The Ginger Wig of the Year Award 2016 and the Top Ten Shows of the Year

It was a tremendous year of theatre for the Ginger Wig in 2016…

We have witnessed some breathtaking productions and performances this year in some of the best theatres in the country, as well as in pubs, hotels, on the side of a cliff, in rundown flats and in the open air. So many shows stand out, but sadly we can only award one Ginger Wig Award.

Now let it be said that it is no easy feat to get on this list as we see a ridiculous amount of theatre each year, as well as comedy, performance art, opera, ballet, musicals, mime, and more, so even to get close to our top ten is an incredible achievement. So without further ado…

10. Lucky Stiff, Ahrens/Flaherty, Drayton Arms Theatre

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Lucky Stiff is a riot of a musical, pulling together a most outrageous story and hilarious song and dance numbers. Put together by MKEC Production it was performed by a tremendous cast of singer actors.

9. BUG, Tracey Letts, Found111

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The susceptibility of these lives is apparent in the first encounter between Agnes and Peter whose non-threatening, non-macho and superficially gentle demeanour immediately finds an emotional, if wary, response, from Agnes. However, unidentified phone calls have already made Agnes anxious about the re-appearance of her aggressive ex-husband who does indeed return to try and assert his possession of Agnes but after a stand-off with Peter takes money off Agnes and leaves.

8. Apocalypse Cruise Ship Love Affair, Beach Comet, Above The Arts Theatre

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A trip to Apocalypse Cruise Ship Love Affair is a trip to musical comedy heaven. This show is jam-packed with outstanding jokes, devised by writer/director Theo McCabe, and it keeps the energy flowing from one cleverly directed moment to the next.

7. The Rules of Inflation, Balloons Theatre, Theatre N16

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We loved so much about this show particularly the space in between the chairs, ostensibly creating personal space, but in fact creating isolation and distance between audience members. There was nowhere to hide. Children’s games being subverted by an unstable sociopathic clown – what’s not to love about that? The smell of fabric softener from Blue’s balloon miscarriage, surreptitiously seeped into our nostrils, affecting the one sense so overlooked in theatre.

6. The Queen of Spades, Pyotr Ilyich Tchaikovsky, Opera Holland Park

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An outstanding production of this tragic opera with the main roles taken by Peter Wedd and Natalya Romaniw. Wedd’s Herman had extraordinary presence with both poignancy and obsession combined with great effect in this hero who moves relentlessly towards a terrible end.

5. Ross, Terence Rattigan, Chichester Festival Theatre

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An excellent work that deftly weaves the historical events of the 1916-1918 Arab conflict with the role T E Lawrence played in it. Joseph Fiennes was excellent in the role of Lawrence portraying someone who is profoundly altered by the history he has lived. Paul Freeman as General Allenby was also extremely good and Rattigan presents the two characters as a match for each other in their strategic and incisive capabilities. The unspeakable dreariness of the Air Force base with its rigid discipline is a world away from that in which Lawrence lived and which gave him his appellation, Lawrence of Arabia. It’s a brilliant dramatic juxtaposition.

4. Operation Black Antler, Blast Theory/Hydrocracker, Brighton Festival

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This was a truly remarkable piece of immersive theatre. There was a feeling of tension and excitement throughout this piece, generated from the first moment. Every element of this piece was meticulously planned, form the people briefing us, to the world in the Rose Hill Tavern to the performance of the characters we met within. Without doubt this was the best ‘theatre game’ in which we have participated.

3. Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour, Lee Hall, The National

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A phenomenal piece of theatre that combines stunning musical talent, heartbreakingly human portrayals and almost incomprehensibly thick Scottish accents. Our Ladies was full of impressive harmonies, no holds-barred characterisation and was a night that socked the audience in the mouth and left them wanting more.

2. The Encounter, Complicite, The Barbican

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It is very rare in theatre that a really important story is told in such a fantastic way. This is the true essence of great theatre and is exactly what Complicite have created here with The Encounter. A momentous production, questioning all the values that we hold dear, possession, communication, consciousness and time.

And so the Ginger Wig of The Year Award 2016 goes to…

1. A Midsummers Night’s Dream, William Shakespeare, The Globe

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What a real treat this was at the Globe Theatre. If the Bard could come back from the dead, time travel to the present day, have a week to pick up a bit of the cultural context and listen to some of our music, and then come and see Emma Rice’s  production then he would be extremely proud. This was a real joy to watch and experience. This will go down long in the Ginger Wig’s memory.

Brighton Wig Awards

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This was our first year attending the Brighton Fringe and Festival and will certainly not be our last, and was an extremely fun and theatrically powerful bank holiday weekend on the south coast. So for the first time ever, it is time to announce the Brighton Wig Awards!

Awards for the Brighton Wig Awards 2016 include ‘The Venue Award’, ‘The Free Theatre Award’ and, of course, the round up of our favourite shows at the Brighton Festival and Fringe culminating in the award of the ‘Brighton Wig’ to our favourite show. Judging this year has been carried out by The Ginger Wig and the Ginger Viking!

The Venue Award

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Close runners-up in this category include the charming Bosco Spiegeltent and the perfectly situated Republic, but the winner of the 2016 Brighton Wig Venue Award goes to the groovy Distrikt at The Spire Arts Centre. This converted church has some beautiful stained glass windows and now serves drinks and has great art and theatre like No Offence’s ‘Torn Apart (Dissolution)‘.

The Free Theatre Award

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We saw some great free theatre in Brighton, including the participatory ‘Masquerade‘ by yello brick theatre company and the ridiculous ‘Brickhead‘. But there can only be one winner. This year, our free theatre award goes to the hilarious LoveHardComedy, giving us some of the most bizarre gags within a well constructed horror-themed comedy show. Well done to the LoveHard lads. Read our review here.

The Runners-Up to the Brighton Wig Award

5. LoveHard – They won our Free Theatre Award for good reason!

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4. Hotel Black Cat – sexy, sinister and scintillating cabaret and burlesque from the Black Cat Cabaret team. Read our review here.

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3. The Thermos Museum – brilliantly weird fringe comedy. Unique in its hilarity and strangeness. Read our review here.

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2. The Bookbinder – a heartwarming charmer for all to enjoy from Kiwi theatre company Trick of the Light. Read our review here.

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And the Brighton Ginger Wig Award of 2016….

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How could we look anywhere else than Hydrocracker Theatre and Blast Theory’s exceptional ‘Operation Black Antler’, taking us deep into the world of undercover surveillance, through one of the best constructed immersive theatre game experiences we have ever been lucky enough to enjoy. The Ginger Wig and Strolling Man will have our eyes on these two companies for their future work. They have set a very high standard! Check out our review of ‘Operation Black Antler’ here.

That concludes our 2016 Brighton Wig Award. Look out for the upcoming Edinburgh Wig Award and the big one, our first ever Ginger Wig Award from a whole year of theatre everywhere!

Hotel Black Cat by The Black Cat Cabaret at Republic

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Situated by the lovely Brighton beach, Republic was the perfect venue for a cabaret show. We could feel the cabaret vibes from the moment we walked in!

Greeted by Dusty Limits, the Host of the night, the audience was welcomed into the formerly grand Hotel Black Cat. Throughout the evening we were introduced to the various characters, or creatures, that worked at or visited the hotel. The performance combined various cabaret and circus acts; dancing, juggling, burlesque, fire artists, hoop aerialists, a singing string quartet – that together created a magical and mesmerising spectacle that had a very eerie quality to it.

The events of the performance were threaded together by Dusty Limits, but the plot felt clunky and slightly unclear. Perhaps the plot was not the main focus of this performance, but rather the audience’s immersion into the sinister and decadent realm of the Hotel. Finishing the show with their own version of the Eagle’s hit song Hotel California, we were left with the phrase “you can check out any time you like, but you can never leave” which aptly summarised the atmosphere of this mad and dark show. All in all, Hotel Black Cat was a highly entertaining and sexy circus experience.

Highlight of the show – an enchanting and sexy burlesque act in an glowing cape, gorgeously performed by Vicky Butterfly.

WIGS 4/5

The Ginger Viking

Into The Water by Up and Over It at Brighton Spiegeltent: Bosco

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Our first trip to the Brighton Spiegeltent was a lovely experience as we witnessed some charming dance theatre from Up and Over It. ‘Into The Water’ combined body percussion and folk dancing with some beautiful storytelling and visual effects.

Two young friends, played by Suzanne Cleary and Peter Harding took us on a surreal journey through their childhood in this engaging piece of dance. The stage was littered with children’s toys, clothes and garden type equipment which the two character played with whilst testing the strength of their friendship through various dance contests and percussive moments.

Jonny Reed’s visual effect helped elevate this show from an amazing dance piece into a sublime dream. This was a pure visual treat of dance and imagery for all the family.

Highlight of the piece – Suzanne and Peter’s phenomenal body rhythm dancing.

WIGS 4/5

 

The Thermos Museum at the Komedia Store Room

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And so we come to what was clearly going to be the weirdest shows at the Brighton Fringe: The Thermos Museum. Effectively a traveling museum for thermos flasks and related gear. For something so off the wall, it needed an equally strange venue. And so the space? Behind the Komedia comedy store in Brighton, by their bins, up their fire escape ladder and in their laundry room. In fact the bins acted as very effective plinths for showing of the various thermos flasks of the museum…

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Leading the tour, was a mysterious tour guide, whose dour personality was extremely funny. He would snap at us to tell us there was no talking on the tour at one moment and then wistfully reminisce about various thermos of bygone years in the next moment.

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This was the ultimate fringe experience, one strange person, making a very strange show, in a very strange location, leaving ten strangers speechless to the madness they had just witnessed. This is what Fringe festival theatre is about!

Highlight of the show – Thermoses of the world? The oldest thermos ever? The Royal thermoses? All wonderful in their banality!

WIGS 4/5

 

Brickhead: Yeah Yeah, Yeah? at the Blue Man

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It was a good festival for us for free comedy. And this was no exception. Lecoq/Gaulier-trained clown Brickhead gave us a show of pure madness that left us quoting him for the rest of the night. Entering the space holding up a railed curtain, his entrance was a swarm of ticks, twitches and awkwardness as everything feel apart around him as he tried to set up for his opening. Naturally the whole audience found this hysterical putting us in the perfect mood for his show.

He started with predominately physical comedy and was comfortable getting the audience involved, to the point of leading off and leaving one patron in the bathroom. It seemed odd to us when he then went into a more vocalised form of comedy that ended with the phrase “down the hallway.” However the randomness of this phrase was made even more funny when it was then taken back into his physical comedy.

This was a completely random and brilliant show! Brickhead will dust your house and have you laughing for hours.

Highlight of the piece – the never ending telephone call – Kate is clearly the most annoying person in the entire world…

WIGS 4/5

1 in 3 by Now You Know Theatre at Sweet Waterfront

 

This was a brand new show from Now You Know Theatre about chemotherapy and how it affects those suffering from cancer. Furthermore it highlighted the importance of having a positive attitude as the best approach to life whatever situation you are in.

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Two different people are brought together by their shared chemotherapy treatment. Jeff is a newly diagnosed father of two while Jasmine is a 17-year-old girl, fighting cancer for the third time in her life. Together they form an unlikely friendship going through treatment. Jasmine is the positive force in this relationship, teaching Jeff about the important things in life and how to understand mortality.

Brilliantly written and directed by Anthony Orme, he has created a very touching piece of theatre that moved many in the theatre to tears. Cancer is something not often talked about in theatre. Now You Know have created a better dialogue about cancer and highlighted the importance of a positive outlook on life.There were fantastic performances from David Keogh and Alice Merivale as the two patients whilst Emily-Jane Ashford and Laura Ellis supported them excellently.

This was another great show from Now You Know Theatre and definitely one to see. Catch it and keep up to date with this rising theatre company.

Highlight of the piece – Jasmine’s final message to Jeff. A beautiful, funny and poignant way to end the show.

WIGS 4/5

The Ginger Wig

Switchboard by Produced Moon at Marlborough Theatre

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Our second day at the Brighton Fringe began with another technology-based piece called ‘Switchboard’ by Produced Moon. Having already taken part in two other shows which specifically stated the need for a fully charged phone, we were keen to see how this piece would utilise our mobiles.

We were led by ‘Maintenance’ to Brighton Pavilion and were there given instructions about how we would be contacting the ‘Switchboard’. With the relevant numbers saved we then awaited a call. When it came, we were told to wander off into the pavilion and observe the people and the world around us. We were told we would be joining a special network on the switchboard and would be getting in contact with someone. That someone was Aya, an Egyptian lesbian.

We were asked to respond to her and continue exploring the pavilion. We were also asked to talk about a favourite childhood park we visited and at one point told to demand change for the injustices of the world by shouting CHANGE! Ultimately, this piece was about the ownership of a narrative, as it soon became clear that Aya was in fact a made up person, which an American writer had created from the stories of others.

This was an interesting focus for a piece and certainly the main question raised was something our group had to think long and hard about. However, some of this piece seemed disconnected. Furthermore, we didn’t seem to have too much influence on the interactive element, as it felt like we were all getting the same texts. It raised the question over whether this was the right medium to be telling this story.

Nonetheless this was an inventive attempt at storytelling and with brand new technology trailed it was exciting to be a part of it. Furthermore I don’t think we would have ever explored the beautiful Brighton Pavilions had we not been to this show. A good attempt at a new form of theatre.

Highlight of the piece – speaking to Produced Moon to understand the piece and exploring the pavilion.

WIGS 3/5

The Ginger Wig

Operation Black Antler by Hydrocracker and Blast Theory at Brighton Festival

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What is it like to try an infiltrate a far-right group in the name of public security?  Police forces up and down the country have been doing it for years. The far-right has always been present in the UK reinventing itself over the years. ‘Operation Black Antler’ was a chance for us to experience exactly what it feels like to become a ‘shallow swimmer’ in the murky world of surveillance, in this brilliant immersive piece of theatre.

Meeting on London Road in Brighton we were texted by our ‘contact’ and directed to a grotty flat, to receive tea and a briefing of the group we were to be infiltrating and how exactly we were to go about this. Paired with Irish couple, Declan and Lasy, residents of Brighton for over 10 years, we felt confident that we were going to give this a good go. We were to be ‘COMM’s’ and would receive communication from the HQ throughout the mission.

Our target was Mickey, a former soldier. It was our job to find out why he left the military. The location was a pub round the corner where a a local family were fundraising to get their daughter Rachel into the army. Declan and Lasy knew the pub, so that was covered, but we couldn’t enter as ourselves. Instead we had to come up with full background, different, identities, and most importantly a reason to try and get into this party. The Ginger Wig was now godson to the Murphy’s…

We walked to the pub and after smooth talking the bouncer we were in. We knew Mickey liked football and therefore approached the only guy in the pub in a football shirt. He was not Mickey. Then we encountered Rachel and found out that Mickey knew her dad. We tried to find here dad – “stripy shirt” – but he was nowhere to be found. And then we alighted on a quiet looking chap in a cap. This was Mickey. We then spent the next thirty minutes trying to first get close to him before eventually engaging him in conversation. With three of us undercover and all trying to find out the same thing, Mickey skilfully avoided our probing whilst remaining friendly as his views slowly started to seep out. Naturally we played along with them pretending to be the aggressive far right yoof we had embodied. Declan’s views on Brexit also helped to win Mickey round.

We thought we had lost him, but some last minute questioning finally get the facts out. We had achieved our objective. But now he wanted to introduce us to someone new. We couldn’t say no or our cover would be blown. And so we were led into the back of the pub. Here we really started to feel the heat. Luckily this came across as a steely determination to act and keep those pesky foreigners out of the UK. We almost cracked, and certainly a situation with our mobile that would of blown out entire cover was fortuitously avoided thanks to Mickeys bad eyesight and eventually the three of us got out with more than enough information on the group.

We were met by another contact, although it was not who we thought we would be meeting, so as a group we interrogated him. Once satisfied he was to be trusted, we and the other two teams gave all the information we had on this far right group. But now the main question. From everything we had heard, should we now send a deep swimmer in to infiltrate this group. Were they a threat? Did it require such drastic action? Collectively we decided no, although I can’t pretend I felt confident, that the following weekends activities would remain peaceful. None the less, we left the experience chatting animatedly with Declan and Lasy about our night of deep immersion.

This was a truly remarkable piece of theatre. There was a feeling of tension and excitement throughout this piece, generated by the very real world that we entered. Every element of this piece was meticulously planned, form the people briefing us, to the world we entered in the Rose Hill Tavern to the performance of the characters we met within. Without doubt this was the best ‘theatre game’ we have ever had the chance to be part of.

Highlight of the piece – The whole thing from start to finish was a masterpiece – more of this please!

WIGS 5/5

 

Torn Apart (Dissolution) by BJ McNeill at Distrikt

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Sometimes in life, outside forces affect and guide our life. In ‘Torn Apart (Dissolution)’ we see how a couple’s actions and decisions in 80’s Germany have affected the lives of others. Set over three decades we meet Alina and her lover, a Canadian soldier, who have met in Germany in the 80s, Elliott and Casey a young couple in 90’s London and Holly and Erica, a couple in the present day. Each story spun its own course, whilst the link between the three stories slowly became present.

From the Ginger Wig’s perspective, the middle story of a young south London boy and his Australian girlfriend, facing the prospect of her expiring visa was the most arresting, due to our first hand experience of how such a situation can put a relationship under a microscope. In such a situation all decisions a couple wish to make regarding their future will be clouded by this barrier.

Writer and director BJ McNeill has crafted a moving story, dealing with the fundamental issue of love and how we handle it when outside factors affect our lives. His writing is real and fresh, showing a maturity that defies his age. There were very strong performances from all six actors; Nastazja Somers, Leonard Sillevis, Elliott Rogers, Hannah Kerlin, Sarah Hastings and Monty Leigh who inhabited their parts excellently. The use of their natural accents set this piece in the real world. The fact that they had workshopped the piece during the writing process was present in how grounded the actors were in their characters. There was an element of being caged in this piece which all actors expressed both delicately and ferociously.

This was a very moving play which everyone will be able to relate to. No Offence Theatre are a company on the up, brilliantly led by Nastazja and BJ, a pair that know how to make the right decisions, regarding the shape and life of their work. It was a shame only, that we couldn’t thank the cast for their performances in a curtain call. 

Highlight of the Piece – Seeing a young company, making present, powerful theatre that makes an audience question their values.

WIGS 4/5

The Ginger Wig