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2017 Round-up Paul Foley's theatre of the year

IT'S been another tough year for the north west but, throughout these turbulent times, the cultural life of the region has shone through the gloom.

Against the odds in 2017 our great theatres have continued to make audiences laugh, cry and become angry as well as determined to fight for a better world.

While most have tightened their belts, the Liverpool Everyman took the bold step of creating its own rep company that debuted with a smashing Fiddler on the Roof, a musical portrait of peasant life in tsarist Russia.

Not only was it entertaining, it was a million miles from the Hollywood schmaltzy film version.

This was followed by a rare staging of East German playwright Manfred Karge’s The Conquest of the South Pole, a quirky and very funny play about a gang of misfits trekking to the Pole without actually leaving their bedroom.

But the highlight of The Everyman’s year was Lizzie Nunnery’s wonderful Sum, a play bristling with anger for a lost generation, yet remaining hopeful for a better future.

Over in Bolton, the Octagon had some great production to mark its 50th year. Among the best was Ann Bronte’s excellent The Tenant of Wildfell Hall which tells it like it is for women in a man’s world, while Timberlake Wertenbaker gave us the remarkable feminist ecological tale Winter Hill.

The year saw the Octagon reunite two great actors, Colin Cooper and Katy Cavanagh, in David Rudkin’s impressive thriller Ashes, which covers IVF, Northern Ireland and death — not a combination you often see.

In Manchester, HOME continued to excite, astonish and bemuse in a year which saw a 30-foot statue of Engels dragged across Europe and plonked in front of the complex’s front door.

The great man now permanently greets visitors enjoying Manchester’s contemporary arts scene and highlights at HOME included People Places and Things, Duncan Macmillan’s frightening play about addiction and the 12 steps to oblivion and, as part of the celebration of 1917 revolution centenary celebrations, perhaps one of the finest productions of Uncle Vanya seen in many a year, in which Katie West delivering an astonishing performance as Sonya.

The Royal Exchange started the year in blistering form with a magnificent and portentous revival of Federico Garcia Lorca’s The House of Bernarda Alba with a mesmerising performance from Kathryn Hunter in the lead role.

Other highlights were a great updating of Jane Austen’s Persuasion, which turned the spotlight on sexism in today’s society, and an enthralling production of Thornton Wilder’s Our Town.

North-west theatres recognise the importance of local communities and 2017 saw them deliver great entertainment “for the many, not the few.”


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