A year in theatre: 2006
Time Out reflects on an eclectic year in theatre
Read our Theatre critics' choices for 2006 here
As site specific fans well know, theatre doesn’t have to take place in theatres. It’s not often, however, that a performance gets the opportunity to swagger round the centre of London watched by more than a million people. Last May, a huge crowd squealed with amazement as a giant elephant – 40ft high and 42 tons heavy – set off down The Mall, spraying water as it went, in search of an equally giant ‘little’ girl with a Peter Pan collar and school sandals. Size clearly does matter, but people were also moved and enchanted by the delicacy of the elephant’s movements and the authenticity of its leathery skin and wispy eye lashes.
Well-known streets like Piccadilly felt very different with an elephant unloading its passengers into The Wolseley. And what a joy to walk in the middle of the road. It was disappointing to discover that some critics were so sniffy and strangely cross about a radical popular event which was entirely free and also without sponsorship. It wasn’t the American Express ‘Sultan’s Elephant’ or even, given that the company Royal de Luxe is French, the Perrier ‘Sultan’s Elephant’. Instead, the company wanted us to believe that both elephant and child had really arrived overnight instead of being the result of five years’ hard preparation. All praise to Artichoke for having the imagination and dedication to bring the show to London.
Back inside, popular entertainment also dominated. One big musical followed another and amazingly they all appear to be doing well and extending their booking periods way into 2007. If 2005 was spent examining the horrors of the Iraq war, this year the desire to escape was stronger. Every musical taste is currently catered for: ‘Porgy and Bess’ for those who relish its soaring melodies; ‘Spamalot’ for Monty Python silliness; ‘The Sound of Music’ for sweet, familiar tunes and Connie Fisher; and ‘Wicked’ for big belters and boarding school fantasies. There’s even some politics in Rufus Norris’s production of ‘Cabaret’. The perfect antidote to all this escapism could be found at the Tricycle, which continued to persuade us to pause and consider the major issues of the day. The theatre has never lacked courage and there’s a rumour that it could be taking its tribunal format a stage further next year.
For once, the attention wasn’t on the National Theatre, which had a mixed year. Simon Russell Beale appeared in the best – Howard Davies’s lucid, fascinating production of ‘The Life of Galileo’ – and in the most disappointing – Nicholas Hytner’s production of ‘The Alchemist’, which failed to make its mark on the Olivier stage and crucially wasn’t very funny. The spotlight was diverted to the Royal Court where it was party time, a year-long celebration of 50 years of radical drama in Chelsea. Events began with a bang with a whole successions of readings of significant plays in the theatre’s history. On the main stage, a mixed bag of plays, most notably by Simon Stephens, Tom Stoppard, and Caryl Churchill, have all been seen.
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