Best of Bristol 2015: Theatre

Image: Richard Davenport

In the second of our retrospectives of 2015, we run down what we thought was the best Theatre in Bristol over the last twelve months, and choose our number one.

For me, 2015 was a triumph for smaller-scale theatre productions. Away from the blockbusters were some superb, finely-tuned treats on offer in venues across Bristol. Theatre Ad Infinitum’s mime piece Light brought a dystopian vision of the future to the Bristol Old Vic Studio in what was one of the most terrifying and affecting shows that I have ever seen.

REVIEW: Grounded, Arnolfini

George Brant’s Grounded, meanwhile, showcased a mesmerising one-woman performance at the Arnolfini as Lucy Ellinson took on the role of a drone pilot – isolated in her remote control military role, as well as in her on-stage cube.

ORARH-new2For me, though, the most memorable show this year came courtesy of Still House’s Of Riders and Running Horses, part of the excellent Mayfest festival. Staged on top of the NCP car park, the sextet of dancers – accompanied by a live Typesun soundtrack – created an atmosphere of unbridled energy and joy. This was made all the more dramatic by the bristling weather, which battered the audience with wind and hail. That the performance ended with a radiant mass dance by the audience is a testament to the effervescent production. (CD)

Telling the story of Alan Turing, Gordon Welchman and the code cracking heroes of Bletchley Park, Idle Motion’s spellbinding That Is All You Need To Know at Tobacco Factory was an innovative tribute to the relatively unsung heroes of the Second World War. Aside from its stylish storytelling, this was a play set apart by its ingenious presentation. Highly effective use of multimedia – video projections on to handkerchiefs, authentic audio testimony and slick visual displays –served to make this a touching, humorous and educational piece of theatre.

The Crucible at Bristol Old Vic

Any rendering of American drama staple The Crucible will rise or fall based on its ability to capture the intensity and foreboding doom of Arthur Miller’s allegory for McCarthyism – this accomplished Bristol Old Vic production delivered just that. Set during the Salem witch trials of the 1690s and inspired by Senator Joe McCarthy’s anti-communist oppression of the 1950s, Miller’s play is a great example of art that has retained thematic relevance. A dynamic interpretation – thanks, in no small part, to the powerful performance of Dean Lennox-Kelly as protagonist John Proctor. (SH)

REVIEW: Romeo & Juliet, Tobacco Factory

Tobacco Factory’s powerful and zestful run of Romeo & Juliet was as remarkable as it was memorable. The vivid and unforgettable adaptation of the star crossed lovers was a thing of brutal beauty. Paapa Essiedu starred as the charmingly funny, devastatingly good looking and fearfully believable bi-polar Romeo, achieving the admirable feat of both tender adonis and wild murderer with total conviction. But it was Oliver Hoare’s Mercurio, who was as mad as he was enrapturing who stole the show with a breathless performance that took the rakish Prince of fair Verona to the unnerving and uncouth Johnny Rotten and wilder side of Daniel Day-Lewis. 

stick_house_image_flyingExtending the very boundaries of theatre, Raucous Theatre’s fantastical The Stick House was simply breathtaking in it’s all round brilliance. A promenade performance in a masterful set in the caverns below Temple Meads train station, this gothic tale reeked of rust and decay, and had a real sense of modernity to it given the 21st century touches throughout. Its ambition, its execution, its passion, it’s variety; this really was as good as theatre gets. (KM)

And the winner is

Of running

Mayfest stars again with this sumptuous performance, blending dance, live music and a stunning outdoor location.

Contributions by Kevin McGough (KM), Conal Dougan (CD) and Scott Hammond (SH).