So that’s the last of the 2022 plays seen, which leaves just one thing to do*, which is my annual “best of” list. This is always the most interesting bit of my coverage; in a normal review, it is always tempting to say “didn’t they all do well”, but when you’re choosing a winner, you can’t do that. There can only be one winner, and this forces me to decide whose achievements deserve the most recognition.
* It is not my last thing to do, I still have one review to write and an Edinburgh Fringe roundup to complete. But let’s forget about that for now.
After two years of limited theatre, where I had to scale down the list of awards to something that could be kept meaningful, we are back to the full list. Join me between Boxing Day and New Year’s Day as I look back on the best of what I saw this year.
Best New Writing:
We start with one of the major categories. This award is on the strength of the script. Some plays are great because of who’s performing it, but to win here it should be possible for a new set of competent actors to pick it up and do something equally good. We’ve got a very competitive shortlist.
In third place, it’s 0.0031% – Plastic and Chicken Bones. It’s debatable whether Malcolm Galea’s script truly counts as a play or just storytelling, but what storytelling it is. It’s a very cleverly-written story about a time traveller who is sent from the future to inhabit the bodies of past inhabitants to erase nuclear attacks out of history – but is the all-powerful supercomputer who sends Dryskoll on these missions really as wise and benevolent as she claims.
In second place, it’s The Land of Lost Content. Henry Madd’s was one of two memory plays I saw at the Edinburgh Fringe, but this one made you really feel it. Centred around his friendship with Judd in a deprived rural town, you know how deep their friendship runs because they have been through so much together, as have their closest friends. And that makes it all the more tragic. Everybody close to him has come off badly one way or the other: one lost to suicide, one turning to drink, and most heartbreaking: his teenage girlfriends who cares for him more than anything in the world trying to cover up that’s she’s with a wife-beater. Do be on the lookout for this – but bring hankies.
But, in spite of the very strong competition, there could only be one winner, and that is Samuel Bailey with Sorry You’re Not a Winner. With so much of new writing platforming the voices of the angry writers seeking to change the world, I think it’s great the Papatango made a change to identify someone who writes with such compassion, and seeks to find the best in the people, especially those who society writes off the most. To the outside observer, Liam and Fletch are just a pair of chavs. Liam, however, is about to start a life-changing course at Oxford University, whilst Fletch is about to spend a long time in prison. Fletch is clearly someone who never stood a chance in life, but in spite of Liam’s good intentions, his new life is dragging him away from his oldest and closest friendship. There are some many ups and downs in the play, and even Liam is not immune from the expectations of class – and most cleverly of all, the ending that would normally have been written of as a contrived coincidence is done well. I really hope this comes back either revived by Paines Plough or a new company, because compassion at this level seems to be in short supply.