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.

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Scenes From The End by Jonathan Woolgar at The Tristan Bates Theatre

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Here at Ginger Wig, we have a keen eye for talented performers. Héloïse Werner is indeed one of those performers, pushing herself to incredible lengths vocally and emotionally through the piece, Scenes from the End. With her opening sequence, a beautiful soprano voice floats through the air. It seemed otherworldly, as her face and stature were devoid of the effort needed to produce that full-bodied sound. She had a very candid look about her: a messy ponytail, slightly off-centre, piercing blue eyes staring out from a face that seemed to be young and weary simultaneously. Her first notes became a repeated sequence that she finally completed, turning the “oo” of her notes into an unexpected and rushed word: “oblivion”.

The sequence garnered chuckles from the audience, but unfortunately that’s where the humour ended. The next forty minutes were torturous, and no amount of talent from the performer could stop us from becoming restless in our seats. She performed the piece in chapters, with a series of projections that accompanied each new take. A few interesting quotes about the end of humanity projected up onto the screen, and it was wholly engaging to note the breadth of writers who’d contemplated the end of our existence. From Shakespeare to C.S. Lewis, ranging from the 16th to 20th centuries, we saw thought-provoking quotes that were ill paired with unnerving performance. With the use of an alarm clock, a piano stool, prerecorded voice and a tuning fork, Werner created a sense of unease throughout the piece, singing difficult scales in addition to the unbearable ping of the fork, the drumming of the stool. She did reach a blues-inspired section, where we had repose from the upsetting sounds and were able to appreciate the flexibility of her timbre as she created a relaxed feel. This section, however beautiful, was still confusing to the audience who were perplexed by the absurdity of her other chapters.

If the goal was to create a discord reflecting the end of our existence, the goal was reached. Was their success enjoyable to watch? No, it was not. I wish I could say this was a thought-provoking piece, but in order to achieve that, Scenes from the End needed to establish a topic that the audience could interpret and question. The only thing we could think as the performance developed: when will this end?

WIGS 1/5

By Ranga Liliu

The Beggar’s Opera by John Gay at The Jack Studio Theatre

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Entering the theatre, I’m impressed by the seating in the round, moody lighting and minimalistic set. An actor greets me and directs me to the front row, assuring me that I’ve got the best seat in the house. He struck me with his candid and suave nature and I immediately thought he superseded the plot, that somehow he was above the goings on. Little did I know he was both narrator and protagonist. And his horrid story was about to unfold…

This adaptation of The Beggars Opera craftily morphs the three-act Opera of 1728 into a one-act musical. The story revolves around the thief MacHeath and his arousal and betrayal of many women, with Lucy and Polly at the forefront of his affairs. Initially painted as the loving and trustworthy husband of young Polly, we discover the many layers of MacHeath’s persona, his superficial charm failing to hide his devious nature.

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This adaptation by Lazarus Theatre Company cleverly keeps the intensity of the original opera while modernising it to the delight of audiences. The company of ten works incredibly as a group, with functional yet appealing choreography to heighten the air of eeriness among the viewers. The staging allows company members to slip on and off-stage seamlessly, bolstering the overall feeling of suspicion when needed. The music is pleasing and flows from emotion; it carries the mood of the previous scene and develops it incredibly efficiently, with the following scene taking on the new energy of the song. The company does a fantastic job of blending the scenes together, changing the set with ease while keeping the storyline’s focus.

This could have been the Southwark Playhouse the way the elements were so cleverly and impeccably executed. The casting highlighted the actors’ individual strengths, and the direction pushed the boundaries of the audience’s imagination – it swept me off my feet. I have a feeling Lazarus Theatre Company will surprise and satisfy again and again.

WIGS 5/5

By Ranga Liliu

Iris by Mascagni, text by Illica at Opera Holland Park

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The opera was first performed in 1898 and set in Japan. It pre-dates Puccini’s ever-popular Madam Butterfly by six years. The opera is a tale of abduction and exploitation of a young teenager but, unlike Madam Butterfly, there is no redeeming love to mitigate what is in fact a squalid little story. On the contrary it was intended as a commentary on human behaviour.

The opening is clearly influenced by Wagner and leads to a chorus who present a quasi-pantheistic worldview in which nature is paramount. The opera has a lavish score but here’s the rub. The narrative, which is singularly lacking in any humanity, is supported by late Romantic music that does not reflect the full emotional range of the narrative. It is a truly horrible scene – but brilliantly brought off – when Osaka tries to seduce the awkward, exceptionally naïve Iris and, since the sexual grooming of girls is not an issue far away from the public mind, it therefore has a conspicuous contemporaneity. But the music does not do justice to the scene. And the Wagnerian leitmotifs such as they are quite simply do not have the gravitas to match their subject. By contrast think of the resonant three-note Fate motive in The Ring as one example. There is another major weakness with the narrative. The structure of the opera is awkward. At the end of the second act, following the attempted seduction scene, where the dramatic tension is at its greatest, we see Iris leap to her death. But a final act follows in which her final demise is interrupted by the activities of scavengers and the reflections of the three main male characters who have been responsible for her sordid end. The opera ends with the sun lighting her way to heaven with the text, ‘Come, flower!’.

Whilst having these misgivings, it also true to say that the performance of this work was terrific. All main leads were outstanding. Anne Sophie Duprels as Iris, a regular at Holland Park, brings an extraordinary expressive range to her fabulous voice. And then there was Mikhail Svetlov as the blind father and James Cleverton as Kyoto who were also excellent.

And so to the tenor. We at Ginger Wig had the pleasure of meeting Noah Stewart in 2012 in Newcastle when he was Pinkerton opposite Ann Sophie in Opera North’s Madam Butterfly and it was we who said he must come to Holland Park! What more can we say? His acting and singing were outstanding and we look forward to seeing him again at Holland Park.

This is not a great opera but it is worth seeing. Its moral message sets it apart from its time. A fabulous cast made it a very interesting evening.

4/5 Wigs

Tickets Under £15

This week we have a wide range of offerings, including, dance, musical theatre, mime, opera, ballet and theatre all for under £15 in some of the finest venues London has to offer…

Current

Golgota – Bartabas & Andrés Marín – Sadler’s Wells – 15, 16, 18, 19, 20, 21 March – £12 tickets available.

“Four horses perform live on stage uniting equestrian theatre with art, music and dance.”

Upcoming

The Importance of Being Earnest by Gerald Barry – The Royal Opera at the Barbican – 29 March – 3 April – £10 tickets available.

“This operatic refashioning of Oscar Wilde’s most famous play is wildly inventive, exuberant and anarchic.”

Scenes from 68* Years – Sandpit Arts – Arcola Theatre – 6 – 9 April – £12, 10 – 30 April – £14 Concessions.

“A picnic interrupted by soldiers. Never-ending queues. Sunbathing in the shadow of a tank. How do people manage when every day is the same?”

Coming Soon

The Winter’s Tale – Royal Ballet – Royal Opera House – 12, 13, 16, 18, 20, 21, 27, 28, 30 April, 21 May, 1, 7, 10 June – £5 and £6 tickets available.

“Christopher Wheeldon’s three-act ballet adaptation of Shakespeare’s tale of love, loss and reconciliation with music by Joby Talbot.”

Lucky Stiff – MKEC Productions – Drayton Arms – 26 – 27 April – £7, 28 – 14 May – early bird tickets at £10 and concessions at £12.

“Something funny’s going on…With a mysterious murder, mistaken identities, and a corpse in a wheelchair, Lucky Stiff will leave you dying of laughter.”

Blind Man’s Song – Theatre Re – Pleasance Islington – 27 April – 15 May – £15 (£13 Concessions).

“Inspired by interviews with blind and visually-impaired people, Blind Man’s Song is a tale about one man’s rage against his world of darkness.”

Found & Lost by Emily Hall at Corinthia Hotel, London

When The Corinthia Hotel in London reopened four years ago, they took the very intriguing step of creating Corinthia’s Artist in Residence scheme – a cultural programme that supports emerging talent and the arts. I don’t know many hotels that do such a thing, but it is certainly an inspired decision enabling performing artists to make use of such a beautiful venue and to benefit from the high-end partnerships the hotel has developed; Bowers & Wilkins, Champagne Laurent-Perrier and others.

Emily Hall is this year’s artist in residence. She has created ‘Found & Lost’ an opera installation that takes the audience through the hotel, including its rooms, restaurants, and power plant underbelly. Conceived as a tryst between a hotel developer and a black-mailing lover, we follow these two around as the developer slowly descends into a drunken stupor in which state the lover takes advantage…

We were guided by a chorus of excellent singers, who demonstrated a very good quality of singing with a great range of dynamics for such an usual space. Not only this but clearly the design team had thought long and hard about effective locations in which to sing in order to make the most of the acoustics on offer. Furthermore there was some excellent sound design provided by the clever use of mics and speakers that were carried along with us and at one point by us the audience. Oliver Coates accompanied on cello all around the hotel, sometimes live and sometimes through the speakers.

This was a one-off experience, that you don’t often find in London, and we urge you to get along to witness it. A promenade opera in a beautiful hotel, ending with a glass of champers in the extremely jazzy Bassoon Bar. What more could one want? Well done to Emily Hall for this lovely work and well done to Corinthia Hotel for being so badass in having an artist in residence.

Highlight of the show – the moment we were led through a restaurant and up some stairs complimented by some lovely singing. Also the underbelly scene, very atmospheric with their use of location, flashlights and sound.

WIGS 4/5

Interview with Phoebe Rose of ‘China Doll’ by Bad Habit Theatre

We caught up with Phoebe Rose who plays ‘Ana’ in Bad Habit Theatre’s – ‘China Doll – A Neuropera in Four Seasons’. We posed several questions to her about her work in this operetta and her time at the Fringe. Here are her responses.

Ginger Wig: Hello Phoebe, thank you for joining us.

Phoebe: Thank you Ginger Wig!

GW: Acting at the Fringe is one thing, but singing ever single day is completely is completely different! How have you managed with thats?

Phoebe: Exactly. So many of my friends are doing straight plays and they go out every night, get drunk all the time, stay out till 4 in the morning and here I am going to bed at 11 (she laughs).

GW: Tell us about China Doll.

Phoebe: It’s set in an Eastern European village and it’s about a prostitute who can’t have children. It follows her life and the people who are in it, like her landlady who I play, Ana, and her boyfriend. There is also the boy that she is trying to trick into staying with her, by convincing him that she is pregnant. Then there are the people in the village, their pregnancies mirror her fake pregnancy and my inability to have a solid relationship, let alone a baby. It’s all about love and relationships and loneliness.

GW: And its linked to the seasons musically and dramatically?

Phoebe: Yes exactly, it goes through four seasons. So Ana and Alexi are a lot happier at the beginning in winter, but over the seasons they become further and further apart as Vincent comes into the picture. The seasons are also mirrored throughout the piece in the costumes and sets.

GW: Can you tell us about the creative team?

Phoebe: Jakob Robertson wrote the piece. He is 22 years old. He is absolutely incredible. He is a composer/writer and he was an actor as well. He is a drag performer and he is part of a company called ‘The House of Grand Parade’ who do drag acts around Brighton and London. This is his second opera, his first one was Lolita. The Director, Bryony Maguire I think is 21. She is a director and actor. They grew up together actually, they were next-door neighbours. Bryony did National Youth Theatre, which is where I met her two years ago and that’s how I got involved in the project. Since then, she’s been acting and she directed Lolita. Everyone else in the company know each other through other jobs or through friends. Some of them grew up together. It’s a lovely mix of people.

GW: Well we definitely could see you were all good friends. This was your professional debut. How did it feel stepping out on to the stage for the first time?

Phoebe: It was amazing. This show started last year. I first got the part of Ana in December last year. This was the first version of the show. The Scratch Night previews were done at the Bike Shed Theatre in Exeter, so that’s the first time this opera was shown to the public and the first time that Jake had had a cast doing it. After we did that we then did some more shows in Plymouth. They were doing their Fringe festival. We wanted to do the (Edinburgh) Fringe but we weren’t sure how it would work out. So then we applied for the Les Enfants Terribles Award which was going to get us to the Fringe festival. We did that and we were runners-up, which was amazing. A lot of people didn’t even get on stage.

GW: Can you tell us about the Les Enfants Terribles award?

Phoebe: They are a physical theatre company, kind of quirky, just a really cool new company and they are doing a show at the fringe right now – a children’s show and another one – so their award was to give an emerging theatre company a run at the Edinburgh Fringe with financial support and that kind of thing. You should check them out because they are really cool. They were doing ‘Alice’s Adventures Underground’ in London, like a really cool piece, it had these cards everywhere, in an underground space. So they were just trying to give a new company support and a platform to show their new work. The company that won were called ‘Fine Mess Theatre’ and they are doing ‘Diva’ in the same space as us. They are in the Ten Dome as well!

GW: What do you think about opera?

Phoebe: I love opera, but I’ve never done any opera before. Obviously this is an operetta so its sung in a musical theatre style. I’ve trained in musical theatre my whole life so this is kind of second nature. But because it is an operetta we wanted it to be a play with song. We have really worked everything like a script. Especially for my role, apart from her flamboyancy at the beginning, she is a real person with real feelings, she puts on a show, but she is incredibly vulnerable.

GW: Can you tell us a bit about the rehearsal process?

Phoebe: Sure, so when we first got the script, we learnt most of the melodies with Jake. Then we would go through it line by line with Bryony looking at the intentions, really looking at it, as a script, really thinking about the thought processes, what are they saying to each other. Then we would put it up on stage and explore it. We did lots of things that you would do in normal plays, we did thought tracking, hot seating and we also did improvisations. When the chorus do their ‘We’re having a baby’ thing, they are caricature’s. The idea of the chorus is that they are these ridiculous people which is ridiculous compared to Nina who is incredibly truthful. We put them on stage and then Bryony would say “Ok, so you need to tell Otto that you are having a baby. How are you going to say that?” Then we watched them play it out and how they would say it truthfully. Then we would work it in with the music. We all learnt together and it has changed since it started in January. It’s a long time ago. We did it at the Bike Shed and then we had to do it in Plymouth which is a much bigger space. Then we did it at Egg London which is a club as part of the Tête à Tête Opera Festival, but it was a very different space. It had poles and columns and that was more in the round than this, which is head on. We had feathers at one point around the edges, which was so beautiful, but that wouldn’t work for a fringe venue because you have to get out in ten minutes. We really worked on things with Ana and Alexi pretending we were a couple and the things that you say to each other, things you don’t say. Also, before we did the Fringe, we did half a day in our character’s lives. We’d lie on the floor and then Bryony would say “Ok, so its 7am. It’s winter” and then we would all have to literally play out the whole day, just as characters, talking, being with each other. Things like that were really useful because from doing the piece you know how you feel, but having your own voice to kind of work on things, explore and just improvise, that was really good.

GW: What is your favourite thing about being at the fringe?

Phoebe: I think it’s all the incredible theatre, the people you meet, the things you get to see that you wouldn’t see. Most of the stuff at the fringe is new writing, which I think is just unbelievable, like the direction from the scripts that people come up with. It’s just being constantly surrounded by so much inspiration!

GW: Have you got any personal favourites of things you have seen at the fringe?

Phoebe: I would say ‘Trainspotting’ by ‘In‘Your Face Theatre’ which is at Assembly which is amazing. I would say, ‘The Solid Life of Sugar Water’ which is at the Pleasance, done by a company that work with deaf and disabled actors which is incredible. And ‘Molly’ which is at the Pleasance and that is absolutely incredible and kind of physical with a really good script. I’ve seen a lot of amazing things.

GW: What are you future plans?

Phoebe: I have a couple of things in the works, but nothing is a definite at the moment, which is classic acting. So a couple of potential projects. This is not the last you will see of me!

GW: We hope not! Thank you very much for speaking to us Phoebe. Good luck with the rest of your run.

Phoebe: Thank you, nice to speak to you. And thank you for saying you loved the whiskey sandwich!

If you want to see China Doll it is on at the Pleasance Dome at midday until the end of the fringe!

China Doll – A Neuropera in Four Seasons by Bad Habit Theatre

This was a very ambitious piece from a very talented group of young performers. Billed as an opera, this show follows a girl’s life in the 19th century and her attempt to get pregnant, despite the fact she knows this is impossible due to her “desert-like-womb’. Beautifully sung by the lead actress and lots of good voices among the other performers, this piece was sadly let down by some repetitive music. This is no harsh criticism however. Even to begin to write a musical piece, lyrics, music and all, is no easy feat, and this was a commendable attempt. The lyrics on the other hand, were fresh, sometimes edgy and inventive. More sharpness was needed in the collective singing from the group at times, but overall this was a good performance from some young singers from Bad Habit Theatre.

Highlight of the show – The whisky sandwich.

WIGS 3/5