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Decade: Five Standout Theatre Shows of the 2010s – Beats; Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour; Oresteia – This Restless House; What Girls are Made of; Nora – A Doll’s House

Beats   2012
Kieran Hurley’s solo elegy for 1990s rave culture epitomised everything Glasgow’s much missed Arches venue was about. Hurley’s trio of linked monologues was one of the winners of the Arches Platform 18 Behaviour awards designed to showcase innovative new theatre, with Hurley himself performing alongside onstage DJ Johnny Whoop. Out of this bare bones DIY set-up came a state-of-nations history play about how the authorities attempted to outlaw any music with repetitive beats by way of the Section 63-67 of the 1994 Criminal Justice Bill and Public Order Act. Having played both the Arches and the Traverse, following a run at Soho Theatre, Hurley went on to flesh things out for the screenplay of this year’s acclaimed feature film adaptation.

Our Ladies of Perpetual Succour   2015
Alan Warner’s novel, The Sopranos, had already made its mark before Billy Elliot writer Lee Hall and former National Theatre of Scotland artistic director Vicky Featherstone teamed up to put Warner’s tale of an all-girl teenage choir from Oban and their adventures in the big city onstage. Six actresses played the potty-mouthed classmates with gleeful abandon in the co-production between the NTS and Newcastle’s Live Theatre, which was sound-tracked by ballsy renditions of Electric Light Orchestra songs performed by the cast with unbridled relish. Described in these pages as ‘a work that’s both anthem and elegy…that celebrates life even as it breaks your heart’, Our Ladies toured the world and transferred to the West End, where it justifiably scooped an Olivier Award.

Oresteia: This Restless House   2016
Of all the big-scale epics Dominic Hill has directed since becoming artistic director of the Citizens Theatre, Glasgow in 2011, Zinnie Harris’ audacious reimagining of Aeschylus’ ancient Greek trilogy was one of the finest evocations of dramatic largesse. Featuring the late Pauline Knowles as a brilliantly furious Clytemnestra, Harris’ take on the three plays – Agamemnon’s Return, The Bough Breaks and Electra and Her Shadow – was originally co-produced by the Citz with the National Theatre of Scotland. The full trilogy was
revived for an Edinburgh International Festival run, and its epic four and a half hour staging was described in the Herald as a ‘brutal mess of flesh and blood anguish’ and a ‘fearless reinvention.’

What Girls Are Made of   2018
Cora Bissett began the decade with Roadkill, a site-specific expose of sex trafficking scripted by Stef Smith, and followed it by collaborating with writer David Greig on the musical Glasgow Girls, based on the real life story of teenage activists preventing the deportation of asylum seekers. She ended it at the Traverse Theatre in Edinburgh with this autobiographical trawl through her early days as a Fife teenager who was suddenly thrust into the music business with her band, Darlingheart. With Orla O’Loughlin’s production seen in co-production between the Traverse, Raw Material and Regular Music, while Bissett’s story was framed as a rock and roll rites of passage, it was more a play about mothers, fathers and daughters. The Herald called it ‘a life-changing litany of pure joy.’

Nora: A Doll’s House   2019
Stef Smith has become one of the most adventurous writers around over the last decade, as her radical new approach to Ibsen’s proto-feminist classic about one woman’s personal liberation in the face of everyday misogyny testified to in triplicate. Rather than do a simple retread, Smith split the action across three time zones, with different actresses playing Nora at crucial historical moments in 1918, 1968 and 2018. What emerged from this approach in Elizabeth Freestone’s Citizens Theatre production at Tramway was a remarkable criss-crossing dramatic symphony that laid bare hidden desires that would see the cast erupt into dance en route to emancipation, and what the Herald described as ‘a brave new tomorrow…. there for the taking.’

The Herald, December 28th 2019

ends

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