Arts: Go on, live dangerously...

INEVITABLY, LOOKING back, there are regrets. Shows I wish I'd seen. Shows I would gladly have triggered a security alert to extricate myself from (oh, for a mobile phone during Eyam, the Bridewell musical set during the Plague). There were more misses than hits - even though the selection of productions covered was weighted in favour of the most promising. Hardly surprising, you might think: if the term "fringe theatre" signifies anything, it is a peripheral space where artists have the prerogative to fail as well as the opportunity to prove themselves. Judging by what was on offer this 12-month, though, much of the failure stems from over- cautiousness. The spirit of risk-taking and innovation is scarcely to be seen.

If you wanted memorable new plays in '98, you could look further afield than the Bush or the Royal Court, but you had to keep your eyes peeled. Katie Hims's The Breakfast Soldiers made a good early impression at the rejuvenated Finborough. This sprightly comedy captured, with a mischievous hint of pastiche, the daffy awkwardness of two upright and uptight sisters sharing a house in the wake of the First World War, a co-dependence poignantly soured by the passage of time. Rosalind Philips' and Verity Hewlett's performances, minutely relaying the neuroses caused by unacted-upon desire, remain, for me, the year's most welcome surprises.

David Lewis' first full-length work, Sperm Wars - a frequently hilarious, though overly farcical, eavesdrop on the mutual recriminations of a childless couple - gave the Orange Tree's excellent new ensemble something to get their teeth into apart from solid revivals. Nick Green's Her Alabaster Skin, first seen at the grossly underrated White Bear in Kennington, boasted some startlingly idiosyncratic brutality inflicted on a lone male: ostensibly an ornate gangster turn, the piece slid into a mordant vision of a society whose key players are pathologically incapable of tolerating the existence of stand-alone individuals.

There were other slices of life that left a powerful aftertaste. Stephen Clark's Take-Away - presented by Mu-Lan at the Lyric Studio, Hammersmith - was a touching portrait of a family-run Chinese take-away facing an uncertain future. Jack Shepherd's Half Moon, presented at the Southwark Playhouse, was a gripping fly-on-the-wall study of raddled, bickering bohemians in a Fitzrovian watering hole during the Falklands War. Both combined a vibrant authenticity with an elegiac sense of eras at an end. Both reaffirmed the value of intimate theatre spaces; neither could be said to point the way forward, though.

To see moulds being broken and recast, the place to go was the BAC, that, after four years under the aegis of Tom Morris, has become something of a phenomenon. Readers may scratch their heads in wonder at the frequency with which the acronym of the Battersea Arts Centre appears but with 300 companies passing through this former town hall in 1998, the building now fully deserves its tag as "the national theatre of the fringe". By simply not charging rental, the BAC has opened the doors to a whole generation of performers and there's been a stampede of talent.

In the recent past, it has provided a launch-pad for the now universally championed Improbable Theatre and The Right Size, both of which vaulted into the mainstream with the deliciously nasty Shockheaded Peter and the buoyant Mr Puntila and His Man Matti. This year, there was some typically astute programming, which brought established artists back into the fold, and highlighted the strengths of unknowns. The In the Dark season this summer - which forced the audience to supply the visuals with their imagination - may have been partly borne out of a need to keep the costs of this underfunded centre down, but the likes of Theatre de Complicite and Improbable leapt at the opportunity to get involved. The season was so popular with performers and punters, it returns next year.

The even greater success of the BAC's contribution to The British Festival of Visual Theatre in October - 70 per cent of seats sold for the 100-odd performances, most of which flitted by too fast to get critical coverage - suggests that once a venue has secured the public's trust, a micro-climate of innovation develops.

Two undoubted highlights were Michael Wynne's Sell Out, a bruisingly accurate description of the fickle loyalties of twentysomethings performed by the tirelessly physical Frantic Assembly, and Tunnel Vision, a tragicomic puppet-show from Faulty Optic that portrays the whole world as a cross between a concentration camp and a theme park with hi-tech and lo-tech wizardry.

By this time next year, you'll probably be sick of hearing about these two companies. The risky ventures of 1998 become the safe bets of 1999, while the plodding revivals and wannabe West End musicals are simply forgotten. A critic can take very little credit for this process, beyond helping to point the public in the right direction. If you haven't yet done so, make it your resolution to beat a path to Battersea.

DC

`Take-Away' tours to Liverpool, Brighton and Manchester in April 1999; `Sell Out' is touring the UK to April (booking: 01792 774888); `Sperm Wars' is at the Orange Tree, Richmond (0181-940 3633), 1-13 February; `Tunnel Vision', ICA, London (0171-930 3647), 11-13 January

Arts and Entertainment
At this year's SXSW festival in Austin, Texas

Music Why this music festival is still the place to spot the next big thing

Arts and Entertainment
Russell Tovey, Myanna Buring and Julian Rhind Tutt star in Banished
tvReview: The latest episode was a smidgen less depressing... but it’s hardly a bonza beach party
Arts and Entertainment
Crime watch: Cara Delevingne and Daniel Brühl in ‘The Face of an Angel’
film review
Arts and Entertainment
music Malik left the Asian leg of the band's world tour after being signed off with stress last week
News
Author J.K. Rowling attends photocall ahead of her reading from 'The Casual Vacancy' at the Queen Elizabeth Hall on September 27, 2012 in London, England.
peopleNot the first time the author has defended Dumbledore's sexuality
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv Some of the characters appear to have clear real-life counterparts
News
Brooks is among a dozen show-business professionals ever to have achieved Egot status
people
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Arts and Entertainment

ebooksNow available in paperback
Arts and Entertainment

ebooks
Arts and Entertainment
A cut above: Sean Penn is outclassed by Mark Rylance in The Gunman
film review
Arts and Entertainment
arts + ents
Arts and Entertainment
James Franco and Zachary Quinto in I Am Michael

Film review Michael Glatze biopic isn't about a self-hating gay man gone straight

Arts and Entertainment
A scene from the movie 'Get Hard'
tvWill Ferrell’s new film Get Hard receives its first reviews
Arts and Entertainment
Left to right: David Cameron (Mark Dexter), Nick Clegg (Bertie Carvel) and Gordon Brown (Ian Grieve)
tvReview: Ian Grieve gets another chance to play Gordon Brown... this is the kinder version
Arts and Entertainment
Benedict Cumberbatch and Martin Freeman in the first look picture from next year's Sherlock special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Because it wouldn’t be Glastonbury without people kicking off about the headline acts, a petition has already been launched to stop Kanye West performing on the Saturday night

music
Arts and Entertainment
Molly Risker, Helen Monks, Caden-Ellis Wall, Rebekah Staton, Erin Freeman, Philip Jackson and Alexa Davies in ‘Raised by Wolves’

TV review
Arts and Entertainment

TV
Arts and Entertainment
James May, Jeremy Clarkson and Richard Hammond in the Top Gear Patagonia Special

TV
Arts and Entertainment
Game of Thrones will run for ten years if HBO gets its way but showrunners have mentioned ending it after seven

Game of Thrones
Arts and Entertainment
Mans Zelmerlow will perform 'Heroes' for Sweden at the Eurovision Song Contest 2015

music
Arts and Entertainment
Elizabeth (Heida Reed) and Ross Poldark (Aiden Turner) in the BBC's remake of their 1975 original Poldark

Poldark review
Arts and Entertainment
Daniel Craig as James Bond in Skyfall

Mexican government reportedly paying Bond producers for positive portrayal in new filmfilm
Arts and Entertainment
Disney’s flying baby elephant is set to return in live-action format
filmWith sequels, prequels and spin-offs, Disney plays it safe... and makes a pachyderm
Arts and Entertainment
Nazrin with Syf, Camden
photography
News
The QI Elves photographed at the Soho Theatre. They are part of a team of researchers who find facts for the television programme 'QI'.
people
Arts and Entertainment
‘The Royals’ – a ‘twisted, soapy take on England’s first family’
tv0-star review: Sean O'Grady gives it his best shot anyway
  • Get to the point
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?

ES Rentals

    Independent Dating
    and  

    By clicking 'Search' you
    are agreeing to our
    Terms of Use.

    The saffron censorship that governs India: Why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression

    The saffron censorship that governs India

    Zareer Masani reveals why national pride and religious sentiment trump freedom of expression
    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Prince Charles' 'black spider' letters to be published 'within weeks'

    Supreme Court rules Dominic Grieve's ministerial veto was invalid
    Distressed Zayn Malik fans are cutting themselves - how did fandom get so dark?

    How did fandom get so dark?

    Grief over Zayn Malik's exit from One Direction seemed amusing until stories of mass 'cutting' emerged. Experts tell Gillian Orr the distress is real, and the girls need support
    The galaxy collisions that shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    The cosmic collisions that have shed light on unseen parallel Universe

    Dark matter study gives scientists insight into mystery of space
    The Swedes are adding a gender-neutral pronoun to their dictionary

    Swedes introduce gender-neutral pronoun

    Why, asks Simon Usborne, must English still struggle awkwardly with the likes of 's/he' and 'they'?
    Disney's mega money-making formula: 'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan

    Disney's mega money-making formula

    'Human' remakes of cartoon classics are part of a lucrative, long-term creative plan
    Lobster has gone mainstream with supermarket bargains for £10 or less - but is it any good?

    Lobster has gone mainstream

    Anthea Gerrie, raised on meaty specimens from the waters around Maine, reveals how to cook up an affordable feast
    Easter 2015: 14 best decorations

    14 best Easter decorations

    Get into the Easter spirit with our pick of accessories, ornaments and tableware
    Paul Scholes column: Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season

    Paul Scholes column

    Gareth Bale would be a perfect fit at Manchester United and could turn them into serious title contenders next season
    Inside the Kansas greenhouses where Monsanto is 'playing God' with the future of the planet

    The future of GM

    The greenhouses where Monsanto 'plays God' with the future of the planet
    Britain's mild winters could be numbered: why global warming is leaving UK chillier

    Britain's mild winters could be numbered

    Gulf Stream is slowing down faster than ever, scientists say
    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Government gives £250,000 to Independent appeal

    Donation brings total raised by Homeless Veterans campaign to at least £1.25m
    Oh dear, the most borrowed book at Bank of England library doesn't inspire confidence

    The most borrowed book at Bank of England library? Oh dear

    The book's fifth edition is used for Edexcel exams
    Cowslips vs honeysuckle: The hunt for the UK’s favourite wildflower

    Cowslips vs honeysuckle

    It's the hunt for UK’s favourite wildflower
    Child abuse scandal: Did a botched blackmail attempt by South African intelligence help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    Did a botched blackmail attempt help Cyril Smith escape justice?

    A fresh twist reveals the Liberal MP was targeted by the notorious South African intelligence agency Boss