2018 has been yet another year of incredible theatre across the Greater Manchester area: as usual it’s been impossible to get to everything but in the case of 67 shows seen in 17 different venues, here’s my list of Top 10 favourite performances this year:
Hofesh Shechter Company at HOME Theatre, Manchester; Wednesday 31st October, 2018
In the middle of an international tour, a mysterious show about murderous clowns landed in Manchester for Halloween night. Coincidence? Maybe. But that good fortune of scheduling was just one of a multitude of reasons why this stunning performance takes the top spot in the end-of-year rankings. This was off-the-scale good.
The sights, the sounds and the emotions induced – it all just seemed to ooze effortlessly into the permanent memory banks, like some sort of top-grade theatrical lubricant; so much so that it sparked dormant recollections of an old Castrol GTX advert that I’ve probably not seen for ~30 years.
No script, no plot, no props, no set / scenery – yet this was still, easily, one of the most pleasurable, mind-bending experiences I’ve ever had. I’ve now written ~120 theatre reviews over the last 2 years and this still remains the only with with a perfect, faultless five-star rating. Shit hot.
Joris Mathieu et le Collectif de Haut et Court at The Lowry, Salford; Thursday 17th May, 2018
In Japan, young people seem to be locking their bedroom doors and isolating themselves away from everyone and everything around them. If this performance of Hikikomori is anything to go by then fuck it, I might have to give it a go myself.
A baffling and troubling modern behavioural phenomenon was presented in such a strikingly beautiful way through visual artistry and physical movement; as well as through the unusual concept of giving each audience member a set of headphones with a choice of 3 audio channels to listen to – each offering an alternative viewpoint. Hikikomori was a thing of unacceptable beauty: that which is so bad depicted as something so exquisitely alluring. I spoilt it forever though by failing to go back twice more to hear the other 2 audio channels – something that I’ll never forgive myself for.
3) Grand Finale
Hofesh Shechter Company at HOME Theatre, Manchester; Wednesday 31st January, 2018
Yet more world-class artistry from Hofesh Shechter, this was probably a better performance and concept than SHOW but it gets demoted to third place for one reason only: some greatness-hating fool decided to stick an interval in the middle of the performance, which kind of ruined it.
Otherwise it was a work of art – a gloriously smooth, pulsating example of the finest physical art: a mini orchestra slid all over the stage in amongst big Stonehenge-like monolithic blocks as the Titanic sank. You couldn’t make it up, except they did, and it was just immense. It’s back at HOME in 2019, I’ll see you there.
Oldham Theatre Workshop at Hope Mill Theatre, Manchester; Friday 11th May, 2018
Something about this sad story of sorrow and grief hit a raw nerve – and it wasn’t the one that normally tells me to stay away from gratuitous musicals. This turned out to be the best piece of new writing I’ve come across all year, in any format. A proper banger this: it could easily be a TV series, a film, a book, a non-musical stage play, anything really.
Reaches high up in the end-of-year rankings because it’s the only thing that (nearly) made me cry: the closing scene is just extraordinary, now #3 on my Now That’s What I Call An Ending all-time list – behind only The Shawshank Redemption and that “You can’t tell me what to do you’re not my mum! YES I AMMMMMMMM!!!!!!” episode of Eastenders.
The Tiger Lillies at HOME Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 26th April, 2018
Another brilliant piece of writing as punk cabaret legends The Tiger Lillies delivered a full-on music concert that also doubled-up nicely as a fully-functioning play.
The agonisingly sad story of a little orphan boy on the Mexican border was both outrageously good-looking and outrageously good-sounding. The Tiger Lillies could probably spin any story into a song and I’d definitely just believe it; they’ll be back at HOME with a new show in 2019, I’ll see you there.
Antler Theatre at HOME Theatre, Manchester; Thursday 1st November, 2018
Important question: trampolines or jigsaws? Which is the greater source of evil? Or do they both sit at the apex of human suffering? Did anyone even know that was an actual question?
All of which makes the answer so surprising. Lands was just such a bizarrely abstract and puzzling experience – one which demanded immediate and urgent rationalisation, but agonisingly failed to provide it. In the end, like all theatre, it’s all a bit silly really, but despite having touched neither a jigsaw nor a trampoline for many years this play seemed to probe deep into my inner existence and tickle a particularly troublesome g-spot of curious intrigue.
Very, very weird, but so very clever.
Figs in Wigs at HOME Theatre, Manchester; Friday 2nd November, 2018
A total bastard of a show this: opening with the diabolical spectacle of theatre makers making inside jokes about theatre: a new entrant in the Now That’s What I Call Annoying all-time compilation album. But about half-way through all that bollocks the actual performance suddenly kicked in.
It can’t be explained or rationalised, but it was just the funkiest half-hour of ultra-cool groove cruising I’ve enjoyed all year. They say time is a healer but for me the extreme swing from !!hate!! to ❤love❤ is still deeply troubling and problematic, one which will require theatre therapy eventually – though the Figs In Wigs will probably spout that old crap about “If you can’t handle me at my worst you don’t deserve me at my best”. Urgh.
The Royal Exchange, Manchester; Thursday 5th April, 2018
Theatre people usually can’t be arsed with the horror / thriller genre, probably because they’re all just too scared. There was only one really memorable scene of thunderbolt-and-lightning terror that properly shit me up in the way that I wanted, but that was fine because the rest of the familiar story and concept came across so well.
Perfectly pitched story-telling that did the job by leaving plenty of relevant, open questions about playing god, evil bastards, human centipedes, etc.
RashDash Theatre at the Royal Exchange, Manchester; Thursday 10th May, 2018
The patriarchy took a proper bashing here and there was nothing that those mainstream bastards could do about it – this was like the long-awaited fight in the school playground that every kid in school wanted to see.
RashDash took one of the bastions of male-centric theatrical mainstream yeah-yeah-yeah-whatever-ness, kneed it square in the groin, then left it writhing on the floor for about an hour and a half whilst they revelled in the glory of their success – mainly by getting their tits out and openly talking about greasing up their fannies ready for childbirth.
No one shed a tear though, it had been a long time coming. And the show was seriously good too.
10) Summer Holiday
The Octagon Theatre, Bolton; Monday 4th June, 2018
Yes it’s a musical and yes it’s just fucking silly but, all Club 58-70 jokes aside, this was a properly good night out. This wasn’t theatre, this was literally a summer holiday in itself, in Bolton, in June when the heatwave meant it was about 50 deg C.
Firstly proper chippy chips in an actual chippy, then across to the actual bus station to get on a convoy of actual double deckers heading to meet the spirit of Cliff Richard outside the town hall, then a proper cockney knees-up at the actual Octagon just before they literally closed the doors and smashed the place right up as if it was some sort of physical manifestation of the patriarchy. Genius.