Producing theatres

David Thacker began the year at the Octagon on familiar territory for him with Arthur Miller's A View from the Bridge, which was a powerful production with great performances from Colin Connor, Barbara Drennan and others. Comedy doesn't appear to be Thacker's strong point, so his Hindle Wakes wasn't quite firing on all cylinders by press night but had its high points.

Elizabeth Newman directed a revival of Noël Coward's Private Lives that didn't work for me, with a cast of good actors who seemed too young for their roles. This was followed by a brand new play from Jim Cartwright, The Ancient Secret of Youth and the Five Tibetans, which contained some very good performances but didn't make a great deal of sense.

Thacker returned to comedy with Noises Off, but, while this wasn't the best production of this play I've seen, he had a very experienced cast who made it work pretty well. Newman opened her leadership of the theatre with a revival of Bill Naughton's All In Good Time, giving it the film's title of The Family Way, showing it to be a surprisingly fresh and funny piece that can work very well for a modern audience.

Thacker returned to Miller and his adaptation of Ibsen's An Enemy of the People with a very experienced cast of Octagon stalwarts headed by Rob Edwards, David Birrell and Barbara Drennan, which was another very powerful piece of theatre. A pretty good year at the Octagon was rounded off by an entertaining production of Roald Dahl's The BFG.

HOME Manchester officially opened its doors in May, but had a few preview performances, including dance from Hofesh Shechter and Friends in April. The official opening production was The Funfair, Simon Stephens's adaptation of Kasimir and Karoline by Ödön von Horváth, which was visually spectacular but narratively rather thin and with the rather bleak characters and ending one expects from Stephens's own plays.

Kafka's Monkey was a revival of a production that Walter Meierjohann had directed at the Young Vic in 2009. This remarkable solo performance from Kathryn Hunter was a highlight of the year—sadly she didn't complete the run due to injury.

Kneehigh Theatre brought its wonderful adaptation of Gay's The Beggar's Opera, Dead Dog in a Suitcase, to Manchester, although it didn't feel for me quite as spectacular as it did in its Liverpool debut the year before. A couple more visiting productions were the intriguingly passive La Mélancolie des dragons and Golem, neither stunning but both interesting and indicative of the international sensibility of the new company.

Blanche McIntyre was brought in as guest director for The Oresteia, in which she stripped down the classical trilogy into a single play, but it was fairly dull and incoherent, the only high point being a stunning design from Laura Hopkins. The year ended with the first English language stage adaptation of Cornelia Funke's best-selling children's adventure story Inkheart, which was flawed but entertaining.

The Royal Exchange opened 2015 with Rona Munro's new play about nineteenth-century street gangs in Manchester, Scuttlers, which covered similar ground to HOME's Angel Meadow—and even stole one of its cast—but wasn't half as interestingly.

In the year that the winners of the new Bruntwood Prize for Playwriting, based at the Royal Exchange, were announced, Yen by Anna Jordan in the studio proved itself a worthy winner of the last biennial competition, followed by Chris Urch's The Rolling Stone, a judges' prize winner, in the main house.

Told by an Idiot produced a revival of Arnold Ridley's The Ghost Train that was trying too hard to be quirky and original with little respect for the play and as a result was rather annoying. Similarly, The Crucible was hampered by its production but the writing and the performances were allowed to break through at times.

Previous Bruntwood judges' prize winner (for the wonderful Brilliant Adventures) Alistair McDowall returned to the Royal Exchange main house with his new play Pomona, which had moments of brilliance but didn't quite come together as a whole. The Christmas production was Sondheim's Into the Woods, which again shone through a directorial concept, drab design and strangely muted performances.

I didn't see much this year at Oldham Coliseum, but I saw two brand new pieces. The Mist in the Mirror was an adaptation of a Susan Hill ghost story that had some wonderful production design elements from imitating the dog but was hampered by a dull and clichéd script. Dreamers was a new musical set in Oldham in the 1990s club scene with pop songs of the time with rewritten lyrics. It certainly appealed to those who were clubbing in Oldham during the time it was set as there were lots of local references to recognise, but it wasn't good enough as a show to travel outside the area.

I only saw half of the summer season at Theatre by the Lake this year. The 39 Steps was a bit disappointing, knowing how well this theatre can do its large-scale popular comedies. In the studio, there was an interesting production of a rare Tennessee Williams, Suddenly, Last Summer, preceded by an even rarer short two-hander of his, Mister Paradise, that was worth catching, as well as a verse play by a regular actor at this theatre, Benjamin Askew, based on the legend of King Arthur, The Lady of the Lake, which was also worth seeing.