Review of the Year 2008 – the worst and the less so

Thursday 1 January 2009

Well, it’s turning out to be a rotten transition from 2008 to 2009: Earth Kitt dies; no invitation to Harold Pinter’s funeral is received* and the Whingers are overlooked yet again in the Queen’s New Year Honours List.

But the Whingers aren’t bitter (no more so than usual, anyway) and have made good use of their bonus “leap second” (yes the world is slowing on its axis even as the Whingers are on their own respective axes) to reflect on their theatrical highlights and lowlights of 2008.

So throw away your Nytol for the Whingers are about to save you significant sums on expensive sleeping aids by revealing yet another tedious, somnolent round up of the best and worst of the year or – as the Whingers are accustomed to thinking of things – the worst and the least worst. Yes, it’s time to hand out some more Whingies.

Least Worst Performance in a Play (Female)

Oh dear, oh dear. There was an awful lot of acting going on this year but a lot of it was rather good.

The Chalk Garden was the biggest surprise for the Whingers but who to choose? Margaret Tyzack or Penelope Wilton.

Should we adopt the Evening Standard Theatre Awards cop out by giving it jointly to both of them or plump for something else: the wonderfully subtle performance from Phoebe Nichols in Waste, perhaps or Indira Varma‘s scene-stealing Olivia in Twelfth Night?

penelope_wilton_and_margaret_tyzack_in_the_chalk_gardenTyzack or Wilton? Tyzack or Wilton? Daddy or Chips? No, the Whingers (who had actually decided this long before the Evening Standard) argued long and hard over this one and decided that they couldn’t make their minds up either so it’s a tie. Tyzack and Wilton.

Least Worst Performance in a Play (Male)

Again, difficult. A lot of acting about this year. We could have easily given the Best Actor Whingie to just about anybody from Dealer’s Choice (which we were late seeing, hence its inclusion in the 2008 lists) but Stephen Wight and Malcolm Sinclair would have been particularly worthy recipients.

For double acts we couldn’t really beat the sight of Kevin Spacey and Jeff Goldblum running rings round each other in Speed-the-Plow.

It would, of course, be lazy and utterly safe to give the award to David Tennant for Hamlet.

jasper_britton_as_john_gielgud_in_plague_over_englandBut caprice demands that we award this most coveted Whingie to Jasper Britton. This is partly to compensate him for having been in Fram (see “Worst Verse or Indeed any Kind of Play of the Year” below) but  more because the Whingers greatly enjoyed his Johnnie Gielgud in Nicholas de Jongh’s Plague Over England. And because he isn’t transferring with the play, due, according to, to “artistic differences”. Strange.

Worst Verse or Indeed any Kind of Play of the Year

Whoops! Both finalists were at the National Theatre and both were monstrous turkeys and although the Whingers aren’t known for fairness, it would be unfair to choose one over the other. So, it’s another tie!

Yes, the winners are Michael Frayn’s Fram and Tony Harrison’s Afterlife, both of which gratifyingly also feature on Charles Spencer’s Worst Theatre Nights of 2008.

But congratulations are due to Harrison for inspiring the Whingers to create a measure (the antithesis to The Bagnold Barometer) by which theatrical awfulness can be measured: The Fram Scale.

Least Worst Performance in a Musical (Female)

lesli_margheritaWas Piaf a musical? It certainly wasn’t much of a play. Elena Roger made an extraordinary Piaf and forced the Whingers to utter the kind of superlatives rarely heard from their miserable down-turned mouths. But since the Whingers were confused by the classification of Piaf it wasn’t hard to give the award to the wonderful Lesli Margherita in the thoroughly enjoyable confection of camp: Zorro The Musical!.

Least Worst Performance in a Musical (Male)

The Whingers had resisted Jersey Boys until it had been running for half a year, but were surprised how much they enjoyed the performances by the four titular boys.

douglas-hodge-in-la-cage-aux-folles1Ryan Molloy would probably have walked off with this sought-after plaudit if they hadn’t sneaked in to see La Cage Aux Folles just before the year ended and came out raving about Douglas Hodge – a star turn to rival Michael Ball’s Edna Turnblad last year. A complete revelation, Hodge teetered off with the award in very high heels.

The “Well, Blow Me” Whingie Award for Biggest Surprise of the Year

It’s yet another tie!

A) The Menier Chocolate finally caved in to advice from the Whingers and introduced reserved seating (hurrah!) for A Little Night Music

B) The Whingers went to see something at the Cottesloe and came back after the interval. All hail the The Pitmen Painters.

Best vomiting scene in the West End

tamsin-greig-vomits-in-god-of-carnageSadly, the Whingers missed Days of Significance at the Tricycle, which isn’t in the West End anyway (as has been pointed out to us in no uncertain terms recently).

Notwithstanding, 2008 was marked as the year of chundering on the stage as early as April.

Oliver! coughed up a very late entry, but blew the accolade by throwing the moment away despite taking place during (and with a nod to onomatapaeia) the song Oom-Pah-Pah.

Her Naked Skin threw up some unexpected and impressive regurgitation.

But it proved to come down to a throw-up between Sian Thomas in Fram and Tamsin Greig in God of Carnage.

But because it woke the Whingers out of their GOC torpor Greig had to have it. The Whingers often yawn at the theatre but they can’t get enough when it’s in Technicolour.

Least Worst New Play

2008 was marked by a worryingly large amount of “new writing” but very few good new plays. Special mention toThe Pitmen Painters which was charming, funny, engaging and nothern.

But shockingly the award goes to an American play – Now or Later at the Royal Court. The mercury in the Whingers’ Bagnold Barometer almost went off the scale for this nippy little offering which kept the Whingers’ brains active for a full 90 minutes. Unheard of.

Playwright of the Year

No doubt at all, it was George Bernard Shaw whose excellent Pygmalion and Major Barbara blew them away. We are hoping for more from this promising name in 2009.

Best Culinary Moment During an Interval

Not only proving himself a good sport but generous to boot, Evening Standard critic Nicholas De Jongh handed his nuts round on the pavement outside the Donmar during the interval of Small Change. Andrew gobbled on them ferociously while Phil eyed them suspiciously.

Best Sybil Thorndike of the Year

sian-thomas-as-sybil-thorndikenichola-mcauliffe-as-sybil-thorndikeYou wait for years for a Dame Sybil Thorndike to come along and then two come at once. Its a tie! Well done to Nichola McAuliffe who gave us her Sybil in Plague Over England and Sian Thomas for Fram.

Musical Turkey of the Year

Sorry, no surprises here.

FrozenTurkey of the Year


Best Audience Sneeze of the Year

Another new category but well overdue. Phil really has no competition; he is to sneezing what Chris Hoy is to cycling and wonders where his knighthood is.

Phil has awarded himself the prize for his single (he normally produces about 7) spectacular sneeze in Never So Good. And it never was so good, even prompting a reaction from Jeremy Irons – or did it?

Unexpected joys of the year

This is a miscellaneous category for things which were better than they should have been or punched beyond their weight. By definition there is no overall winner, simply special and affectionate mentions for Zorro the Musical, Lunch with Marlene, Gigi.

Most exciting development in the area of seating

This award replaces the Worst Seating Award because otherwise the Tricycle will just keep winning it year after year.

So, this year, the most unexpected developments were the Menier Chocolate Factory’s decision to put a toe in the waters of allocated seating for A Little Night Music and The Old Vic’s rather drastic approach to solving its squeaky seating problem by ripping them all out.

Theatrical event of the year

The West End Whingers party of course.

Most surprising volte face from a critic

The West End Whingers and Charles Spencer of the Daily Telegraph

In July the Daily Telegraph‘s Charles Spencer is being all sniffy about the internets (“I look at Wikipedia now and then but until a year ago I hadn’t looked at the web at all”) and in December he takes up blogging.


* “Yesterday when you talked about Britain’s greatest living playwright, everyone knew who you meant,” the playwright David Hare told The Guardian. “Today they don’t. That’s all I can say.”


7 Responses to “Review of the Year 2008 – the worst and the less so”

  1. Sir Andrew Lloyds Credit Crunch Says:

    Yes, that David Hare quote is slippery. To whom could he possibly have been referring?

  2. webcowgirl Says:

    I think David Hare is going to be thinking on that himself for a very long time. I mean, jeez, look at the competition, Michael Frayn, Martin Crimp, and I think even Alan Aykbourn may be be fighting for this crown. My guess is that they are all doing this on their stomachs – based on how I feel about what they’ve written.

    And I just have to say it before the waves of ignoramuses with a bone to pick (disaffected unemployed hobbits come to mind) try to glorify their own meager intelligences and poor taste: DON’T YOU KNOW SHAW IS DEAD? It was all over the papers last week. 😉 Anyway, you could throw his corpse in for a round with any of the guys above and I bet he’d still come up with a better play, even if the fight were taking place on a busy road. In the summer.

    PS: drew a picture of my view from my 10 quid seats at the Duke of York’s Theatre for No Man’s Land that you’ll get a good laugh out of. (The circle in my lower right palm is Michael Gambon.) That’ll learn me about being so cheap.

  3. What will the Tricycle’s Marketing Manager be putting up in the spot so recently vacated by her semi-permanent award? Her hackles, perhaps?

    I had a squint at the website in question the other day and the comments on there about Loot are without exception laudatory. Which is a total suprise, of course.

  4. Debs in Edinburgh Says:

    Thanks, Whingers. Some of my absolute favourites up there. And many thanks for a year of most entertaining wining and whinging.

  5. JohnnyFox Says:

    In your witty review of the jolly comedy ‘Harold Pinter’s Funeral’ I can’t tell from the picture whether Lady Antonia House of Fraser is played by Tyzack or Wilton.

    Please enlighten.

  6. SuzieBee Says:

    “the wonderfully subtle performance from Phoebe Nichols in Waste” – honestly, how could you ever say such a thing? ‘Waste’ was awful! I’m always ready to hope the second half of a play will be better than the first half, but I genuinely would have left at the interval if the second half hadn’t started just as I got up to put my coat on.

    ‘Twelfth Night’ was very good, but ‘The Chalk Garden’ must win hands down, I think.

  7. quin browne Says:

    over here, we called her ‘eartha’. i know, splitting hairs, same language, blah blah… but, when i’m over there, i make sure i always pronounce my ‘u’ when i say colour or flavour. turn about-fair play, etc.

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