The Time Out theatre team list the openings that impressed them most this year
What a year it was for Melbourne stages: a colossal primate, a marathon avant garde opera from New York, a marathon avant garde musical from New York, a fertile meeting of main-stage theatre companies and independent artists, half-a-dozen arts festivals all jostling for space on the increasingly crowded calendar and much, much more. Here are the ten shows that impressed us most this year.
Back to Back Theatre
Back to Back's five-star comic book-themed Super Discount proved another standout for a company whose reputation continues to grow.
Directed by Greg Carroll and led by a very charismatic Carolyn Bock, this Stork Theatre production gave beautiful, bantering, tragic form to Margaret Atwood's poetic elaboration on Homer's Odyssey. Framed as a cabaret show, it revealed the perfect stage language for Atwood's comic sophistication and undernote of sadness.
This bulky American melodrama (directed by Sam Strong and starring Robyn Nevin and Sacha Horler as a sparks-will-fly mother-and-daughter double act) was one standout in a very busy MTC season.
Red Stitch kicked off their year with a poignant little gem by Amy Herzog about a young man at a loose end in life who finds shelter and comfort with his ninety one-year-old grandmother. The production was highlighted by a wonderfully warm, subtle performance by Julia Blake.
Arts Centre Melbourne
Marathon theatre is all the rage at the moment: epic, high-art monsters that test audiences across many hours, sometimes without interval. And thanks to the Arts Centre's policy of targeting large-scale international works, Melbourne had the opportunity to see the mother of all modern marathons, Philip Glass and Robert Wilson's masterpiece, Einstein on the Beach. The revival of this classic of contemporary opera was a landmark event, a glorious if gruelling monument to the mundane.
Nature Theatre of Oklahoma
Festivals! We can't get enough of 'em, apparently. The calendar is crammed, and the pressure is on the Melbourne Festival to assert itself as the city's premier arts event. This year was a positive first outing for new creative director Josephine Ridge, with the high point being the absorbing musical magic of Life and Timesby New York's Nature Theatre of Oklahoma.
National Theatre, MTC and Arts Centre Melbourne
The MTC posted a record box office in 2013, and they owe a lot of that success to One Man, Two Guvnors, the English National Theatre's grand farce which has packed houses around the world. It was far and away the highlight of the MTC's main-stage program, delivering in a big way on the kind of high-octane slapstick for which Old Blighty is renown.
The world of commercial musicals was dominated by King Kong, which looks set to hit Broadway mid 2014. Yes, it's a show with a lot of imperfections, but for spine-tingling excitement, there was nothing to rival the moment when the giant Kong first emerged from the smoke and the murk, like the dark herald of a theatrical revolution.
One of the biggest theatre events of the year was the inaugural Neon Festival of Independent Theatre. The opportunity was richly deserved by all five companies involved, and the work was consistently interesting, but The Rabble's dizzying and daring adaptation of The Story of O stood out like a red welt on a pale thigh. We can still feel the delicious sting.
This was easily the best piece of new writing for the theatre we saw all year. Fierce. Provocative. Poetic. Playwright Patricia Cornelius takes the tragic death Dianne Brimble, who died in suspicious circumstances on a P&O cruise, and transforms it into a blazing cross-sectional study of alienation, violence, sex and masculinity. Director Susie Dee brought out an unexpected lyricism in Cornelius's script, combining brilliantly with very fine performances by Mark Tregonning, Lyall Brooks, James O’Connell and Luke Elliot.