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Best of 2018: Performance

by SIMON PARSONS

UNQUESTIONABLY, a highlight of the theatrical year was unearthed in the damp Underbelly vaults below the central library at the Edinburgh fringe festival.

Rhum and Clay’s updated production of Dario Fo’s twisted morality play Mistero Buffo transforms the mediaeval jongleur to a zero-hours Deliveroo worker, played by Julian Spooner.

Originally denounced by the Vatican as "the most blasphemous show in the history of television," Fo’s controversial drama is a series of biblically inspired monologues, yet, in the hands of Spooner, over 100 characters take to the stage from a hysterical, manic and over-commercialised resurrection of Lazarus to a profoundly disturbing portrayal of Christ unwilling to be saved from his iconic crucifixion.

Nicholas Pitt directs this virtuoso performance of physical and vocal dexterity that effectively lambasts religious hypocrisy, with Spooner’s exhausting performance funny and tragic yet always thought-provoking. Do try to catch it when it tours next year.

The Village at Theatre Royal Stratford East was another show to successfully update renowned plays, with Lope de Vegas’s 17th century Spanish drama Fuenteovejuna about the abuse of power and communal reaction adapted to a vivid Indian setting.

Art Malik’s ruthless Hindu police officer tyrannises a small Muslim village until they are forced to fight back. Raped on her wedding day, Anya Chalotra’s teenage Jyoti becomes the leader of the resistance, turning from a self-confident, exuberant youngster to a revenging Greek Fury.

Under Nadia Fall’s skilful direction, the large cast create the simplicity and cohesion of traditional Indian village life with banter, songs and dances but then take on classical tragic dimensions as they wreak revenge. Placing the women at the heart of the action in a recognisable contemporary world beset by ethnic violence, this production shows how great drama has no sell-by date.

After a multimillion-pound redevelopment, the Bristol Old Vic — the oldest continuously working theatre in the country — reopened with a production of Joe Simpson’s Touching The Void.

This life-affirming account of his horrific accident while climbing in the Andes has some powerful performances and Ti Green’s set adds to the production's impact.

On a movable, angular lattice set soaring from stage to flies, the crystalline snow-covered peaks are recreated for the climbing exploits of Joe and Simon (Josh Williams and Edward Hayter) and the final image of their small tent silhouetted against a projection of the Siula Grande Mountain brings home the real scale of their drama.

Tom Morris directed this captivating show that builds from a simple Scottish wake to a heroic struggle for life on the inhospitable mountain with a lightness of touch and a versatile use of stage and set that has ensured a return run at the end of March.

 

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