Time Out casts a critical eye over a year spent in theatres around Melbourne and doles out the metaphysical gongs
Theatre, Main Stage
Best: Top Girls, MTC. Director Jenny Kemp's treatment of Caryl Churchill's sometimes difficult but always intellectually and poetically probing verse was more than equal to the play's formidable reputation. Also, Sumner Theatre looked a million bucks, probably the best it has ever presented.
Runner up: The Histrionic, Malthouse Theatre. The originality and high-flown theatricality of Thomas Bernhard's tale of megalomania and misanthropy in small-town Austria was our pick from the Malthouse's main-stage season.
Honourables: Other MTC highlights included the Rothko bio piece Red and Tribes. Controversially, Time Out also had positive things to say about Queen Lear, upsetting some of our fellow critics. At the Malthouse we loved The Plague Dances, while many will also have Wild Duck and Pompeii, L.A. in their list of favourites for the year, both very stylish. At Arts Centre Melbourne, Lipsynch deserves a mention, along with the odd but endearing Fight the Landlord from China. Schaubühne Berlin's An Enemy of the People was a fascinating provocation in a fairly light theatre programme for the Melbourne Festival.
Theatre, Medium Stage
Best: Persona, Theatre Works. Fraught Outfit's adaptation of Ingmar Bergman's landmark film was a surprise highlight. Without any obvious violence to Bergman's screenplay, director Adena Jacobs and her collaborators produced something extraordinarily original.
Runner up: Orlando, Malthouse Theatre. This fleeting stream of images and sketches based on the novel by Virginia Woolf, sometimes bewildering, sometimes bewitching, was a clear standout in the Malthouse's Helium Season.
Honourables: From the MTC's Lawlor Studio, Roland Schimmelpfennig's Golden Dragon lingers hauntingly in the memory. The ever-reliable Red Stitch had success with The Pride, a return season of The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later and Midsummer. Other strong productions included Black Lung's Doku Rai at Arts House and Michael James Manaia at fortyfive downstairs. Finally, MKA's sex.violence.blood.gore by Singaporean playwright Alfian Bin Sa’at highlighted yet another year of high-quality theatre from this ambitious young company who also produced a Fringe Festival hit with Zoey Dawson's The Unspoken Word Is Joe.
Theatre, Small Stage
Best: Summertime in the Garden of Eden, Sisters Grimm. A masterpiece born in only three weeks, this mad refiguring of Gone with the Wind gets a second life at Griffin Theatre in Sydney next year. If you missed its limited Melbourne run, it's well worth a road-trip.
Runner up: The Temptation of St Antony, Four Larks. Another gorgeous warehouse production from Four Larks, this one a sublime evocation of Flaubert's most difficult novel.
Honourables: Zoey Dawson's all-female production of Romeo and Juliet was amazingly beautiful, thoughtful theatre. The McNeil Project was a punchy tribute to playwright Jim McNeil from Wattle We Do Next Productions. At Chapel off Chapel, 3 Big Men's production of Angels in America Part 1 was well received, while Act-O-Matic 3000 impressed with Will Eno's Oh the Humanity. The Blue Room was our highlight from the Owl and the Pussycat's several seasons. Turtle Lab and Public Front went underground in Collingwood for a worthy essay at Jon Fosse's I Am the Wind. Gasworks in Port Melbourne hosted a very powerful production of the gritty prison drama Everynight ... Everynight. At the Fringe Festival we loved Elbow Room's As We Mean to Go On and Tim Spencer 's Show Me Yours, I'll Show You Mine. Finally, the Hayloft Project presented a very fine adaptation of Sophocles's Philoctetes, The Seizure.
Best: Mariola Fuentes in Blood Wedding, Malthouse Theatre. This veteran of Spanish cinema singlehandedly justified director Marion Potts' decision to stage Lorca's tragedy as a bi-lingual production.
Runner up: Bille Brown in The Histrionic, Malthouse Theatre. Bille showed what a delicate art wild ranting can be.
Honourables: Te Kohe Tuhaka in Michael James Manaia – explosive showmanship. Colin Friels in both Red and Death of a Salesman – an extraordinary presence. Meredith Penman and Karen Sibbing in Persona – enchanting and disturbing by turns. Robyn Nevin in Summer of the Seventeenth Doll – can we just say classic Nevin? John Adam in Bell Shakespeare's The School for Wives – carried the enormous role of Arnolde with incredible ease.
Best: Top Girls, MTC. Led by Anita Hegh, but with significant contributions by the entire cast, not a weak link among them.
Runner up: As We Mean to Go On, Elbow Room. The large ensemble negotiated this philosophically and poetically dense text with superior confidence.
Honourables: The Laramie Project: 10 Years Later – technically premiered in 2011, but its return season again confirmed the strength of the Red Stitch ensemble and their guests. Wild Duck – one of the great examples of authentic Australian naturalism. Pale Blue Dot – an odd little project from OpticNerve, memorable for its wonderfully fluid group dynamic.
Best: Master Peter's Puppet Show; What Next, Victorian Opera. This Manuel de Falla/Elliott Carter double might have slipped under the radar of a lot of people, but for Time Out it ticked all the boxes: a courageous example of contemporary programming, creatively staged, beautifully sung and capped off by a some tight work by Orchestra Victoria.
Runner up: The Box, Chamber Made Opera. Staged in a living room in Kew, this was our favourite of the three very different Chamber Made pieces we saw this year – blissfully original and exquisitely odd.
Honourables: Rake's Progress, Victorian Opera – a feast for the ears and the eyes. The Magic Flute, Opera Australia – zany good fun. Opera Australia's entire summer season in Melbourne, Salome, Madame Butterfly and Lucia Di Lammermoor – a wonderfully diverse selection of productions, but individually very strong. The Marriage of Figaro, Victorian Opera – Richard Gill's last hurrah was one to savour. Contact!, Arts Centre – a netball opera? It was just weird enough to be memorable.
Best: South Pacific. An enjoyable summer holiday escape in the company of Teddy Tahu Rhodes, Lisa McCune, Eddie Perfect and Kate Cebrano. Who else would you take?
Runner up: Cinderella, Victorian Opera. A joyful family show that should spark a revival of the holiday pantomime tradition.
Dance, Main Stage
Best: Infinity, Australian Ballet. In the course of their fiftieth anniversary celebrations Australian Ballet spoiled audiences with a line up of classics, but this programme of three new works, collaborations with outstanding contemporary dance choreographers, really stood out.
Runner up: Terrain, Bangara. Frances Rings' strong choreography was highlighted by striking backdrops by Jacob Nash.
Honourables: An Act of Now, Chunky Move – new artistic director Anouk van Dyke made an impressive mark first up. Desh, Akram Kahn – a crowd favourite, beautifully produced. I don't believe in outer space, William Forsythe Company – enigmatic. Weather, Lucy Guerin Inc – hands down best use of plastic bags seen all year. Eifman Ballet's double bill, Anna Karenina and Tchaikovsky – brought plenty of drama to the stage. Sundowner, KAGE – lyrical and tragic.
Dance, Small to Medium Stage
Best: Fifteen, Liesel Zink. Performed in Flagstaff Station at peak hour, dancers weaving through the crowd, this was an unexpectedly beautiful and somehow melancholy experience.
Runner up: The Exchange, Dewey Dell (Italy) and Justin Shoulder. This quadruple bill of demonic design and huge beats was the hot ticket at this year's Next Wave Festival.
Honourables: Monster Body, Atlanta Eke – exuberant and entertaining, with an occasional thrill of discomfort. Supertone, Rennie McDougall – another Next Wave favourite. Dance Territories, Dancehouse – intense minimalism. Body Obscure Object, Shian Law – Time Out's dance highlight at this year's Fringe Festival. What's Coming?, Alexandra Harrison – festival programming as choreography.
Hybrid and Experimental
Best: Impasse, Denis Beaubois, William McClure and Jeff Stein. Hand on heart, we had more fun romping through this foam wonderland than at any other performing arts event all year.
Runner up: Shotgun Wedding, No Show. A collision of daggy wedding rituals and immersive theatre. A real blast.
Honourables: Hold, David Cross – a bouncy castle, so ... obviously. Hell House, Back to Back Theatre – enjoyable more for the discussion that went on around the event than for the event itself. Blindscape, Arts House – Skye Gellmann's circus-and-iPhone response to glitch art.