Thursday, 5 January 2017

The Plastic Bag Awards 2016

The awards season has arrived again so it's time for the Plastic Bag Awards for 2016. The judging panel has been locked away scrutinising the nominations and they're ready for the big announcement. Ladies and gentlemen, I give you the Baggies 2016!

Best Theatre - Shakespeare

2016 was the 400th anniversary of the death of William Shakespeare so there was lots of Shakespeare all over the place, not only productions of his works but also exhibitions and a host of events. I saw quite a few and saw big productions at The Globe but it was productions at the small Sam Wanamaker Playhouse that got the most nominations. The nominations are:

Cymbeline @ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Richard III @ the Almeida
The Winter's Tale @ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
The Tempest @ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
King Lear @ The Old Vic

The judges were split between 'Lear' with the astonishing performance from Glenda Jackson and 'Richard III' with Ralph Fiennes in the title role but it came down on the side of Richard for the instant menace he seemed to be able to turn on at the drop of a hat. He was scary!

Best Theatre - Drama

There doesn't seem to be much 'drama' in the West End at the moment - or, at least, drama the appeals to me to buy tickets, so these nominations span the far east and west on London as well as the Southbank.

The Philanderer @ The Orange Tree Theatre
Kenny Morgan @ The Arcola Theatre
Ivanov @ The National Theatre
The Plough and The Stars @ The National Theatre
Amadeus @ The National Theatre

The Orange Tree Theatre at Richmond is doing a good job of introducing me to old plays that are rarely performed and the Arcola came up with a gem of a play in 'Kenny Morgan'. The National Theatre's short Chekov season was worth a visit over the summer and it's another National Theatre production that wins the Baggy - 'The Plough and The Stars' at the Lyttelton. The Sean O'Casey play was hard work and emotionally exhausting and I regret only seeing it once.

Best Theatre - Musical

There were lots of musicals on in 2016 and it looks like there'll be more in 2017. I could easily have added 'Kinky Boots' to the list but I think that was nominated last year. This years' nominees are:

Billy Elliot @ Victoria Palace
Showboat @ The Crucible
The Threepenny Opera @ The National Theatre
Titanic @ Charing Cross
She Loves Me @ Menier Chocolate Factory

'Billy Elliot' has been on for a decade or more but I finally saw it in 2016 shortly before it closed in Victoria. The other four nominees are much older and that makes me wonder what's happened to the modern musical (but not too much). I loved 'Showboat' and 'She Loves Me', both classic musicals, and 'Titanic' is a show that should be on in the West End at some point, it really is that good. But the Baggy goes to 'The Threepenny Opera' for it's songs and plot, it's menace and threat and all the rolls of brown paper used in the sets - well done people, I loved it!

Best Entertainment

An 'entertainment' is something that doesn't really fit into any of the other categories and this year we have one-woman shows, poetry readings and walks up and down the Southbank and Bankside to see short videos of all Shakespeare's plays. And mad juggling and acrobatics, obvs.

Ellen Terry With Eileen Atkins @ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Poems That Make Grown Women Cry @ The National Theatre
The Complete Walk @ Southbank & Bankside
Barbu by Cirque Alphonse @ Wonderground
Longing Last Longer by Penny Arcade @ Soho Theatre

The award goes to Penny Arcade for her latest show, 'Longing Last Longer' at the Soho Theatre. Challenging, scary and familiar as Penny paints a picture of modern living I recognise and, in parts, abhor as she leads us through her urban jungle with words and performance. Well worth seeing.

Best Gig

I only went to four gigs this year and all were 'oldies':

Pet Shop Boys @ Royal Opera House
Petula Clark @ Theatre Royal, Drury Lane
Suzanne Vega @ Cadogan Hall
The Human League - Royal Festival Hall

Pet Shop Boys and Suzanne Vega were promoting their new records and it's nice that they're still recording. However, the Baggy must go to the Pet Shop Boys for a truly spectacular show at the Royal Opera House with lasers shooting all over that grand old building and me wondering if the balconies would survive the bone rattling volume.

Best Live Performance

This award is for an individual performance that leaves you feeling 'wow!' Spoken word, song, dance... anything that moved me.

Eileen Atkins as Juliet in 'Ellen Terry With Eileen Atkins' @ Sam Wanamaker Playhouse
Petula Clark singing 'I Can't Live Without Your Love' @ Drury Lane
Rebecca Trehearn singing 'Can't Help Lovin' Dat Man' in 'Showboat'
Itziar Mendizabal as Paulina in 'The Winter's Tale'
Victoria Serra singing 'Lady's Maid' in 'Titanic'
The Human League singing 'Love Action (I Believe In Love)'

Eileen Atkins playing a 13 year old girl and making me believe she really is Juliet and the sheer elegance of Itziar Mendizabal as Paulina were both astonishing. The sad truth of Rebecca singing about love and the simplicity of Victoria as she throws her arms wide in joy at the prospect of becoming a maid were heartbreaking moments. Petula and the Human league singing their classics were a joy to behold. There has to be one winner however and, after  tie-break, the panel awarded the Baggy to Rebecca Trehearn for her marvellous and tragic performance in 'Showboat' and, in particular, *that* song.

Best Dance

This is only the second year for this award since I discovered the beauty of classical ballet and the Royal Ballet at the Royal Opera House. I was also lucky to see four productions by the Bolshoi Ballet that took over the Opera House for a three week season over the summer. The nominees are:

Giselle by the Royal Ballet @ the Royal Opera House
The Winter's Tale by the Royal Ballet @ the Royal Opera House
Jekyll & Hyde by the McOnie Company @ The Old Vic
Swan Lake by the Bolshoi Ballet @ the Royal Opera House
The Red Shoes by Matthew Bourne/New Adventures @ Sadler's Wells

I loved the drama of 'The Winter's Tale' and the freshness of 'Jekyll & Hyde' but the Baggy must go to 'The Red Shoes, the new Matthew Bourne production that I saw just before Christmas (and have booked to see it again at Wimbledon on tour). The sheer originality of the thing, the characterisation, the marvellous dancing and the great sets all make this an instant favourite.

Best Exhibition

I saw lots of exhibitions in 2016 due to having the time to visit them. From a fascinating exhibition about the history of Sicily at the British Museum to a small Punk exhibition at the British Library to a lovely little exhibition of the paintings of Caillebotte at the Thyssen-Bornemisza Museum in Madrid. Exhibitions about all sorts of things so it's a little bit strange that all the nominees are exhibitions  about paintings.

Painting the Modern Garden - From Monet to Matisse @ the Royal Academy
Delacroix and the Rise of Modern Art @ the National Gallery
Georgia O'Keeffe @ Tate Modern
Paul Nash @ Tate Britain
Impressionists and Moderns @ CaixaForum Madrid
A Thyssen Never Seen @CaixaForum Barcelona

The O'Keeffe and Nash exhibitions helped me to explore artists I wasn't particularly aware of and both were really good, giving me a glimpse into the artists in a way I haven't had before. The two CaixaForum exhibitions were excellent - brilliant paintings well laid out in light and spacious surroundings and I'll certainly keep my eyes on CaixaForum in future for interesting exhibitions. The Baggy, however, must go to 'Painting the Modern Garden', the best exhibition I've seen at the Royal Academy for years, gorgeous painting after gorgeous painting, a marvellous flower tent and Kandinsky in shorts tilling his garden. What more could you ask. I'll treasure memories of that exhibition for a long time to come.

So there we are, The Plastic Bag Awards 2016. Some of the winners are a bit of a surprise but all deserve it. Let's see what 2017 brings!

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