2019 Year in Review: Aliya Al-Hassan's Best of 2019
As the decade comes to a close, many of us are all left feeling a little more bruised by the world than we felt in 2010. Climate change, political upheaval and humanitarian crises can feel relentlessly negative.
Fortunately, the arts continue to delight, educate and inspire. The power of theatre never ceases to amaze me, and the hard-working people on and off the stage are testament to an industry that will always try its best, even in the face of challenges from funding cuts and social media dominance. This year, like every year, has brought some gems.
Singer and writer Apphia Campbell blew me away as Nine Simone in Black Is The Color Of My Voice, which made its West End debut at the Trafalgar Studios in February. With a very natural stage presence, Campbell took control of the role, cleverly evoking Simone without ever impersonating her. I loved the intimacy of the production set in the tiny, dark space.
Richmond's diminutive Orange Tree Theatre continued to punch way above its weight with plays that provoke thought and discussion. Athol Fugard's visceral Blood Knot in March and Zoe Cooper's beautiful Out of Water in May both reflected the ethos of the theatre, which is to always challenge and entertain. Next season looks very exciting, with a return of the excellent The Mikvah Project, first performed at the theatre's Directors' Festival in August.
A true star was born with Audrey Brisson's take on the tile role of Amélie. After debuting at Newbury's Watermill Theatre, it toured and is now deservedly at The Other Palace Theatre until February. Brisson is completely perfect for the role: anyone needing a bit of magical whimsy, this is the show for you.
Immersive theatre and dining continued to be a big trend; despite the disappointment of the much-hyped Wolf of Wall Street, the best one I saw this year was Gingerline's new show Chambers_. Innovative, entertaining and featuring some great food, it needed audience members to jump right into the experience, but those who did were richly rewarded.
The highlight of my year came right at the end. Jamie Lloyd's much-anticipated version of Cyrano de Bergerac was simply astonishing. Beautifully adapted by Martin Crimp, this is a celebration of language, diversity and the sheer potential of theatre to entertain, amuse and pierce your heart. James McAvoy is magical in the title role, with a richly talented cast behind him. I still cannot stop thinking about it.
And so, despite the relentless negativity sometimes surrounding us, let us leave this decade with a light heart and hope for all the theatrical magic to come.
Photo Credit: The Other Richard, Rob Greig