All the theatre I saw in 2016, ranked

(nb: most of this was written on the train on New Year’s Eve, so “last night” = Dec 30th.)

In 2016 I saw 41 plays (and three staged readings, which were interesting but it feels unfair to put in with the rest because they’re not supposed to be fully realised pieces of theatre). Drunk Theatre stalwart Louisa and I tried to clear out the bottle-ends in the booze cabinet before the New Year, and carried out the immense task of force-ranking all our 2016 plays with Post-It notes. (for the record if you are also looking to clear out your drinks bottles, the “Monkey Gland”, a 1920s? cocktail involving grenadine and absinthe, was surprisingly all right.)

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‘The Odyssey’ Live (Almeida)

It’s something you might do in college, if you had a certain kind of drama department, except it was with some of the best actors in the world and more people watching than just a few very patient boyfriends. The Almeida Theatre read through all of the Iliad in a day in August (starting at 10am, finishing around 1am), after which artistic director Rupert Goold presumably turned to his actors and crew and said, “Well, that was quite good, shall we do another one?”, because last week they also did all of the Odyssey in a day, livestreaming the whole thing both times so people could follow along at home.

The Iliad reading started at the British Museum, where a series of actors got up to read at a podium in the Great Court, and ended at the Almeida itself (in Islington, north London). It was fun clicking over to the livestream across the day, especially the energy pop every time a new reader took over and reminded that gosh, our actors are really good at acting! The main ones I remember are Tobias Menzies’ biceps exulting as Achilles taunted Hector; Hattie Morahan looking alarmed and tall as Odysseus tried to reason with the Greeks; and Adjoa Andoh letting her voice roll and luxuriate in Agamemnon’s persuasive list of gifts. Oh yeah, you kept going, this is why!

And the Odyssey was even more fun; instead of lots of famous good actors walking up to a podium, reading their bit, and walking off again, the production went on a trip around London. Starting on the roof of the Almeida at a sharp 9am, cameras followed actors in cabs down to the Thames, where the reading got on a riverboat (Stephen Fewell winning and holding an early MVP of the day, for flawlessly managing an interruption by an uninformed official – which also led to his winning saddest tweet), and on to the London Eye on the South Bank (for the bit with the Cyclops – geddit, geddit), onto an open-topped bus back across the city, up to Islington Town Hall, over to a building site nearby, and finally to finish at a bar on Upper Street, at an extremely enviable-looking party with most of the day’s readers and general Almeida people.

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Drunk Theatre: The Oresteia, Trafalgar Studios (Almeida)

Oresteia at the Almeida - poster

I was quite drunk the first time I ever encountered the Oresteia, Aeschylus’ family bathtub-drowning-revenge-stabbing-dynastic-betrayal-murderfest trilogy. For about ten years, every January a group of us would rent a big house in Derbyshire for a weekend and read through some plays. When we did the Oresteia, I was one of the chorus: it was the first play of the weekend, on a Friday night, and I may have wilfully misinterpreted what kind of libation, exactly, the Libation Bearers were bearing, like whether or not it was a raspberry daiquiri, and whether it was being borne to, say, Agamemnon’s grave or, for example, my mouth.

(During The Eumenides, the final play, when the chorus is the Furies, I mostly remember Athene, played by Kat, rapping her gavel very firmly and the lead Fury, played by the weekend’s organiser Catriona, repeating ‘Fury Two—‘ with the sharp weary tone of ‘wing commander, we’re trying to attack the Death Star here and you seem to be vomiting in your helmet’.)

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