The funny, strange, and haunting shows that won us over this past year.
The problem with a year-end top 10 list for theatre is that it teases you with great productions you can no longer see. Happily, that’s not entirely the case this year. At least three of the shows in Torontoist‘s Top 10 of 2014 are destined to have an encore in 2015. In fact, Tarragon Theatre is bringing back Lungs this very week, with performances beginning Wednesday. You’ll also be able to catch both Soulpepper’s Of Human Bondage and VideoCabaret’s Trudeau and the FLQ in May.
There’s another problem with this year’s top 10, but it’s an entirely good one: there were simply too many outstanding shows worthy of consideration. Call us Toronto-centric, but to make the job easier, we decided to exclude any touring productions from elsewhere. So such worthies as Canadian Stage’s Kiss & Cry (from Belgium), World Stage’s Mies Julie (from South Africa), and Mirvish’s Arcadia (from the Shaw Festival) regretfully had to be bypassed. We also nixed any Fringe, SummerWorks, and Next Stage shows, unless they had a post-festival remount.
Taking those qualifiers into consideration, these were our 10 favourite shows of 2014, in order of appearance:
Verbatim theatre meets musical theatre in this strange but fascinating U.K. experiment: a documentary-cum-choral work about the 2006 Ipswich prostitute killings that received a thrilling North American premiere from director Jackie Maxwell and her fearless ensemble of singer-actors.
An antidote to holiday excess, British playwright Duncan Macmillan’s super-minimal but super-engrossing comedy-drama—adroitly directed for Tarragon by Weyni Mengesha—consists of just a guy (Brendan Gall), a gal (Lesley Faulkner), and a roller-coaster of emotions as they face the prospect of bringing a baby into today’s world.
Arriving last spring in the wake of the Parti Québécois’s stunning defeat, VideoCab’s revival of its darkly satiric take on the FLQ crisis was a reminder of Quebec separatism at its ugliest, while Mac Fyfe was hilariously dead-on as the hip but hard-assed prime minister—just watch him!
An unassuming Roncesvalles residence was transformed into a real-life house of horrors for OTM’s latest site-specific show, a cunningly conceived docudrama by Rosamund Small that took us on an eye-opening tour of the daily traumas encountered by a stressed EMS worker (Katherine Cullen).
Already a first-rate actor and impresario, Soulpepper boss Albert Schultz came into his own as a director with this gorgeous, haunting dramatization of W. Somerset Maugham’s classic novel about obsessive love, skilfully adapted by Vern Thiessen and strikingly designed by Lorenzo Savoini, Erika Connor, and Mike Ross.
Making a triumphant return after its 2012 try-out at SummerWorks, Hawksley Workman and Christian Barry’s Bacchae-inspired cabaret was a funny, nightmarish, and unexpectedly potent fusion of glam-rock and Greek tragedy in which a war-mongering elitist encounters the wild and hungry “99 per cent.”
A must-see at the Fringe, remounted in September, Rosa Labordé’s fraught inquiry into memory and reality used its intimate venue, Queen West’s Citizenry Café, as the scene for a tempestuous encounter between three adult sisters and their once-abusive, now-Alzheimer’s-afflicted dad—played with tragicomic brio by Layne Coleman.
An Enemy of the People
In an act of homage, Tarragon’s Richard Rose put aside his own artistic vision to successfully re-create German director Thomas Ostermeier’s acclaimed update of Ibsen’s play, making this 19th-century classic about idealists, capitalists, and inconvenient truths feel as raw and vital as if it had been written today.
Suburban kids, suburban animals, a discarded sofa, and an abandoned greenhouse all bared their souls in rising-star Jordan Tannahill’s spookily surreal mystery at the Theatre Centre, loosely based on Boccaccio’s The Decameron and gamely performed by a troupe of teens and young adults from across the GTA.
The Motherf**ker With the Hat
Bob Kills Theatre
We’ve seen a bunch of strong indie shows in the last few months of 2014, including Blackbird, Moment, The Skriker, and Who’s Afraid of Virginia Woolf?, but for sheer acting bravura it was hard to top this dark, dirty, and frequently hilarious staging of Stephen Adly Guirgis’s play about addiction—a creepy-yet-poignant Juan Chioran, in particular, has gotten an early stranglehold on a Dora Award.