Looking through a list of 2012 reviews, it’s hard to pick my favourites this year. There are a handful of forgotten shows and a few that were memorable for reasons other than wonderfulness, but it’s mostly been a fireworks and wow year.
It’s not the commercial and high-priced shows that I remember. There were some I really enjoyed, like Annie and South Pacific, but most prove that cost doesn’t reflect quality and none captured the hearts of their audiences. And let’s not talk about the ones that were forced to close early because they weren’t ready to be produced and insulted their audiences by asking for money for half-baked work. (I didn’t write about Moonshadow because the only positive thing I could say about it was that it left me in tears of laughter; only it wasn’t meant to be funny.)
The experiences I remember most vividly were the ones only seen by handfuls of people. There’s been an increase in intimate theatre this year, with works like And the birds fell from the sky, The House of Dreaming, Séance, Hold and Impasse. The audiences are tiny, but there’s something incredible about having an artist perform just for you.
And Melbourne’s independent scene continues to remind us that art and entertainment can exist in the same space and that money and funding don’t guarantee either.
Independent company MKA have continued to shoot adrenalin into the heart of Melbourne’s theatre community by presenting the best new writing and letting their creators develop work without any fear of censorship. The result is work like no other company is producing, sold out seasons and reviews where the writers try to out wordgasm each other.
La Mama in Carlton never stops presenting new Australian work, Red Stitch in St Kilda continue to find works from all around the world that highlight Melbourne’s actors, while newer spaces like The Owl and the Pussycat in Richmond are welcoming and supporting independent companies and artists, and Theatre Works in St Kilda has become a hub of amazing art and creativity and increased it’ audience by an astonishing 71% in 2012. 71%!
Theatre criticism in Melbourne took a blow in November when Alison Croggon announced the end of her blog Theatre Notes in November. Theatre Notes inspired many reviewers (myself included) and set the standard for reviews in Melbourne, and the rest of Australia, with its honest intelligent commentary and deep understanding of theatre. It was also the place everyone went to share their options. I quickly forgot Queen Lear, but I still go to the Queen Lear discussion on Theatre Notes when I want a good laugh or to be reminded of the passion readers have for theatre.
Alison’s writing and opinion will be sorely missed, but I’m taking something she said about reviewing into 2013. She talked about critics as being advocates for the arts. We’re not here to tell you what’s bad about a work, but to explain and discuss what’s great and to give readers reasons to see a show or artist. By no means should we lie or ignore issues or dullness, but we’re here to celebrate and encourage.
Finally, a huge thank you to all the Melbourne writing team – Josephine Giles, Karla Dondio, Jason Whyte, Emily Paddon Brown and Claire Pickering – for your opinions, your time, (I know how long it takes to write reviews), your writing and your ongoing love of theatre. Your words are always appreciated by the artists and companies you’ve written about, by the readers who you convinced to see a show and by everyone else at AussieTheatre who reads you.
OUTSTANDING ARTISTS 2012
Dana Miltins, Orlando, The Rabble, Malthouse Theatre, Melbourne Festival
Brigid Gallacher, The Most Excellent and Lamentable Tragedy of Romeo and Juliet
Nilaja Sun, No Child , Theatre Works, Brisbane Festival, Melbourne Festival
Everything they do rocks
Daniel Clarke, Creative Producer, and everyone at Theatre Works
Declan Greene, Summertime in the Garden of Eden, Sisters Grimm. The unspoken word is “Joe”, MKA and La Mama. Pompei L.A., Malthouse Theatre
OUTSTANDING PRODUCTIONS 2012
Summer of the Seventeenth Doll, MTC presents the Belvoir production
Margaret Fulton: Queen of the Dessert, Present Tense & Theatre Works
Contact! , Arts Centre Melbourne
Zombatland, Arts House & The Suitcase Royale
The Goodbye Guy, Justin Hamilton
Field Recordings, Bang on a Can All-Stars & Melbourne Recital Centre
Weather, Lucy Guerin Inc, Melbourne Festival
From the ground up, Circus Oz
BEST OF THE BEST
The Wild Duck
Malthouse presents a Belvoir production
Summertime in the Garden of Eden
Arts Centre Melbourne, Ex Machnia & Théâtre Sans Frontières
My favourite show of 2012
Rimini Protokoll & The City of Melbourne
To see what Melbourne artists loved in 2012, there’s a series at SometimesMelbourne.