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Looking Back … 2009 Off-West End Highlights

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2009 was a year that saw big names in small spaces, a continuation of the site-specific trend, innovative musical revivals and fresh reimaginings of classic texts. Here, our Off-West End review team tell us their personal highs (and a few lows) of the past 12 months...

Jo Caird - “Cardboard Citizens' promenade production Mincement, performed at Cordy House in Shoreditch, was one of the most effective pieces of theatre I have seen. The play told the story of the real-life World War Two secret service operation that saw the corpse of a homeless man dressed up as a British spy and dumped on a beach in order to confuse the Nazis about the Allies' plans. The company, whose members include formerly homeless people, dealt with the sensitive issues involved with great subtlety and the promenade nature of the performance made it richly atmospheric.”

Mark Valencia
- “Two revivals vie for honours this year. At the Union Theatre, director Jamie Honeybourne breathed new life into Caryl Churchill’s Cloud Nine and almost persuaded me it’s a good play. Just pipping it to the winning post, though, over in Kentish Town Dan Ayling’s production of Howard Brenton’s early polemic Christie in Love fizzed with energy and intelligence, capping a vintage year for the Lion and Unicorn.”

Giles Cole - “For me the low point of the year was being handed a packet of condoms and lube on my way in to see Bathhouse the Musical! - intended no doubt as a good-natured joke, but serving as a timely warning of what was in store on stage - and the highlight? Well, there were several, but my favourites were the oompah band version of 'Bohemian Rhapsody' in Blow Up - the Credit Crunch Musical on the Edinburgh Fringe and the miracle of staging a musical with a cast of 17 in the intimate space of the Union Theatre (A Man of No Importance).”

Keith Myers - “When I read that the new version of Ibsen’s Ghosts by Rebecca Lenkiewicz at the Arcola intended to 'give Ibsen’s language a modern twist', I was worried that I'd have to endure another pointless updating. However my fears were unfounded, and what I experienced was a powerful, fresh, lucid and very moving production which reinforces the play's classic status.”

Louise Gooding - “The highlight of my reviewing year was undoubtedly It Felt Empty at the Arcola by theatre company Clean Break who managed to combine performance, set and production in a remarkable total theatrical experience.”

Matt Trueman - “Personally, Ontoerend Goed's Internal at the Edinburgh Fringe stands out from a fairly spectacular year. It was a brutal and fascinating experience that seemed to hold a warped fairground mirror up at you regardless of the real consequences. I'm certain that the whole thing is actively immoral, but I'm grateful for the experience - however scarring it may have been.”

Honour Bayes - “In the midst of all this year’s slightly disappointing ‘immersive’ theatrical experiences, Punchdrunk’s It Felt Like A Kiss was like falling down a rabbit hole and entering another world. It was an explosive collaboration of some of the most exciting artists around with the awesome attention to detail evoking the 1950s forcefully whilst splicing it with something a whole lot more disturbing and modern. Innovative and exhilarating, for me It Felt Like A Kiss was the best thing from 2009.”

Joanna Ing - “The highlight for me has to be the richly-deserved return of Into the Hoods, the hip-hop musical from talented dance company ZooNation. Creative, fast-paced and great fun - the perfect way to round off the year.”

Andrew Roach - “A Little Night Music at the Chocolate Factory is one of the most beautifully designed productions I've ever seen in a fringe venue. The performances were stunning, particularly Hannah Waddingham and Alexander Hanson. I was profoundly moved by War Horse at the New London. The mixture of acting, puppetry and the overall design was flawless and made for an extremely emotional theatrical experience.”

Theo Bosanquet - “There have been a number of productions this year that will stay in my mind for a long time to come, but foremost among them is Katori Hall's The Mountaintop at Theatre503. Not just a gripping play but two stunning performances – to see an actor of David Harewood's stature in such an intimate space was truly electric.”

Dave Jordan - “"For me the highlight has to be David Cottis' production of the Marowitz Julius Caesar, 75 minutes of intense drama in this re-arranged and abridged version, made all the more memorable by its 1930's New York/Chicago gangster style setting. Riveting, revolutionary - totally absorbing and thought provoking!”

Carole Gordon - “The highlight of 2009 for me was the production of Taming of the Shrew in the grounds of Guildford Castle in June. It's always exciting to see actors thoroughly throwing themselves into the material and the Guildford Shakespeare company played this now totally un-politically-correct play with huge verve and tongues firmly in cheeks. There's absolutely nothing like well-played Shakespeare in the open air during a wet English summer!"


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