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2020 Year In Review: Gary Naylor's Best of Theatre


Gary Naylor looks back on the shows he saw in 2020

2020 Year In Review: Gary Naylor's Best of Theatre

Seeing the exit polls of the 2019 General Election coming through as I left Croydon Fairfield Halls' Christmas Show a long 12 months ago, I sighed - "At least I'll have plenty of theatre to get me through 2020..."

So that went well.

One can always find the human condition in Chekhov and, back in January, Conor McPherson's sublime update of Uncle Vanya felt on the nose for its Gretaish warnings of environmental catastrophe. Little did we know that we would soon all become Toby Jones's eponymous anti-hero, locked in self-isolation, too fearful of the outside world to venture forth.

Though we didn't know it at the time, January also gave us a glimpse of 2020's other big global story. In Daniel Ward's The Canary And The Crow, the matter of black lives, and white privilege, was at the heart of a show that mixed performance, rap, music and drama within the kind of contemporary context that must surely provide a setting for 2021's forthcoming explosion of pent-up creativity. Artistic directors owe it to their audiences to promote the conversations buried by Covid, and I would expect The Arcola to pick up that gauntlet again.

2020 has given all of us a taste of mortality inking in a few pencilled items on the bucket list. Samuel Beckett was more an idea than a person for me, his plays (like the novels of James Joyce) more reference points than actual works on a stage. Not I at the Brockley Jack Studio Theatre AK47ed from stage to seats with its familiar, but no less astonishing, staging - a torrent of words from two hyperactive scarletted lips. More Beckett for me in the future.

And then there were none...

Zoom was suddenly the means to tell stories and theatre-makers, whose antecedents had got through The Plague and The Blitz stepped up to the screen and produced some wonderful work.

The Remote Read dipped into Tom Stoppard's back catalogue and found an eerie, unsettling piece that slotted perfectly into early lockdown's eerie, unsettling world. A Separate Peace was presented in those little squares we won't be disappointed to see less of in 2021, with David Morrissey as an unwelcome visitor to a care home who won't go away. They were stuck with him and could only keep a distance to mitigate his destructive, invisibly malign presence.

Equally adept at using the possibilities of technology rather than lamenting its limitations, Vopera brought us a Yellow Submarineish adaptation of L'Enfant Et Les Sortilèges, the short opera by the powerhouse duo of Maurice Ravel and Colette. Not only was it a fizzing delight of a show (I immediately watched it a second time) but yet another example of the vast wealth of talent that will fill the theatres that so poignantly provided the show's starburst tear-pricking finale.

When I attend theatre for the first time in the post-vaccine world, I'll be on my feet at the end, not just for the cast but for the creatives, the front of house staff, the PRs, the contract cleaners, even the backers. They got through - and my gratitude will know no bounds.

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From This Author Gary Naylor