doubly entertaining and illuminating since it's the tale of the growth of a contemporary into a pop star so I could recognise and relive many of the allusions she makes. Great and as entertaining as these books are, it's hats off to Viv Albertine for her astonishingly honest memoir, 'Clothes…Music…Boys'. Books are too often called "brutally honest" but none so honest as Viv's book where she holds nothing back. It's intensity and honesty are painful and that's the mark of great writing and great story-telling. She discovered her own narrative voice while writing this book and I'm sure that'll provide dividends for future songs as well as books. Well done Viv!

And there you have them, the Baggies 2014! Let's see what 2015 brings, shall we?

No comments: