2009 is almost over and in a year when Brief Encounter, The Sound Of Music and White Christmas all visited the region, what will our reviewers remember long after Boxing day? WOS Northwest has asked them to select their highlights from a very busy year.

Glenn Meads' Picks of 2009
True Love Lies at the Royal Exchange
Undoubtably the best play of 2009 in Manchester - as Brad Fraser's dynamic dialogue and flawed characters are so memorable. Also contained beautiful performances from the entire cast. Who knew the Exchange could do contemporary? More please!

Matthew Bourne's Dorian Gray at the Lowry
Sexy, superb and spellbninding. Bourne has done it again and nobody does dance quite like him. Sure, it was not his best piece of work but it still lingers in the memory longer than most.

The Sound Of Music at the Palace
I admit to not being enamoured by Connie Fisher in the show How Do You Solve A Problem Like Maria? as she left me cold. But in The Sound Of Music itself, she is simply superb. It might be an oldie but it remains timeless, moving and incredibly likable. And with so many wonderful tunes, you will be humming all the way home. A must-see!

Michael Hunt’s Picks of 2009
Our Day Out – The Musical at Royal Court Liverpool
Just for the reaction from the audience alone, on the night I went to see it, showed not only was it one I enjoyed but Liverpool people too. The theatre was sold out and the audience were certainly not left disappointed with Willy Russell’s reworking of his story about a school progress class which was first told in the seventies. It makes a return to the same theatre in the summer next year. Recommend you see it.

 

The Hypochondriac at Liverpool Playhouse

Roger McGough’s version of Molière’s The Hypochondriac was clever, funny and brilliantly performed with Clive Francis as Argan shining through. Superb.

 

The Caretaker at Liverpool Everyman

Outstanding acting was seen from Jonathan Pryce in a new production of Harold Pinter’s The Caretaker. His performance together with Pinter’s interesting story made it an unforgettable evening. The production is now preparing for a West End appearance.


Rebecca Cohen
Giselle- The English National Ballet at The Palace Theatre.
This ballet was unlike any I have ever seen before- the principal dancers and chorus members were some of the most passionate group of performers in the country and they deserve much praise! I cannot wait for Cinderella in April, after watching Giselle. Everything from the set, to the costumes, to the music, was absolutely perfect!

Comedy Of Errors at Heaton Park
This production had me in stitches! They utilised the outdoor space well and made Shakespeare accessible to an audience of all ages. The cast were extremely professional in their focus.

Blood Brothers at The Opera House
A timeless classic- this show never ceases to amaze me! Each Mrs Johnstone, Mickey or Eddie manages to bring something new every time the performance is toured and this cast did not fail to impress! The songs are just incredible and Russel's wonderful script-writing can transport you from extreme happiness to extreme upset in the matter of seconds.

Julia Taylor
Macbeth at the Royal Exchange
I liked the new approach - modern dress and the sounds and lights of modern warfare. There were no witches, only confused young girls caught up in modern warfare. I liked the scene where Macbeth (Nicholas Gleaves) stripped off every layer of clothing in an attempt to wash away the blood.

Entertaining Angels at the Lowry
This was Penelope Keith at her best as she chatted to her dead husband who came back for chats from time to time. I liked the red brick ivy clas depiction of the rectory and beautiful garden. A new play in the old tradition.

Blood Brothers at the Palace
Lyn Paul as the mother brought it to life and tugged at heartstrings when she sang "Tell me its not True". It was a musical which expressed genuine emotion.

John Roberts
Hot Mikado at the Lowry
A pure delight from start to finish, showing how actor/musican productions should be done. The show felt fresh and with a high octane energy and extremly high production values there really was little to fault in this sublime revival.

Rocky Horror Show at the Palace
Horrifically good from start to finish and David Bedella is a very fine Frank 'N' Furter!

Punk Rock at the Royal Exchange
Hard- hitting and powerful account of life in a Stockport boarding school, with razor sharp wit and powerful script. The talented cast are really able to find their feet and dig deep with some powerful characterisations

Matthew Nichols
The Pitmen Painters at the Lowry
One of the greatest plays of the decade, never mind 2009! Sublime writing that invites an audience to engage with a passionately explored topic. Never dull, avoiding sentiment at all costs and profoundly moving.
 
All My Sons at the Bolton Octagon
The rejuvenated Bolton Octagon continues to go from strength and strength, and David Thacker's debut production was a superb revival, and a reminder of the power of Miller's wartime classic.
 
Hot Mikado at the Lowry
Craig Revel Horwood's production for Newbury's Watermill continues their fine tradition of actor-musician revivals, and was the most fun to be had in a theatre all year. Great fun!

Andrew Edwards
The Caretaker at the Octagon.
One of the final productions of Mark Babych mainly because of the pitch perfect performance of Matthew Rixon as Aston. The way the light gradually closed in on to his face was just mesmerising. I have never seen it better done both in terms of the stage picture and the characterisation which was just so consistent throughout.

All My Sons at the Octagon.
I was terribly moved by both Margot Leicester - an actress I would travel a great distance to watch her reading the telephone directory - and Oscar Pearce as her son. When he uttered his line about wanting a father, I was weeping I don't mind admitting. This is rare for me in a theatre.

Macbeth at The Royal Exchange     
Matthew Dunster is a director to note. I really liked his approach which I thought perfectly balanced the need to interest new and younger theatre audiences whilst respecting traditional theatre goers. I liked the energy and invention of the production and thought the violence was genuinely shocking and very believable. I also loved the conceit of the weird sisters being teenage children in a bedroom to begin with.

Malcolm Wallace
An Inspector Calls - at The Lowry
By far the most stunning performance I saw during 2009. A production of such depth and class that is rarely experienced but deeply memorable when it is.
 
Tosca (Opera North) - at the Lowry
A fresh and unpredictable interpretation of this old Puccini classic, performed with gusto by the brilliant Opera North.  It was a magnificent and dramatic piece of theatre, with some genuinely touching and poignant moments,
 
We Will Rock You at the Palace
 Ok, so it's the daftest musical I've seen in a long time with a ridiculous premise and naff script.  However, with a cast that gave their all, a brilliant set and production values that couldn't be faulted, We Will Rock You makes it to my top 3.  Of course, the legendary Brian May's impromptu appearance during the finale has nothing to do with my decision whatsoever....!!!

Steve Timms
It Felt Like a Kiss (MIF)
Thrilling, disturbing, enlightening and potentially life changing. Made most everything else this year look like a museum piece by comparison.

True Love Lies - Royal Exchange
One of the few things the Royal Exchange gets right these days, is their on-going relationship with Canadian bad boy Brad Fraser. Another superbly black look at dysfunctional relationships, bristling with acid one liners.   

Marina Ambramovich presents/Whitworth Gallery
Rare chance to see this legendary Eastern European performance artist. Not as extreme as some of her other work – no loaded guns or blood letting – but it proved a fascinating, thought provoking journey. Lab coats are obviously back in this year

Dave Cunningham
Macbeth – Royal Exchange.
Matthew Dunster’s modern-day version of the Scottish Play gave us a Macbeth warped by the conflict of war as much as motivated by ambition. It took an audacious approach to the text –dropping the character of the Porter – and expanded the role of the Weird Sisters so that they manipulated events throughout the play and illustrated the horrors of war. They also represented one of the best trends of the year – the success of young performers –to which  the likes of thecompany and writers like Sarah McDonald Hughes contributed as well.

It Felt Like a Kiss (MIF)
Another trend in 2009 was the growth of interactive theatre. It Felt Like a Kiss was the best of this group and the gem of the Manchester International Festival. You either loved or hated the blend of Don DeLillo conspiracy and Stephen King thriller but I was one of the former and emerged pale, shaking and desperate to have another go on one of the best ghost trains I’ve ever tried. Can’t help but feel that Manchester City Council missed out by not running this show in conjunction with the Big Wheel!

As We Forgive Them at 24/7
There were a series of excellent festivals in Manchester this year- MIF, Queer Up North and 24/7. The latter was my favourite not only because of the lovely atmosphere in The Hub but also the high quality of plays like Maine Road and Freshers. As We Forgive Them was the best of a very good lot with an excellent script that was both thought-provoking and satisfying as a thriller. It also featured a pair of excellent performances – what more could one ask?